The Clockmaker’s Companion

by Justin Williams

The day began like any other, as the darkest days often do. The Clockmaker and I walked along the rutted dirt road to the village and as we drew near, my sensors sparked with the scent of fruits, vegetables, and the sweetest berries the harvest could provide.

”Ah, fresh air,” said the Clockmaker, inhaling the crisp and fragrant breeze. ”Perhaps I’ve been hiding in my study more than I should.”

”It is nice to have you around,” I said, not mentioning the recent rise in his drinking, and his crying. ”I am capable of worry.”

He shook his head. ”Let’s just enjoy this beautiful morning, my friend.”

We walked in silence a moment, the rising sun reflecting off my armored frame into a thousand ants of pure sunlight swarming in the dirt. The Clockmaker created me as his heroic knight, shining armor and all. If only everyone in the village agreed. I broke the silence. ”Do you think Morris will be waiting for you again?”

”We just need a few things for dinner,” he said, looking up at me with his cornflower eyes. His mustache curled even more as he smiled. ”We’ll be in and out before Morris has a reason to give us trouble.”

I did not feel his confidence. Morris seemed to need no reason to cause us trouble. ”I do not understand why he dislikes us. Your work in the town should make you a hero, but he treats you as the villain.”

The Clockmaker kicked a rock in the road. It rattled through a wheel rut.

”Some people hate what they don’t understand,” he said. ”Or what they fear. Often, it’s the same thing.”

”If he makes trouble, at least allow me to defend you.”

”He won’t hurt me. Not this morning. And for you, your number one command is to do them no harm. Any of them,” he said. Then he sighed, his face dropping suddenly into  sadness. ”They do enough to themselves.”

He taught me many things, but I learned most from his actions. I learned anger, as he destroyed the machine piece by piece. Sadness, in the night when he spoke of drowning. Hope, when his eyes brightened with each new creation, his efforts to build a better world. 

We neared the village. 

Alma stood like a sentry just outside the gate. The redness in her eyes betrayed her efforts of hiding tears. She jumped in front of us, gasping to catch her breath

”Cole!” She inhaled deeply. ”Morris is on the hunt. For you.”

The Clockmaker grinned.

”It’s always a pleasure, Alma,” he said. 

”Please, Cole. I don’t know what he’s up to, but I’m afraid it’s more than the usual threats.”

”We plan to have a great feast tonight. No bully will stop me from making that happen.”

”He’s been appointed Protector, you know.”

”We’ll give him no reason to make trouble.”

”He doesn’t need a reason, Cole,” Alma said. She turned to me. Her eyes squinted, just a bit. Her hatred hung over me like a thundercloud ready to strike. Only desperation would have caused her to look my way. 

”Please, Sir Robert,” she said through gritted teeth. ”Make him go home. Why do you even exist if you won’t keep him safe?”

”Sir Robert is my companion and my assistant,” said the Clockmaker, answering for me. ”And I created him to follow my commands, so you’ll have no luck turning him against me.”

Alma growled. ”Listen to me, Cole.” She grabbed his elbow. ”For once, listen. He won’t stop until you’re dead. Both of you.”

The Clockmaker touched her arm gently. ”I accept my fate, Alma. But I’m certain I have one more good meal before Lady Death comes to the door.” He winked.

Alma appealed to me with eyes like a spring sky ready to rain.

”I am sorry, Alma. I cannot stop him.”

”March to your death, then.” Alma wiped at her eyes. “Fools.”

She turned and stormed away, shaking her head, and disappearing into the growing village crowd.

We stood like stakes in the ground until she was out of sight, then the Clockmaker turned to me. ”In and out, Bot. Then home to prepare our feast.”

We walked in through the village gate and I hoped out would be as easy.

Morris lurked among the crowd. I could not see him, but with my heightened senses I could hear him, the uneven beat of his footsteps, his aggressive breathing, like a bull. 

”Over here,” called the Clockmaker. He stood at a vegetable-laden table towered over by a man with a soil-stained shirt and a chest like a rooster. ”Look at this fennel, Bot. This is the best harvest I’ve seen since I arrived.”

”It is, it is,” said the vendor. ”Perfect for a stew, or a caramelized delight. And here.” He shoved a handful of carrots toward us. ”The sweetest carrots you’ll ever eat.”

