(Finalist for the WSFA Small Press Award, 2020)

Ink blackened Dreya’s fingertips as she caressed and folded pages, her skin tingling in a delightful way. The Factory was shuttered, but here in the office, the Company’s glory lived on in a million sheets chronicling profits, losses, annual analyses, forecasts, and detailed worker genealogies stretching back to the Town’s foundation.

Her tongue jabbed over her dry, crusty lips. She’d been folding all day long—with languorous pauses to read over each sheet—and had only four acceptable paper icons. The figurines stood as tall as the span of her hand, layered paper creating typographic stripes along their sides. The horse she was constructing now would form a protective barrier around a farm to reinforce livestock health. The Factory’s environmental legacy was an increasing concern. A two-headed calf had recently been born, and Dreya had addressed issues with tumors and other illnesses among her people.

A year ago, her Town had been a bustling community, three-thousand residents strong. Now, only a hundred remained. The reduction in population had withered Dreya’s powers as Town godling.

Her hands shook. She had to focus. She needed to complete at least one more icon, and then she could lose herself in the bliss of reading old contracts again and—

Dreya jolted as something banged against the metal door. Her fingers slipped in the midst of forming a crease.

With her ink-and-paper bliss interrupted, she now sensed who stood at the door. Lotte Forge, age eleven. She had been birthed here in the Factory as her mother worked a shift in the attached refinery; it had always seemed amusing and appropriate to Dreya that a Town child had practically rolled off the assembly line with the loaded munitions.

“Blessed godling?” The small voice scarcely carried through the wall. “I need to speak with you! Please!”

“Then continue speaking,” Dreya snarled as she stared in dismay at the icon in her lap. Thanks to the slip of her pinched fingers, the front right leg crease was lopsided. A paper icon could last for a few months at most, but one with defective folds or other construction flaws might only work for days.

Yet another failed icon. More evidence of her inadequacies. No wonder nearly all of her people had left Town.

Dreya batted away the figurine, unraveling her blessing as if pulling on strands of string.

What was Made could be Unmade. So Mother had Made Dreya and her Brothers and Sisters in Headquarters, and so the Factories had made their goods. Standards must be maintained. She glared at the desk edge above her with its four completed icons, expecting them to bare their flaws as well. A paper cat’s tail twitched in acknowledgment of the attention.

“Blessed godling, please!” Lotte’s desperation carried through the door.

Dreya fumbled for more sheets. Her people needed more protections. She just had to focus and not re-read every single line on every page to bask in those last wafts of the Company’s glory.

“Please. This is urgent! Code Red.”

Dreya’s hands froze. That was Factory talk. It wouldn’t be used in vain. She set aside the icon before she could err again. “Code Red?”

“My family’s icons have been destroyed!”

Dreya stood, the muscles of her wasted human body reluctant to cooperate. How long had it been since she had eaten or had a drink of water? Subsisted on more than words and numbers? Days, she guessed. Maybe a week. “I Made new icons for your family two weeks ago. They wouldn’t fail so soon.”

“Take a look. I have them here with me. Please, godling.” The girl’s fear seeped into the words—as did her faith that Dreya would make everything right again.

Dreya was unworthy of such devotion, but she drank it in nevertheless.

She forced her unsteady legs past rows of ransacked cabinets. Opening the door, she faced Lotte. The deprivations of recent months made the child look younger than her age, her eyes wide against her walnut-colored skin. In her bony arms she cradled two icons—or what remained of them. The folded papers had been rendered apart, their blessings eviscerated.

Dreya stared. “This can’t be,” she whispered. “Only I could...” Only she could destroy her creations in such a violent, immediate fashion. She should have sensed this destruction, too. It should have shaken her like a thunder clap directly overhead.

How weak had she truly become? “Walk with me,” Dreya ordered. She must investigate the homestead in person.

She led Lotte through the hallway and into the cavernous space that had once housed the great machines. They were largely disassembled, their remaining infrastructure like the bones of great beasts left to decay. Assembly line rails stacked against the wall like gigantic femurs, while dust-heavy tarps lay like flaccid skin over miscellaneous jumbles of metal. The Company’s creditors had ransacked the Factory for anything of value, and Dreya despised the terrible echoes that failed to fill the emptiness.

A bitter wind stung Dreya as they stepped outside. She hesitated, momentarily stunned at the sensation. This cold, already? Her people had no electricity to power heaters again this year. She needed to increase her production of cat icons with warming auras.

