terça-feira, 31 de agosto de 2010

Chapter 6

Though I call them prophecies, they are not the visions of John and Daniel. What the Lady and her
Consort consent to show me of the future is derived of exacting calculation and long-practiced
methodology. He is a masterful observer with a capacity of extrapolation that parallels the omniscient.
She is a force of will stronger than the very tectonic plates of the Earth.
This future that I have been shown is more true than any premonition, for it is a future they will build
themselves. If these visions were prophecies only, I may still have hope.
IX. i
Bergen’s neck tingled. Like a dull knife run up and down over the hairs, the sensation saturated his
muscles with tension. It was a familiar feeling, one honed in the jungles of the dark continent over half a
lifetime of travel there—a feeling Bergen linked with the savage heritage of man, a relic of primordial
times when danger lurked all around.
He was being watched.
“Ready yourselves,” he ordered.
Mulls and Pennyedge unslung their air rifles.
Bergen unbuckled the straps of the steam rifle’s holster and lowered it carefully to the ground. He
scanned the shifting smog around them.
For the tenth time he cursed the air that clung to the downstreets. It was a suffocating blanket of oily
yellow blackness, staining everything it touched. Just to breathe it required a cloth tied tight across the
mouth and nose that had to be kept wet at all times and regularly scraped to remove the buildup of grime.
The eyes, too, needed protection, for the air would sting and water them. Von Herder had given them
fish-bowl spectacles: half spheres of glass ringed in rubber and held tight over the eyes by a leather strap.
Their curvature distorted Bergen’s peripheral vision, and he cursed them, too.
“Nothin’ out there, Gov,” Mulls grumbled, sweeping his lantern side to side.
“Quiet.” Bergen braced his legs and hauled the heavy weapon from its holster. He set the butt end over
his shoulder, nestling it in the slight dip between his deltoid and his neck. The heat from the gun pressed in
on his face as he raised it. The boiler was heated electrically, and rapidly came to full pressure.
“Not like we’s can see anyway,” Mulls grumbled.
“Quiet!” Bergen snapped. “I want a circle, torches facing out.”
Mulls muttered something under his breath and complied. Penny obeyed without question. The boy’s
eyes darted from shadow to shadow, and he held himself in a ready half crouch. The boy held the air rifle like it might be a spear, and shuffled his feet side to side. In contrast, Mulls and Bergen stood tall,
straight, relaxed, weapons slightly lowered so the eyes could scan wide, but high enough to snap the guns
into aiming position when necessary. Bergen nodded to himself at Mulls’ form. The man must have
listened to his instructions after all.
Something metallic scraped in the dark as it moved. Mulls started badly. Pennyedge merely angled
himself towards the sound, remaining ready. The American-made electric torches tied to their belts
illuminated more of the falling ash than the surrounding terrain; beneath the Shadwell Underbelly, no other
light existed. The shifting air hid whatever other motion might be visible.
Bergen knew what it must be: he felt the rhythm of an animal prowl.Like Africa, he thought.Like the
Dark Continent watching me through the eyes of her supplicants.
He mentally dropped the analogy. These were not tigers, nor lions, nor even wolves. These creatures
would not halt to consider whether their prey was worth the trouble. These creatures merely considered
the best way to close for the kill.
“They are coming. Both of you be prepared to drop low. Hit them in the face or shoulders to delay
them. The killing shots will be mine.”
Seven heartbeats passed.
A scrape and growl exploded from the ashfall near Mulls. Mulls locked his rifle into position and planted
two solid shots into the charging creature’s head. The air rifle puffed soundlessly as it discharged, stirring
Bergen’s hair with wind. Bergen did not turn for that creature yet.
Another leapt from Penny’s side, at the far right of Bergen’s field of fire. Penny threw two haphazard
shots into it. The beast whirled and skidded to its right, directly into the path of the steam rifle. Still
Bergen did not fire.
Another charged from behind. Bergen let Penny take that one as well, knowing Mulls could hold it back
if Penny could not. Mulls fired twice more at his own quarry.
Bergen leveled the steam rifle and sighted along the length of it. Between the weapon’s bulges and
lengths of crinkled metal tubing, he watched the creature right itself to all fours, then spin on him. The
torchlight bounced back off brass-knob eyes, cast-iron skin, and teeth of tarnished steel. The beast
roared, a sound like a great machine collapsing, and leapt for Bergen’s throat.
He put a round between its jaws.
The steel bullet vanished into the creature’s body trailing a blast of steam that burst into a dance of
lightning an instant later. The force of the discharge torqued Bergen’s body to the right. He let the
momentum carry him in a spin, dissipating it in motion rather than in tearing his shoulder apart. His target
vanished, sparking, into the smog.
The sweep of the weapon carried Bergen’s field of fire to the area behind him. He found Penny
crouching, still holding the air rifle like a spear, hurling his last few rounds into the swerving mechanical
horror beyond. Bergen hauled back on the rifle’s handles, pushing it into his shoulder to stop the spin. His
next shot was sloppy, splattering steam across Penny’s back. It took the target through the shoulder,
splintering a portion of its torso and casting its gears over the ground.
He’d been unprepared for the recoil. The rifle kicked into his shoulder like a horse, and he felt muscles
twitch and spasm in his chest and back as he strained to keep hold of it. Penny dropped to the ground as
the steam cloud’s electric discharge jolted him. The beast fled into the dark with a yowl like glass
scraping on glass.
Mulls cracked off two more rounds and Bergen knew without keeping track that they were his last. A
grunt or growl escaped Bergen’s lips as he tried to pull the steam rifle around and sight on the third beast.
Mulls dropped to one knee, scrambling to pull cartridges out of his belt. His target, knocked flat by his
last shots, pulled itself effortlessly to its feet. In a heartbeat, the creature had dug in its heels and leapt at
him, stretching wide its beaklike maw.
Bergen bit down against the pain in his shoulder as he steadied the steam rifle.
Mulls brought up his weapon and jammed it horizontally into the creature’s mouth. The steel teeth
crushed the barrel and splintered the stock and casing. Mulls screamed as one of the creature’s forepaws
landed on his chest and began to tear into his coat.
Bergen took an extra second to steady himself, bending his knees and bracing for the discharge. The
creature tossed the shredded remains of Mulls’ rifle aside and plunged its jaws towards his face.
Bergen put the shot into the base of its neck, parallel to the spine. The rush of steam blocked all vision,
but Bergen knew it was a hit.
Silence descended quickly after that. Bergen let his arms drop and settled the steam rifle bore-first to the
Freed to move again, his shoulder burst into a storm of pain. Muscles spasmed up along his back. He
couldn’t help but drop to a collapsed squat, wondering if anything were sprained.
“Unspeakable rotter!” Mulls cried.
He was alive, then. Good. Bergen reached a shaking hand up to wipe the condensation off his
“Help me, you sots,” Mulls said. “The rotter’s bloody heavy.”
