We found her one day among the pistons, fingers as black as her eyes. She’d not come through the gate, not come over the wall. She’d come through the cracks. You could see it in the way she moved. Each tiny motion at right angles to the one before. We lost Rebecca the same day; vanished; or traded away. So we made her ours in the place of our own, roughly the same age. Her voice was all honey and bees. She said her name, and by the third syllable our ears began to ache. By the twentieth, we were faint. We taught the child our woodwork tongue and called her Rebecca, because it was safer that way.
The Elders said not to trust her. To keep clear of the changeling flesh… but she could fix. If only we’d had the parts, she could have fixed the moon to the ground. ‘Cogfane’, the Elders muttered, ‘cogfane’, like some methuselan curse. Like the machines might hear and flock to her. Like her tapering ears might flicker at the sound, her mind bloom into the perfect clock, hands tick to keep time. We caught her one evening singing to the stars, as if they were just another machine to be coaxed. The notes brushed against each other, locked, turned in sequence…
But Becky never sang to us. She muttered nothing but nonsense in our repurposed language. Redefined beyond our ken to shape a greater tool and echoing weirdly off iron and brass. She never quite clicked into place, always at right angles to the clan, always judderingly out of time with the flesh-cloaked world.