Main Street was empty, its pavement crackled after months of disuse. Tufts of yellowed grass filled the fissures. The nearby canal had collected more dead thistles than water since the Company-run dam in the mountains had been shut off.

No school children in hats and buttoned coats dashed about. No workers in blue flooded the plaza as a bell tolled above. Only two other people were in sight at all. The lack of noise unsettled her. This should be a place of bustling steam cars and clattering wagons teamed by horses or mules, with the dominant rumbles and whistles of the Factory ever-present, night or day.

Dreya walked faster, shoulders hunched. This was why she stayed in the office, wallowing in the happy buzz of paperwork.

The Company had thrived for centuries by arming beings engaged in off-world strife. Dreya had paid little heed to such things; her Town was all that mattered. Last year’s declaration of universal armistice had resulted in the Company’s financial collapse and dissolution. Its Managers had either committed suicide or fled to the stars.

An old inspirational mural along the street mocked her with its apt portrayal of the current situation. THE COMPANY CARES read bold letters above a stylized rendition of Dreya floating with her toes en pointe, her arms open to embrace her workers. The faded paint was chipping and peeling away, the colorful flecks crunching to dust underfoot.

By her Town’s severe degradation, Dreya could only judge herself as defective, worthy of Unmaking at Headquarters. If Headquarters even existed. They hadn’t replied to queries. She liked to think of Mother still there, though, tending to the workers that remained and ensuring that the Company’s vast stores of paperwork and memorabilia stayed secure.

Dreya walked along the edge of the slough, Lotte quiet beside her. The shredded paper icons were pressed to the girl’s flat chest.

“Where were the icons kept?” asked Dreya.

“One in the barn, one in the house. We found them when we came in from our morning labor.” She kept her gaze on the homestead ahead.

“Am I such a fearsome sight out in daylight? Look at me, girl.”

Lotte eyed her, her expression awed and thoughtful. Dreya knew she must appear gaunt, her cinnamon-toned skin sallow beneath a threadbare Factory-issue blue pantsuit.

“You look... different now,” Lotte said softly.

“So do you,” Dreya snapped. Her ink-stained fingers twitched.

Workers had once resided in massive tenements north of Town. The remaining folk now clustered around downtown, many in old businesses. The Forges had moved into what had once been the Factory’s horse farm. The wind had flayed large portions of roof from several abandoned barns, and even the warded structures looked dilapidated with haphazardly patched roofs and boarded windows. The blessings in place had focused on preserving people and animals, not buildings.  

But this close to the homestead, she could sense the total lack of protections—something she should have been able to detect from back in her office. Though her ironwork icons at the edges of Town still held, this homestead now felt... vulnerable.

“Blessed godling.” Lotte’s father, Jeet Forge, emerged from the household, a rag in his hands. “You honor us with your presence.”

Dreya bit back a self-deprecatory remark. “Greetings, Jeet. Lotte, set the rendered icons down in the yard.”

Lotte did so. Dreya warded away the wind as she hunkered to study the icons now located on their bonded property. Shredded as they were, it was impossible to identify which animals these paper constructs had been. The power embodied in them was utterly gone.

How had this happened? Only a Maker should be able to Unmake like this.

Was this a consequence of her lack of people? Godlings and townsfolk formed a symbiotic relationship, after all. Maybe the borders of Town were shrinking inward on their own. No Company directive had ever addressed such a possibility.

Or maybe this was more of an issue of weak faith rather than of population. She couldn’t blame her people for their doubts. After all, she had been spending weeks at a time cowering in her office, ignoring the frailty of her semi-human form, shunning the sight of her Town as it had become.

“I will walk your homestead,” she said. “Continue your work as usual.” With a nod, she awakened the wind, and it blew the useless paper straight to the compost bins.

Lotte and her father acknowledged her with fists over their hearts. Dreya took in their confidence, her skin tingling with warmth, and carried herself as if she deserved such devotion.

She checked the barn first and spoke briefly to Lotte’s brothers. The farm animals, though their closest blessing was gone, showed no signs of suffering, yet.

Bianca Forge scrubbed laundry in her washtub while her youngest three children pinned wrung clothes on the line. They looked wan but healthy enough.

Dreya had never bonded with her own Brothers and Sisters. It had taken Mother decades to gestate each of them, even as the Company accumulated laborers to found new Towns. She knew other godlings formed relationships with each other, though, as they shared borders and major thoroughfares. Town H existed as an island on the prairie, the foul wasteland around them the legacy of other long-gone Towns that had carried on similar work.

