“Peace in Our Time”

by Garth Nix

The old man who had once been the Grand Technomancer, Most Mighty Mechanician and Highest of the High Artificier Adepts was cutting his roses when he heard the unmistakeable tick-tock-tock-tock of a clockwerk velocipede coming down the road. He started in surprise and then turned toward the noise, for the first time in years suddenly reminded that he was not wearing the four-foot high tocque of state, nor the cloak of perforated bronze control cards that had once hung from his shoulders, both of which had made almost anything but the smallest movement impossible.

He didn’t miss these impressive clothes but the old man concluded that since what he heard was definitely a clockwerk velocipede, however unlikely it seemed, and that a velocipede must have a rider, he should perhaps put something on to receive his visitor. While he was not embarrassed himself, the juxtaposition of a naked man and the sharp secateurs he held might prove to be a visual distraction, and thus a hindrance to easy communication.

Accordingly, he walked into his humble cottage and after a moment’s consideration, took the white cloth off his kitchen table and draped it around himself, folding it so the pomegranate stain from his breakfast was tucked away under one arm.

When he went back out, the former Grand Technomancer left the secateurs by the front door. He expected to be back cutting the roses quite soon, after he got rid of his unexpected visitor.

The surprise guest was parking her velocipede by the gate to the lower paddock. The Grand Technomancer winced and frowned as the vehicle emitted a piercing shriek, that drowned out its underlying clockwerk tick-tocking. She had evidently engaged the parking retardation muffler to the mainspring before unlocking the gears. A common mistake made by those unfamiliar with the mechanism, and yet another most unwelcome noise to his quiet valley.

After correcting her error, the girl—or more properly a young woman, the old man supposed—climbed down from the control howdah above the single fat drive wheel of the velocipede. She was not wearing any identifiable robes of guild or lodge, and in fact her one piece garment was made of some kind of scaly blue hide, both cut and fabric strange to his eyes.

Perhaps even more curiously, the old man’s extraordinarily acute hearing could not detect any faint clicking from sandgrain clockwerk, the last and most impressive advance of his colleagues, that had allowed modern technology to actually be implanted in the body, to enhance various aspects of physique and movement. Nor did she have one of the once popular steam skeletons, as he could see neither the tell-tale puffs of steam from a radium boiler at the back of her head, nor the bolt-heads of augmented joints poking through at elbow, neck and knee.

This complete absence of clockwerk enhancement in the young woman surprised the old man, though in truth he was surprised to have any visitor at all.

“Hello!” called out the young woman as she approached the door.


About the Author

Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia. A full-time writer since 2001, he has previously worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller, and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve. Garth’s novels include the award-winning fantasies Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen and the YA SF novel Shade’s Children. His fantasy books for children include The Ragwitch; the six books of The Seventh Tower sequence; and the seven books of The Keys to the Kingdom series. His books have appeared on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, and The Australian, and his work has been translated into 38 languages. He lives in a Sydney beach suburb with his wife and two children.