It had all gone to pieces in moments.
They were down by the docks, of course they were, testing the flying machine. The hardest part of it had been keeping Orso on-task, only working on one project at a time. It would be enough to let people come and go, cross the oceans with no aid from a Scrivener. If the horrors of slavery were only a flight away, Sancia privately willed, there would be momentum to dismantle the system, from the older houses as well as Foundryside. They did not need to perfect the mechanisms to gaze backwards through time.
But the spies had ambushed them, flung Sancia backwards into the water where she gasped for air, and made off with the prototype. Only Gregor's swift action had been enough to dispel them.
"You cannot die," Berenice raged, supporting Sancia and trying to clear her lungs. "I will not allow it!"
"There's no time," Orso said. "If you want to save her, we need to transfer."
"She's lived so briefly as a person," said Berenice. "Who can hold and be held."
"And she'll live again, but not if you stand there dilly-dallying."
"Scrum you," said Berenice. But she relinquished her hold on Sancia's drenched, unmoving, form.
The coil Claudia had forged was long and thin. They had not dared put it towards its envisioned purposes; it was only an experiment, a safeguard against their enemies' plots. Yet were not all hypotheses tested in great desperation?
Clef was cold in Orso's hand. He could not speak with the key like Sancia had, yet he trusted the ancient being would do anything in his power to protect the friend who had guarded him with her own life for so long. "Sorry, little one," Orso said, and he did not know to whom he spoke.
Then he plunged Clef through the circles of the coil, until he cut into Sancia's drab skin.
Memory was slow in returning to her, but kind. Gone were the echoes of torture at unknown hands: in its place, the hurried intellects of her colleagues scheming with one voice.
<Berenice! Berenice, where are you?>
<Ssh.> Another voice, not her own. <She is well.>
<Clef? I cannot--> No, it was not sense she lacked, but the *need* for sense. She was not built for sight or sound, or even touch, but some part of her wanted these things. Craved them as one denied so much more, yet hoping for a place to begin. <What is happening?>
<They attacked. You are...you have become like me, for a spell. That is why I can speak with you, most easily.>
<Like you? Never like you, you...tool.>
<That is true,> said Clef, without malice. <You have not made the choices I have made. You have suffered before, and you may yet live to wield and be wielded in your turn.>
<You should have let me die,> she protested. <Not to live as a prisoner in some metal plaything.>
<And Berenice? Would you have let her die, if it were her?>
Sancia paused, annoyed. Forges rose and fell, bodies were transposed, and Clef was still an enigma. <That's different. She has lived a life of ease, it would--> It would do her well to bear pain, she thought, but could not justify it, even to Clef. She loved Berenice, not in spite of or because of the life the fab had had access to, but simply for being Berenice. Was Berenice's love as unconditional?
<Do you feel anything different?> Clef asked.
<Frustrated with your stupid questions,> Sancia said, but then became cognizant of a slow, almost musical presence beyond her. [[steady, duty, protect, vigilant]] <What was that?>
<Gregor, I think. He doesn't have the same facility that you--that you've demonstrated, but he can get through to me sometimes, now.>
[[regret, adaptation, communicate, power]]
<He wants to practice to get better at it, he didn't know he could do this but anything he can to help the cause, he will.>
<Tell him he'd better not be copping a feel,> Sancia said.
[[outrage awareness creation reciprocity]]
<He heard you, and he wouldn't dare get on Berenice's bad side.>
Sancia felt, not relaxed, but more contented, as if Gregor had reached to untangle a coil. Foundryside was alive; her colleagues and her friends who would go to any length for her, not because of what she could or must offer them, but because they chose to. That was a marvel almost beyond imagination.
But not entirely. Not with the way Foundryside created and re-created scrived wonders by the day. Yesterday's impracticality was tomorrow's routine; at their rate, it would not be long before she embraced Berenice with her own hands once more.