His practiced fingers carefully lay one gear beside the other. This painstaking work has taken years. Designs, prototypes, failures, so many have come before. And now, he’s so close. Experienced eyes peer through multiple lenses on specialized spectacles to ensure every wire, sprocket and connection are exactly where they need to be. Within its bright brass body, the inner workings of this mechanical wonder are surprisingly delicate. He strokes his beard, wonder if he’s forgotten anything. Shaking his head and muttering, he makes the last connection and whispers a small prayer.
Sparks fly from the thing’s belly. There’s a moment of silence, filled with smoke and anticipation. Then, the ruby eyes flicker to life. Slowly, under its own power, the clockwork creature rights itself into an upright position, resting back on its haunches with a soft clicking noise. It raises its snout towards its creator, eyes shimmering with an obvious intelligence and curiosity. Steam hisses from its nostrils and it chirps inquisitively.
The inventor cries out in joy and claps his hands. He picks up the tiny simulacrum and carries it to the window. The creature looks out across the rooftops, then back towards its creator. The old man smiles and gestures for the little thing to try out its wings. It crooks its head towards its back, flapping the multi-flapped brass contraptions experimentally. Then, turning back with a nod, it moves to face the window. It’s not very tall, about eight inches from snout to tail with a wingspan around twelve, and yet when it alighted from that windowsill it glided with a grace that’d be the envy of any natural bird in the sky. The creator, an inventor of some seventy years, had never been happier in his life.
It’s almost a shame to see his elation through the scope of my sniper rifle.
The clockwork dragon sees the reflection from my telescopic lens and flies in my direction. I’ve anticipated this. I’ve studied its creator’s work, retrieved his failed prototypes and some of his notes. The smell of specialized coal burning in the engine furnaces of my doom zeppelin will attract it, as it’s probably better quality than whatever the old man gave it to set off its spark of life. It flies unerringly towards me. I lay prone on the zeppelin’s lower deck, the wind in my hair as I lay the crosshairs carefully on the wrinkled, graying pate of the inventor. Seventy years he’s waited for this moment, to see his creation take flight on its own, and I wait for the joy on his face to reach its apex before I squeeze the trigger.
His frazzled head snaps back and the body collapses within the workshop. The dragon takes no notice, alighting on the windowsill next to me. I offer it a bit of the alchemically prepared anthricite. It cocks its head to one side, then nibbles on the brittle stone. Its metal jaws quickly chew off a few bits, and I can see the flexible tube of its throat move as it swallows. Its ruby eyes blink, and then it grabs my hand with both of its fore paws and devours the coal in earnest. In spite of the life I’ve taken, I smile. This little operation was like out of clockwork.
It’s a new life. A new device. Something potentially deadly, but full of innocent and silent wonder. I set my doom zeppelin’s course for the secret location known only to a few.
The starchild, my Doctor Mercury, is going to love this gift.