Bergen laid the steam rifle on its side and staggered to help. Penny joined him, still walking light and
tense like a cat, and together they wrestled the metal carcass of the third creature off Mulls’ chest. The
big man gave the thing a kick, then sat up.
“Stupid beast. What in God’s name was it?”
“They are called Ticker Hounds.”
“Blimey. Didn’t think they’s real. Just stories, you know.” Mulls accepted Bergen’s hand and stood. The
action, so unconscious a reflex, strained Bergen’s throbbing shoulder.
“Are you wounded?” Bergen asked.
Mulls’ eyebrows twitched up; a metallic growth in his cheek swivelled a bit. He patted down his chest.
“Nothing but me coat, Gov.” He stretched the coat away from his body to show the three tattered
slashes across the front. “Bit o’ the vest beneath. Bit o’ the shirt beneath that, I wager. Christ, but it had
Bergen glanced at Penny, who, besides breathing harder, maintained his disinterest as he examined the
hound’s body.
Mulls crossed himself. “That thing is downright unholy.”
The carcass of the hound lay on its side. Its back from the base of its neck to its hips gaped wide,
streaming black oil and a colourless ooze onto the flagstones beneath. Its guts had laid a cone-shaped
mark behind it, some ten feet long. Twisted bits of metal had been scattered across the area, with some
wet lumps that might have looked like flesh in better light.
The thought came to Bergen that there might be more.
“Boy, give Mulls your weapon,” Bergen ordered.
Penny spun on him with narrowed eyes. Bergen stared coldly back.
“The weapon goes to the man who will make the best use of it, boy.”
Bergen could feel the lad’s suspicion. Still Penny hesitated.
Bergen placed his right hand on the hilt of his sidearm. Tendon and bone grated together inside his
shoulder and he winced. He tried to disguise it as a sneer.
“I have not the time for thisBockmist right now.”
An empty threat, and the boy knew it.
“Easy, mate,” Mulls cut in, addressing the youth. “You can have the flasher. You’re better in close than
me anyway.”
Not breaking eye contact with Bergen, Penny reached out one hand with the rifle. Mulls fully wrapped
his fingers around it before attempting to haul it away, and passed over the flasher. Penny snatched it and
let it hang from his fist by the leather shoulder strap. He made no move to put it on.
“Do you know how to use that?” Bergen asked.
Penny did not answer.
Had Johnwanted this sojourn sabotaged, sending along such a disobedient child?
“Answer, boy.”
Bergen’s frustration mounted. The boy clearly considered himself Bergen’s equal, and would take every
opportunity to challenge him from then on out. Allowing that balderdash was no way to run an
“Come and kill me, then, boy,” Bergen rumbled. “See how far the two of you make it. What will you do when there are five or six hounds? What will you do when the clickrats in their hundreds become hungry
for your bones, or the nesses drag you down into their holes? How is your sense of direction, boy? How
is your sense of time?”
Penny’s lip twitched at the corners.Angry? Good. As long as you’re listening.
Bergen beat a fist against his chest. “I have crossed the Sahara and the Alps, boy. I have been in and out
of the Congo a half dozen times. You are here because John Scared assigned you to me, and for no
other reason. I will have your concentration and your obedience or I am done with you. And when you
think of murdering me, think first of this: I am quite capable of returning to the city under my own
direction and with the help of no one else. Therefore: I can kill you, but you cannot kill me, lest you doom
yourself. Is that clear?”
Though Bergen saw no change in Penny’s outward expression, he felt the boy’s presence diminishing,
until he seemed less an adder than a toothless dog trying to affect ferocity.
“Put on the flasher. I will waste no more time on these childish games.” Bergen turned his back and bent
to wrap the steam rifle in its holster.
He is not a toothless dog,said a thought in Bergen’s mind.Right this instant he is contemplating how best
to dispatch you. He knows he is faster than you.
Bergen ignored the thought. He’d left the boy little choice but to fall into step, and so the boy would fall
into step.
Bergen detached and switched the handles on the steam rifle. Von Herder, in one of his characteristic fits
of brilliance, had designed the weapon with the ability to be configured for left-or right-hand firing. The
right shoulder would not heal sufficiently for some hours. Fortunately, Bergen was left-handed.
Mulls stood nervously to the side, shifting weight from one foot to another. Bergen might have chastised
him for it, but that he didn’t want to give Penny any reprieve from the embarrassment of his censure. He
calmly reloaded the steam rifle’s empty chambers, then hefted the mechanism onto his back. The right
shoulder strap bit sharply into the skin, a sure sign of a developing bruise.
“Come,” he ordered. “We are barely past Lenman Tower.”
He marched into the gloom without looking back.
Oliver idly watched a clickrat gnawing on Tommy’s boot. The little creature looked more like a
truncated snake than a rat, sporting a pointed silver head and a stump of a tail, and getting around on six
spiderlike tin legs. It did have prodigious teeth, though, which it put to use with some vigour on its chosen
prey. Tom fluffed his newspaper and didn’t seem to notice.
“Always seem to come to Shadwell the instant anything goes awry, don’t they?” he said, turning the
paper over.
Oliver looked up to see a group of four gentlemen gold cloaks striding purposefully down the street
towards the lifts at the far east end. Their gold capes gleamed against the background of grey-and
black-clad humanity that wandered antlike along the street towards their homes and families after a long day at the factories. The street was officially named Marlowe Street, and ran the length of the
Underbelly, from the lifts at the one end to the sheer drop at the other. The natives had named it, as well
as the people who walked it, the Beggar’s Parade.
“They came from Phin’s area. Think he marked them?” Oliver asked.
“He probably tried to engage them in dither.” Tommy folded the newspaper neatly in two and passed it
to Oliver. “Ah. There he goes.”
Oliver scanned out into the crowd, picking out a crooked hat bobbing on the river of humanity as certain
as a leaf on a true stream. It floated after the cloaks as they turned up a side street called Disraeli’s
Amble. Phineas had them well in hand.
Oliver wondered briefly what a real river looked like.
“Queer bit,” Tom said, “and a waste of personnel, getting one whole crew to watch the Underbelly.
Only one way in, after all.”
“Sir Bailey is keeping us out of his way,” Oliver said with undisguised bitterness. “Thinks we’re all
rabble. A lesser class.” The newspaper turned out to be the midday edition of theWhitechapel Guardian,
a rag put out by Baron Hume’s personal publishing house in Cathedral. “Why are you reading this tripe,
Tom shrugged, cocked his head, and watched the clickrat nibble his boot. “We’re all a lesser class,
Chief.We were born here, weren’t we? ”
“Mmm…” Oliver scanned the yellowed paper. The topmost story read “Engineers Confirm the near
completion of the Great Work.” It went on at some length about the heroic strides of the crows in
bringing Mama Engine’s mysterious goal to fruition. They had been saying the same thing for years, so
Oliver passed on. The next story detailed the capture of several groups of rebels in league with the British
Crown, and dwelt at length on their various evils and the degree to which the streets would be safer now
that they were gone. Oliver almost tore the paper in two right then.
