She was dreaming of gears and wheels; a vivid dream it was too.
She could see them, sparkling and golden and larger than life. She heard them, churning and clanking and humming hurriedly as though they thought they might get somewhere fast. Yet they simply spun on the spot, over and over and over, replaying the same motion like a recurring dream, like a niggling thought, like an insistent and enchanting aroma.
Fluidly, she reached out her hand towards them, longing to feel the whizzing motion of the metal, but her cold fingers seemed to slip straight past them in the blink of an eye. Taken aback, she began to fret. Oh, how she longed to play with them, just like a toddler grabbing at the pendant that dangled tauntingly between the breasts of its mother.
A groan of distress escaped the confines of her chest, and she began to come to, her surreal frustration transforming into a proper, wakeful one. And she waited, fists clenched, metal fingers creaking, heart clenched, for the dream world to slip away.
But the gears didn’t.
Molly shot upright with a start, peering past the turning gears and cogs, and made out the parameters of a thin, soft, somewhat itchy blanket wrapped around her shrunken and squeaking form. The gears, she realised, were the ones inside her head, the ones which kept her mechanical eye working. The clanking and whirring was coming from the depths of her very own skull, not the outside world, and not her imagination.
Something was wrong.
She manoeuvred the shiny back of her hand so that it hovered like a glinting mirror before her face, and she peered into it carefully with her one organic and functioning eye. Her skin was pale and sickly looking, to match how clammy and feverish she felt, and her waist-length black hair fell in tangled clumps in every direction. A far cry from the job Lydia used to do, when she’d plait it neatly down her back in the mornings. Molly’s clanking fingers never could be trained to plait it herself. Oh, dear, she looked dreadful.
But most horrifying of all was what had happened to her glass eye.
The crystal eyeball, she realised with a bolt of terror, had been chipped into, and the sapphire picked clean. Mr. Meriwether had installed it to look like an iris, and to function as a pupil. That explained the alterations in her vision.
Beginning to panic, Molly slammed a metal fist hard against the nearest wall. It was thin, tinny, and the entire room shivered from the force of it. As she flung her weight at the wall once again, she felt an odd tugging at her ankles, and spun around to find her legs bound to the bedframe by two sets of gleaming chains.
“Help me! Oh, please, help me!” She’d have cried if she’d had tear ducts in both eyes.
With a bang, a door swung open across the room and hit the opposite wall. Standing there was a man like a giant, painted boulder. Gold teeth glistened among broken, rotted ones, and he had more scars on his face than Molly had chunks of metal in her entire body.
“You’re awake then,” he grumbled in a thick, common accent that Molly was not accustomed to hearing. “S’pose yer wonderin’ what happened to that pretty eye a’ yours. Took a shine to it meself, and sure I reckoned I ought a’ take out some sort of insurance on ya. Case you decided you were gonna come slaughter everyone on board. S’why I had to chain you up ‘swell.”
Even if she'd had the first idea of how to interact with such people, she probably wouldn't have mustered the courage or the words. Molly’s lips trembled, and she suddenly felt woozy.
“Oi, you alright there? S’pose it’s your first time in the air, eh? S’not the most pleasant feeling, ‘specially if you haven’t a strong stomach. Never mind though, you’ll be used to it soon enough. Maybe then you can tell us the story of how you ended up with all that fancy metalwork a’ yours.”
On board? On board what?
In the air? What was in the air?
Molly the Miracle Girl moaned helplessly, and passed out.