Dressed in a tailored black suit, he waits at the base of a tall, crooked tower of crumbling stone. Encrusted with moss, gargoyles and improbable balconies, it lances up into a full, silvery moon. A metallic skittering seeps out through cracks in the ancient wooden door, and her faithful clockwork servant opens the door to allow him in, its spidery limbs scraping on porous flagstone.
Wrought iron head bowed low, the servant leads him up narrow spiral steps. He knows to let it go on ahead, so it has space to slip and scrabble. From time to time it sheds a cog, or a small black morsel of coal, that goes bouncing down the stairs with hard knocks. A small optical lens beneath the servant's warped underbelly swivels manically to track the shed parts for later retrieval. Mostly, the visitor just tries to stay out of the way.
At the top of the stairs the servant shrinks to one side of an unassuming archway, gesturing with one small, dented claw for him to pass through. He knows the way already, but bows his thanks. Once the visitor has passed through the arch, the servant clatters back down the stairs in a half-controlled slide.
She stands before him, a glittering silhouette in a ray of moonlight, draped in black lace, upright among shelves of jars bearing faded yellow labels. Without looking at him, she holds a jar out towards him and says, “What is this?”
He approaches, takes the jar from her. It fits neatly in his palm, glass clinking against stainless steel. He studies the jar from various angles, lenses flicking across his iris with smooth clicks. “I don't know,” he says, handing it back. “What is it?”
She sighs. An affectation. Hands and arms clicking with careful calibration, she takes another jar from the shelves and reads the label. “Look,” she says. “Every one carefully recorded. This was my spleen, you see? And this my appendix. Epiglottis, aorta, little toe... But what-” she taps a finger on the jar still in his hands, a sharp little clink of metal on glass “-was this?”
He turns it around in his hands, smooths a thumb across the curling yellow label. “Miscellaneous,” he reads aloud. He holds it up to the light. “There's definitely something in there.”
She lets out a low growl. “But what?”
He sets the jar back on the shelf and shrugs. “Does it matter?”
She frowns, delicate eyebrows clicking into place on her carefully sculpted face. “Yes. Yes, it does. This, whatever it is, used to be a part of me.”
He looks around at the shelves and shelves of musty jars. “A lot of things used to be a part of you. Now they're just taking up space. Best not to obsess, I think.”
She sighs again. “What was I thinking? Miscellaneous. It could be anything. It could be something I'd remember fondly.”
“I should doubt it,” he interjects. “Otherwise you'd have labelled it more clearly, surely?”
“You never know what you'll remember most as you live it,” she maintains, “only afterwards when you look back do you realise you shouldn't have thrown that away, or you should have taken a photograph of someone's face, or kept a lock of hair.”
He steps closer, places a hand on her shoulder. “None of this was ever a part of you. A part of your body, certainly, but not your self. If it was a part of you, I'm sure it would have filed itself all attentively away with the proper records and everything.”
She looks down to one side, away from him. “I suppose.”
It's his turn to sigh. Just as much of an affectation. “Honestly, sometimes I think you swapped your brain out for clockwork as well. Everything has to be just so, itemised and tagged.”
She looks at him sharply and steps away. “As you said, I'm still me.”
“But you were never human,” he teases. “You never had those messy passions, those feelings that don't fit in jars or sit on shelves. Everything about you was already clockwork. I'm not surprised, honestly, that you feel the need to keep carefully preserved evidence to the contrary all these years.”
“You only have to see how messy and unkempt my servant is to realise that neatness is a very human passion.”
He smiles. A peculiar gesture of whirring servos. “Passion is hardly the word for it.”
She raises her chin. “You don't think I'm capable of passion?”
“I've never seen seen you exhibit any,” he says. “Yet.”
At that she grabs him by the lapels and kisses him full on the lips, metal squeaking against metal. Before he can respond, she pulls back. “I think there are some medical textbooks in the library,” she says.
He stares at her. “Um... what?”
“Maybe there'll be a picture of whatever it is,” she explains, cocking her head towards the miscellaneous jar. Before he can compose himself she grabs his hand and leads him towards the archway.
“I don't understand you at all,” he says.
Somehow, her features form an elfin smile. “Good,” she answers, softly.