The rest read like an advertisement for the grand benefits of joining up with the canaries.Yes, please cut
my heart out with a dull pick and replace it with a bunch of gears and springs. That would be smashing.
“Why are you reading that tripe, Ollie?”
“Shut your trap.” He folded the paper over and tucked it under his arm, with the intention of throwing it
down the next hole he came to. “Did you notice if the cloaks were still performing searches?”
“Mainly up towards the lift,” Tom said. As he regarded the relentless assault of the little clickrat, a dull
smile crept onto his face, as of a stern parent finally relenting at his child’s cries for candy. “I think I’ll
keep him.”
Oliver frowned. “Keep him? That creature would eat the nose from your face.”
“Got some energy, eh?” Tom pulled a length of wire from the pocket of his oversized long coat. Oliver
watched with fascination as Tommy bent down, squeezed the rat’s cheeks with his mechanical hand to
make it release his boot, and held it fast while tying its jaws shut with the wire. That done, he lay the
clickrat on its back in the palm of his hand, where it squirmed and clicked furiously. He removed another length of wire and bound all six legs together against its body with an ingenious multiple-layered loop.
Thomas held his prise high.
“I shall call him Jeremy Longshore the Third, and I dub him King of the Clickrats. May his reign be long
and fruitful, free from tribulation, and rife with bountiful harvests and competent public works ministers.”
He dumped the struggling creature into a coat pocket and returned his attention to the Beggar’s Parade
as if nothing had occurred.
Oliver shook his head in amazement. “Just don’t bring it in the hideout.”
“Aye, Captain.”
The hiss of steam echoed across the Underbelly, drawing both their eyes to the lift. It ascended the shaft
on clacking chains, vanishing behind the massive clock that hung halfway up. Canaries would be stationed
at the top of it as well as the bottom.
“We’ll have a bit of difficulty getting Sir Bailey’s prise out of this place, what with all this company,” said
“Not if Missy takes it.”
Tommy cracked a toothy grin. “Good call, that, mate. You’ve had this planned out for a while, then?”
“You know I’d have planned a deal more if Bailey deigned to render me as much information as we
render him.”
Tommy made a sympathetic face.
“Yes, you’d surely be running all the crews by now. Poor Ollie: your greatness languishes unrealised.”
Yes, that’s it. Like a kick in the shins the morning after a good gaff.He’d thought many times about
breaking with Bailey and fighting their silent war independently. He’d worked it out to the last ha’penny:
financing, recruiting, placement, encoding and packaging information—even a method to smuggle any
gathered intelligence out of Whitechapel via the German airships. He was still working on a way in and
out of the Stack, but Hews could help with that. It was his perpetual daydream: to personally contrive the
fall of Baron Hume and his puppet master godlings.
But then his mind always came back to the Uprising, and the magnificent plan fell to ashes and scrap. He
knew that no one blamed him for it. Many of the Shadwell locals still looked on him with awe, even
gratitude, that he had dared to pick up a gun and do what he did. But the fact was that when the Boiler
Men had marched down in their hundreds and shot half the men and a third of the women, he hadn’t
been prepared. That was the truth of it.
As if to break their silence, Tom patted his pocket where the clickrat still fought furiously for his
freedom. Tommy squeaked in mock outrage: “‘Give me liberty or give me death!’”
“He’s a Yankee, then?”
“He quotes freely from rebels and state heroes alike.”
Tommy stuck his mechanical hand into the pocket and made cooing sounds.
“Perhaps I’ll leave you two,” Oliver said. He straightened his vest and coat, then dragged one finger
around the brim of his ash hat. It came back nearly clean. It was the one positive trait of the Underbelly:
almost none of the grey snow got past the Concourse above. “I’ll be back around in twenty.”
He stepped off the sidewalk, tipped his hat to a passing madam he knew, and fell in step with the
Parade, natural as donning an old slipper.
He moved along, shuffling and loping with the gait of the tired but vocal backers and sweaters, greeting
those he knew, smiling politely at those he didn’t, until he was able to angle into the Amble. Disraeli’s
Amble struck such a contrast to the busy and noisy Beggar’s Parade that for a moment Oliver’s ears
rang with imagined shouts. The Amble never seemed to have carts, hawkers, or even much foot traffic.
Everyone in the Underbelly agreed that it was named for Disraeli’s ghost who, having lost his famed
“blank page” between the Old and New Testaments, had gone there to mope about it, and no one likes a
He found Phineas in wide-eyed contemplation of a streetlamp. “Where are they?”
It was several seconds before the old sailor answered. “In their impossibly subtle way, they’re askin’
Bart Cagey about the state of the Underbelly.”
“Jolly good. He’ll be as helpful as a spokeless wheel,” Oliver thought aloud. “You’ll keep a watch on
“I’ll keep an ear on ’em if it’s all the same. I can hear a lot farther than I can see.”
“Whatever suits.”
Phin cocked his head. His crushed top hat slid down over one ear. “Bart’s shaking hands now, tellin’
’em how honoured he is to have ’em in his shop.”
“How farcan you hear, Phin?” Oliver asked.
“A few blocks, now that I’m out of that blasted crowd. There’s a cloak coming up the Parade, by the
Oliver peered down to the sea of hats, looking for the signs: stiff-legged walk, rhythmic steps, straight
spine. In seconds he’d picked out the cloak, a tall middle-aged man in a vest and beret, a stock of books
balanced on a tray he held in front of him. A hawker not hawking, despite being shoulder-deep in
potential customers. Why did these people even bother attempting stealth?
“I’ll dog him,” said Oliver. “At least until he gets onto Missy’s block. Keep that sharp ear open.”
Phineas nodded, already turning his attention back to the lamp. Oliver jogged down the Amble and took
his place in the Parade.
Oliver had never been a good hound. He was far too tall, standing on average a full head above the
stunted forms around him. His trick was to seem unimportant, so that when he inevitably drew a target’s
eye he would render the appearance of a mere sweater, haggard and worn down by work and smoke and dark, and not worthy of more than a glance.
The cloak appeared oblivious to pursuit, a blind fox in a field of dogs. He walked purposefully ahead,
maintaining the exact pace of the crowd, looking neither left nor right, not up at the dim ceiling many
storeys above, nor down at the uneven and ever-shifting roadway.
Oliver had decided years ago that he hated crowds. People moved on the streets like herds of animals,
barely daring to whisper to one another, lest they be overheard by some spy. They spoke to one another
only in the safety of their own homes, and then in low voices, for their neighbour might own a clock, or
their son or daughter might have been induced to betray them. Such was life beneath the thousand faces
of Grandfather Clock and the omnipresent breath of Mama Engine.
