A week later Myra and Owen were in their workshop held rapt by their studies. The clockwork doll carefully stowed away, I was floating lazily atop my docking port in the last of the summer’s warm breezes listening to their conversation and adding where I could.
The Cadwallens had long sense moved their belongings into my airship. I was outfitted with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a den, the loveliest of kitchens, and a rather ample engine room. There were two workshops in my hold, one for their studies, and a larger one for their experiments. I had everything they would need to feel comfortable for the longest of trips. And seeing as how they had paid for me as they built me, living inside my walls was much cheaper than renting one of the homes in the city proper. They simply had to pay the city for docking rights and viola! Home sweet home.
We had been discussing the concept of mechanical refrigeration based off of the studies of a Jacob Perkins, who had invented an early ether ice machine. We had discussed several of the problems involved with using such toxic gasses such as ammonia, methyl chloride and sulfur dioxide within the unit and were wondering if there were not something better to use.
So far we had come up with nothing of great use, but the enjoyment was in the idle chatter and the joys of a shared passion.
“I would feel better if we did not need to use such a toxic mix of chemicals in Eudora’s cooling systems.” Owen said as he chewed on the tip of his pen. “What if it leaked? We could have quite a problem on our hands.” His fingers were covered with stripes of ink from the pen, the pages laid out before him were full of his neat script and sketchy diagrams.
Myra was holding a cup of tea in both hands, blowing on its steaming surface lightly. “Well, what if we…” they both look up from their stacks of books and papers to the small chime of the doorbell.
Checking the door’s video feed I see the large brown eye of a man peering back in at me. “I do say, I hope they are home.” The man pulls back and looks to the woman at his side.
I buzz back to the study, “The Princess is here, with an unknown gentleman. Older man, grey hair, brown eyes. Slightly…rotund.” Owen and Myra look at each other for a brief moment, then Owen pulls himself to his feet and hurries to the sink to wash his hands. Myra sighs and pulls her hair up into a tight bun, grumbling about people calling first.
I trigger the door and it swishes open with a soft woosh of air. “Do come in.” I say through the speaker, watching through my various cameras their puzzled expression.
“Mr and Mrs. Cadwallen shall join you shortly. They are currently in their workshop, getting cleaned up. I assume you do not wish to wait outside for them?” I couldn’t help the hint of amusement that laced my tone.
“Too right…too right.” The man huffed, taking off his brown bowler and smoothing his hands through what little hair he had left. Plopping it back on his head he bowed and gestured for the princess to step inside. She nodded to him briefly and then tentatively made her way forward, using the doorframe to steady herself.
“Oh my…” she murmurs, her eyes taking in the expanse of the foyer area. It was a small expanse really, nothing that she would have been to impressed with, but the metal was etched with the same vines that decorated the skin of my doll. Most of the airships that were in the air at this time were military ships, big hulking masses of steel that float ominously over the city. A dark reminder of the worries of the time. There were a few private vessels, but they were usually merchant ships, made for speed rather than comfort.
There is a clicking of heels on the stairs as Myra hurries up the metal steps and the man and the Princess turn towards the sound.
“Ah! Yes!” the man blusters, “You must be the lovely Mrs. Myra. I’ve heard so much about you.” He steps over, and grasps her hand, shaking it enthusiastically.
“Ah…thank you…I fear I don’t know…who you are, Sir?” she grits her teeth against the man’s manic shaking of her arm and gently withdraws her hand.
“Oh! Forgive me, I am Sir Benton Clark, at your service Madame.” He bows low, removing his hat and smoothing his hair back. A nervous gesture it seems.
“Benton, old chap!” Owen emerges from the stairs drying his hands on a small towel. “Myra, this is Sir Benton, from the bank. He has been quite the avid student in my class, even if he is a rather late student!”
Sir Benton chuckles, “I have always found these trinkets of yours fascinating, I consider myself a bit of a hobbiest you know.” He winks at Myra flirtatiously, “Your Husband is quite good at all of this mechanical toff.” He gestures widely, “But I hear you are also quite the inventor!”
