Sgt. Mansell looked into the room one last time, his eyes already red from the dust and tears that now streaked his cheeks. The smell of vomit lingered on his clothes with the blood and rot. He felt the clicking and whirring, the turning and buzzing of the device as its cranks and gears began to merge and shift, meshing regretfully. He had, he knew, just completed a monster.
He walked outdoors, his body feeling oddly out of sorts. He chalked it up to the surroundings. Trying to ignore the persistently echoing click as he walked, he went back outside to rejoin his unit and help bury the dead.
The tests had gone remarkably well.
Dr. Sankt was pleased. Very, very pleased. Ever since they’d brought him the first specimen, all screaming and grinding, his work had consumed him. The platoon to first discover the ruins had been searching fruitlessly for another of the Fuehrer’s missing artifacts. In spite of the Bloody Spear and the Vestments of the Christ, the tiny madman was dissatisfied and sent squad after squad deep into the deserts of northern Africa, searching. At one time, Sankt had viewed these as futile quests by an arrogant man.
But that was before. Before the clockwork man, who had once simply been a creature of flawed flesh, was brought to him. He was one of two to return; the other had, regretfully, been damaged beyond repair by the harsh desert sand. But the other…
Sankt didn't have the kind of clearance necessary to know the circumstances which brought the young man to his current state, only that he had been on one of the Fuehrer's missions. The young man had been given to him when the metal began to push through his body and the gears began to tear through his flesh, twisting and flaying. It was, Sankt thought, almost beautiful to watch.
Sankt stripped away the remains of its skin with more delicacy than was required, placing each piece in its own sterile container. Long after the screams had turned to bloodless clicking, Sankt labored, until eventually, freed of its prison, the bones of molded copper and the muscles of counterbalances stood on their own.
It did only the simplest tasks. Sankt knew after only a short time that it would be mostly useless, incapable of anything more complex than the man that it had once been. So he set it to work pacing, carrying a rifle, back and forth in front of his door, letting it pretend it was still a soldier. It made him feel more secure, at least.
Then, Sankt reexamined the flesh he removed from the gears and realized his mistake.
The mounds of gristle and skin were metallic, some of them desperately interconnected in a feverish attempt to turn and move. “Of course!” thought Sankt. “How foolish of me. This must be amended.”
He contacted his superiors and told them what he needed. Much space would be required, as well as subjects for the testing, and soldiers willing to serve their country. His old friend, Dr. Rascher, had been carrying out his own experiments, and upon hearing what Sankt had discovered, cried out with joy. “Finally!” said Rascher. “We will have our answer.” It was an answer Sankt was more than willing to provide.
The first were failures. Sankt knew they would be, so he used his least important subjects: the mentally deficient. They were vivisected, studied, and disposed of in the furnaces. Sankt knew their fates would have been much the same no matter the circumstances. It was the fate of those imperfect. It was the destiny of those not members of the master race. And so the cutting, screwing, and disinfecting did not concern him.
After he felt that he understood enough, he brought in the next batch: the Romani. From one of them, he would remove a clockwork liver. From another, a living one. Laying them next to each other, he studied for hours, listening as their previous owners slowly died—one dripping blood, the other oil. When he finally comprehended their relation, he tried transplanting the organs back and forth from body to body. These experiments often failed, but the occasional success kept his spirits up. He knew that soon, he would be ready.
It was mid-1944 when he felt confident enough to send for the pianists and violinists. He would, of course, need their hands. So delicate and slender were the gears that his heart nearly broke as he removed them. Then, the artists. Their eyes would be invaluable. The singers he nearly forgot, only remembering them as he carefully screwed in the spinning lips of a poet. There would be no need for a voice, of course, but there was always a need for beauty. After all, Sankt was making a masterpiece; leaving part out would be like cutting the smile from the Mona Lisa—unfathomable.
But he knew that his delicate pieces were just that: delicate. He stewed over this for some time, thinking his work lost, until it suddenly came to him. Watching his clockwork guard march back and forth in front of his door, the epiphany appeared—the ditch diggers, the miners, the street sweepers. They could also be a part! He almost felt foolish, thinking back how perturbed he’d been when he almost forgot the singers. How could he make a true masterpiece without everything?