Hews had once mentioned the congeniality of London, where people would speak easily on the streets,
comment on weather and current events, shake hands, tip hats, and go off merrier than before. Oliver
suspected more than a little romanticising on Hews’ part, for such was his habit, and Oliver had declared
the whole story poppycock. Were there not policemen in London? Were there not ministers and
noblemen and landowners? What was the difference if one’s overseers were flesh and blood instead of
iron and brass?
Hews had told him to wait until he saw it.
The crowd slowed as it reached the “domino hole,” a gap in the Parade spanned by numerous wooden
bridges of varying quality. The hole split the Underbelly from east to west, and on each side thin ledges
ran along the sides of the closest buildings, called, respectively, Alley-on-the-Left and
The disguised cloak huffed across the large central bridge with the flow of the crowd. Oliver was about
to follow when he noticed a small child watching from Alley-on-the-Left. Oliver squinted at him over the
heads of the crowd.Do I know that one?
No,he realised. That one wasn’t a native of the Underbelly, or was perhaps a new arrival, but Oliver
thought not. He would be one of Scared’s children.
Oliver caught back up to the cloak rather quickly. The man seemed to have slowed the instant he
touched the south ledge. Still, he walked with focus, staring ahead.
A little bell began ringing in Oliver’s head. On the pretence of stretching a sore neck, he glanced behind
him. Two more gold cloaks, hard-eyed young gentlemen who had chosen gold vests instead of cloaks,
hustled over the bridge in his wake. A third followed unhurriedly behind, a wide-beamed gentleman
dressed in an impeccable grey suit and hat with a gold Albert chain and gloves.
“Christ on his bloody cross!” escaped Oliver’s lips. He barely noticed the offended looks from the
people closest to him.
Oliver recognised the man. He was the one Oliver had seen shot dead just that morning in a warehouse
in Stepneyside. They’d left him an inert and bloody mass staining the warehouse floor, and now he
walked steady and stiff, in the manner of the gold cloaks, and had nothing to show for his injuries but a
bruise on his cheek and a few isolated spots of oil showing through his vest.
He thought of Tommy stabbing himself in the heart, and a sourceless rage flushed into his face and neck.
Men shoulddie when they’re shot or stabbed. Men should greet women on the street. Children shouldn’t be hauled off by Chimney gangs or recruited to work for lizards like Scared!
His long fingers slipped around the grip of the derringer in his pocket. He gritted his teeth, fighting the
instinct to whirl around and place a shot between the man’s eyes. He knew he could do it—he was tall
enough to fire over the crowd, and his earlier shooting mishap, well, that had been because he wasn’t
ready. He hadn’t the will, then.
His fingers uncurled. And he didn’t have it now. These poor sweaters and charwomen marching all
around him didn’t deserve such a random end as a battle here would give them. It wasn’t their fight.
But itwas their fight, damn it. Every able-bodied man should have taken up arms at the first opportunity.
How could they go to the Baron’s factories and give their lives to Mama Engine’s Great Work? How
could they drink the baron’s oily sludge and breathe his air and let their children do the same and do
nothing ?
He forced the anger down. His feet had carried him automatically in pursuit of his quarry, who was
leading him expertly towards the thin, dead-end alley between a slanting bookshop and a
yellow-windowed public house. He cursed himself.You stupid bugger. You’re being led like a
locomotive on a rail. It occurred to him that the man might be a local, to have passed several other alleys
all equally crooked and misanthropic and angled to the only one that ended without escape.
They were trying to trap him, of course. Oliver and company had done the same thing to their foxes
many times. Luckily, then and now, the trick worked only on the unobservant and the inexperienced, and
Oliver Sumner was neither.
He obediently followed his fox nearly to the mouth of the alley, passing between two vendors and their
wagons, built of tin strips and rivets and loaded respectively with tiny flags and cotton breathing masks.
As he stepped beyond the range of the streetlamps’ muddy light, he ducked suddenly and deftly to the
left, stealing up the stairs and into the bookshop, sliding through the door without fully opening it.
A little bell dinged overhead.
He spun and peered through the window, squinting to see past the condensation on the outside of the
glass. The cloth of gold his pursuers wore shimmered as they entered the range of the closest lamp. The
two younger ones clearly wanted to charge directly into the alley mouth, but the grey-suit called to them
and they stopped. The grey-suit gestured to the left and right, and the two subordinates took off along the
walk at a trot. The man who should have been dead then reached behind his back, beneath his coattails,
and drew forth the same large weapon he’d held that morning. He advanced with exaggerated caution
towards the alley mouth.
Still feeling the sting from before, eh?
The subordinate dispatched in Oliver’s direction ran past the bookshop with nary a glance. Now would
be an ideal time to escape, but Oliver hesitated, wondering if the subordinates had been ordered to circle
back to the alley mouth after a block or two. It seemed a prudent order, and the canaries weren’t entirely
fools. Better not to go out quite yet, then. Perhaps the shop would furnish another exit.
Oliver came about, and nearly jumped out of his skin.
“May I help you?” the proprietor grumbled. His face resembled a beaten scrap of unsculpted leather,
lopsided and caved in around the eyes. The piercing yellow light of the store’s single electric lamp deepened all the crevices of his face and rumpled clothing. The man smelled of cinders and smoke.
Oliver cleared his throat. “Yes, of course. May I browse?”
“Suit yourself.” The shadowed eyes flicked to the paper Oliver still held beneath his arm. “Glad to see
the younger folk keeping current.”
He swivelled without sound and vanished back into the rows of bookshelves. How had he not heard that
ghastly gentleman approaching? He mentally reprimanded himself for such a lapse and retreated into the
The building from the outside appeared to lean some thirty degrees to its right, hanging over the alley and
perhaps ultimately resting on its neighbour on the second or third storey. The inside conformed so
perfectly to that configuration that Oliver wondered if perhaps the building had been built standing straight
and had fallen over. The ceiling and walls were skewed at a disorienting angle; the rafters were steel
beams thick enough to be of natural growth. The shelves were an eclectic collection of makes, styles, and
states of disrepair, filled with cobweb-sheathed books arranged in no discernible order.
Oliver idly inspected the bookends and let his thoughts run. Was the crew in danger?Likely not. The
grey-suit just recognised me from this morning. And the men captured yesterday had never seen the faces
of Oliver’s crew. Bailey had made sure of that by keeping contact exclusively between the crew captains
and himself. Hews had mentioned something about the vast knowledge of the man called Aaron,
but…no, he had to assume the crew was safe for now, and even if they were spotted and unmasked,
they could escape through the terrain of the Underbelly, which they all knew well. Old hats at criminal
enterprise, they were, one and all.
No, not criminals. Rebels. Soldiers. They hadn’t even commented on their missing stipend.
The bell dinged again. Oliver ducked behind the shelf closest to the inward-slanting wall, squishing into a
triangular space half his height. In the process he coated his hat and much of his left sleeve with
abandoned cobwebs.
