by Tom Holt

  "More power!" roared the Baron.
  Fearfully, Igor obeyed, throwing his weight against the huge lever and driving it forward. Livid blue sparks like fat, sizzling worms cascaded from the contacts. Somewhere a fuse overloaded, but the failsafes and backups cut in immediately; a fine piece of work, though the Baron said it himself, continuity of power supply guaranteed no matter how recklessly he abused the system. He bent down over the Thing strapped to the bench and peered hungrily at the dials on the control panel.
  "More power," he repeated.
  Igor's eyes widened like an opening flower in stop-motion. "The resistors," he screeched. "They're at breaking point as it is. They just can't take any more!"
  "More power."
  Oh well, muttered Igor to himself, he's the boss, presumably he knows what he's doing. And if he doesn't - well, in years to come Katchen and the children would take a picnic up to the ruined tower on the top of the mountain, and Katchen would bring them into the burnt-out shell of the laboratory and point to a man's silhouette appliqued onto the flagstones and say, "See that? That's your Uncle Igor." Immortality, of a sort. And it was better than working in the cuckoo-clock factory.
  He edged forward the lever, and at first nothing happened. Then somewhere behind the massive screen of lead bricks, something began to hum, and a moment later a tremendous surge of power began to burgeon and swell, like the  wave of a surfer's lifetime on Bondi Beach. Little silver beads of molten lead glistened like dewdrops in the interstices of the shield.
  A few inches away from the Baron's nose, the needle on a dial suddenly quivered. "More power!" he roared, slamming both fists down on the console and sending his coffee-mug (a birthday-present from Igor, thoughtfully inscribed World's Best Boss) flying to the floor. Igor closed his eyes, mumbled the first four words of the Ave Maria, and thrust the lever all the way home.
  Raw power sprayed out of the circuits like fizzy lemonade from a shaken-up bottle.  One of the minor transtator coils dissolved instantaneously into a glowng pool of molten copper; but the backup took the load, and the meter hardly wavered. You could have boiled a kettle on top of the main reactor housing, if you didn't mind drinking luminous green tea.
  "Yes!" thundered the Baron. "Igor, it..."
  Before he could say exactly what, a gunbarrel-straight shaft of blue fire burst from the mighty lens poised a few feet above the bench and enveloped the Thing completely. The Baron screamed and threw himself at the fire-shrouded form, trying to beat out the flames before they utterly consumed his creation; but before he even made contact, a tremendous force hauled him off his feet and slammed him against the far wall. Igor ducked under a table as a cyclone of distilled energy ripped circuit-boards and clamps and conduits out of the benches and juggled them in a spinning maelstrom of blinding heat and light around the glowing outline of the Thing. It was incredible, awesome, terrifying; Spielberg let loose in the effects laboratory with a blank cheque signed by God.
  Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. All the lights snapped out and the laboratory was shrouded in darkness, except for an ice-cold blue glow from the bench where the Thing had been. The smoke cleared, and there was silence except for the sizzle- plink of molten copper slowly cooling.
  "Baron? Are you all right?"
  Cautiously, both men stood up and stared at the bench and the source of the unearthly blue light. "Did you see what happened, Igor?" the Baron whispered. "That fire... Is there anything left?"
  Igor shrugged. "Search me," he said, "I was hiding."
  Together they approached the bench. The blue fire danced on the scarred surface of the oak like the brandy flare on a Christmas pudding, and in the heart of the glow, where the Thing had been, there was a shape; humanoid, certainly, with the correct number of limbs and in more or less the right proportions, but...
   "My God," whispered the Baron. "Igor, what have we done?"
   "What d'you mean, we?" Igor whispered back. "I just work here, remember?"
  Where there had been a seven foot frame of carefully-selected muscle and bone, painstakingly put together from raw materials taken from the finest mortuaries in Europe, there was now a short, stocky child-shaped object with a small, squat body,  sticklike arms and legs and a head that was too large for the rest of the assembly. It was wearing brightly- coloured dungarees, an Alpine hat with a feather in it and shiny black shoes. It was made of wood and had a perky expression and a cute pointy nose.
  "It's a puppet," the Baron growled.
  "So it is," Igor replied, trying to keep the grin off his face and out of his voice. Despite all the melodrama of the last half hour, he couldn't help liking the little chap.
  "A puppet," the Baron repeated. "A goddamned wooden puppet. What in hell's name am I supposed to do with that?"
  Igor coughed respectfully. "If you don't want it for anything, Baron," he said, "my little nephew Piotr'd love it for his birthday."
  "A pup - " The baron broke off in mid-snarl. The puppet had winked at him. "Did you see that?" he gasped.
  "See what, boss?"
  "It winked at me."
  Igor craned his neck to see. "You sure, boss?" he said. "Can't say I saw anything myself."
  "It moved, I'm sure of it." The Baron sat down heavily on the shell of a burnt-out instrument console. "Or maybe the radiation's addled my brains. I could have sworn..."
  "Hello," said the puppet, sitting up at an angle of precisely ninety degrees. "Are you my daddy?"
  The Baron made a curious noise; wonder, triumph and deep disgust, all rolled upin one throaty grunt. "It's alive," he croaked. "Igor, do you see? It's alive."
  "Oh sure," Igor replied. "We got ourselves a walking, talking, moving, breathing,  living doll." He closed his eyes and opened them again. "When you go back and tell the investors about this, I want to be there. Can I have your lungs as a souvenir?"
  "You're my daddy," said the puppet. "I love you. My name's Pinocchio and I'm going to live with you for ever and ever."
  The Baron groaned and buried his face in his hands; which surprised the puppet, because he'd imagined his daddy would be pleased to see him. A safe assumption to make, surely? Maybe not. There was so much about this wonderful new world he didn't know, and wouldn't it be fun finding out?
  Deep inside his wooden brain, a tiny voice was squeaking Hang on, this isn't right, it isn't fair, let me out! But the grain of the wood soaked up the last flickers of neural energy, and the dim spark drenched away into the cold sap. "My name is Pinocchio," the puppet repeated; and if its nose grew longer by an eighth of an inch or so, nobody noticed.

Text reproduced with permission.

1998 Uwe Milde

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