Tin Horses and Paper Planes

Chapter 3

For a crowded half-hour, Glitch's room became a concentrated hub of activity. The task of moving the unconscious zipperhead had been allocated to a couple of palace guards, who had used a folded blanket to form a makeshift stretcher. Wyatt had stayed with them all the way up the stairs, following close at their heels like a sheepdog driving an errant flock. He had offered to carry Glitch himself, to use the servants' staircase and save Glitch the indignity of being paraded up the grand stairs, but the doctor had waved away his concerns and they'd ascended the staircase accompanied by a susurrus of curiosity. Now the guards filed out, leaving Wyatt with the doctor - Edgar Krantz, he'd established on the way up - and Glitch, who continued to sleep, hemmed in by a barricade of pillows and bolsters supplied by whispering, wide-eyed maidservants. The apple core had been extracted from the bed and disposed of, affording Wyatt a brief, bittersweet smile, and the small nightstand and lamp nearby had been removed. The nearest hard surface now was the chair Wyatt had pulled over to the bedside, and he seated himself heavily, watching the doctor stoop over the bed to check Glitch's pulse.

He held his tongue while the doctor muttered irritably, eyes fixed on a small, silver watch. He hadn't paid much attention to the room the night before, and now his gaze, hungry for something to look at other than the fragile form in the bed, drifted around the bedroom. Now that he could see it in the daylight, it didn't seem quite so cosy as he'd first imagined. The whole suite of rooms had an unsettling quality that he had trouble pinning down until he thought about his own accommodation next door. It wasn't that the rooms were the same; each had been tastefully furnished, each chair, lamp or exquisitely upholstered couch had clearly been individually picked out for the room it occupied. But still, they shared the same, subtle echo of a place for visitors. They didn't look lived-in. They didn't look like someone's home.

The only evidence of Glitch's presence amidst the elegant furniture and mostly-empty bookshelves lay on a table beneath the window: several open books, stacked haphazardly as if their owner had been trying to read them all at once and, beside them, an odd-looking instrument - a shallow, curve-sided box with a complicated arrangement of strings and frets. A couple of the strings were snapped and curling. Had Glitch been trying to repair it?

Krantz cleared his throat, derailing Wyatt from his contemplation.

"I'm done here, for the time being. He may sleep through the rest of the day, but if you notice anything... untoward, there'll be a guard outside - he'll know how to find me." The doctor, having completed his examination, seemed in a hurry to depart. Wyatt followed him through into the outer room.

"Is he going to be okay?"

Krantz made a clucking noise with his tongue. "The convulsion itself was quite brief, and he doesn't appear to have bitten his tongue. Still, there's no telling until I'm certain of the underlying cause. Has anything like this happened before?"

"I can't say for sure." Wyatt stared despondently at the empty chair with its red and gold cushions. "I haven't been around lately. You'd be better off asking the princess." DG wouldn't be far away, he was certain. When he'd returned to the ball Glitchless and told her what had happened she'd been all set to go up to the former advisor's rooms there and then, but Wyatt had intervened. He's sleeping. Best to let him get some rest tonight and see if that helps. Would it have made a difference if a doctor had been found last night? Wyatt thrust the thought away. Maybe it would, but grabbing a big handful of blame ain't gonna help right now. Save the self-recrimination for later. He shook his head. "Thinking about it, if he'd been sick like this before I'm pretty sure she'd have mentioned it to me, or sent for a doctor herself. They're pretty close." He let that sink in for a moment before going on. "So what do we do now?"

Krantz shot another look towards the door, his bag bumping impatiently against his leg. It was obvious that the ex-Tin Man had no intention of letting him leave without telling him something. "Right now? Nothing. This might be the first and last seizure he ever has - the confusion and the sight disturbance aren't necessarily indicative of anything particularly sinister. Anyone can have a seizure, given the right circumstances." A slight gleam entered his eyes, and Wyatt felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle at something in the doctor's voice as he went on. "Of course, I haven't worked with a headcase before - this might be a sign of incipient degeneration. We'll be able to get a better idea once he's had a few more of these - if there's a pattern, it'll show itself."

Eagerness. Like a kid in a hurry to play with a new toy. Wyatt felt his hands close into fists. "A few more? You're just going to let him suffer so that you can study him? What if he has one of these that he doesn't recover from?"

"We'll carry out other tests in the meantime, of course. If we can find any obvious physical causes, we may be able to help. The brain is a complex organ, Mr Cain. That he was functioning so well with only half of one for so long is astonishing in itself. His eyesight, his motor skills... in most cases the side controlled by the absent hemisphere should be significantly impaired. You should take comfort in the fact that he's had such a good run..." Krantz hesitated as Wyatt's eyes narrowed.