The crisp footfalls of well-tailored shoes sounded against the faint buzz of the electric light. The bell
dinged again as the door swung closed.
“Fickin!” the new arrival shouted, much louder than necessary in the closed space. Oliver recognised it
as the clicking voice of the grey-suited cloak. “Fickin, where’ve you got to?”
Oliver heard the proprietor answer: “Who is it? I’ve had quite enough interruptions for one…Oh. It’s
“Hardly a proper greeting for one of my stature, Fickin. Have you no manners at all?”
“I hand mine out sparingly, Westerton. Now state your business or move on. I am in prayer right now.”
Westerton sounded a derisive grunt. “The Lady will forgive you. Did a man enter your shop?”
“Plenty of men enter my shop.”
“Just a few minutes past.”
“Sticky fellow. Tall like a willow.”
“That’s him. Where did he go?”
“What’s he done?”
“He is a rebel and a murderer. For your sake, I hope you are not concealing him.”
“Your accusations are unwarranted, and frankly, insulting, Westerton. He’s in the back. Browsing, he
Oliver drew the derringer. Two shots, and small ones at that. What good would those do against a man
who could be shot to death and be taking a sprightly stroll a few hours later?
The proprietor raised his voice again. “If he must be shot, please do it on the front steps.”
Conversation ceased. Only the faint taps of the cloak’s shoes remained. Oliver was sure he had that
oversized weapon of his out. He fished in his pockets for his flick knife, and found it missing: he’d left it
on the floor of the warehouse. He snatched a heavy book off the shelf instead, almost laughing at himself.
A book and a gun shorter than my index finger. Always prepared, eh?
A pile of books blocked the other end of his hiding spot, so he positioned himself to face the aisle he’d
come from. His motion, though careful, stirred up the dust and the scent of paper and old leather.
The footsteps reached the aisle just beyond. Oliver raised the derringer, wishing it were a rifle. With only
two shots, he would have to take his enemy through the eye or forehead. Any shot to the torso would
probably end up lodged in springs and gears.
A gold glove appeared, followed by a grey trouser leg. Oliver’s hands tightened on the derringer.
The barrel of the man’s weapon poked into the space, followed by his face. The dull whirr of the man’s
inner workings spread into the hole, buzzing icily in Oliver’s ears.
Go on, in the face.
Oliver sat frozen.
And then? Rush a man who can’t be killed wielding nothing but a book?
The cloak scanned the interior of the hole briefly, flicked his gun’s barrel at the floating dust particles,
and then withdrew.
“He isn’t here.”
“You’re disturbing me again, Westerton.”
“Where is he?”
“He must have left. Probably robbed me as well. I was inprayer, Westerton. I didn’t hear.”
Oliver dared to breathe. How on earth had the man not seen him?
“Well, my boys will catch him if he’s taken to the street. The Brothers of Time thank you kindly for your
“The Brothers of Creation thank you kindly for leaving me in peace.”
“You are a cantankerous fool, Fickin.”
“Then it seemsyour manners are also in limited supply. Now, will you be going or shall we continue this
transgression against common etiquette?”
The little bell dinged. The muted noise of the street filtered in. The cloak spoke once more, with a
dangerous edge in his tone.
“You have no clock, Fickin. It isn’t proper not to have a clock. People will talk, you know.”
The door closed. Silence descended. Oliver waited for the shop owner to retreat back into whatever
room he took prayer in, but heard only the buzz of the electric lamp and the scritching of rats inside the
He should get back on the street, he knew. Find the crew, locate Westerton and somehow detain or
eliminate him. Otherwise, Oliver could not move safely in the open street. But how long to wait before
attempting an exit? He couldn’t very well stay too long in the abode of a crow, but he had to give
Westerton and his cronies time to move off a few blocks.
Eventually his cramping muscles decided for him, and he shuffled out of his place of concealment.
Instantly, the proprietor was there, poking his gnarled head from behind a bookcase. Oliver’s fingers
clenched on the derringer.
The old man smiled without guile. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed the gun.
“I wondered if you had left or not,” he said. He shuffled silently up to Oliver and offered a hand. Oliver
did nothing for a moment, waffling between a feeling of knotted suspicion and an inbred impulse to
politeness. As the silence stretched, etiquette won the field. Oliver dropped his weapon casually in his
pocket as he accepted the man’s hand.
His shake was frail, the skin seeming to swim on top of the bones without the intervening benefits of flesh
and sinew.
“Grimsby Fickin, at your service.”
“John Bull, at yours, sir.”
The man winked. “Risqué to be using such a name, don’t you think? I don’t mind, though. I understand
the old patriotism dies hard, just like the old religion. You’ll be taking that, then?”
Oliver blinked.The book.
“Ah…certainly,” he replied congenially. “What are you asking for it?”
He reached out a hand to the book, which Oliver passed over to him. The man let the book fall open
and flicked through several gold-coloured pages marked with angular symbols in thick black ink.
“This is a fine edition,” he said. “There’s real brass in the pages, you know. I can’t part with it for less
than a crown.”
Oliver coughed up the requisite coins, mentally despairing at how light his pocket had become.
Mr. Fickin vanished the money into his clothing somewhere. Oliver noticed then that the man, as well as
dressing all in black, wore no trousers. Instead, a canvas skirtlike garment hid his lower extremities.
Smoke trickled idly from the man’s nose and ears, and he emitted an unpleasant, lingering heat.
“Good to see the younger generation taking an interest in scripture,” Fickin said. “You’ll be taught to
read it only after you’ve taken your vows, but there is much to be learned through simply becoming
familiar with the symbols.”
Oliver nodded as if he understood. He glanced down to find himself holding a copy of Atlas Hume’s
Summa Machina, the sacred book of the golds and blacks.
Treat carefully with this one,a little voice warned him, but the man seemed nice enough and a few
minutes’ further delay seemed prudent, so Oliver embellished a tad.
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve been wondering what it’s about, you see. TheGuardian rarely gets into specifics.”
“Of course,” said Fickin. He turned and led Oliver back through the stacks. “The bloody canaries print
it. Bunch of self-important bureaucrats. I don’t know why the Lady keeps them around.”
Oliver’s interest piqued.Yet more dissention? A lovely day this is, indeed. “Beg pardon, sir, but isn’t that
a bit blasphemous?”
The man snorted, shooting smoke out like the puff of a cigar. “Says who? Those fops are like their
namesake: pretty to look at but fragile. Now, black! That’s the colour ofiron, my lad, a sturdy and
enterprising material worthy of emulation. That’s something a man can build a dynasty on.”
Oliver suffered a sudden chill.Dynasty? “Then, you have children, sir?”
The man halted his soundless floating and winked over his shoulder. “It’s not really mine.”