”How can I say no?” asked the Clockmaker, laughing. He dropped a few coins into the vendors hand and handed the fennel bulb and bundled carrots back to me.

The Clockmaker inhaled deeply and smiled. ”Let’s make our way to the baker next.”

We weaved in and out of the crowd as the Clockmaker made a few more purchases, handing me more and more to carry as we went. The baker was arranging a display of long and narrow loaves as we stepped through the open doorway. 

”I could smell your shop from the city gate,” said the Clockmaker. ”I have a feeling you’ve outdone yourself today, Stephen.” He dropped two gleaming gold coins on the counter. ”Two loaves, please.”

”I think your vision is going. It’s good bread, Cole, but not that good.” The baker wrapped two loaves, laughing, but not touching the coins.

”A gift,” said the Clockmaker. ”For years of kindness.”


The Clockmaker reached over the counter and rested his hand on the baker’s shoulder. ”Take it, Stephen. You’ve been a good friend to us and we’ve done well in our work. We just want to share some of our blessings.”

The baker slowly slipped the coins into the chest pocket of his flour-dusted apron. ”I don’t know what to say.”

”No need to say a thing,” said the Clockmaker. Then he glanced out the window. ”We better be on our way.” We turned to leave, and at the doorway the Clockmaker looked back over his shoulder. ”Take care of yourself, Stephen,” he said, with a tone of finality that made my sensors spark.

My arms fully laden for our feast, we turned for home. 

Then I saw Morris.

The Clockmaker kept walking, but for a second I noticed his hesitation. 

”Good day, Cole.” Morris said, his voice like gravel grinding underfoot. ”I’ve been looking for you.”

”And here we are,” said the Clockmaker.

”As of today, I am Protector of Saints Crossing. I assume you know what that means.” 

”You’re out quite a bit of coin to the Union?”

Morris didn’t laugh. ”It means it’s my sworn duty to keep our growing village safe from evil.” He looked at me, and his nostrils flared. ”And it’s my duty to purge that evil when it comes to pass.”

”The village grows because of the good we do, Morris,” said the Clockmaker. ”Look around you. You may not understand what we do, but that doesn’t make it evil.”

As if on cue, someone opened a music box, releasing its melody to float on the breeze. Over Morris shoulder, a young boy tossed a wind-up bird into the air, laughing as it fluttered a moment before falling into back to his waiting hands.

A crowd formed around us as the village clock began to chime. Anxious faces looked on. Morris seemed indifferent to the marvels of clockwork on display all around him. He continued his predetermined deliberation. 

”I understand perfectly well what you do,” Cole. ”There is no denying your skill. But to claim that skill explains this—” He knocked on my chest, shaking his head. ”Ah, the beloved Sir Robert. Tell me Cole, why does this clockwork move so silently, smoothly, swiftly? Why does it seem to think on its own? It’s not clockwork at all is it, Cole? I say no. I say it’s a demon.”

”Easy, Morris. Sir Robert is no demon. He only does what I’ve designed him to do, and that is help.”

 ”This creature even speaks.” Morris turned his voice toward the gathering crowd. ”You’ve all heard it. And I ask you, faithful citizens, does clockwork speak? Chime, maybe. Play a tune, even. But to speak? Like a man? No. But a demon speaks with sweet lips.” He turned to face the Clockmaker. ”As does its master.”

Morris waved his hand, summoning his underlings from the crowd. Deputies, Morris called them, but in action they were no more than thugs. Rand and Wilken pushed through the gathered villagers. Wilken held a blade in his iron hand, the hand another brilliant work of the Clockmaker. With a shove, he ordered Rand to circle to the left.

”You see, Cole, I can no longer look the other way. I don’t want to harm you, but if I do nothing, I’m allowing you to harm to the villagers I’m now sworn to protect.”

”It’s not time for this yet,” said the Clockmaker.

”Not time?” asked Morris. ”It is always time to purge evil from the world.”

”That’s not—” Cole hesitated.

Alma burst from the crowd.

”Leave them alone, Morris.”

”Careful with your choice of friends, child,” said Morris. ”I’d hate to see you fall to his spell.”

