The Prince takes you from the circus and you hate him as you hate the guards pinning your arms — you could kill them, but they would kill your friends in retaliation and anger is not natural enough to you to overtake you so completely. You were always the happy one. Lighthearted, though you have no heart. But he tears you from Moxana, still in her cart, and you hate him for that. What will she do, your voiceless, motionless sister? What will you do, without Moxana who sees into people, who knows when one of the people you’ve been travelling with is starting to think how much you’d be worth in money not in performance? Not these people, though. These ones were kind, and they try to fight for you now when you don’t dare fight for yourself for their sake. You hope they will take care of Moxana.
Once you're inside the walls -- once there's nowhere to run, even though almost no one ever realises the strength and grace and speed you were given for dance mean you can outrace them -- the Prince tells the guards to let go. He offers you his arm as if he isn't kidnapping you. You take it because the guards are still there, and because if he will even pretend respect it's something to encourage as long as you can.
The guards stop outside a door and he takes you through into a laboratory and introduces you to a dead woman.
'Anevka,' he says, softly. 'This is Tinka. It's... it's going to be okay. I can make you a new body.' You know what you're here for now. It's a better reason than many have had, but in the end he still wants you in pieces. And then he turns to you and holds his hands out, almost supplicant. 'I won't take you apart. I'm just going to look.'
You will shock him if he lays hands on you. You do not warn him.
Surprisingly he does not. He stares at you for a long time, not exactly in the way Sparks look at their projects, more like a lover gazing on the unobtainable. It is discomforting. You look back unblinking until his eyelids waver and the tears spill over, and then you are almost sorry, because you don't think it's merely from an accidental staring contest with someone whose eyes need less lubrication.
At last he says, 'I haven't stolen you,' almost pleading, and then, 'I am the Storm King. I can prove it.'
There are books. Ink lines, joining men and women in a tangled thicket. The Knights of Jove have preserved your king's blood by making it theirs, spilling it in the fight over its purity. It could be faked. Even if it is not, he does not have his crown, his key. He is potential, but he is not the Storm King yet. You are not Moxana to read truth in the pattern of lines, or see the paths ahead of this child. But you have waited so long and lost so much.
He is kneeling before you, beseeching, and it is a human thing to know without knowing, to try not to think of the calculations you run. You have been around humans for a long time. Your power here is in his desire for acceptance, and you do not think of it because you should serve your King, not try to bind him to you for survival. You think instead that the lines are true, that he is what he says, that your waiting is over and even the loss of your sister can be borne.
You bow your head. 'My Prince, what do you want of me?'
He looks up and there is light in his eyes.
He is true to his word: he doesn't take you apart. He spends a long time poring over you, especially your hands and feet, and then he works in a cold fever until under his hands a new form takes shape, one that could nearly be one of your sisters, except instead it is his. He settles Princess Anevka's brain into a complicated support system and then activates the new body's lightning shock (did he divine the entire system by studying the electrodes nearly concealed in your fingertips?) to revive and connect it.
She opens her eyes.
Your Prince, your King, calls in his father to witness his triumph and greet their loved one again. Their father helps her out of bed, eyes gleaming behind his glasses with the avidity of the Spark. And then he turns and sees you.
Your Prince protests but he does not fight. You do not hate him for it. At first you know too well that he is scared, that his father took his sister apart as easily as he will do to you, could do the same to him. That he loves too much to fight for his life against someone he cannot bear to kill. At first you know.
You are stripped, of your clothes first, and it leaves you feeling reduced. Not modesty, but the feeling that you are a thing without the dignity of clothes, just another machine. Then your casing is stripped away, then your innards, then the workings of your mind.
You become convinced your Prince will save you, clinging helplessly to the thought as other thoughts stutter like a broken sewing machine. There is only this slow, endless process of breaking and it will never be over unless he comes for you.
He comes at last in secret and you are aware that the face you see has red hair of a shade you should know, you are aware this is your salvation, you are aware of being gathered up and rushed away. Comprehension comes later: he is the King you were waiting for so long. It frightens you to have been so broken you couldn't put words to that, but you were motion and to the extent you could move you clung to him, even then.
You understand later, too, that he was swearing the whole time that his father would never set eyes on you again. He is sorry.
He puts you back together, but something is not right.
At times you are lucid enough to beg for maintenance. At other times you are more lucid still and know that he has done all he can, that something is broken in you deeper than machinery. At times you are empty, a shell of old routines. He slips a medical gown around you and leaves you on a bed until he can return to you. It is comforting, although you have no sense of whether it is comfortable.
He talks to you when you can listen. Reassurance and apology.
One day he comes in shaking. 'My sister,' he says. 'I think she's dead.'
The only thought that connects with you is that he had brought you here to save her. 'I-I am sorry I failed to-to serve.'
'Tinka, no.' He kneels beside your bed, hides his face in the covers. 'I don't know what I've done. She's dead, but the thing I made is still walking and talking and... I don't know! I copied you, I couldn't think what else to do, I don't know whether I've saved part of her or killed her. I don't know!'
You reach out, jerkily, touch a hand to his head. You do not understand well enough to speak. He trembles at your touch, and it scares you to see your King so weak.
