Official Excerpt for A Darker Road: Lost, Found, Lost
There in the desolate quarantine zone, Evellyn admitted she left her workshop and Guild membership behind to investigate rumors of Automazombs attacking the living. The rumors that turned out to be disturbingly true, given the two women they found in the quarantine zone.
The ground beneath Liridon felt as if it were crumbling away. So few left the Inventors Guild. By all accounts, it was the scientific community. His friend had given up her political support, monetary backing, colleagues, living arrangements, workspace, prestige, and who knew what else. It would be like leaving his dear Order of Scholars. He admired her bravery.
Liridon put on a determined face. The one thing Evellyn wouldn't lose was his friendship and his help.
"What is your plan?"
Evellyn tucked her plague mask under her arm and sighed.
"I'm going to find out what's wrong with these inventions. I was the architect for their ambulatory systems, but I studied under the man who designed how they identify targets; I'll see any miswiring that is causing these attacks. I just need to decommission one long enough to look. When I figure out what's wrong with this one, I'll be able to send out word to the local engineer guild chapters. The Guild will disapprove, but they won't listen to reason, so I don't see a better way."
Liridon glanced at the infirmary.
"The Automazomb might already be on Mina's trail. Should we capture it here?"
"Too tight of quarters. Did you pass the loomworks? If you can help me lead the Automazomb there, I set up a temporary workshop in one of the buildings. Perhaps that girl I found in the infirmary could lure it there."
Sarah and Mina had finished their conversation and were walking over. Mina's expression was determined, but Sarah's was pinched with displeasure. Mina clasped Sarah's hand and squeezed it tight.
Reluctantly, Sarah nodded to Evellyn.
"We can do that."
"If I'm not mistaken, you just committed yourself to contracting the plague and spending the rest of your life in the quarantine zone. I would hate to add to your suffering by putting the two of you in danger."
Mina lifted hem of her skirt to show Liridon her mangled calf.
"We owe that metal beast for what it did. And I heard some of your conversation. If this will stop the Automazombs from harming others, we will gladly help you."
Liridon's expression was grim. Sarah and Mina were of one mind about this, then. The two were made for one another. Suddenly, the Automazomb appeared in the doorway to the infirmary. Its jaw worked as it staggered toward them. Strands of meat hung between its mouth and the mangled human arm it clutched. As its flat, red gaze fell on Mina, the Automazomb dropped the limb, locking once more onto its long-sought prey.
Evellyn hurriedly gestured for Mina to lead the way.
"Stay ahead of it, but not so far that it gets distracted. Take it to the loom workshop on Jacquard Street."
Mina and Sarah set to work immediately. They waved at the Automazomb and taunted it. The creature no longer cared for the easily attained corpses within the infirmary walls. Somehow Mina was the most alluring prey. Liridon barely had time to ponder if this might be because of the modified strain of plague it had infected Mina with, before the Automazomb went on the attack.
Liridon was constantly surprised how quickly an Automazomb could move, given its size and the weight of its iron and copper enhancements. Mina was in no shape to run. Liridon and Evellyn's slowed the Automazomb down by throwing obstacles in its path.
When they turned the corner, the road was clear. There wasn't anything they could find to slow down the Automazomb. Evellyn jumped in front of it. She waved her arms and shouted. The creature slowed to study her with its red eyes. It swiped at her with a metal-clawed hand.
Evellyn brought her arm up instinctively to protect her face. Liridon pushed her out of the way. Metal fingers scraped their protective suits as they tumbled to the ground. Liridon winced at the stinging pain. His heart pounded at the thought of the Automazomb's plague-ridden fingers breaking the skin. He frantically turned his arm over. The suit was intact. He was safe.
He looked over to see Evellyn inspecting a large gash in her sleeve.
Liridon scrambled to her side.
"Are you cut?"
Evellyn pulled back one side of the hole. Her skin was bruised, but not broken.
"It touched you! If you don't--"
"I'll disinfect it properly later. We have to catch up."
The two of them rushed ahead of the Automazomb and its prey to open the wide, double doors to the Linen Orchid Loomworks. Inside sat row upon row of powered looms. They waited, dust-covered, for the quarantine to lift and the power to turn back on. Crumpled lengths of linen hung from the looms, discarded when the workers abandoned the area.
Sarah ran ahead and dug through the nearest pile of fabric until she found the cut end.
"We can use this to hold it."
Evellyn agreed, but shouted back a warning.
"Don't get that cloth near its engines, or we'll have a fire on our hands."
With Mina still backing further into the cavernous room, Sarah ran circles around the Automazomb, wrapping it loosely at first, then darting closer and closer, until the looped fabric tightened around the creature's waist. It lashed out, trying to brush her aside. Sarah yelped as it clawed her shoulder. She quickly backed away. The Automazomb struggled against the fabric, and the sharp joints and whirring gears tore holes in the linen.
While the others tried to coax the Automazomb to the workshop without getting killed, Liridon hunted down stronger restraints. There were no usable ropes, or chains long enough. Then, along the back wall, he found a washbasin and several enormous baskets. The baskets contained bolts of linen.
