“Trace! Trace, get down here!” Caleb bellowed. His rifle barked again as he tried to lead the dark, menacing form of the mechanical beast away from the tree where Sister lay unconscious.

“I can do it!” Trace shouted back. With the superhuman strength and dexterity of his mechanical arm, he had already monkeyed his way nearly to the waist of the colossus. “It’s just a machine! I can handle them! I’m like part machine already!”

“No, dammit, no!” Caleb shouted, forgetting in his anger and terror his pledge never to curse around the children. “I can lead it away! It will follow me! You need to get your sister to safety.”

Trace was still climbing, finding handholds and toeholds among the mechanical monstrosity’s many wires, crevasses, hollows. “I can do it. I can stop it!”

“Will you get down here and let me lead it away, boy?” Caleb shouted. His rifle clicked empty, not that he dared aim at the thing anymore with Trace clambering all over it. “I can’t lose you!”

“And you think I want to lose you, you old grouch?” Trace screamed back, from his perch amid the thing’s chest. It didn’t seem to notice the tiny parasite on its surface, focusing instead on its single-minded pursuit of Caleb. “I’ll take this thing apart one piece at a time if I have to.”

Upon reaching the beast’s head, Trace was shocked to find that it had no face–instead, there was an arrangement of handles and levers that looked more like a door, or an airlock, than anything a being might actually need to see or smell or speak. Grandfather had been an enthusiast, a devotee, a slavish disciple of the lever and the handle in his experiments to merge the hard and the soft, the fleshy and the steely, and Trace knew all too well how those components worked.

He grabbed the handle, and pulled hard. With a frenzies squeal of metal on metal, the door to the colossus opened wide and the spring daylight poured in.


Trace had to blink his eyes to realize that it wasn’t Sister at all–it was Tory, her twin. She was pale, sweaty, and somehow cocooned into the monster at her shoulders and hips. But she immediately smiled, and shouted joyously.

“TRACE! You figured it out! Oh, I was trying to figure out how to tell you and Caleb it was me, but…” her joy fell to sadness, and within a moment she was weeping. “…but I messed everything up.”

The colossus stopped, rocking back on its heels. Then, as Tory wept, it pantomimed a little girl sniffling and trying to rub her nose.

Trace moved in close and put his arms around Tori. “It’s okay now,” he said softly. “It’s okay. We’re here.”

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