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Excerpt: Infernal Machine April 12, 2011

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in Carnal Machines, excerpt.
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>In honor of the EARLY release of Carnal Machines, I decided to put up a little something. Here’s an excerpt from Infernal Machines, which I wrote under my pen-name of Elias A. St. James.

Enjoy!

****

Gently, I eased my tool into the opening, easing my way down the tight passage. I made sure to restrain myself, knowing that as eager as I was, I might damage something if I simply rushed in. Instead I moved deliberately, seeking the treasures hidden within….
“Blast!” My probe clattered to the floor as I jammed my bleeding thumb into my mouth and glared at the machine in front of me. Across the room, my lover looked up from his book.
“Elijah?” he asked, clearly wanting an explanation.
“The infernal machine savaged me,” I grumbled around my thumb. I turned so that I could look at Sasha, a much more pleasant view than the obstinate machine that now seemed to be laughing at me. Aleksandr Andreyevich Koslov, affectionately called Sasha, was sprawled indolently on our bed, looking very much the dissolute Russian nobleman. I’d been dizzy in love with Aleksandr since our first day at L’Académie des Sciences Mécaniques in Paris. And, for some reason I never understood, he loved me in return. It couldn’t have been my breeding; compared to his bloodlines, my own pedigree was pure peasantry. My father was a rabbi in a small village just outside Calais, my mother a rabbi’s wife and the daughter of another rabbi. I was the oldest of six children, and until two years ago, the one destined to follow my father’s footsteps. Until the day I took apart the boiler in my mother’s kitchen and redesigned it so that it was twice as efficient and used less than half the fuel. When my father saw what I had done, he decided that my younger brother would be better suited to the life of a rabbi. I, Elijah Moyse Saloman, was to be an Artificer, the first ever from our village. I’d arrived in Paris without even the barest hint of the world I was going to be thrust into. Wild, wicked Montmarte, with its cabarets and music halls, and its whores of either sex. And wild, wicked Sasha, whom I loved like I loved no other.
Sasha swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, crossing over to sit down on the floor next to me. He was incredibly handsome, his long, dark hair hanging loose around his shoulders, his shirt hanging open to better face the heat of the summer afternoon. He frowned slightly at the machine and then poked me in the shoulder. “So what is this thing? You’ve not told me yet.”
“I haven’t?” I frowned, thinking back. Surely I’d mentioned something…?
“No. For four days you’ve barely said a word to me. You haven’t eaten, unless I was feeding you. The only times you’ve come to bed was when I picked you up and put you there myself, usually after you’d passed out on the floor. So what is this thing that you are so enamored of? Other than being the most singularly ugly chair that I have ever seen?”
I grinned at his very apt description; it wasa singularly ugly chair, if that was all it was. Surely, that was all the that ironmonger had thought it, or else he’d never have let me have it for the pittance I paid. I reached out and ran my fingers over the now-bright brass. “It’s a Carstairs machine.”
“It isn’t!” Sasha gasped, leaning closer. “How can you tell?”
“The hinges. Look at them; no one but Carstairs used that odd box hinge.” It had been that detail that had caught my eye and sent me scrambling after the cart. “That was my first hint. Then I found his mark when I was polishing the brass. There, where the seat casts a shadow. Do you see it?”
Sasha nodded, “I see it… but none of his other works are this ugly. His work was always simple and elegant.”
He was right, of course. Carstairs had been the Artificer’s Artificer, and his work had always been simple in form. The complexity, he’d always said, was on the inside. The design on this chair was elaborate, with brass scroll-work ornamenting nearly the entire construct. “An early work, do you think?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Sasha shrugged. “What does it do?”
That was the question I was hoping he wouldn’t ask. “I don’t know yet,” I admitted. “I’ve cleaned and polished the entire thing, I’ve made certain that the boiler and the tank work, I’ve replaced anything that looked like it might have needed to be replaced, but I can’t get into this compartment.” I tapped the panel that formed the pedestal for the seat. “It does open… I think. There is a seam here, and hinges on the edges.”
Sasha leaned in close enough that I could smell the light fragrance of the soap he used. He nodded, “I see. Well, that is annoying. You can’t tell what it does without opening the case, and if you break open the case, it might not work at all.” Sasha looked at me with his fabulously wicked grin. “Have you fired the boiler?”
I shook my head, “Not yet. I wanted to be certain that everything else worked first.”
“And everything works now?”
“As far as I can tell.” I glared at the recalcitrant chair. Without a word, Sasha got to his feet, fetched the pitcher from the washstand, and ceremonially poured water into the tank.
“Then we shall fire this Carstairs’ machine and see what the master wrought and what the student rescued!” he declared, throwing an elaborate bow in my direction. I laughed and went to fetch some kindling.
It took time to get a good head of steam. When finally the gauges showed that we had adequate pressure, Sasha came to stand next to me in front of the chair to watch the show.
Nothing happened. We watched and waited in nervous silence for nearly five minutes, then Sasha coughed and looked at me.
“Is there… a switch? A lever? Some way to turn it on?” he asked.
I shook my head slowly, “Not that I found. You look. Maybe I missed it.”
He knelt down and crawled around the blasted chair, hunting for a switch that I already knew didn’t exist. When finally Sasha was convinced, he sat down next to me on the floor, shoulder pressing against mine, and cursed roundly in Russian before repeating himself in French.
“Four days! Four days you’ve wasted on this…. infernally ugly chair, and all it does is clutter the room!” he railed while I sighed and turned away, starting to clean up my tools. To my surprise, Sasha grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me into his arms, my back against his chest. “Four days where all you’ve done in bed is snore at me,” he whispered into my ear, tugging my shirt open with one hand, his other hand slipping into my trousers and closing around my quickly hardening cock. I leaned my head back against his shoulder, and was rewarded by his teeth along my neck, nibbling just hard enough to sting. He tugged at my shirt, pulling it off my shoulders, dipping his head down to lick the spot where my shoulder met my neck. Then he shifted, tipping me back until I was lying on the floor with him kneeling over me. He ran his hands down my chest to my waist, fumbling at the buttons on my trousers; I could see how his own trousers were bulging outwards, and moaned softly, reaching for his waist. He laughed and pushed my hands down, tugging my shirt and braces down so that my arms were tangled in them.
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