Liridon gestured for Evellyn to join him. He pulled a bolt from the basket and handed it to her.
"Wetting this may give us the time we need."
Evellyn was more interested in the basket.
"I don't want any of us getting that close again. Not while it can see."
She gave the fabric to Sarah and Mina and gave them their instructions. Then she led Liridon up to the rafters with the basket between them. Once they were in position, Sarah and Mina lured the Automazomb over.
Evellyn locked eyes with Liridon.
"On three. Ready? One. Two. Three!"
They tipped the basket over and sent it over the edge of the narrow catwalk. The basket slammed down on the Automazomb's head. It staggered, blind but still focused on its task. Sarah and Mina worked together to trap the flailing arms in wet cloth. They wrapped the arms from claw to elbow before tying them to the massive looms. The legs came next. The creature's limbs were stretched between two powered looms. It continued to lurch left and right, still trying to walk.
Liridon and Evellyn descended from the rafters. Liridon held the basket while his friend set a ladder next to the creature. When she gave the signal, he pulled off the basket. The Automazomb glared at him with unblinking crimson eyes. The lights within flickered and Liridon understood the fear so many others had experienced. Even restrained as it was, he became nervous standing so near.
Evellyn attacked the Automazomb's spine apparatus with her spanner. She removed key gears to disable its limbs and disconnected the tubing that powered the creature's half-mechanical brain. She set a metal pail beneath the tubing to collect the chemical slime. Within a minute, the red eyes began to dim. When they went out entirely, the Automazomb slumped. The restraints on its arms were only things holding it up.
Liridon insisted that Evellyn take care of her arm before beginning her inspection. She was hesitant to delay, and he didn't blame her. This was a puzzle to be solved, there was knowledge to be gained. But she agreed, and went to the washbasin to scrub her arm clean. She took a special bottle of disinfectant from the Guild before leaving, which she dabbed on her bruises.
Evellyn gave him a sideways glance while she wrapped a clean piece of cotton around her sleeve to close the hole.
"I'm not going to get the plague, Liridon. You don't need to hover."
Liridon reached over to tie the loose ends of the cotton wrap.
"For months you didn't respond. I was worried. And now we're here together and I worry more. It feels like a miracle you're here at all."
"I had no way to contact you discreetly when I lost my resources on Kibou. And I was worried the Guild would punish me if they learned I was trying to capture an Automazomb. An archivist in Valtava told me where he expected you would go. He was right and here we are."
"You're sure you're okay?"
She smiled sweetly.
"Always. You know I can handle myself."
Evellyn walked back to the Automazomb. Liridon watched as his friend took off the skull plate, revealing a mass of copper wires and electranum spikes jutting out from shriveled gray matter. She poked and prodded with a special tool he didn't recognize. Depending on which wires she touched, the Automazomb moved its fingers, or opened its mouth.
It took about an hour, maybe longer. When she finished, Evellyn ripped off her gloves and wiped the sweat from her brow.
"I don't understand. Everything is in place. Not perfect, mind you, but functional. Engineering-wise, this Automazomb should work as intended."
Mina scowled and gestured to her leg.
"Clearly it doesn't."
Liridon looked at the pail of slime that had drained from the creature's disconnected tubing.
"Could it be chemical? I'd always heard the concoction that cleansed plagued flesh was the yellow-green of a jungle toad. This muck is gray-black if anything."
Evellyn climbed down the ladder.
"The color is troubling, but I don't have the materials or training to analyze it. And now none of the Guild chemists will help me."
Sarah grumbled with Mina about how all of this was for nothing. The Teraltian inventors would send a new Automazomb once they realized this one wasn't working. And who knew how bad the new one would be. Evellyn packed up her tools in frustration. Liridon sat on a forgotten weaver's bench. He wondered where Evellyn would go next, and secretly hoped she would join him.
Liridon sympathized with his friend. She'd worked hard to become the youngest engineer in Guild history. And she'd given it up, soured her connection with them to prove a danger they refused to see. The only other person he'd known to have such a poor relationship with the guild was a criminal whose rogue chemistry had blown up a lab. That's it! The very person we need.
He stood up and grinned excitedly.
"I know a chemist! One not in the Guild."
Evellyn furrowed her brow.
"I met a Teraltian aristocrat who employs an ex-Guildmember she calls Von Grumpy. She told me the location of her private dock on Caelspyr, in case I ever found something she would find interesting. If we bring her a malfunctioning Automazomb, she will surely give you access to Von Grumpy and her laboratory."
"And I can discover why our inventions are harming the living. And with an aristocrat on my side, we could make the Empire and the Guild repairing the Automazombs!"
Liridon rubbed the back of his neck.
"Ah, well, I doubt Wyneira will get politically involved for the benefit of others. She's brilliant, but she is only on her own side."
"And you still think I should seek her out?"
"I think she's our best chance to fixing this, but we'll have to be careful."
Evellyn looked at the Automazomb, then back to Liridon.
"Let's do it."