”Cole makes our lives better, plain and simple. He makes our world a better place. You’re just jealous of his genius.”

Morris scoffed. ”I am a righteous man, Alma. I feel no jealousy. I feel only my duty to keep protect the purity of the Union.”

Alma glanced at the approaching henchmen, then at us. Metal flashed, and before my sensors could even register her movement it, she stood behind him, a knife at his neck.

”Run!” she screamed.

Morris pulled at her arm, but her strength must have surprised him. He squealed. Rand and Wilken ran to his aid.

The Clockmaker and I fled into the crowd.

”He’ll come for us later,” said the Clockmaker between breaths. ”But Alma bought us one last supper.”

Someone screamed behind me and I looked over my shoulder. Morris clutched at his neck, blood oozing between his fingers. A warning, I thought. Not a true attempt on his life

Morris and his thugs scanned the crowd, but Alma had disappeared.

As had we.

Dark clouds hung on the horizon as we neared home. My sensors had mimicked adrenaline well, but as we ascended the stairs to our cottage, the panic fell away.

I cranked the phonograph the Clockmaker had built in the spring, and the sound of the village’s best quartet swept through the room. I set the polished oaken table for two and lit the candles of the centerpiece, then went to the window to watch the fiery colors of sunset paint the sky. When the Clockmaker came in from the kitchen, I joined him at the table.

Roast lamb, with sweet carrots and smoky fennel, fresh fruits, warmed bread, a blackberry pie, and a dusty bottle of a dark red wine ready to wash it all down.

”An impressive display,” I said. 

He said nothing.

The feast fueled my system like never before and the flames of candlelight swayed in a gentle breeze to the harmonies of the quartet. I admired their beauty, so much brightness in so small a fire. The Clockmaker drummed the table with his fingers.

The evening was too perfect. 

The Clockmaker glanced at the clock. Then his gaze settled on the machine. What was left of it, to be more clear.

The remains of the machine sat in exile in the farthest corner of the room, a dusty, sheet-covered mass of lumps and points, some rounded, some sharp. Cobwebs hung from the corners above it, the only cobwebs in the cottage.

The Clockmaker spoke of the machine as a source of pride, a great accomplishment he never quite explained, but his vengeful glances and whispered curses, the ones he thought I didn’t notice, all told a different story. In his heart, I knew, he loathed the machine and the memories it carried.

I often wondered if he regretted building me. It would be logical that his feelings for the machine would bleed over. As dissimilar in appearance as we were, it was the deliberate dismantling of the machine that provided parts for my construction. If he regretted me, he never admitted it.

At least I gave the Clockmaker some semblance of companionship—a being with whom to share the burdens of life.

The machine was never so lucky.

The song of the quartet faded away, followed by a soft static as the turntable spun. I turned off the phonograph and stood at the window for a moment, searching the darkness that had descended. 

”Time flies,” said the Clockmaker. ”I’ve truly enjoyed these years with you, my friend.” 

”Tomorrow will be just as good,” I said. 

He checked the clock again, then looked at me. His head fell back against his chair.

We sat in silence for several minutes. Crickets chorused outside and my usually silent gears seemed to squeal as I reached for my wine.

”If I could…” He trailed off. ”There’s something I have to tell—” 

Voices rumbled in the night. 


And more. Many more.

”I’m sorry, my friend,” he said. ”It looks like I’m out of time.”

The Clockmaker blew out the candles on the table and went to stand at the door like a man awaiting his sentencing.

I came alongside him as the mob approached. We watched them trod through the dirt and dormant grasses of late autumn. Fallen leaves of fiery reds and oranges and yellows crunched beneath the black soles of their boots.

It was clear the Clockmaker had no intention of fighting. I looked at him, gaunt and pale from too many days alone in his study. I wanted him to fight, but he seemed even more resolved to accept his death.

I was not.

”I am as strong as twenty of them,” I said. ”We can fight them off. Escape. Start a new life somewhere else.”

”If I could reason with them, if I could save them from themselves…” He squeezed his eyes and shook his head, as if remembering a nightmare. ”There are some things I can’t explain. It would only fuel their fires.”

I grabbed his arm and pulled. ”There must be something—”

He pulled away.