"You better hope I'm not hearing you right. You're basically telling me that he's dying, and I just have to accept it? That I have to be thankful he lasted this long? This is my friend you're talking about. Not some kind of - of experiment."

Krantz gave him a look of manufactured sympathy that Wyatt itched to hit. "You're upset. It's understandable. But I'll thank you not to put words in my mouth. I have not said that he's dying. It may be that medication will help him. It may be that it does not. I'm simply giving you the facts, unpleasant though they may be - he has, from what you say, experienced remarkable good health until this point. I can't predict how long that good fortune can hold out, or if it has deserted him now. All I can do is observe and attempt to learn more. Dispassionately."

Wyatt forced himself to relax. It was either that or throw Krantz through the window, and the sound of breaking glass might wake Glitch. "I'm not good at standing around doing nothing." Not by choice, anyhow. "There must be something I can do while I'm here?"

"You can stay with him. Assuming he has any recollection of the time leading up to the episode, it would be useful to assemble any information that you can on prior symptoms. If he doesn't recover from the disorientation, he also needs someone to make sure he doesn't wander off - if there had been no one with him this time, he might have been more seriously injured."

What about just being there so there's a friendly face around when he wakes up? Did you oversleep the day they covered bedside manner, you cold-hearted son of a bitch? He nodded anyway - he'd had no intention of leaving Glitch alone, no matter what the doctor had said. "I can do that. Will you be talking to the Queen about this?"

The doctor gave a curt nod, but Wyatt suspected he was in no hurry to request that particular audience. "She will receive my report, of course."

She will receive my report. So clinical and detached. Wyatt wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake him until the bland smile fell off his face, and tell him about the man he was treating like a laboratory specimen. About the way that Glitch had followed him into the trees after they'd found Adora's grave, stealing gradually into the circle of his grief, uncharacteristically quiet and still. How he'd seen the tears and said nothing, but placed himself firmly in Wyatt's way, blocking his line of sight to an empty metal suit, then, later, had helped him to topple the hateful thing and brought him a stone from the fireplace of the ruined shack to smash the faceplate. This is Glitch, doc. He likes dancing, and apples, and interesting butterflies, and science so advanced it'd make your head spin. He could kick you so hard both your ears would end up on the same side, and he's spent longer than it took you to earn that shiny stethoscope starving and sleeping in ditches, but he doesn't like fighting and he wouldn't go Longcoat hunting with me and Jeb without one of those big embroidered palace pillows. He's a complicated, amazing human being, and if it came down to the world doing without either him or you, I'd shoot you in a heartbeat.

Taking advantage of his distraction, Krantz had made his way to the door, casting one last proprietorial glance back at the bedroom. "If there's nothing else, Mr Cain, I have work to be getting on with. I'll return this evening, unless anything happens in the meantime, in which case I'm sure you'll let me know." Then he was gone, the door closing quietly behind him.

Wyatt stared at the door for a while, wishing he could lock it. A chair jammed under the handle would do at a pinch. Anything to ensure that Krantz couldn't get back in. Don't be so damn paranoid. He's a doctor. That didn't help. Raynz had been some sort of doctor, hadn't he? And now you're being ridiculous. So you don't like the guy - that doesn't make him a sadistic nut like Raynz. He turned his back deliberately on the door, trying to rein in his antipathy, and went back through the arch to settle in the chair beside Glitch's bed.

He sat and watched the sleeping man for some time, taking advantage of the solitude to study him properly. It had been too dark last night and too fraught this morning to take in anything beyond how tired and confused Glitch had looked. Now, Wyatt leaned forward, his eyes tracing the familiar features, surprised at how clearly they had etched themselves into his memory. A long, narrow face, the nose rather aquiline. An expressive curve of a mouth, quick to smile and bracketed by dimples, now set in a faint frown. Dark lashes closed over eyes that were crinkled at the corners, little creases born of enduring optimism and years of bright sunslight. I remember you, even if you don't remember me. Every last detail, from the moment the zipperhead's anxious face had peered in through the algae-rimmed window of his metal prison, to the fleeting look of dawning recognition he had worn just before the seizure had erased everything. Wyatt found that he was carrying the memory of that expression close to his heart alongside the tin horse, which he'd discovered when he'd risen from the grass, his knee complaining where the battered metal figure had bruised it. If Glitch didn't recover...

