The Perfection Engine

A fantasy novel by Jon Dixon

"One of my surgeons, in the early days of my recovery and thinking to be kind, told me that those who had lost limbs sometimes regained them in their dreams. Unhappily, for me that’s never been the case. And so, in dreams and waking, I have had to learn how best to do without them. A task, perhaps, made all the more exacting by the particular needs of my profession. A limbless thief. Of all impossibilities..."

Twelve years ago, an unexplained attack on her home killed Membra’s father and left her with devastating, life-changing injuries. Once one of the most expert thieves in the city-state of Draffe, now she scrapes a living as a researcher and information miner, thieving when she can. But she has rebuilt her life. Or so it would seem to others. In her own eyes, though, haunted by regret and guilt, she is incomplete and broken, searching for a wholeness that can never be hers again.

While on a clandestine and strangely well-paid job, Membra finds a mysterious artefact from her past, something she never thought to see again. The discovery reawakens old ghosts and a dangerous adversary, the very one responsible for tearing Membra’s life apart so long ago. Suddenly both the hunter and the hunted, Membra enters a reluctant partnership with Custos, a war-weary ex-mercenary with his own hidden connection to her predicament.

Together, the unlikely couple set out on a journey of revelation and revenge that will lead Membra to a momentous choice, one that will affect not just her but everything she knows. Should she sacrifice who she is now for the chance to regain who she once was?

To win the consummation that she yearns for, Membra must learn to trust her own unique strengths, even when they come from what she sees as flaws and imperfections. And, even then, what she wants may not be what she needs.

Membra Secaret

Custos Mulier

A limbless thief

It is a guilty secret I have always kept from others, but I'm terrified of heights. A disadvantage for a thief at any time, even one with all the usual appendages associated with the trade. I shiver at the emptiness below me, all too aware of the fragility of my attachment, my dependence on the knots and clips that hold me to the rope at hips and chest. Dangling like a sack of turnips hanging from a string, I think, and wish I could be somewhere else.

The strange device

The Noumenon's outline blurs. It makes a noise, a low subsonic moan felt in the bones rather than heard, but which rises quickly through a range of dissonant harmonics to become an almost organic wailing howl. A bright snap of light comes from one of the small openings in the curved surface as arcs of radiant blue energy erupt from the orb and crawl across the table, striking sparks wherever they touched metal.


The dank stone is cold beneath my hips despite the padded leather, wet with unidentifiable fluids. My left shoulder throbs suddenly, and I think I hear, far in the darkness, a chain rattle and a low voice sobbing endlessly. Just my imagination. That I hope. I bend and light the lantern once more, surrounding us with its small pool of light. Beyond that light the darkness lurks, menacing and full of hidden terrors. I take the lantern in my mouth again, still fighting to stop my trembling. Custos and I both carefully peer around the pillar, staring into the silent darkness.

Tavern fight

I squirm fiercely in his clutches, flexing my whole body with all the strength in me. I duck my head, mouth stretched wide, and clamp my teeth closed on his hand. I am a wolf, my jaws a steel trap, savage and implacable. Salty warmth floods my mouth and I suppress a gag, biting down harder. Gristle and cartilage part like well-done steak. Groth wails in surprised horror, a high-pitched shriek, and instinctively flings his hand away from the pain, leaving shreds of skin and flesh in my teeth. Unsupported, I feel myself begin to fall.


The padlock is a good one, a Dudden Unassailable. Perhaps too good. I ease the lockpick forward, feel the subtle give of metal against metal as the second pin is lifted. A tiny movement of my jaw to change the tension of the torsion wrench to match... and the second pin sets into place. Two down and three to go. And still the seconds burn away, each one bringing the guards closer.

Late night research

"Can you read it?" I take another sip of wine before I answer. I have a passing familiarity with the language it is written in - Low Mhersian is one of the thirteen languages I can speak, read and write in - but this is an older dialect and filled with strange metaphors and turns of phrase that make it almost impenetrable.I've read it three or four times now without teasing out the full sense of it.


"Not so fast," I say around the edges of the card. "That run you've got is a good one indeed. And two Arcana I see. On any other night it might take you the pot. But tonight..." I twist to flip over the last face-down card in the spread of cards in front of me. The Page of Pentacles joined the King and Queen that were already revealed. "That's a straight Royal House," I say and part my teeth to drop the Knight onto the spread. "My winnings, I believe."

Precious scars

Half-asleep, supported by Custos’s muscular arm, relaxed against the huge solidity of his drowsing form, I doze. Through the coarse tangle of his chest hair, rough on my face, his chest rises and falls with every breath. His heart beats slow and steady against my cheek. I think about the broken bowls. The golden seams. "They call such mendings teelatee laso," Custos says, as if he reads my thoughts. "The precious scars. There is beauty to be found in incompleteness and in imperfection."


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