Dreya entered the Forge household. A bucket sat in a doorway; a glance at the mold-speckled ceiling confirmed the presence of a leak. A nearby windowsill bore the signature holes and gouges of a termite infestation. The fragrance of chicken soup tried to warm the chilly two-room structure. Against Dreya’s will, her stomach growled.

“You’re welcome to join us for supper,” Lotte said softly.

Dreya’s people knew her Made body was somewhat human and had needs; they could certainly see her weakening condition, mirroring their own. She also knew how little food was to be had.

“I must return to my office to fold,” she said.

“About the icons...” Lotte’s head bowed.

“Yes?” Dreya said, already sensing that the child had the nerve to say what the adults could not.

“What could destroy them? Reduce them to normal paper again? Is another Town godling attacking us?”

Dreya gave a thoughtful tilt of her head. “My Brothers and Sisters can’t Unmake what I Make. Each of us is unique in what we do.” And yet, many things had changed in the Company’s collapse.

“Then what destroyed our icons?” Lotte looked up, brow furrowed.

Unsure of what to say, Dreya walked away. Her awareness of the girl’s suddenly wavering faith made her stop.

“I won’t lie to you.” Dreya glanced back at Lotte. “I don’t know how this happened, but I’ll fold new icons for your family straight away.” I’ll take care of you, she wanted to say, but she knew that might well be a falsehood.

Lotte’s fear of the unknown lashed against her—but with it came a sense of profound respect. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Dreya offered a brisk nod. She had never been so eager to return to her office and resume her folding.

Dreya established new production deadlines for herself, and she worked as she hadn’t in months. Her fingers found the folds and formed creases true and strong. She could still tend to her people. She would make herself worthy of their adulation.

Within an hour, she completed three new protective figures: a cat embodied with warmth, a dog for protection, and a dove for health. She loaded them into a burlap bundle and directed a paper crane to deliver them to the Forge homestead.

Not for the first time, she yearned for Mother’s counsel. Certainly, Mother would have answers about these failing icons. Her powers were a hundred times greater than that of her godling children.

Mother and Headquarters may not have replied to Dreya’s missives for months, but perhaps she could remedy her ignorance through other means.

In a flurry, she folded more sheets together. She whispered them strong enough to withstand any inclement weather and endowed them with an echo of her voice: “Brothers and Sisters, have you experienced spontaneous failures of icons? If so, how have you addressed these errors?” She formed it as Managers might have once conferred about a troublesome piece of machinery.

The questions carried risks; they implied Dreya’s own deficiency. Lotte’s concerns about other Towns did give Dreya pause, but after mulling the matter, she couldn’t understand why another godling might attack them. She loved this place, but she also knew it was not a prize. Town H was isolated because of the volatile nature of its Factory work and its toxic byproducts. The soil here was poor, and what little food grew was through the aid of icons. The climate existed at extremes of flood and drought. There was no logical reason for someone to usurp Dreya’s position.

She absent-mindedly straightened stacks of paper around her. The Forges were exemplary townsfolk. Her new icons would take care of them. Tomorrow, she would walk through the northern section of Town and assess their needs directly, and—

An odd sensation stabbed deep within her chest. The room momentarily spun around her, a blur of filing cabinets and paper towers and brown brick walls. She tasted contamination on her tongue, spilled oil and leeched chemicals and decay. Her teeth ached as if they yearned to fall from her gums.

She stood as the world steadied again, though the presence of foulness only grew stronger. Forgotten papers fell from her fingertips.

One of her iron icons had just shattered.

Street lights no longer functioned and clouds suffocated the stars, but no matter the darkness, Dreya knew her Town and where to place each footstep.

The broken icon, at the main road into Town, lay in a crumbled heap, as though a child had flung a clay doll into a wall. The metal had corroded as if aged by decades. There was nothing to be done. She had made this icon when the Factory was full of might. The faith of thousands of workers had radiated into her folds of metal.

She blinked back tears. One of her strongest icons had failed. She was a failure. Practically human.

Dreya must replace this icon. Somehow. Maybe scrap metal from the Factory would work. She couldn’t continue to let materials gather dust and rust out of a vain hope for a Town revival. They needed to utilize resources that would enable them to survive now.

After all, the railroad line had been unusable since last winter; they could claim the steel. The empty tenements could be completely demolished, enabling them to re-use the bricks, pipes, and wiring.

They could do the same to the Factory: their town hall, their temple, their center.

The thought felt blasphemous but also right. The Company was dead. Her Town needed to accept the new reality. They needed to form their own independent company.