As they navigated to the rear of the shop, Oliver noticed increasing layers of dust on the floors, shelves,
and rafters, undisturbed by the tread of man or rodent. The air also became increasingly thick and hot,
and heavy winds meandered through the aisles, reminiscent of the skies around the Stack. Mr. Fickin led
him to a mahogany door on the rear wall. It must have at one time been quite lavish, but now sported the
first pits of rot on its panels, and dark burn marks around its edge.
The old man reached for the door handle, hesitated. “Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m aiding an
accused murderer?”
I wasn’t going to bring it up, in fact.“I’m no murderer, sir.”
He waved off the comment. “Likely you murdered Westerton himself. This would be his sixth time, I believe, and I wish him a dozen more. And you, lad: a young man who reads theGuardian and the
scripturesand murders canaries in his spare time? A fine postulant, I say. Mighty fine.”
Oliver alternated between marveling that the rebellion’s great enemy could be so divided and marveling
at his own near-mystical ability to draw paternal responses from aged men.
Fickin’s hand clenched and unclenched on the doorknob. “You wanted specifics, Mr. Bull. Well, what
you are about to see is my own humble part of the Great Work.”
Choking back his excitement, Oliver answered, “I’m honoured, sir.”
He waved that away as well. “It seems the Good Lady favours you, my boy. You’ll find, once you have
one, that the furnace”—he tapped his chest—“guides your decisions sometimes. You’ll learn to trust it.
The Mother is quiet, true. She doesn’t demand things of you like her consort, but she still tells you what
to do, if you listen.”
He turned the knob.
“And she’s telling me, furnace or no, that you’re ready.”
The door swung wide. Oliver staggered back, his hand shooting into his pocket and snaring his gun.
Beyond the door loomed a monster, a grotesque giant of cast iron, reaching two storeys in height. In its
centre hung a black globe twice the width of a man, studded everywhere with brass rivets and covered in
bulbous glass eyes. From this central point issued a mangled array of limbs, ranging in form from
humanoid to tentacular, tipped with claws and blades and spikes of steel. Lengths of chain tethered the
creature to the ceiling, while the glow of open furnaces on all sides cast it in a hellish red light.
Fickin glided into the room, across a floor littered with tools and bits of scrap metal.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked.
Oliver could not find an answer. Fickin did not seem to expect one.
“It’s finished,” he said. “For near a fortnight now, finished.”
“What is it?” Oliver choked out.
“A child of the Great Lady,” Fickin said. “Incubated in the hands of her adopted son. These are her
seeds, and when they are sufficient in number, they will roll out over the world and grow gardens for the
Mother to dwell in. All the Earth will be made a paradise in the image of her great city.”
Oliver took a step back. The words escaped his mouth of their own accord. “A dynasty.”
Mr. Fickin looked up at the beast with tears in his eyes. “Now kneel with me, Mr. Bull. Pray to the
Great Mother.”
Not waiting for a response, Fickin lowered himself closer to the ground. The skirt he wore flared out in a
wide circle, revealing ominous bumps and edges.
“Blessed and holy Mother,” he began, “who loveth boundlessly…”
Oliver jumped as the furnaces in the room’s four corners flared, blasting him with heat.
“Praise to your sacred womb,” Fickin continued. “Praise to your Great Work.”
The furnaces flickered and their light changed from dull red to scorching orange and Oliver decided it
was time to leave. He spun to find the door shut behind him.
He leapt for the knob. As his fingers closed over it a horrid electric heat shot up his arm, searing him
through skin and bone. He screamed in pain and terror, plucking his hand away.
Fickin cried out suddenly: “Mother! You’re here! You’ve come to me.”
A sound like the tolling of a bell smothered the howl of the furnaces, fading away into a watery
Fickin’s voice echoed as if heard from the end of a long pipe.
“We, your children, who love you to the coming of winter…”
Rigid with fright, Oliver watched as the shadows on the wall before him retreated before an intensifying
Reach for the door,he urged himself.Escape.
He extended one shaking hand, balking at the cracking skin of its palm. The ferocious heat bit at him,
reddening the back of his hand, blackening the knuckles. Oliver dared not breathe.
“Forgive us our faults,” Fickin cried. “Forgive us our imperfections. We wish only to be humble…”
Inches from the knob, Oliver’s fingers froze. The heat dribbled like a thick stew into his mind, erasing
thoughts as it progressed.
Move!Oliver screamed inwardly, but the fingers would not budge. With mechanical precision, the heat
slipped into every chink in his mental armour, exploiting every fear and doubt to gain entrance.
And then Mama Engine was in his head. The horrid infernal vastness of her tore apart all comprehension
and blasted away his sense of the space around him. Oliver beheld a savage universe of pulsating desires
given form in random and hideous shapes of iron, linked across distant leagues by strings of luminous,
fiery coal. Through these tumbled the charred bodies of so many souls, worried at by shapeless creatures
of molten glass.
The closest corpse turned to him and grinned.
“She fancies you, Mr. Bull.”
Oliver squeezed his eyes shut against the sight, but it would not leave him.
The blistering heat on his neck woke him just enough to see the door shimmering through the shifting air
before him.
The doorknob! He lunged forward. His hand exploded in a flaming ruin, but the door opened, and he toppled out into the shelves. Books fell on him. The floor struck him in the face. The floorboards
scratched at his knees and palms.
He shouldered aside a bookcase that toppled into his path, kicked at another that reached for him from
the side, struck a third with his fist. The lamp leapt from above in an effort to strike him, but he dodged
aside and bolted for the door. It, too, defied him at first. Then he wrapped his charred fingers around the
handle, planted one smouldering boot on the frame, and tore it open.
The little bell dinged. He was free.

Chapter 5

I see a great city behind my closed eyes. It is the vision of all my failures of architecture, standing
together against all possibility. I see humanity living on these creations, driven far from the mud of which
they are made. I see our homes and churches broken; I see our God snubbed and ignored; I see our
books rendered unreadable by smoke and by ashes.
—IX. ii
A passing wash of smoke hid the platform even as the cable car settled into its berth. Oliver had tied his
kerchief over his mouth and nose before disembarking, but that did little to stop the sudden burst of fire in
his lungs at the first taste of the air. This close to the Stack, breathing and not breathing were of equal
detriment to one’s health.
The Dunbridge Concourse was constructed on a sharply slanting hill with the station at its base. By virtue
of the way the steel girders had grown up, the black cloaks had elected to build only on the west side of
the tower; the east stood open to the air and the rain. The dwellings of Dunbridge rested one atop the
other, with all the order of a stack of rubbish, and for the most part were devoid of light.
Every station and street they’d passed through in Stepneyside and Cambridge-Heath had been crawling
with gold cloaks. Even the women and children members of that bizarre order worked the crowds,
eyeing up the midday commuters as they passed. The burlier and better-armed canaries randomly hauled
people from the crowd to perform searches of their pockets. This had happened to Oliver only once, and
he was able to palm his knife and derringer while the man roughed him over. The cloak had
contemptuously shoved him aside to make space for the next victim, whom his lackeys were already
dragging up.
