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Enlarge: The Clockwork Book awaits a delivery

Something was different in the Clockwork Book's chamber. Tallie looked around with some suspicion; it took her a moment to figure out what had changed. The Book's gears and pulleys and pistons were once again humming smoothly in their normal way. There was no more of the shrieking, grinding and clatter that had driven her to wonder whether the Book might be shaking itself apart.

The Book reached over to switch off the televideo screens, which scissored upwards into the darkness overhead. You could never tell from the Book's immobile face, of course: but to Tallie, it seemed pleased.

"The Orb will arrive in just a few minutes," it told her. "Would you please be ready to catch it when it rolls by?"

This was it, then: the Book was finally going to have a look at the thing that had inspired its own creation - and then to hear its stories! Tallie tried to imagine what those thousands of alien tales might be like, and she simply couldn't. They'd be... alien, wouldn't they?

She wedged the door open and kept an eye on the hall. Far away she thought she could already hear the rumbling progress of the Orb, lodged safely in its padded frame, while it rolled steadily toward them.

She'd never have guessed that the Book could pull something like this off. It had treated everyone and everything in its path as though... as though they were clockwork. Exactly as though they were clockwork, she saw. And that made its own sort of sens

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