You do not hear the rest of it that day, the story of what had been done to his sister, what had been done to others. You do not hear the rest of it that year. But in confiding bursts, as you gradually realise he has no one but you to trust, he tells you. You try to remember, it is your duty to remember the confidences of the King, to untangle the things that he cannot. But you cannot even untangle yourself.
If he could help you maybe you could help him.
One day he comes in so pale and bright-eyed that you cannot decide if it is illness or excitement. But he paces the room, where he is usually still and respectful, and he would probably not do that if he were ill.
He begins, 'Tinka,' and his voice is hoarse, and then he seems to be at a loss for words himself.
After this has gone on for some minutes you find and shape a question. 'Are you we-well?'
He laughs, which is surprising. Wildly, which is worrying. 'Bill Heterodyne had a daughter. So there's a Heterodyne Girl. And she's the one my father wants to use to bring Lucrezia back.'
There is a Heterodyne Girl, and she is in danger. Your Prince is worried, and therefore so are you, but a part of you is not sure this makes sense. She is a Heterodyne, after all. They are not very easy to get rid of.
She comes to Sturmhalten. She brings Jägers. And she asks to see you.
She has hair like the actresses that play the Lady Lucrezia, red-gold and long. Her presence reminds you of them too, young and innocent, new to the wider world, but with a personality that would snap on a stage. Perhaps it is a little of your own nature you see reflected, although you are not young and if you are still innocent then your innocence is built in too deep to be tarnished.
'Tinka,' she says, when your Prince has left and the Jägers are at the door to stop him returning. You do not like it, the Heterodynes have no mercy for other people's creations. 'I was with the circus for a while.'
'Ma-Master Payne's Circus?' It seems unlikely. But. Moxana. You have never told, never stammered out her existence to your Prince. It must be her choice to serve. But he needs her and you need her. 'I-I must go to-to-' You break off helplessly, half losing the thought half recalling you cannot betray Moxana to her.
'Yes.' She catches up your hands. You can't think how shocking her would help and so you don't. She doesn't start taking them apart, though; she holds them like Countess Marie would to comfort someone. Her voice is hushed. 'Moxana misses you. Otilia misses you, too.'
Otilia. Alive. You didn't think any of your sisters were except Moxana. You must see them, talk to them (you cannot talk, you forget), explain about your Prince. Otilia's protection and Moxana's guidance could do more for him than you ever could. 'Sis-ters.' You try to stand, jerky and swaying, the movement wants to turn into a dance, to balance like a gyroscope as if movement could stop you falling.
You find yourself in her arms, gentle pressure against your sensors as she tries to steady you.
'Oof,' she mutters. Lightly as you were meant to move, you are as solidly built as your more stately sisters. Sisters. You must. You need. Your King. 'Easy, Tinka! -- blast Aaronev -- shh. Maxim, help.' The Jäger who followed her inside comes and holds you easily upright. You still feel off balance. The Heterodyne holds your hand again. 'They're not going to want -- well, if Otilia comes here I think there's going to be a fight. But she'll come to Mechanicsburg. Apparently somebody told her to keep an eye on me.'
'Our King.' You remember. She will need to have that order countermanded, you think, but first you must ask her if she wants to see your Prince, and then you must get him to her... it is too many steps, and you are hardly capable of remembering them let alone performing them. But Moxana and Otilia are out there. You relax, cautiously, flatten your feet on the floor, hold yourself upright. 'I-I must see her.'
'I'll take you to her.' You think, Heterodyne promises mean nothing. But you don't think she would know the right lies to tell if they weren't true.
The Jäger holds your arm as if he's taking you to a dance floor (you didn't often dance with a partner but you know) and you follow the girl out. She squares her shoulders before she goes through the last doorway and then your Prince is there, turning to see you, and so is his father, and you freeze and feel as if you are breaking again.
The Heterodyne makes a dart for the father and catches up his hands, squeezing flesh and bone harder than she did your metal ones, smiling as if she didn't just curse him and as if she can't see that he's looking at her more hungrily than he ever did at you (you don't want him to look at you and he isn't going to look at you when she's blinding him). 'Prince Aaronev, thank you so much! I could barely believe it when I heard, and now....'
'Anything for Lucrezia's daughter,' he says warmly. 'You must come again. Often.'
They say more of this sort of thing, and you try not to lean on the Jäger and try to remember that your Prince still acknowledges his father's authority here and not protest that they are ignoring him.
The father excuses himself at last, and as soon as the door shuts behind him she turns and takes your Prince’s hands, differently still: gentler now, but not gathered together, held low and light in front of them. 'I think this will help,' she says quietly. 'She wants to see her sister. I think they need to see each other.'
One sister, but you do not know which she has told him of, so you stay quiet about both. ‘I will ret-return,' you say, because he is your King and you are not leaving him.
'I know.' He swallows and then lifts your hand, limp in his because you don't trust yourself to move it, and kisses the back of it. 'I admit sending you off with another Spark seems really strange,' he adds apologetically.
'All will be-be well,' you tell him. Even if it seems strange to trust a Heterodyne even as far as this, you are going to your sisters. Finally, there will be something you can do.