”I can’t flee the Fates.” He turned to me, putting a skeletal hand on my shoulder. ”It’s my fate, though, not yours. I want you to run.”

I could say nothing.

”I’ve been selfish keeping you here. There is so much good you could do in this world.” 

Shadows shifted across the faces of the mob as if darkness itself engulfed them. The flames of their torches raged in the night. 

The Clockmaker spoke again. ”You will be my legacy, Bot. Go and do good in the world. And to these men, be merciful. They act only from fear.” There was a slight break in his voice, and I knew he was afraid as well.

The mob stepped into the light of our porch lanterns.

”Judgement has come, Cole.” Morris led the crowd, a coiled rope hanging from his hand. 

Alma appeared from the shadows and pushed her way to the front of the crowd. ”This has gone too far, Morris.”

Morris’s eyes flashed in the torchlight. His hand flew to his neck.

”Get her out of here.”

Wilken came around and reached for Alma, but she jumped away. She rushed to the porch steps and stood, blocking the path to the Clockmaker.

”You have no right, Morris.”

”I have all the right I need. God-given right.”

”And the Ministers approve? You can’t just kill a man.”

”I am Protector of this village.” He rubbed at the fresh wound on his neck. ”I could put you to death for what you’ve done. Tonight, though, I have a greater evil to execute.”

Alma stepped toward Morris, but the Clockmaker pulled her back.

”This is how it has to be,” he said. ”You’ll never know how much I wished it were different.” He kissed her, his lips lingering on hers, her cheeks aflame. ”Keep her safe, Bot.” It was the last time I heard his gentle, soothing timbre.

”You come out,” said Morris, ”or we come in.”

The Clockmaker guided Alma to the side, then stepped softly through the doorway. I pulled him back.

”Please,” I said, sadness spreading through my circuits.

He tried to pull away.

I tightened my grip, feeling the bone of his shoulder pushing against my fingers.

The Clockmaker placed his hand on mine and looked up. That knowing glimmer was gone from his eyes. He was already dead.

I let him go.

Never has a man gone so peacefully to his own death.

The mob swarmed him. Rand came forward and bound the Clockmaker’s wrists behind his back, the rope tearing into his skin. With the other rope, Wilken led the Clockmaker away, pushing him ahead of the group. The Clockmaker stumbled, falling to the dirt. 

Wilken laughed. ”Not so impressive without your demon.”

The men pulled the Clockmaker back to his feet and marched him to his death. Still, he remained silent.

Alma started toward them but I grabbed her. She struggled against me.

”We have to save him,” she said.

”He forbids me to fight them,” I said. “We have no choice but to let him go.” 

”I’ll never let him go.” Alma twisted herself away and, afraid to harm her, I let go. She pulled her dagger from its sheath. ”Maybe you can’t fight. But I can.”

Alma’s blade flashed across the night like a shooting star. If there had been mercy from the Fates, Morris would be dead. This was not a night for mercy.

Morris ducked away and the dagger disappeared into the darkness. 

Alma crashed into the mob. Someone dropped a torch, its flame trampled out underfoot. A man screamed among them.

Alma screamed next.

I stood in the doorway, lunging forward, then pulling back, stuck in a cycle of conflicting commands. She fought like a mother bear, but before I could force myself to act, they had her pinned against a tree. Morris stood before her, grinning.

Alma spat in his face, and he slapped hers in return. Another rope appeared, and my hope was lost. ”I should have handled you in the village,” said Morris.

I slammed my hands against the wall as they dragged Alma away, the first true simulation of anger I could remember. I wanted to go after them, but my systems seized up in conflict.

The remaining men turned to me, torch fire reflecting in their eyes.

There was no beauty in this fire, no flames dancing among candles. The fire in their eyes burned with hate and nothing more. 

”There’s the demon,” one of them said. ”Kill it!”

I hesitated as they came after me, part of me wanting to avenge the pain they caused my creator, my companion, but his words echoed in my memory: do them no harm. I fled into the cottage.

There was no chance at hiding for long, but I had to do something. I sought sanctuary in the shadows as the mob followed with their torches. They would destroy me if they could, and like the Clockmaker, I would not harm them. But, I would at least try to live.