“This is an affront to basic human dignity,” Hews had said. “What do they honestly expect to find with all
this? In the whole of Whitechapel, we can’t number more than a few dozen.”
“Spreading fear, perhaps,” Oliver had suggested, “to scare the average cove away from helping us.”
Hews had perked up at that, and a little of that prideful red glow came back into his cheeks. “Ha. British
men don’t scare that easily.”
Oliver had thought of Missy. “Neither do the women.”
After that, they’d both lapsed into silence. The constant proximity of Grandfather Clock’s followers and
occasionally the Boiler Men limited the instances of their conversation.
Oliver was dying to know more about this Aaron. He wanted to know how a man who knew so much
could be allowed to fall into enemy hands. When asked, Hews snapped that it was not the time to
discuss it and fell back to his silent worrying.
Hews’ first breath as they stepped out of the car sent him into a fit of coughing. Oliver hooked his arm
and gently drew him out of the way of the rest of the passengers as the coughs evolved into wet hacks. It
was several minutes before Hews regained his composure. He righted himself and wiped the spittle away
from beneath his kerchief. A sudden sheen of sweat mixed with the soot on his face. The man seemed
drained of all vitality and every seeming of health.
“That entertaining, am I?” Hews croaked.
Oliver swallowed. “Is it…?”
“Cancer of the lungs, aye,” Hews said. “The same as took my Barbara.”
“You might have told me.”
“You knew it,” Hews scolded. “As a lad, you were never less than observant. She always told me so.”
“There’s a difference, knowing it and hearing it,” Oliver said.
“You needn’t tell me that, lad.”
They stood in silence a moment, while Hews stowed his handkerchief and tied on a fresh one from his
vest pocket.
“She was kind to me,” Oliver said to fill the silence.
“Aye, she was. And her only price was the enduring of her constant sermons, bless her Anglican,
Anglican soul.”
Hews cleared his throat and straightened his coat and hat. “Well,” he said. “Now that I’m done making
a spectacle of myself, let’s get on, shall we?”
“But…are you all right?” Oliver asked.
“Chipper as the day I shot out of my mum, lad. I’ll have none of your pity.” He began a brisk walk.
Oliver scrambled to keep pace.
The station exited onto the lowest point of the concourse: a half bowl of concrete that sported benches,
unconvincing false trees, and dormant wrought-iron lampposts of angular design. It was almost deserted,
owing, Oliver figured, to the choking air. A black cloak scuttled by, moving on all fours like a spider,
emitting an audible mechanical grinding as she moved.
Oliver shied away.
“Sold their souls,” Hews said once she had gone. “Nothing in their hearts now but a few lumps of
burning coal and Mama Engine’s excrement.”
And they’d do it to all of us, if we let them,Oliver thought. The metal grew in a human being as easily as
in a tower or a factory; a man would not know he had it until black iron started poking through his skin.
Thomas was already half a machine, and he had never joined any order.
In a few steps they lost themselves in the fog.
“I hope you know the way, Hewey.”
Hews waved him on. “I know it better than my own wrinkles, lad. Just follow me, and make sure there’s
something under your foot before you commit to the step.”
Oliver halted in midstride, foot hanging above the concrete ahead. The air was so thick, holes in the
concourse would not be readily apparent. He shot Hews a venomous look.
“Did I not look preoccupied enough for you?”
“Not at all, lad. Just wanted to warn you to watch your step, that’s all. One never knows, in a place like
“You’re a fiend, Hewey,” Oliver said. For emphasis, he stomped his front foot down hard. The satisfying smack of rubber on concrete echoed back up.
Hews smiled weakly. “Mr. Savvy today, eh? Well, if you take such pride in your own wit, try to tell me
where we are twenty minutes from now.”
Frowning, Oliver followed Hews’ ghostly shadow through the smog to the start of a rickety staircase.
They ascended several storeys before coming to a landing, then found another stair, another landing,
another stair, and so on for what seemed an eternity. Never could Oliver see more than five paces in
front of him. Soot-stained walls and greasy windows passed by on both sides. The heavy air suppressed
all ambient sound, until all Oliver could hear was his own breathing and footsteps.
Hews paused on a landing to catch his breath. Oliver stumbled up beside him.
“Does it worry you that we haven’t seen another living soul this whole time?” he asked.
Hews panted, and spoke with a scratch in his voice. “All staying inside, slothful buggers. Some buildings
here are connected by tunnels, where the air isn’t so bad.”
“Then why are we out here?”
“So no one can bloody see us. This is asecret meeting, in case you’d missed that.”
The aforementioned twenty minutes passed and Oliver had to admit that he was hopelessly lost. After a
few more landings, Hews led them to a pitted oak door and into a lit parlour.
The air within was almost as smoky as that without. Heat pushed its way past Oliver as he entered, filling
his nostrils with the smells of opium and human sweat.
“Even in Whitechapel you can’t escape these damnable places,” Hews muttered.
A single oil lamp with an Oriental paper shade hung from a hook in the ceiling. Its wan light illuminated a
dozen or more men lying about the room on couches and carpets, twitching in their rumpled clothes. No
one moved. No one spoke. Only a moaning from an area on the left, cordoned off by hanging curtains,
dared break the silence.
Stepping carefully over the still forms on the floor, Oliver followed Hews to the back. Hews rapped on
the door there, to the rhythm of “Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.” It opened, revealing a squat,
hair-lipped Chinese woman of considerable age.
Hews doffed his hat. “Mrs. Flower, a pleasure, as always.”
She greeted him with a wrinkled smile and some words in a singsong dialect, and ushered them both
inside. She led them through a tiny back room equipped with several short tables and stools and a
potbellied stove. A skeletal Chinese girl laboured over the stove, grating cake opium into a sieve that sat
over a pot of boiling water. Mrs. Flower led them to a stained curtain against the back wall and drew it
“Here’s one more.” It was Bailey’s rough voice. “Is anyone with you, Lewis?”
“Only Mr. Sumner,” Hews replied. “Where are the others?”
The Chinese woman gestured for Oliver to follow.
Oliver turned his attention to the room, to find it lit only by a half-dozen thick candles in the centre of the
room’s circular table. Spots of smoke and grease blackened the plaster walls. Bailey, Sims, and two
gentlemen Oliver had never seen before occupied the table.
One of the unknown men, a red-faced gentleman with precisely cut moustache and sideburns, replied,
“We can only hope for them.”
“Just hurry and seat yourselves,” Bailey barked. “We haven’t a lot of time.”
Hews settled into the last empty chair. Oliver stood at a loss for a moment, feeling more and more the
impatience of those assembled, and finally elected to fetch a stool from the previous room. He seated
himself on it and tried not to look as ridiculous as he felt, a head shorter than all the rest with his knees
pulled up to his chest.
“Thank you,” Bailey said to Oliver, with edged sarcasm. He sucked a moment on his cigar and then
addressed the table. “I see four missing.”