As if in answer to the traitorous thought, Dreya was pummeled by awareness of the soil forgetting what little verdancy it had, of the slough remembering its toxic burden, of the borders opening to allow access to any passing desperado.

Her other two iron icons had crumbled.

The night wind stung her like nettles, reminding her that she stood outside in only a threadbare Factory uniform, but she couldn’t move. She could only stare into space as if she’d become a moored icon herself.

At some point, her townsfolk began to gather around her. She heard the buzz of their talk the way she might hear birds up in the Factory eaves. She tasted her people’s suffering, doubts, fears. Their old aches had flared to life, like lumps of coal revealing an obscured red glow. A baby discovered colic and wailed in agony.

Beyond their voices, all was silent. The actual birds had either fled or fallen to earth.

Dreya recognized bare feet treading behind her. Lotte Forge. “Blessed godling?” Lotte whispered, her voice strained by the agony of her first migraine.

Dreya ached and throbbed, too.

Something gently prodded Dreya’s ribs. She glanced down. It was a handful of papers, their typeset words illegible in the dark, but she knew the presence of Company paperwork bearing the Forge family marks.

“Will these help?” Lotte asked, hope in her voice.

“Paper carries minute power compared to my old ironworks.” The words burned in her throat. “I have failed you. I have failed all of you.” She turned to face her townsfolk. “There is no benefit to staying here. What little solace I could offer is gone.”

Some people murmured, the sound subdued beneath the relentless wind.

“We can’t go,” said Lotte. “This is home. I was born here.”

“Cancers and diseases will claim you if you stay out here in the wasteland. If you go toward the coast, perhaps you’ll find someplace safer.”

“The Company all but ran this planet,” called Eustace Radiationtech. “There must be tens of thousands of adrift Company Town citizens these days, and who knows what it’s like in the cities.”

“If sickness will claim us whether we stay or go, I’d rather stay,” cried Eileen Breadbaker. “Lotte’s right. This is home.”

Dreya stooped to touch the ground. She could feel corruption multiplying in the soil below her feet. In the air. In her people. Dreya could wander from here now, too, if she wished. Perhaps visit Headquarters, speak with Mother. If Dreya’s powers as godling were useless, why stay here?

She looked at Lotte, her family, and the other hundred people drawn here. She knew their every name, their every ailment. She knew their terror right now—and their love. Even now, in their agony, they looked to her, as their parents and predecessors had as well.

Town H wasn’t simply Dreya’s assignment. It was her home. Her bond with her people was stronger than any paper contract in the Factory office.

Young Clark Forge pointed at the night sky. “There’s a paper bird up there!”

The bird swirled downward, slow against the gale, and alighted on Dreya’s outstretched arm. She turned her body to shelter the folded paper as she bade it to speak.

“Sister, my icons hold, but my Sister-Neighbor to the east found her icons in tatters. Within days, a passing wagon informed us that Town B was no more. Not even buildings remained. None of its citizens have entered our borders.”

Dreya’s jaw fell slack. Town B’s very existence had been blotted from the prairie? 

“Blessed godling, there’s another bird,” said Lotte.

This one perched on the edge of Dreya’s frayed collar, its beak almost kissing her lips. “Sister, three Company Towns along our road have been Unmade, one after another. I have seen no refugees, not even livestock. My own people are scared, and assist me in making new icons to reinforce our homes and borders.”

Only one being could Unmake godlings and entire Towns.

“Mother is going to Unmake us next,” Dreya whispered. “But why?”

The wind howled empty answers.

“Unmake?” echoed Lotte. “But—but you’re a godling! You can’t die.”

Dreya shrugged. “Mother Made me what I am. She can Unmake me in a matter of minutes.”

“How can we fight her?” asked Lotte.

Dreya almost laughed, but she saw the determination in Lotte’s face. In all of the faces around her. Dreya wavered. She couldn’t fight Mother. She was weak.

But if she did nothing, Town H would be razed. Her people obliterated.

Dreya’s Company mandate demanded that she always act for the benefit of her people, but that centuries-old directive didn’t bind her now.

She’d fight for these people and this place because she loved them.

“We fight with what we have,” she said, reaching for the papers clutched in Lotte’s hands.

Mother would need time to rest after exerting herself to Unmake the local icons, but Dreya didn’t think she would require more than a day to recover. Perhaps only hours. This was no time to dither with the minor paperwork strewn about the office.

