Grey was almost glad that it was so dark without the lights. He had been so embarrassed that they hadn’t worked that he could feel himself blushing. Bemoaning the fact that his lightbox was still broken after he’d dropped it earlier that day, he held up the lamp and led the two girls through the workshop.
After a while of walking, the girl named Ivy said “This is amazing!”
Grey felt his heart swell with pride at the machines he had worked on that he couldn’t even see clearly. He looked at Ivy and could see her face glowing with curiosity and wonder. “It kinda is, isn’t it?” he said.
Nikki pipped up behind him as well, saying, “What are they all for?”
Grey tasted the answer—a two-hour spiel on the basic functions of the machines—on his lips. But knowing that the speech would start soon, he said instead, “Oh don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of time to learn about that. If you make it past our… initiation.”
“Initiation?” Ivy asked. Grey could hear the terror in her voice.
Partially because he was upset at Nikki for bringing this other girl and partially for a reason he didn’t understand, or didn’t want to admit to himself, he said, “Most people don’t make it. And I highly doubt you will, Daisy.”
“Ivy,” she corrected yet again.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Nikki reassured her friend. Grey smiled sadly to himself, knowing they’d be more than fine: they’d be bored.
“Here we are. Enter if you dare.” He tried to sound mysterious, but deep down he knew he’d never see these girls again.
They entered the room, closing the door after them, and Grey was left with nothing but a lantern for company. Well, not just a lantern. He pulled Gidgit out of his pocket and tinkered with him. Gidgit was just a collection of extra metal parts that Grey liked to pull apart and recombine in different ways. Right now he looked like a little spider, which was the form he seemed most comfortable in. Sometimes when Grey left him for too long as something else, Gidgit would pull himself apart and try to reassemble himself into the spider form.
Grey hated listening to Alder Thornton’s recruitment speeches. Not only were they boring, but he also felt like they never did the cause justice. He sometimes wondered if Alder actually wanted more help. Grey had offered to give the speech instead several times, but Alder seemed to take particular delight in driving everyone away.
He clicked a last piece into place, and Gidgit sprouted a propeller and whizzed around Grey’s head for a little while before running out of momentum and landing lightly in Grey’s hand. He twisted the propeller like a wind-up doll and Gidgit spun through the air once again.
Sitting in what had become his home and his favorite place to be, hearing the muffled voice of Alder in the other room, Grey felt a comfortable peace. His mind began to wander.
Eight years earlier
Lennox Greyson sat on a stiff couch in the living room of his house, in a city ninety miles away from the town where the insane Alder Thornton experimented with energy.
His mother and father sat on the equally uncomfortable, equally fancy couch in front of him. His parents were always buying things like that. Fancy-looking but ultimately poor-quality. Today was no different. His pinched-faced mother was telling him about this fantastic new opportunity for an apprenticeship with a certain Alder Thornton. Grey knew they were only doing this because that’s what their rich friends were doing: sending their kids off to be clergymen or to learn a highly-valued trade. However, Mr. Thornton was not held in high esteem by the inventor’s guild in his town, so the apprenticeship was cheap. Free, in fact. But his parents’ high society friends wouldn’t know that. Only know he went quite far away
His parents would be glad to be rid of him. He was a burden on them financially, another mouth to feed in a family that only wanted to feed their image.
Grey understood this much too well. He had lived far too long with scratchy clothes that didn’t fit right and were second-hand but fit the image. Never mind functionality, never mind his parents’ growing debt and depression: they must fit in with high society.
Grey had realized several things his parents never had. His first realization was that he didn’t enjoy the lifestyle his parents were trying to lead. Even if they had been living it without financial issues, Grey didn’t like the lap of luxury. There were far too many rules for his taste and personality. Maybe he didn’t want to bow the second anyone ever stepped into a room. Maybe he wanted to burp and wear the clothes he wanted to wear. Maybe the gossip of the upper class bored him to death.
Second, he realized that his family was being torn apart from this façade. His parents became more miserable the harder they tried to fit in with the upper crust. But they hadn’t realized it yet. They blamed their depression on their lack of wealth, but Grey realized it was because they were living a charade that constantly tore at their souls.
Third, he discovered that his parents’ “friends” were only pretending to like and accept them, while in reality they scoffed and gossiped while they thought his family couldn’t hear their vile words. They knew Grey’s parents were faking their status. It was plain as day to them. They were only waiting for the right moment to cause the biggest scandal they could create. Until then, they watched Grey’s parents like hungry foxes watching sheep.
Grey didn’t mind being shipped out so young. His parents never seemed to care that much about him anyway, and he yearned for freedom far from the social-constraints of his charade of a life. So when his mother told him he was going ninety miles away to a town he’d never heard of to work for a man he didn’t know, Grey didn’t complain. He packed his bags, said goodbye to the few friends he had—he knew they laughed behind his back as well, but his parents wouldn’t let him befriend “those street urchins”—and took the next coach to Thornton’s town. The journey was bumpy, wet, and uncomfortable, but he was free. He was only feared that Alder Thornton would enforce the same social rules his parents had. He need not have worried about that.