An automaton created by an inventor’s son, Copper has finally been given a heart by her young master. Her choice of whether to keep the key or give it to him will determine what happens next in this “pick your path” steampunk fairy tale.
Will she join his family in their English country manor, where she’ll be forced to consider the question of whether she’s really human? Or will she search out the quirky alchemist responsible for giving her life?
Will her master hold onto her heart, or will she be tempted by the charms of an automaton man?
I have a heart-shaped hole. Like an empty bird’s nest, it rests among marigold-hued ruffles above the topmost hook of my corset.
The hole was not left by something removed, but for something anticipated.
I am an automaton. I have never moved of my own volition — never lifted so much as a finger, save by the power of the windup mechanism at my back. Never felt a chill-bump, or the orange yarn rising on the back of my chicken-wire neck. My amethyst eyes follow my young master without motion. The dead, glass eyes of a doll. My face no more than a bone-colored mask with faint pink smudges where my cheekbones would be.
If I were alive.
My brain is sacking stuffed with cotton, my torso salvaged from a discarded mannequin. My limbs are dark, spindly things, like they belong on crows. But my master has wrapped them in ivory silk, and in the dim light of his workshop, I can pretend they are arms like his.
I am not a living thing, but the work of man’s hands. Man does not give life. Not since The Regression. The Digital Age machines are all dead. My master was born into the Neoclassical Age, named not for cultural or artistic reasons, but for the laws of science to which all citizens are required to conform. Post-classical physics are banned. Reserved for the gods, the only ones fit to wield them.
How does a stuffed-head, cobbled-together, life-sized doll know all this? Know anything at all? Because my master talks to me. Reads to me. From the time he was a schoolboy, he has shared every lesson with me, from The Odyssey to odious French (his descriptor, not mine). I was his schoolmate. Watched him grow to manhood while I remained the same, unless he himself wrought change — replacing dingy fabric with fresh, tinkering with moving parts, shifting my head so I could watch him work.
I spend many lonely hours in my master’s workshop, when he is away at school or in the city with his family. In those hours I feel empty and soulless, and I have often prayed that when he loses interest in me — which he inevitably shall —he will also unmake me, rather than leave me collecting dust in my chair.
For my master is the only light in my life, though I am no more to him than the toy ships he played with as a boy. Less than the pup who licked his heels, followed his footsteps, and finally sank into a straw-stuffed bed near the fire, from which, occasionally, I still hear the thump, thump, thump of tail against floorboards.
“Hullo, Dutch. Hullo, Copper.”
Thump, thump, thump.
If I could have wagged, I would have. Master William entered the workshop, light beaming from his every feature. I knew the expression well. He’d been out in The World. He’d encountered something — or someone — interesting. Something he wished to share with me. You’d think he’d tire of my colossal implacability.
“I have something for you,” he said, sinking onto the stool in front of me.
At moments like these I almost imagined that the hole in my chest had been filled. I could feel an ache there — an ache that should not have been. His eyes were green as the ribbons of my corset. His hair black as the coal in the bin. His lips were soft and expressive, like the women of the house — his mother, his elder sister, the chambermaids. Master William was everything lovely, everything beloved, in my dust, dark world.
He slipped a bronze chain from his pocket. A necklace, with a heart-shaped pendant — the shape of the symbol, not the visceral, beating thing itself.
The shape of the hole in my chest.
Tiny metal gears and copper springs were encased behind a small glass window embedded in the crimson resin. It was beautiful, a work of art. As I watched, he slid open a small compartment in the back of the pendant and produced a key. He held out the pendant in the palm of his hand.
“Happy birthday, Copper,” he whispered.
The echo of my nonexistent heartbeat sounded in my cottony brain, behind my porcelain mask.
If my lips had breath, his proximity would have stopped it as he moved to slip the chain around my neck, letting the heart fall into its readymade grave. Pinching the key between his fingers, he inserted it into a tiny keyhole in the tapered bottom of the heart.
Bolts sprang from the sides of the pendant, penetrating the stuffing in my chest, locking the heart in place. I felt it as if I were flesh and bone.
A loud, dry, sucking sound came from my throat as I took my first breath.
Master William’s eyes widened — with shock? with horror? — as the change took me over. The pain was excruciating.
“The old woman was right,” he murmured, aghast.
