“It’s good to see you again,” he tells me. “I’m glad you’re home.” He leans close to give me a welcoming kiss – and I can’t deny I’ve missed his kisses – but something skitters up his arm to perch on his shoulder.
A spider. But not the typical kind. One of his creations.
“You’ve been tinkering again,” I observe, and back away.
“A bit,” he hedges. “More than a bit,” he amends, off my accusing glare. “A lot, actually. You were on tour for six months, love. I had to fill the nights somehow. Besides, it was a distraction from the pain.”
Before I’d left him to go on tour, he’d been diagnosed with the wasting disease that had decimated the human population of Earth. (The aliens and the hybrids, like me, were immune.) I’d offered to stay, but it had been my farewell tour – my last chance to dance the lead roles I’d loved so well – Giselle, of course, Aurora, and – somewhat appropriately – my very last performance had been Coppelia.
“Did you have to build spiders, though?” I’d always feared the creatures. They had too many legs, and too many eyes, and tended to appear in places where I was wearing too little clothing – the shower, the deck of the hot tub, our bed.
“I didn’t build him,” my partner said.
“But I can see the clockwork.”
“I enhanced him. Come, let me draw you a bath, and I’ll explain.”
I let him lead me through the bedroom, into the luxurious master bathroom that had been the selling feature for our house. He’d made sure the bed was freshly made for my arrival, and I smiled at that detail. I undressed as he lit candles and filled the tub with hot water and scented bubbles.
“Join me?” I invited.
“Not tonight,” he said. “Would you like wine or tea while you soak?”
“Not tonight,” I echoed his words, as I stepped into the tub I sighed as I sunk into the water. My forty-five-year-old body was pretty battered after six months of performances and travel, and I’d danced five years longer than many of the women I’d started with, ten years longer than some. I could easily have closed my eyes and fallen asleep, but the bubbles tickled my skin and reminded me… “So, the spider?”
“Ah, yes. The first month you were gone, I was a bit sore, but I managed, but as the disease worsened, I knew that there would be no medical marvel for me unless I created one. I started with spiders because – gods forgive me – I didn’t care so much if they didn’t survive the process. Then I moved to small mammals; don’t worry, they all survived.”
“So, what, you were making clockwork prosthetics?”
“At first, yes, but I learned to recreate entire joints, even organs. It was as if someone was directing my ideas, guiding my hands. When I woke one morning and couldn’t walk, I called Sam.”
Sam was my partner’s oldest friend, a fellow tinkerer, and a specialist in robotics. “There was a Doctor Who marathon, and we spent the weekend watching it.” He chuckled ruefully, “I’m afraid it only gave us more ideas. In any case, we needed to test our creations on humans, and Sam’s wife is a surgeon, so…”
He rolled up his sleeve and displayed his elbow, then pressed inside the joint, causing the skin to open and reveal more clockwork.
I gasped. I couldn’t help it.
My partner knelt by the side of my tub and began to unbutton his shirt. He didn’t speak, but the seam in his chest told me all I needed to know.
“Maybe don’t open that just now,” I said, managing to infuse my words with a tiny bit of humor. “Is that why you didn’t want to join me in the bath?”
“You mean, will I rust? No. Totally waterproof, or, as much as I ever was. I just wanted you to have room to stretch.”
“How much?” I asked. “How much of you is… still you?”
“My knees, elbows, and heart are clockwork. The rest… the rest of me is still very much organic. I haven’t cured myself, love. Just arrested the progression of the disease.” He lowered his head a bit, the way he always did when he was sheepish. “The patents made us a lot of money… if you ever want – ”
“NO! – ” I cut him off. “I mean… I’m sorry, but… no. It’s not for me. I’m glad you’re not in pain, though.”
“Not in pain,” he said, and then, waggling his eyebrows, he added, “and no longer impotent.”
I’d been gone for six months, but we hadn’t had sex for at least as long before my tour. “Prove it,” I challenged.
* * * * *
Later, sated and sleepy, I rested with my head on my lover’s chest, and listened to the ticking that came from deep within his chest. “Well, I said… that still works.”
“It does,” he agreed, “like clockwork.”