Their flames flickered through the room, casting long and sinister shadows along the wall. I crouched low behind the machine, hoping it would grant me life once more.

The men gave up their search. Too soon, I thought. 

Then I heard my damnation.

”This is a waste of time,” said Morris. ”The demon has no escape.”

He paused, a long, dead silence. Then thunder rumbled, and Morris spoke again.

”Let it die in its own fiery hell.”

The men raised their torches and their fires flooded onto the drapes, quickly spreading to the furniture as well. Finally, they dropped their torches to the floor, all but one.

Morris carried his torch deep into the room, as comfortable in the spreading fire as a demon himself. He lit the sheet covering the machine and the fire burst into a rage. I leaned hard and still against the wall, fearing he would see me, but the brightness of the blaze forced him to look away.

”Everyone out,” he said, ”before we burn as well.”

My sensors screamed escape, the heat too much for even me, but I waited. My body glowed red as the flames lashed out against it. I remained hidden, desperate to flee, but refusing to give in. They would believe me dead, they would move on to their next evil. 

Only two of Morris’s men stayed behind, left to guard the door. The rest of the mob withdrew to the spectacle of execution. 

There was no other way out, no back windows large enough to squeeze through, no other doors. Still, my sensors insisted I act. I would survive. I would be his legacy.

I moved low against the wall, hiding from sight as I sought an escape.

A fiery beam crashed from the ceiling to the machine behind me. Others soon followed, and the flames flared. I shielded my visual sensors with my arm, but the image of our fiery home burned into my memory.

Under the cover of smoke, I ran toward the rear of the house. Glass shattered from the windows and wood splintered from the back wall as I exploded through with the strength of twenty men. 

I fled into darkness.

In the hidden safety of the forest, I turned to witness the Clockmaker’s final moments. 

A great oak stretched over the path to our home. A symbol of life, the Clockmaker had called it. A symbol of the longevity and strength a living being could achieve. 

A rope hung from its bough.

The mob stood below, and in their center, the Clockmaker, the noose hanging over his head. It grabbed at his neck with every breath he had left. It grabbed mine as well.

Alma struggled on, but her captors underestimated her no longer. She would be next.

Voices shouted among the mob as the noose pulled tight. I strained my sensors, but could not make out their words. I could see well enough, though, see his feet lifting from the ground, see his instinctual struggles against death. He decided too late to fight the Fates.

The Clockmaker kicked at the night as the rope pulled him into the air. A second rope flew across another thick branch. The mob shouted, Morris loudest among them.

Then silence fell upon them all.

As I watched, the mob turned to the cottage in unison, and I heard the growing hiss that must have captured their attention. I turned to look, and turned away just as quickly.

The blaze flared like the sun as the hiss grew to a shriek. I fell to the ground and covered my head, hiding my visual sensors from what I somehow knew was coming.

The cottage erupted, exploding from within. The trees of the forest swayed like wheat stalks. The wind roared like a lion. Shreds of wood and metal, glass and dirt pelted my body.

A plume of smoke ballooned from the remains of the cottage, casting a silhouette that blacked out the stars. Ash blanketed the world like a shroud. The few trees that remained standing, burned. My sensors struggled to make sense of it all.

I saw the body of the Clockmaker on the ground and rushed to him, a broken mess of skin and bone. He was collapsed over a boulder, his back bent in an unnatural horseshoe.

He couldn’t be alive, but the sensor reading—

I froze.

Ahead, Morris pulled himself to his knees and saw me, his eyes like blood-moons staring from his charred face. He yelled for Rand and Wilken to catch me, to kill me. Wilken stood, his iron hand glowing red. He ripped the hand from his arm and fled, leaving Rand behind, already dead.  

The few survivors of the blast scattered. Morris cursed them all with a scream that would silence a banshee. He pushed himself to his feet and pulled his sword from its sheath. I turned to run, but the burning forest left nowhere to flee.

Had I a proper heart, it would have thundered with his approach. I had my sensors, though, and they were on full alert.

I could not harm Morris.

But Alma could.

She emerged from the shadows, ash sticking to her blood-smeared face. Battered, but alive. She pulled a sword from the scabbard of a dead man and charged.

As much as her appearance surprised me, it blindsided Morris.