I could barely hear him from behind the wall of pain — or over the very real pounding in my chest. His face blurred, and I was sure I felt moisture seeping from the holes in my mask. What was happening to me?
“You must choose, Copper,” he continued. “Hephaesta said if you want to be like me, you must give me the key. If you want to be like you, you must keep it.”
I glanced down at the tiny thing of brass still lodged in the base of my heart.
What did it mean? A riddle, perhaps? What was I to do?
“Quickly,” he said, worry dimming his brightness. “The heart will stop beating without the choice.”
Pain spiked up my arm as I raised it from my side. My wooden, wire-jointed fingers wiggled to life. I grasped the key and removed it.
- I’ve waited all my non-life for this. I give him the key.
- I want to find out who I am. I keep the key.
About the Author:
An RWA RITA Award finalist and a three-time RWA Golden Heart Award finalist, Sharon Lynn Fisher writes stories for the geeky at heart — meaty mash-ups of sci-fi, suspense, and romance, with no apology for the latter. She lives where it rains nine months of the year. And she has a strange obsession with gingers (down to her freaky orange cat).
Sharon has written three science fiction romance novels for Tor Books — Ghost Planet (2012), The Ophelia Prophecy (2014), and Echo 8(2015) — and she’s indie publishing her erotica series Fantasies in Color.
She’s also the editorial director for (and a partner in) SilkWords!
Visit her at www.sharonlynnfisher.com
Can you tell us a bit about your current project I wasn’t sure if you meant this story, A HEART FOR COPPER, or what’s coming next, so I answered both! A HEART FOR COPPER is a sweet romance — a Pick Your Path steampunk fairy tale about an automaton girl brought to life by her inventor.
As for upcoming releases, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of my third sci-fi romance novel from Tor Books (ECHO 8, Feb. 3). I’m also working on the third story in my indie published erotica series, Fantasies in Color.
When did you decide to become a writer? I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 6 years old. My first novel was published when I was 44. Better late than never!
Which of your books is your favorite? Well, I think that’s about like trying to choose your favorite child. For me, there is something very special about each one of them, and I identify with every character in some way. What’s special about COPPER is the heroine gets to have it both ways — choose the easiest, most tempting path AND make the tougher, more mature decision — and she learns something and grows on both journeys.
Do you write everyday? Since I’m also an editor, I’m involved with fiction almost every day. But I don’t have time to write every day. In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to go a couple weeks without writing. The reality for many authors — in addition to writing there’s a day job, promotion of existing books, and being a mom!
Do you have a favorite place or time of day you like to write? I feel more inspired and productive in the morning. I mostly write at my desk, but consider it a particular treat to work in a coffee shop. There’s an art to selecting one. Can’t be too busy or too noisy, or play music at a level louder than background noise. The staff has to be laid back about me buying a pot of tea and sitting for hours without buying anything else. Even living on the outskirts of Seattle, I have to drive half an hour to get to a coffee shop that meets all these conditions!
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing? Wow, that is a tough one! All my jobs have involved writing in some form — journalist, marketer, communications manager. In college I toyed with the idea of early childhood ed, law, and psychology. Of these I think psychology would have been the best fit. My debut novel (GHOST PLANET) is about two psychologists.
Do you have another job? I’m editorial director for SilkWords, and I’m also a partner in the company. It’s the coolest day job ever! I vet submissions, do developmental editing, manage editors, write PR and marketing content, serve as a spokesperson, and help determine overall direction for the company.
What’s one of the best lines you’ve written recently? One of my recent favorites is from my erotic steampunk novelette RAVEN TAKES A PEARL. I’ll give the line before it too, since it doesn’t make much sense by itself:
Sometimes I wonder if I’d married him whether my pa would still be alive. But my ma says such wonderings only steal the life out of living.
Who is your favorite author? My favorite authors include: Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, Diana Gabaldon, Charlotte Bronte, Richard Adams, Madeleine L’Engle, and J.K. Rowling.
Anything you wished you’d done differently in your writing career? I try not to engage in too much “if only.” As writers we have to be careful about looking for things to be depressed about! And I strongly believe we learn from all our actions, and success isn’t determined by how many “right” decisions we’ve made, but whether we gave it our best shot. With all that said, I AM working to be a better friend to myself during the writing process. Internal editors can be so nasty and stifling!
5 ecopies A Heart for Copper