No, Dreya went to their greatest fount of power: local copies of contracts. These didn’t simply state the terms by which each person was bound to the Company but chronicled centuries of genealogy. Forges, Munitions, Loaders, Enrichmenttechs, Breadbakers, Diggers. Some of their lines stretched back four hundred years to the Company’s Founding. The potency of the vital words acted as an inebriating perfume to Dreya, but she refused to fall into a hazy bliss. Production goals must be met.

Her people dispersed throughout the office. The energy of the place encouraged their eyes to stay open and awake. The adults creased sheet after sheet as younger children shuttled about papers or food and drink.

Before the Company’s fall, Dreya would have serenaded them with rousing industrial mantras—”My Labor is My Redemption,” “The Greatest Machine.” Instead, she sang about them. Of their births, accomplishments, trials, griefs, marriages. These were her people, after all. She knew them with deeper intimacy than could ever be portrayed in staid Company paperwork.

Her words and emotions melded with those contracts-in-hand and the emotional reactions of those who folded.

With the efficiency of an assembly line, Dreya and her people created a paper army.

Mother arrived soon after the sun’s gray light pierced the multi-pane windows on high. She was little more than a skeleton adorned in a blue Factory pantsuit three sizes too large. She struck a haughty pose in the doorway. A sunbeam highlighted the copper sheen of her skin but couldn’t hide a sickly undertone like verdigris.

The workers’ hands froze in mid-fold. Even the children stilled. Dreya stood. With a sweep of her arm, she called a flock of paper vultures to crest her shoulders and arms. Dreya and her people had formed a force of carrion-feeders. Scavengers. Vultures, hawks, eagles, coyotes. Creatures that would do whatever they could to survive through dire days.

Mother stood still for a moment as she took in the sight of the workers gathered behind their godling. Her steel-toed shoes clopped like hooves as she advanced a step. Around the room, hundreds of paper animals stood at attention. The coyotes bared their sharp-edged teeth while the vultures gaped their thickly-folded beaks. Their aura of protection buffeted against Mother and drove her backward to the doorway.

Mother’s cold black eyes sought out Dreya as she moved into the central corridor.

“Daughter,” Mother said, her voice husky.

“Mother.” Dreya respectfully bowed her head, even as she quavered in terror. After all her months convincing herself she deserved to be Unmade, now that the moment had come, she only wanted to live. For her people to live.

“You expected me.” A note of surprise warmed her voice. “And you see me as a threat.”

“My highest mandate is the safety and security of my people. You Unmade my icons. So yes, Mother, you are a threat.”

“You should submit to your Unmaking. You haven’t met your stated production goals.”

Dreya absorbed the exhaustion, the elation, of her people. She looked at Lotte beside her. The girl’s hands were painted black by ink, her eyes bloodshot and fierce.

“Our town goals have changed,” Dreya said.

Mother inclined her head. “Only Headquarters can formalize adjustments.”

Dreya hesitated, confused. If anyone knew anything about the power still held by Headquarters, it would be Mother, and yet no authority had been evident for over a year now.

“Town bylaws state that if Headquarters has been unresponsive for a period of ninety days, I can act on my own discretion,” she said, speaking slowly. “That period is long past.”

Mother’s eyes narrowed. “You are establishing precedence.”

“My Sister in Town B formed no such argument? Nor did my siblings in the other Towns you have Unmade?”

Shock filtered over Mother’s face. Before she could speak, Dreya continued.

“Your actions demonstrate precedence, too, Mother. Any official visit from Headquarters requires three days’ notice. Even more, you Unmade my icons without submitting proper paperwork to justify your actions.” She met her Maker’s piercing gaze. “You cannot pretend to act on behalf of the Company. You act on your own volition.”

In that instant, Mother’s expression shifted, as if she, too, were paper folded into a new form.

“I am the Company!” she screeched. “I am the last remnant of its Founding. I Made you. I Made your Brothers and Sisters. You were supposed to keep our Management strong, our land usable, our production at maximum. And now, what remains? Our Company Towns.” Her lips curled in blatant revulsion. “They are abandoned, polluted, defective. We need to be remembered by our glory years! Not by these... corpses.”

“My Town lives, and there’s no denying it has fallen on hard times,” Dreya said softly, “but that has happened throughout the Company’s history, too. There have always been Factory fires, waste spills, fallout. Our glory years may yet return.” The paper vultures perched atop her shoulders flapped their wings, causing her braids to jostle and chime in the manufactured breeze.

