Victoria could feel the strain in her body as she ducked into an alley, praying her pursuers would miss her. Her whole chassis heaved, and she was radiating heat. This pace was untenable, and she had to find a place she could hide and recover before her body stalled out. It had happened to her only once before, a mechanical failure of that magnitude. She had stalled out due to an overheat, her body refusing to work, leaving her crumpled in a corner until her body had unlocked. It had been terrifying. And if it happened today, it would be deadly.
Steaming faintly in the cold, she fought to catch her breath, her furnace working overtime to feed the needs of her advanced system. Having caught her breath, she looked around, freezing when she saw who was waiting for her in the mouth of the alley.
Earl Brynjar Hinriksson was a frightening man, over six feet tall and thick with corded muscle. He had been a bounty hunter for most of his life, only recently awarded peerage by the queen for his services, and it showed. He still favored the heavy leathers and furs of the commoners over the rich cloth and bright colors of the nobility, and bristled with weaponry, his favorite being a heavy iron sword called Hoarfrost. The only clear signs of his peerage were the horns sprouting from his head, which glinted menacingly in the cold, clear light.
“Looks like we’ve cornered our little runner,” he said, his grin all sharp teeth and feral pride. Victoria’s eyes darted around, looking for any escape, any possible way she wouldn’t have to fight her way through the mercenaries blocking the one obvious route of escape.
“I’m not giving up without a fight.” She darted towards the wall, scrambling up until she could grasp the edge of the open window of the building beside her. She lashed out with a heavily booted foot at the hands that grabbed at her, releasing a blast of steam to hurt and confuse her pursuers. Suddenly she was free, and she fell into the room with a loud clank and a gasp. She slammed the window shut and locked it, hands shaking with adrenaline.
She found herself in some sort of store room. She recognised the coat of arms above the door. Antiford. Not Kuu. Perhaps she could seek refuge with the owner of the house. But then she looked around. Rows upon rows of empty metal shells, eyes void of any sign of life. Automatons. Like what made up her form.
Racing out of the room, Victoria looked around, eyes frantic and wide. She had to get out. But Hinriksson was waiting for her outside. She was sure he would have the house surrounded by now, if he wasn’t already sending agents to flush her out. If this was an Antiford representative, she would have some measure of safety, but not for long, especially not if this man was in cahoots with with Kuu Automaton Science League. Her face was plastered all over Hiemskôg, along with detailed information about her status as a ‘rogue artificial intelligence’.
Darting through the hallways, she ran straight into someone, falling splayed at the feet of a rather portly man clad in a heavy brown coat, top hat and scarf. His left arm was a complex and detailed mechanism and she couldn’t help but stare.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked, face the picture of concern.
“No,” Victoria murmured, not meeting the man’s eyes.
“Here. Let me help you up.” Offering his mechanical hand, he pulled Victoria to her feet, dusting off her ragged clothes with his human hand.
“You must be that automaton they keep talking about.” Victoria froze, ready to bolt.
“I mean you no harm,” he assured her. Victoria still didn’t relax.
“Did you miss the monster and his men surrounding your house?” Victoria hissed, drawing a knife from a sheath on her leg. “Because if you are working with them, or the KASL, I have no compunctions about slipping this knife right into your squishy bits.” The man drew back, eyes wide.
“I won’t turn you in,” he stammered, backing away a few steps.
“And how do I know it’s not an act?”
“Are you at all familiar with the Buford Automaton Company?” the man asked. “I am Lucas Merriweather Buford, and the KASL are immature snobs anyways.”
“So you want me for yourself, then.”
“I don’t even know who you are.”
“My name is Victoria Bezel, daughter of Andrea Moreau.”
“Not the Andrea Moreau!”
“The very same.”
“That makes you hundreds of years old. A veritable antique! But there is no way you could be an automaton. Not at this age. You would have long since broken down.”
“What you fail to realise is that I am not mechanical, at least not completely. This body is relatively new, not even a decade old. I am biomechanical, a construct. And they want to kill me just to figure out how I work! I don’t want to die...” Lucas reached out, touching her arm gently.
“I have a shipment of my automatons leaving tomorrow afternoon. I can smuggle you out to my plant in Gearford.”
“Your creator was the inspiration for everything I have ever achieved. It would be wrong of me to destroy the last living part of that legacy.” Victoria blinked, hesitant but so desperate to believe this man would really help her. “In the meantime, let’s take you downstairs for a drink.”
“I don’t drink like normal people,” she said hesitantly.
“A top up for your boiler then?” Victoria smiled, trailing Lucas down to the kitchen. He poured her a pitcher of water, averting his eyes as she lifted her shirt and unlatched her chassis to fill herself up. Her body gave a pleased hiss, and the kinks from overwork began to ping and relax.
“Long month,” Victoria said with a sigh. “They found me when they cleared out my mother’s old labs. I’ve been on the run ever since.
“Well, it’s over now,” Lucas reassured her.
And Victoria finally believed it.