Their arms and legs transferred the power down to the smaller gears, carried items along the internal paths, and made it possible for a single man, a single crank, to operate everything! But powerful, skilled hands meant nothing without a mind to drive them.
So Sankt sent for the scientists and doctor, teachers and researchers. Their minds were a necessary component and could not be excluded. He struggled with the first subject, not fully seeing how the different parts were truly interconnected, but he persevered. The next was far easier. Eventually, the different parts were laced into the whole, guiding the hands and muscles in perfect, indomitable precision.
Close to completion, so near his final, beautiful goal, Sankt was finally confident enough to invite the entirety of the German leadership to his laboratory and show them what his labors had wrought.
It was a nervous group who crowded through the halls of the dank, almost claustrophobic bunker under Chelmno. Only one of the German high command had shown up, the others being far more concerned with the war knocking at the front door. However, Sankt had the answer to all their problems. With his device, Germany would be fully capable of defending itself into the unforeseeable future.
While the onlookers watched, he placed a pistol into the intake, turning the dial and moving his hand to the crank. He turned it slowly, listening to the perfect rhythm for the first time. He’d known that it would work, known innately that the device would perform perfectly. Each click was the turn of a ballerina, the pluck of a chord, the swing of a mattock, the hypothesis of a dream. Sankt felt as close to love as he ever had.
When he stopped, he turned and picked up the gun, rotating it in his hands, examining how its nickel and steel had become gold and copper. He proffered it to one of the senior officers present, who examined it with distaste and laid it aside.
“Is that all it does?” the man asked.
“What do you mean?” replied Sankt.
“Is that all it does? Turn steel to bronze?”
“Of course not,” replied Sankt, taken aback. “They do much more, so much more. This is only the first step in a long journey. Now, they can only manage a single kind of transformation, making that which is one thing into another of the same. But soon, very soon, they will be making things better. Improving them in ways we can’t even imagine yet! Rewriting literature, correcting mistakes in complicated equations, making new bombs and new religions with equal skill!”
The men looked at him, and then to the mass of clockworks behind him. The officer peered at him intensely, painfully.
“Then finish it. We need a new god right now.”
Sankt labored ceaselessly. There were only a few people left to him, now. His research staff were the first he used, then the last of the emaciated, flawed prisoners. Finally, he began taking the more clever soldiers, interweaving them as best he could. He could no longer afford to be picky. Eventually, he turned to his loyal guardian. He took the gun from its hands, carefully guided it over to the table, and thanked it for the loyal service it had provided before unfastening its still beating clockwork heart.
When the Americans finally came, he knew he was almost done. He could feel them approach through the smoke, the fires burning brightly in the furnaces even though most of the guards had either fled or been used. Even though Germany might fall, her labors could still be appreciated.
He approached the front guard, smiling and waving his hands. He welcomed them in halting English, asking them for stories of the seemingly distant war. He warned them of the conditions in the camp, tried to explain what the commanders were doing, how they had to contain the infections he had been transferring. They killed him slowly—first cutting off his hands, then his eyes, then his lips.
Sgt. Mansell looked at the huge device. He’d seen Big Ben in London before he’d been sent over, and he liked to think its insides were similar. The other soldiers were outside, burying the dead between hoarse, racking vomits. He looked down at the dial in the front, the brass covering around it spelling out rudimentary instructions in English. Laying on the ground, directly below it, was a single cog.
Mansell looked at the piece, and then at the device, licking his lips. The place was obvious, it seemed, almost glaring in its inconsistency. Picking up the brass fitting, he lowered the final cog into place and saw the machine shudder slightly, almost in ecstasy. It was finally, terribly complete.
As he slept that night, he dreamed of a young woman, beautiful and bright. Sometime in the early morning, he rose, took out his pistol, and walked mechanically into the woods. The shot echoed through the trees, ringing with blood and iron.