Not wanting to follow that thought through to its conclusion, he got up and crossed to the window, where he set about tidying the books into an orderly pile. Might as well see that you have a neat place to wake up to... At the base of the stack he placed a thick and serious-looking volume bearing the weighty title of 'Plasma Theory and High Energy Density Physics', made thicker still by a sheaf of makeshift bookmarks. On top of that, absurd beside the scientific text, a child's colouring book. Wyatt flicked through the coarse paper before setting the book down, biting his lip at the sight of the large, simple mandalas within, which had been inexpertly filled with bright hues that spilled excitedly across the black borders. He thought about a feather, shining brilliance and dusty earthbound brown all at the same time, and wondered why, with his apparent fascination with vivid colours, Glitch hadn't used blue anywhere. Maybe he just didn't have a blue crayon.

A hot-air balloon drifted across the cover of another book, a top-hatted man peering from the basket. The suns had washed most of the colour from the illustration, and the well-thumbed pages were all but falling out of their bindings; he put it down with care, as if the wellbeing of the fragile book was somehow inextricably linked to the wellbeing of its fragile owner. There was a more sturdy volume beside it, and Wyatt picked it up to admire the flower-like swirls tooled into the leather cover. After a certain amount of internal debate, he opened it, expecting to see diagrams and mind-twisting formulae and was greeted instead by a photograph - a dark-haired man with glasses and a petite woman whose headscarf was struggling valiantly to hold back a tide of long, curly hair and, between them, a small boy beaming exuberantly from beneath the shade of his father's too-large hat. Beneath the photograph, in the careful, well-spaced hand of someone concentrating intently on one letter at a time was a caption:

Dad's neW caMera

It was undoubtedly Glitch; the hat came down over his eyes, but there was no mistaking that grin. On his right, or the left as Wyatt looked at it, the woman - who was mere inches taller than her son - had thrown an affectionate arm around his shoulder. His father hadn't been quite as demonstrative, but he looked contented enough, in a serious sort of way. Wyatt traced a finger over the corner of the photograph. There had been a brief, wistful pang at the image - a happy family - but his sorrow came more gently these days and he caught himself smiling at the boy in the oversized hat.

He turned the page, ignoring a quiet internal voice that said this was none of his business. This time it took him a moment to make sense of the photograph, but once he'd stopped looking for a face amidst the lines and planes of black and white, the image resolved itself into the brightly-lit doorway of a wooden building. Beyond the worn boards, cool shadows held the suggestion of machinery - wheels and rivets, metal struts arching proudly like the neck of a thoroughbred horse. Beneath, in the small, laboriously neat handwriting, was the cryptic 'Uncle Oscar built it!' and Wyatt wondered if the same hand that had propelled the pen with slow determination around the letters could be responsible for the pencilled mechanisms that filled the margins, delicate and complex as cobwebs, confidently exploring every inch of unoccupied paper.

That's enough. This isn't some investigation you're on... He nodded, agreeing with the voice, then turned to the next page anyway. There was a sudden flash of white and a discordant, metallic jangle - startled, he put the album back on the table and looked around guiltily, but Glitch slept on, oblivious. A thick wedge of paper had slipped from between the pages, landing on the unfamiliar instrument. Wyatt waited for the voice to say 'I told you so', but there was only the diminishing thrum of the vibrating strings. He pressed them into silence, recalling the way Glitch's arm had trembled beneath his hand, and then -

"I'm not thinking about that right now," he whispered, and picked up the paper - a single sheet, folded with careful, precise creases and covered with slanting, untidy scrawl he couldn't decipher. Released from the album, it had opened a little way, revealing itself to be a strangely-constructed aeroplane. Wyatt smiled, imagining a bored young Ambrose folding the paper while he waited for his classmates to catch up with him. Guess you had a lot of free time, Genius.

Here and there, printed words appeared and vanished beneath overlapping layers.



Might be a while since I sat in a schoolroom, but I don't remember this kind of paperwork lying around. He turned the paper plane over in his hands, then held it up, as if to throw it. The wings seemed too small to support the fuselage, and the weight was distributed towards the nose, but why would Glitch have saved it if it was no good? Strange little thing. I wonder how you fly? The sunslight through the thick paper revealed a watermark.


Enough. This time the voice was adamant, and Wyatt folded the plane carefully along its axis and replaced it in the album, shaken. No more. They're Glitch's memories, and nobody has the right to rifle through them without his say-so. He returned to the chair, carefully moving it closer to the bed.

"For what it's worth, Glitch, I'm sorry."

The suns moved on, oblivious to the Tin Man, careless of the paper memories or the intangible web of emotions they could spin out of nothing, content to follow the physics-simple path before them, fading ink and warming the wood of the table. The shadows turned a little, marking out the passing time.

Eventually, there was movement from the bed, and a sigh.




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