“I’ll Unmake all of you,” Mother hissed, “and the buildings, and the streets. I will pull enough putrescence from the earth and water to grow grass on this prairie again. Within days, it will be as if this Town never existed.” A dreamy light filled Mother’s eyes.

“Wait. Mother, you can cleanse the earth and water? Why does the wasteland exist at all?”

“Your Factory’s work was vital and dangerous, as you well know. The wasteland acted as a necessary buffer between Town H and other settlements.”

Dreya leaned forward in eagerness. “Mother, if you could fully purify our Town’s sector, we could—”

“Purify the Town? Where does the poison end, Dreya?” Her gaze flicked around the room to all of the people. “I see cancers that ache to spread. I won’t let that be.” Mother stepped forward, the soft rippling sound of her baggy uniform strangely loud. “You, girl. Your head is hurting terribly.”

She reached out as if to brush the layers of draped braids away from Lotte’s forehead. Dreya summoned up a barrier, and Mother’s fingertips encountered air as hard as glass.

Mother withdrew her hand and cast a look of scorn at Dreya. “This girl is part of my legacy. A Company Town girl, born and raised. I can see proof in her cells. So many of them writhe with need to grow, and grow, and grow. If you think this migraine is bad, child, wait until the tumors multiply.”

Lotte’s terror rattled against Dreya. The other townsfolk shifted in anxiety as well, with the heightened alarm of the Forge family as piercing as train whistles.

Dreya sucked in a breath. This manipulation—this doubt—was all part of Mother’s Unmaking of Company Town H.

And it was going to stop here and now.

“The tumors won’t grow. I Make the icons that keep my people safe and well. This is my town. Mother, you don’t even know this girl’s name. I do.”

Her people’s escalating fright shattered like glass, consumed by a surge of faith. Dreya’s heartbeat pounded with the might of the great engines that once filled their Factory.

Mother’s jaw gaped as she sensed the abrupt shift as well. “How can their faith still be this strong? I broke your icons! Their fear and pain should have compounded to break their belief in you, how—”

“You don’t know my people,” Dreya said.

She pointed at Mother with her ink-stained fingers. The paper army advanced, cresting around and past Dreya in a white, gray, and black wave; her ears filled with a cacophony of fluttering sheets and screaming beasts. Somewhere in the din, she heard Mother’s faint cry.

Through the blur of animated paper, Mother was shoved into the hallway. She had crossed her arms as if she fought a gale, but she couldn’t stand against the determination of the town. She skidded all the way to the Factory floor, her heavy shoes squealing on the concrete.     

“You will leave my town,” Dreya said. Her voice carried down the hallway and boomed in the Factory.

“This is not your town! It’s a Company Town!”

“The Company is dead. You know that,” she said. “You have no contractual basis to eliminate me or my Brothers and Sisters. This is a new town, and you have no place here. Go.”

She laid all her power as godling into that word, and with it, she cast Mother away. The paper army pressed itself low to the floor as a spontaneous wind snared Mother in its fist. She spiraled to the ceiling. Dreya directed her through one of the skylights on high. The sound of shattering glass echoed and filled the mighty space.

The other creatures turned to face her with a quiet ripple of paper. They overflowed the front of the office and the hallway. Most of her previous icons had been created to be stationary, but these beings were designed to move. And so they would.

She motioned to half of the new creations. “Deploy. Guard our borders. Alert me if you find humans in need or any who threaten violence.” Paper flapped and thrummed as the creatures advanced. Their power would erode in weeks due to direct exposure and the wear caused by their own animation, but Company paperwork was the one resource they had in plenty.

She looked to the other folded creatures. “Rummage through the township and explore the wasteland. Look to the derelict railroad line and our abandoned tenements. Seek out iron and other metals suitable for my icon workings. Find where the water is most potable. Find food and fuel for our people.”

Dreya turned to her people. They hadn’t waited idly for her instructions. Already, they were talking among themselves, Breadbaker to Digger to Forge, to ensure that everyone was taken care of in the absence of the iron icons.

She listened to them with fierce pride, then began to catalog the many tasks that she must immediately address. Create new, powerful icons. Warn her siblings about Mother, and establish bonds to foster their mutual survival. Tend to her people who suffered most under new maladies. Retrieve blank paper from the store room, and ask the Machinist family to make sure the typewriters were in working condition. Everyone needed new contracts drafted as the town began anew.

For now, their goal was simple: scavenge and survive. As they had once worked together to assemble great machines in the Factory, they would now produce a future of their own making.

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Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the Blood of Earth trilogy from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at www.BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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