Previously: Glimmer and Starling slip from their captors into the endless, abandoned hallways of Zarn's mansion. They are recaptured by Zarn's butler and his army of robot maids, and Starling is again pressed into servitude.
Working. Working. Working.
"Starling. You like to work. You don't need to think when you work, do you?
"You must have worked so hard in your old life. I can tell. You must have done well, if things could get so bad you went out in the desert to die.
Push. Pull. Lift.
"You don't really want to get rich, do you? You just want to finish what you start. You want to have something to finish. You thought you were finished.
"But you came to me, and we made a promise, remember? It doesn't matter if we get rich. I won't mind if we don't.
Polish. Dust. Sweep.
"Starling... Something incredible is happening here. There's a mystery to solve. Do you know how rare that is?
His eyes snapped open. He was leaning over a place setting in a long, pillared room, its walls carved so intricately he ignored it entirely, and Glimmer said his name again.
"Starling. You can be the one to act now."
He took a deep breath, glanced at the butler making sound tests across the room, at his robotic minder holding a plate out, at the exit nearby. And he ran.
"Glimmer!" He shouted, his voice tearing free. "Glimmer, we've got to get out of here. We've got to get back to the Dolphin House, we've got to make better plans, we've got to..."
"I don't know where to go!"
He hurtled down a staircase, ran down a hall. Dead end. The robot followed, muted steps on the dusty carpet. He doubled back, darted past, its hand snapping on air inches from his neck, the scene reflected in its mirrored face.
"I think I got something!" Glimmer's voice was uncharacteristically agitated. He sprinted down a side corridor, throat too ragged to respond. Another maid stepped out of a bathroom, its face still veiled. A harsh noise shrieked from Glimmer's earpiece, and the maid froze in place.
"It's a halt command!" she said. "I can't figure out how to access the... Keep moving!"
"I... don't have... much..." How deep were they? How long had it been since he had seen a window?
"You don't need much. If this works..."
He burst into a hall of mirrors. Lit by lamps cleverly concealed between the panes, he saw himself, disheveled and weary, reflected into eternity. Reflecting back toward him were another two maids, striding forward in perfect unison.
"I think I can take over one of their bodies," Glimmer said quickly. "I figured out their security, but there's too much latency with the aural control system unless you can get the headset right on their receptors. If I read them right there's a cavity in their upper chests. Used to be a stronger processing unit there. You need to put me in there. Everything."
He kept moving. It seemed profane to stop. Behind him the maid assigned to guard him entered, followed by another pair. None of them were hurrying.
"They don't want to waste energy if they're sure they can catch you," said Glimmer. "Catch your breath."
He reached the center of the room. As he took off his coat and earpiece his guard stopped in front of him and held out a hand, almost as if asking for a handshake. The other four took up positions around him. The reflection was dizzying. His breathing was the only sound.
Glimmer shrieked once more, and all of the robots swayed. The four veiled maids dropped to one knee, but the last swayed. Starling held Glimmer in the crook of one elbow. As the robot began to topple he caught it by the waist with the other.
He leaned forward, struggling to balance Glimmer's casing, and tore at the front of the maid's dress. Its torso was smooth and metallic, though not mirrored like its face, with small rises to suggest a female form. At another command from Glimmer the chest opened, a compartment barely large enough for her just left of the centerline.
Starling dropped the casing into his free hand, and with a heave over his head he put Glimmer into the robot's heart, then gently closed the door.
A harsh whine filled the room, then quieted. A cascade of lights streamed across the face of Glimmer's new body, a chaotic display that left him sick to his stomach. He heard a whimper, Glimmer's voice but reproduced on worse speakers. "Don't look," she said, and in the display he almost saw a face.
With his free hand he drew the veil down. The other four machines were waking, rising, but Glimmer stood, the robot's posture different somehow, seeming to stand taller while being more poised, more energetic, and when she raised a gloved hand the other maids stopped, turned, and held their arms out toward the opposite door.
Starling looked in awe at the figure he had created. Glimmer turned her face toward his, head tilted barely back to meet his eyes from where hers would be. Any breath he had caught from his sprint left him.
With both her hands she took one of his. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."