“I’m worried about her,” Sister said. She winced as Caleb continued changing her dressings, carefully swabbing the cuts and nicks with alcohol to keep infection from setting in.

“I think she’ll actually keep folks away for now,” Caleb replied. “And thanks to this switching she gave you, knocking you out of a pine tree and hitting every branch on the way down…well, we don’t have to think of a punishment for you sneaking out and leading Tory on a darn fool adventure now, do we?”

Sister yelped at the next alcohol swab, confirming what Caleb said without uttering an intelligible word.

“You going to stand there in the doorway, Trace, or are you going to come in and tell me what’s on your mind?” Caleb said.

Trace stepped in, red-faced. “How’d you know I was there?” he said. “I was quiet.”

“Bright light from the door in Sister’s eyes, of course,” Caleb said with a chuckle. “I’d know that silhouette anywhere, and it’d be visible for miles if we were outside.”

“Let me finish patching her up,” Trace said. “You’ve shown me how to do it, I need the practice. And-”

“And?”

“And I want to. I kinda owe her. For, you know, saving my life.”

“Don’t make me regret it,” Sister moaned, her eyelids fluttering.

Caleb scooched his stool around so he was face to face with the boy. “Tell it to me straight, Trace,” he said. “How much of you wanting to help out is real genuine gratitude, and how much of it is wanting to see Sister squirm and yelp?”

“Well, this is one time when helping her and hurting her…well, they’re one and the same,” Trace grinned. “I’d be dumb not to try getting in on that, y’know?”

Caleb rose and handed over the alcohol and the swabs. “All yours,” he said. “Should just need a dash here and there where I haven’t already replaced the bandages.”

He walked away, following the gentle slope up to the surface. A smile crossed his face as he heard Sister and Trace beginning to go at it behind him:

“OW! Stop it!”

“Do you wanna die? Cuz if you keep doing that, you’re gonna die and I’m gonna get blamed for it!”

The great mechanical colossus with Tory at its heart was resting on the edge of the settlement. Once they’d gotten the repairs done, Tory found herself able to control the machine much better, and able to hear and speak from it. She’d learned how to set it down, forming a rough staircase of knees and arms, that allowed the other children–and Caleb himself–access to the head where she was ensconced. When Caleb came upon her, all the doors were open, and Tory was letting the cool air and the last rays of sunset wash over her.

“How was it?” Caleb said, clambering up to get face-to-face with the girl without spoiling her view. “The hard ground at the Sandeval Rocks is a much better match for this thing than that soggy forest mud, eh?”

Tory looked up. “It’s nice to be able to run a bit without worrying about sinking or falling,” she said. For all that she resembled Sister physically, Tory was the opposite: gentle, deferential, contemplative. “I took Switch with me this time. He said he wanted to see how it worked, so he could get a circuit diagram going.”

“I saw him working on it just now, before I had to tend to Sister,” Caleb said. “Don’t you worry, Tory. We’ll work out how this big toy of your grandfather’s works sooner rather than later, and have you popped out of there. Maybe there’ll even be a new pair of arms and legs in it for you.”

“How is she?” Tory said. “I feel so bad about scaring her, and almost…almost…”

“She’s whining, complaining, and fighting Trace like a cornered badger with pups,” said Caleb. “And telling me how to treat her besides. So I’d say she is well on the mend.”

“Caleb…I think this thing might be why Grandfather had my bits the way they were,” Tory said haltingly. “Why they were all weak, and they came off so easily. I think he meant to put me in this thing sometime and never had the chance.”

“Maybe he did,” Caleb said. “This thing is a darn sight more impressive than a Harvester. But guessing what a dead man might have been thinking is a fool’s game, if you ask me.”

“Caleb…” Tory said again, quieter. “Am I a monster?”

Recoiling as if he’d been slapped, Caleb shook his head. Realizing how inadequate that looked, he gently laid a hand on Tory’s shoulder. “No,” he said. “I’ve know people who were real monsters, and most of them were handsome folks. This thing here? This is just a special talent of yours, like Sister’s smarts or Trace’s adaptability. Once you–once we–figure it out, you’ll be able to use it to do great things. Imagine you, with some of your sibs on your shoulders, and a spare set of arms and legs stashed away for yourself, striding across this big old ruined land looking for adventure. No one would stand in your way.”

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