Her melodies, no matter what song was requested, haunted the dreams and nightmares of mortal men. When the Nightingale sang, the sound of silverware and polite conversation dissipated until all you could hear was her voice, her father's piano and the gentle hush of the tide.
Her hair and face were painted on sheet metal. She wore a shapeless gown festooned in beaded applique and vectors of sheer fabric. In spite of her hard mechanical form, her delicate mannerisms looked human in the dim lamplight. As elegant as any woman, the automaton drew admirers from across the globe to the establishment known as the Lighthouse. The mechanical songstress made headlines as the Nightingale of Atlantic City.
Her question response system had been meticulously designed, but she did not possess any emotion or private thoughts. All the same, every weeknight after closing my shop, I went into the restaurant and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu paired with six or seven snifters of whiskey. Leonardo Vicaris played piano behind the pretty robot, his eyes rolling in the back of his head as he drifted through a sea of music.
Lance, a young freckled server with messy curls, knew me as a regular. He promptly delivered my minestrone soup and bread a few minutes after I sat down. I generally drank until the Nightingale's last set had ended. If the joint were busy, I'd surrender my corner table for the bar. More often these days, I found myself at the bar.
The world was changing faster than most folks wanted to believe. The advent of sky transport brought people from all over to world to our little seaside town of vice. Wealthy men bought up the saloons and music halls and built towering casinos to profit off the recent surge in international tourism. Sky transport opened infinite possibilities. It was a new world with new dangers. You would hear about airships crashing into mountains or catching on fire during takeoff. Luddites became more common by the day, but I continued to tell kids like Lance that those types would disappear soon enough. Men with the greater technology have always prevailed.
One Saturday, I found Lance sitting at the bar. He had a boutonniere pinned to his vest and a sorry expression in his eyes. The Lighthouse was packed and the waiting list for a table was up to three hours long. The restaurant had become a major site of tourism in Atlantic City. Sometimes Leonardo would allow perfect strangers to wind the key that powered the Nightingale. Anything to do with robotics and engineering fascinated the public. Some believed it challenged the existence of God. Others just wanted to turn the key and see the birdy sing.
"Whiskey neat," I told the bartender as I grounded myself on a stool. I turned to the familiar face beside me. "What's eating you?" The kid sipped a tumbler of clear liquid and coughed up the demons.
"I had a blind date, but she stood me up."
"Sorry," I said. The bartender brought my drink and I lifted my glass. "Her loss." I downed the whiskey.
"Everybody's got somebody," the kid sighed.
"Plenty of girls out there. As soon as you stop looking, one will fall in your lap."
"You married, Will?"
"Yes, and believe me, I suffered my share of heartbreak before I found her."
"I'll probably have to marry that automaton," Lance jested with a sour smirk.
"You should be so lucky. She was inspired by Leonardo Vicaris's daughter, a remarkable woman, a woman who is nothing but a memory now."
"He had a daughter?"
"A long time ago. That's why the toy wears the old fashions. I was a youth when I met the flesh and blood Cathy Vicaris." The kid looked at me strangely, as if he couldn't imagine me ever being young.
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The Nightingale of Atlantic City (Steampunk Short Story)Short Story
A singing automaton performs each night in Atlantic City. Like every work of art, the toy has a fascinating story behind her creation. An old barfly recounts the tale to a young server, teaching him the power of technology in helping man cope with...