The two men laugh and carry on in a companionable fashion, but my cameras followed the Princess. She looked so young, so vulnerable as she moved about the foyer, her delicate fingers sliding over the lines etched in the copper that made part of my walls.
She seemed content to be ignored, as if it was a relief from the constant throng of followers and attendants.
Myra noticed though, she notices nearly as much as I do. She excuses herself from the two men and steps over to the girl, “Princess? Would you like to see the bridge? Perhaps we can convince Eudora to animate her Doll for you? Would you like that?” She smiles softly and holds out her hand, her fingers wiggling.
“I would like that very much, thank you.” Princess Jessica murmurs, she looks to Myra’s hand a moment before slowly slipping her hand up and grasping hers.
The bridge was stationed in the font, with huge windows that wrapped around the entire front of it. I had started the cleaning process once I had realized it was the Princess at the door. The water slides down the windows and several spiderlike mechanoids were sliding their rubber bodies over the windows, cleaning them and making them shine in the sun. They were just finishing as the two women stepped in.
Myra gestured to the window, “It’s a lovely view of London from here Your Majesty.”
“Oh…this is lovely!” she murmurs as she steps over to look out. She catches a glimpse of one of the spiders as it finishes up one last wipe and jerks back, “What is that!?” she cries out.
Myra chuckles, “Aracnopods. They are under Eudora’s control ah…more or less. She uses them to keep the ship clean and make minor repairs.” She then lifts her voice, even though she knew I could hear her, “Eudora, love, do you think you could bring out the doll? I’m sure the Princess would like to get another look at her.”
“But of course Myra. I would be happy to.” I opened the door to the section of bulkhead that houses the doll. She sits, a cluster of wires lining her spine. Her body, limp in the casement. I watched as the Princess stepped forward quietly, her head cocked to see into the dolls empty face.
I slipped into the doll as I had done countless times before, making sure to send a small spider to give her key a few good turns. The darkness that engulfs me as I downloaded into the doll was always a bit disconcerting, but once I hooked up to her optics the darkness fled with the rush of sensory data. I straightened and blinked at the Princess. Waiting for the spider to unhook me from the wires and adjust the back of my dress before I stood, gears whirring quietly as I pushed myself to my feet.
Clasping my hands before me I bobbed briefly, “Greetings again Princess. I welcome you onto my decks, may your stay be pleasant.”
The Princess for her part took the Aracnobots fairly well after their first appearance, going so far as to run her finger over their rubber backs, giggling as it darts away, into it’s storage chamber where it folds it’s legs back into its body and sinks into the compartment.
She walks towards me, eyes wide. Realizing she was staring she blushes and glances to Myra who gestures for her to address me directly if she so wished. “She won’t hurt you.”
I turned my aqua eyes to the Princess and stepped out of the chamber, shaking out the folds of my dress and turning to close the doors.
“Eudora…” she begins, hesitantly, “What…what do you feel?” she murmurs.
I turn and gesture to the plush red sofa that runs the length of the back wall. “What do I feel?” comes the voice from my chest, I laughed, “I feel just as much as you do…and more.” The Princess sits upon the couch, smoothing her skirts beneath her. “The sensors on my hull are the same as on this doll’s skin. I can feel everything you can feel, but more precise. For instance, I know that outside right now it’s a beautiful 78.6 degrees, with a 20% humidity. I know that some time later tonight I will have to send the Aracnobots to clean out a birds nest that is currently being set up in the cross section on the aft side. I can feel your feet upon the plating of the floor, and the breeze as it slides over my hull.” I smile and glance back to Myra, “In fact. I can tell the men have taken up with their cigars, despite my request that they smoke outside.” Myra simply shakes her head and laughs.
“He never does.” She murmurs, her eyes sparkling with mirth.
The Princess’ eyes dart between me and Myra, her pale pink tongue flicking out to lick her lips. She was nervous. I hoped it was not my fault. I was trying everything I knew to keep her comfortable.
“But…but do you feel pain too?” she whispers.