Alma speared the borrowed blade into Morris’s side before he could react, pushing the blade deeper as he doubled over in a vomited spray of blood. She kicked him away, sending him stumbling into the forest flames.

Morris surged back from the fire as if possessed, sword in hand.

Alma lunged, but Morris parried and countered with a hard slice that clipped Alma’s arm, drawing out a crimson streak.

Alma swung again, but her pain and fatigue were evident. Morris stepped aside, grunting and grabbing at his side, but holding his ground. He kicked her toward a fiery tree. Her blade fell into the flames, but she caught herself before falling alongside it. 

Alma turned back to him. Her chest heaved.

She called to me. ”Help me. Please.”

”I can’t.”

”I’ll die if you do nothing.”

Something within me buzzed, then snapped, and I shoved Morris into a tree, burning branches collapsing around us. His eyes widened when he saw me standing above him.

The opening was enough for Alma.

She grabbed her sword and lunged again like an arrow loosed. Morris turned back, but not in time. Alma’s sword sunk to the hilt. She jerked the blade up through his chest. He dropped his sword to the embers below. 

His body followed.

Alma dropped the blade, her hand burned and blistered. I reached out to help her, staggering away from Morris’s body. I held her by her waist, and she hung onto my shoulders. A drop of rain fell to her cheek. Then another. 

A crack of thunder seemed to open the clouds. 

The flames died down. Billows of smoke rose like great spirits toward the heavens. 

I held tightly to Alma. 

When the smoke began finally to clear, we surveyed what remained of the mob, the forest, the night. We turned to the path. The great oak, the strength and the life, remained, and with it, my hope. The mob had not fared as well.

Bodies lay broken and scattered beneath the tree. Nothing moved. I found the Clockmaker among the burnt faces. Dead. There was no doubt this time. At least I could give him a proper burial.

As the rain fell, I stood amidst the charred and dying remains. The fire of their own fear and hate had brought the mob to their deaths. 

It seemed a fitting end.

We buried the Clockmaker beneath the oak.

My creator was dead. My only friend, my only companion.


I could have stopped his death, physically at least, but I did nothing. How could I do good in the world if I could not do good for him?

”I loved him, too,” Alma said. ”I’m sorry, Sir Robert.”

”He was exceptional,” I said. ”He commanded me to be his legacy, but I have no idea where to begin. I have no idea how to go on.”

”I know.”

She put a hand on my shoulder and looked up at me, eyes wide open, maybe even with compassion. With the Clockmaker gone, maybe I was the last piece of him she could cling to. Or maybe she was just being kind.

”It’ll be tough without him,” she said, ”but we have to press on. Let his memory live on with you, his dreams, his hopes. Besides, you have to follow his commands, don’t you?” She winked.

”It is my programming.” He had given me his final command, his final wish, and I had no other choice.

I stood at the road, my back to the grave of my only companion and the ashes of our cottage, and considered my fate. To the north and the west, I would remain surrounded by the Union, an unwelcome place for me now, even if I had ever been welcome to begin with. To the south lie the sea. The journey east seemed the best option. 

”Farewell, Alma,” I said, and I started on my way.

”Wait!” She grabbed my arm. ”You’re just leaving? What about me?”

”It would be logical for you to go home and seek treatment for your wounds.”

”I have nobody here.”

”I do not know what danger lies ahead for me. I cannot risk harm to you, of all people.”

”But I fought Morris. Others will know. Staying is dangerous for me now. Aren’t you supposed to protect me now?”

”But I—“ 

She jerked a small blade to my neck in smooth silence. ”Do you need more proof I can handle myself in a pinch,” she said.

The blade would not cut me, but her point was well made.

”Of course you can,” I said. ”You saved me from certain destruction tonight.”

”Then I’ll come with you. We’ll carry on his legacy together.”

I nodded. ”Then we head east. Have you ever been out there?”

“I’ve never been past St. Samuel,” she said. “It will be a new life for us both.”

I had lost my only companion, and Alma, the only one she ever wanted. 

Neither of us would be alone.

As we walked to our fate, Alma took my hand, a gesture of comfort the Clockmaker had needed so many times before. In the horror of that night, it was familiar, and appreciated.