The thick, raw aroma of beer and sawdust threatened to overwhelm Fletcher as he entered the bar. He hated this place and the people in it, but he had business there. If there was one thing Fletcher couldn’t pass up, it was money.
He turned his good eye to the piano in the corner. The thing played itself, but it was much more than a player piano—no, in fact, it could write its own songs. The creator of the spectacular instrument leaned against it now, a deep crimson skirt not quite hiding tow long, pale legs and a rich leather bodice definitely not hiding anything else. Fletcher blushed and cleared his throat. “Right, then,” he said aloud, steeling himself.
She spotted him as he approached, and he felt the scrutiny of her gaze. The look in her eye wasn’t rude or even skeptical, just curious, and Fletcher found himself going over his reflection before he left—brown hair mostly straight except for the one place in the back, his favorite tweed suit, the tiny glasses that could be adjusted to better suit the surroundings (one of his own rather clever inventions, he thought)—and hoped that he met her approval.
“Can I help you, sir?” she said, her voice polite but with an undercurrent of confidence that caused Fletcher to waver for a moment.
“Uh, yes, yes, I think you can,” he replied. “I work for Bilger’s Inventions, perhaps you’ve heard of it?” He paused for a response, but she merely raised an eyebrow. “Right, well, Bilger’s Inventions hires the most innovative creators to make the world’s best products and then sells them for profit.”
“And what does that have to do with me?”
“Well—uh, Miss Avery, we’ve seen several of your inventions in the area and, I must say, everyone is quite impressed. Mr. Bilger sent me here personally to find you and offer you a position in the company.” Fletcher beamed at her, proud to be the one to ask her to join, sure she’d be pleased, and truly, deeply thrilled with the bonus he would receive if she signed on.
She burst into laughter, so loudly that several people nearby turned to look at her. It took her a second to catch her breath—a moment that felt like a millennia to Fletcher.
“I know why he sent you…?”
“Fletcher. Yes, he sent you because you are exactly my type. Clever, cute, inventor boys…he knows me too well, your Mr. Bilger.” Her face lit up at his confusion, and she leaned in close, so close Fletcher found himself blushing and didn’t try to stop it. “You see, Fletcher, Uncle Addicus has been trying to get me to join his company for the past two years. Every few months he sends someone to me. First it was another woman; thought he could create some kind of female camaraderie. Then it was Steven, the musician, thought there’d be a spark there. Then George, but he was oafish and all wrong.” She paused and considered him for a moment, her head tilted to one side. Fletcher noticed the same curious look in her eye and felt sized up again, but this time he could also a light that told him he did, in fact, meet her approval.
“But you—you’re a different thing altogether, aren’t you? Come, let’s get some drinks. You’re not the drinking type, I can see, but just this once, hm?”
It was a day later when Fletcher woke up, strapped to some kind of table with the whirring sound of gears and a gentle huff puff of steam from somewhere nearby threatening to split his head open.
“Oh, wonderful! Fletcher, you’re awake! Just in time, you won’t want to miss this!” From somewhere to his left, Patricia Avery’s voice floated over him, his mind still swimming as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. “You see, I’ve recently taken quite an interest in human anatomy, the mechanics of life, and the potential for enhancement. Ah yes, Fletcher, you are just the man!”
The gears grew louder, the steam more insistent, and Fletcher felt his pulse in his forehead. “When I’m finished with you, you will be part man, part piano! And if it doesn’t work, then you’ll be dead. But I wouldn’t worry, I’m terribly talented, you know!”
Her laughter filled the room, and Fletcher’s world went black.