I glance at her curiously, catching some hint of meaning behind her words, a reason for the question, but not yet putting the clues together, “I can…yes. But unlike humans, I can shunt the sensation off if it becomes too distracting.”
She blinks slowly, “So…you don’t have to feel it at all if you don’t wish it?”
I nod, my hands clasped in my lap. “Yes. It’s a built in failsafe. So that I may continue to function even if something were to go wrong.”
Something rolls over her face that I cannot put a name to. She straightens, wrapping the mantle of royalty around her like a cloak. Gone was the shy frightened girl and in her place was a girl who has the world at her fingertips, and knew it.
She stands up and moves to Myra. Lifting her chin she says, “I would like to purchase Eudora.”
Myra smiles at the princess and shakes her head, “She’s not for sale your Majesty. But you are welcome to come by anytime you like. I am sure she would enjoy the company.”
“No.” the Princess shakes her blonde head, “I want to purchase Eudora. I need her doll.”
Myra stares at her speechless. “Princess…Eudora is not for sale…but if you give me time…I’m sure I can make you a clockwork doll for your own purposes.” She glances at me, “Eudora’s essentially complete. I could begin on a doll for you next week…it would take a few years to complete, Eudora took…what was it?”
“Twenty-seven months.” I responded quickly.
The sun flashes red in Myra’s hair as she nods, “And a few months of that was mistakes…I’m sure we could have a doll for you in the next…18 months? Especially if Eudora herself helps.”
The Princess stamps her foot, “NO. I can’t wait that long!”
The door opens up and Owen and Sir Benton step in, the smell of cigars rolling in with them. Their laughter fades as they see the tension between the two women.
“Everything alright my love?” Owen asks, stepping up to Myra and pressing a kiss against her temple.
“The Princess would like to purchase Eudora.” She says plainly.
“Dear me!” Sir Benton crows, “Once the word gets out about this amazing creation…er…Eudora I mean…” he inclines his head in my direction and I return the gesture. “I am sure you will be getting a shipfull of requests! You’ll have to start a factory! I highly doubt you can make each one by hand!”
Myra smiles tightly, “I am sure Owen and I can discuss that another time, for I am quite open-minded about such endeavors, but the Princess would like Eudora herself…now.” She nods to the Princess who stood, her hands clenched at her sides, a strange mixture of fear and anger in her eyes.
“I’m sorry Princess.” Owen murmurs, “Eudora is not for sale.”
The Princess lifts her chin, “I will pay you whatever you ask.” She whispers, her voice betraying her nervousness.
Owen shakes his head, “No price would be worth it. Eudora…she is our life’s work. She is like…well like a child to us.”
The Princess looks as if she would say more, but then smiles and nods, “Of course…forgive my outburst…I am…very tired.”
Sir Benton hurries forward and takes the Princess’ arm, “Goodness me, and no wonder! We have been out shopping all afternoon, and now this bit of excitement! Your brother will never forgive me for wearing you out so.”
She nods, her face etched with exhaustion, “Yes…Please Benton, let us head home.”
They both begin to move to the door when the Princess pulls away suddenly.
“Oh! I brought something for you.” She murmurs as she rummages in her purse, “Please…I would like to give you some tea. My brother had it shipped to me special. But I’ve more of the stuff than I can drink.” She holds out a tin to Myra. “Please…for my rudeness.”
My creatrix nodded and took the tin, “Thank you Princess…of course your forgiven, we have kept you out much too late.”
Sir Benton nodded and huffed, “I will see you home Princess.” He nods to us all, “Good eve. Oh! And Owen, I will call again later this week and we can discuss this factory of yours!”
Owen nods and waves, wrapping an arm around Myra while I saw them both to the door.
“Thank you for stopping by Princess, Sir Clark.”
He nods, replacing his hat and following the silent princess out.
The next night Myra became very ill. The doctors came and shook their heads, but none of them could explain why. Three days later she passed in her sleep, holding the hand of her husband as he sobbed above her.
After the funeral I locked the doll away and Owen and I mourned each in our own way, as we floated amongst the clouds.
I should have known that wouldn’t be the end of it.