“I don’t get it,” said Rachel.
“In those last moments, Elsie was the only one guidin me; Martha had fallen back. That must’ve occurred some time ago; before we crossed the Periphery Bind. If my guess is correct, and I’m of a good mind that it is, they’ll be way behind us, stuck in that refractin, infinite expanse of sameness that we’ve all come to call home. Come on! Let’s get them!” At this he began shuffling toward the end of the road, quite free of any helping hand—as if he’d momentarily forgotten his disability. He stopped and snapped his fingers. “Sorry. Gettin ahead of myself. I can’t actually see the way.” Rachel and Elsie, stunned to silence with this new information they’d been given, grabbed his elbows. Together, the three of them stepped back into the woods.
Follow the Green Cable
“Will that be all, Mr. Unthank, sir?”
To Joffrey, the voice arrived as if it had issued from across some vast vacuum of space; like the faint sound of a radio turned on at its lowest volume and murmuring from the attic of a house in which you are sitting at the dining room table. It was undeniably there, yet so removed as to be almost imperceptible. But wait: It came again.
“I think I’ll turn in for the evening, Mr. Unthank. If that’d be all right.”
For the eternity of a moment, Joffrey Unthank pulled himself away from the thing he was holding in his hand and focused his attention on the present circumstances: He was in the machine shop. The mechanical burble of the various belching machines colored the air. The windows were dark. He had no idea what time it was or how long he’d been standing in this position. In fact, it was as if everything in his mind had been erased in this fraction of a second. Looking down, he saw that he was standing with his hands cupped closed at the level of his stomach, like a pontificating priest. And then it all came back to him.
“Sir?” sounded the voice again. It was, unmistakably, Mr. Grimble.
“Yes, Grimble,” responded Joffrey.
“So I’ll see you in the morning, then, sir.”
“Bright and early.”
“Bright and early, Grimble.” It all flooded in; he glanced at his closed hands. Slowly opening them, he saw a thing in his hand. He saw that it was made of brass. And he saw that it was very nearly perfect. The most exacting and immaculate thing he’d ever produced in his history as a maker and crafter of machine parts. It, on its own, was enough to make the most hardened machinist break down weeping, so flawless was its diamond-cut teeth, its smooth parabolic curvature. To imagine its intended function, to fly seamlessly with its sibling gears in a dance of liquid, flowing motion was to see the deity itself.
And yet, it was only nearly perfect. It was not perfect enough.
He turned and chucked it into a nearby garbage canister, where its landing was broken by a pile of similarly nearly perfect but similarly discarded gears. It made a little sorrowful clink!
“Better luck tomorrow, eh, Mr. Unthank, sir?”
“Yes, Grimble,” Joffrey began before adding, “What day is tomorrow?”
“Why, it’s Wednesday, sir.”
“Wednesday.” He repeated it softly, as if the word were some magic sigil. It held a particular resonance: It was the final day of his labors. The strange man with the pince-nez would return, expecting his finished piece. Unthank had never let a client down before; he’d always outmatched his competitors in quality and speed. It was unnerving to him the amount of trial and error involved in the creation of this single piece. The thoughts swam in schools around his skull: Why had he even agreed?
It was ludicrous, the deadline. To create such an exacting piece in such a short amount of time. Even with every state-of-the-art machine at his disposal, he’d gotten so very close, and yet not quite close enough. He was a practical and industrious man; what had driven him to agree to such a ridiculous proposal?
In one word: monomania. It was a word that he remembered being taught in school, when the teacher had written the words “MOBY DICK” on the chalkboard in tall white letters. The captain of the ship in Melville’s novel had been monomaniacal in his desire to catch the titular white whale. Every decision he made was in relation to this all-consuming obsession. In the end, it had been his undoing. The realization dawned on Unthank with cold precision; it was as if someone had suddenly set a bright, unfeeling spotlight on his face. His vanity was laid bare. He was the captain of this ship and the white whale was the Impassable Wilderness. It was too late to turn back; the harpoon had already been thrown. The line was pulling taut.
This is what happened next:
Septimus stood with his claws on his darning-needle hilt, shaking his head. Curtis stared at the mole in disbelief as Prue nearly swept down to grab the Sibyl and hoist her into the air for a celebratory shake. She thought twice, seeing the look of terror cross the mole’s face when she sensed what was happening. Instead, she gave Gwendolyn a happy chuck on her shoulder with the tip of her finger.
“I can’t believe it!” she said. “This is crazy!”
The Sibyl, still confused by the Overdwellers’ sudden swelling of emotion, handled the barrage of questions that followed as willingly as she could.
“So he was a machinist, a maker?” asked Prue, somewhat rhetorically.
The mole nodded.
“And he made this … replica of a boy.”
Curtis added, “For a crazy Governess. I mean, queen.”