As one of the mechanical race known as the boltedkindred, Johnny Rivet questions the reasons for the cold war separating him from his human friend and love, Rebecca.
Living steeped in an atmosphere of longstanding tension, Johnny is used to being feared for his inexplicable sentience. But hostilities are threatening to erupt, and he has his own fears: the unfinished men, people with eyes like dark ink pools and paper skin masquerading as humans. These creatures burn with an irrational hatred of the boltedkindred who share their city, a crumbling alternate-1950s metropolis.
No one else notices the faces the unfinished men wear aren’t fully human. No one else sees the city is literally breaking down.
Johnny and Rebecca unite to stop the cold war before it erupts into a violent inferno—but to do so they’ll have to leave their city, along with their families and old lives, behind.
First 250 words:
It unfolded itself from the elevator. There was no better word for its motion.
In the dying light, I saw the unfinished man, saw him like I somehow hadn’t before. His eyes were malevolent puddles of ink on milky pale paper flesh. His nostrils and mouth were ragged, yawning gashes—chasms of empty blackness.
He didn’t breathe, he rustled.
I heard Rebecca’s breathing hitch beside me, a tiny gasp catching in her throat as he moved like broken origami twitchscuttling towards us slowly, twitch crinkle scrape twitch crinkle scrape. How had I ever mistaken him for human, or even living?
Before that moment I hadn’t really seen them for what they were, creatures only masquerading as humans.
I may not have been human, but those things weren’t, either.
I wondered if Rebecca was seeing the same creature I was, or if she was still lulled by his very superficial resemblance to a person, as I once had been. Perhaps we see what we want to see, or only see what we believe possible.
“I smell rust,” he wheezed through his torn mouth. “Hello, little tick-tock.”
And as he said it, I tasted rust—hot, burning, angry rust. Never before had I experienced the sensation that followed: everything stopped. I stopped. The frantic whirl of my thoughts, my mind, my body—all ground to a halt.
One moment all circuits and gears were churning towards logic and reason; the next, every fiber of me was routed towards a single sensation of paralytic fear.