One of the two unknowns, a bald man in an expensive suit and pince-nez spectacles replied, “We got
the word through. Perhaps they are simply tardy.”
“A fanciful hope,” Bailey said. “The canaries have been assaulting our hides since dawn, even my own.
Until they knock at the door, we will assume the others have met their fate, so it falls to us to tackle the
task at hand.”
“The task at hand is escape,” said the unknown moustachioed man. “Grandfather Clock and Baron
Hume won’t soon forget about us, and with everything Aaron knew we’d best vacate the city and get the
Crown to send someone else.”
Bailey’s heavy brows dropped low. His cheeks creased around the edges of his moustache in a scowl.
“Ourtask is to retrieve the ticker tape that was Aaron’s objective. According to our source in Scared’s
organisation, one of Aaron’s crew fell from Aldgate with it in his possession. John Scared is certainly
already looking for it, and perhaps the baron, too. We must move with all possible haste if we are to
discover it first.”
“Why is it important?” Oliver asked, and immediately wished he hadn’t. Bailey glared at him as he might
a child who had spoken out of turn. Only the bald, bespectacled man spoke up.
“Yes, out with it,” the man said. “You’ve kept us all too far in the dark on this. Since Grandfather Clock
and his pet baron almost certainly know by now, your compatriots aught to.”
Sims and the other unknown nodded their heads.
Bailey’s glare lingered on Oliver for a moment, cigar smoke curling up his cheeks.
“Then I will start at the beginning.” He addressed the table again. “Our conundrum has been this,
gentlemen. With careful planning, we could probably assassinate the baron, and with enough men, we
could probably defeat the cloaks, but such acts do us no service as long as the Lord and Lady survive.
Ultimately, we require a method to slay them in order to ensure their influence is gone from England, but
bodiless as they are, we’ve encountered no lack of difficulty with this. Aaron has been, for some years, working on a way to kill Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine.”
“And he found such a method?” the bald man asked, leaning forward.
“No. He told me from the start that the task was beyond him. It was John Scared who found a way.”
Low muttering passed across the table. Oliver reeled a bit on his tiny stool. John Scared was the baron’s
lapdog, his eyes and ears on the Whitechapel streets. Could this be dissention in the enemy ranks?
Bailey continued. “Scared placed the calculations for this method on a coded ticker tape. Aaron insisted
on leading a team to steal it.”
It was the bald man’s turn to reel back. “And you let him? God, with how much he knew…”
“He argued that John Scared would have set out traps too devious to deal with without his…special
talents. From what our source has told me of Scared’s lair, I had no reason to doubt this.”
“But the risks, man!”
“The rewards more than outweighed them, sir,” Bailey said, overpowering the smaller man. “At last a
way to free Whitechapel from these God-cursed machines! What risk isn’t worth that? And the
opportunity is still there. Our task, gentlemen, is to retrieve that tape, implement whatever strategy it
contains, and get it into the Stack to do its work.”
Hews rubbed his muttonchops. “No small order.”
“I don’t anticipate any one of us keeping his freedom very much longer,” Bailey replied. “So we must
abandon the dark lantern shenanigans we’ve been playing at, anonymity included, since it is likely the
baron already knows our identities. Joyce, get your engineering crew ready for anything that tape may
contain.” The moustachioed man nodded. “Lewis, you and Lawrence will need to pull in your
connections in the Stack. We may need access to the Chimney or the Work Chamber.”
Oliver visibly cringed at the mention of the dead man’s name. He inhaled and mentally plucked up his
courage. Now it would come out that Lawrence had met his end at the hands of a comrade, and Bailey
would sack him. Well, then, Oliver would simply run a rebellion on his own again, nervous as that made
him feel.
Hews just nodded. “We’ll get it done,” he said.
“Good,” said Bailey. He turned to give orders to Sims and the other man.
Hews had lied straight to Bailey’s face. A lie of omission. Oliver was aghast. It wasn’t just for his sake,
surely? But why else would Hews do such a thing?
Oliver snapped to attention to find Bailey glaring at him from behind his thick moustache.
“Do you have Lawrence’s manual?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Good. With luck, it will contain a key to decode Scared’s tape.”
Oliver raised his eyebrows.
Hews leaned over and muttered an explanation: “Lawrence was in contact with Scared through
intermediaries. He’d been compiling this for some time.”
“We will be using the Shadwell Underbelly to gain access to the downstreets,” said Bailey. “I want your
people to loiter in the lift station and on the main street and to monitor the activity of cloaks and Boiler
Men. Distract them or assault them as necessary, but keep them away from our point of egress so we
can be certain of a clear path back. When we have obtained the tape, we will pass it into your hands,
and you must see it safely to Joyce’s workshop since we are unable to move freely on the streets now
that our faces are known. If the Boiler Men arrive at Shadwell in force, you are to give us fair warning
and perhaps a distraction while we escape to the Docks Tower.”
Oliver spoke before he’d thought it through: “Watchmen? Is that all, sir? My crew is capable of handling
much more.”
Bailey bristled. He gestured sharply with his cigar. “Oh? I was remiss, then, in not clearing our plans with
you first. You and your crew—I am placing you where I need you. If you have some problem being
necessary, we can review that at your leisure at a later date. This afternoon you will be watchmen and
nothing more.”
Uncomfortable foot shuffling and the quiet clearing of throats followed. Oliver felt heat creeping up his
neck. His hands had at some point balled themselves and now shook with barely contained energy.
Oliver was seized with the sudden urge to leap across the table and throttle the man.Damn the
consequences, damn your rebellion, and damn that old, fat queen of yours.
He caught Hews glancing sidelong at him. Oliver unrolled his fingers, forced a calm, slow exhalation.
“Yes, sir.”
Bailey nodded.
The next twenty minutes covered logistics and timing. Bailey’s crew were to leave for the downstreets
within the hour by the “rusted stair” below Shadwell. The crew of the bespectacled man were to set
explosives in Cathedral Tower with the intention of drawing cloaks and Boiler Men out of the Stack if
necessary. Oliver clarified the location of Joyce’s workshop, which turned out to be in Montague Tower,
the tiny ten-dwelling stem growing from the Stack’s base. Talking in specific details about the assignment
settled his nerves a bit.
“Never forget Scared,” Bailey said to the table. “He’s likely to have sent a team already, and will be
watching Shadwell. The man employs children, and if our source is accurate, has pull and clout with both
the golds and the blacks. He’s likely to discover our presence no matter our level of caution.”
The table murmured acknowledgement.
“Bow your heads.”
The men complied, most with genuine reverence, Oliver as a matter of course.
“Lord, you have set these trials before us and we are grateful for the opportunity to do your work,”
Bailey said. “We thank you for all the assistance you have rendered us in the years past and ask that you
aid us today in our battles. With your blessing, we will soon wipe these devils from the face of your good
Earth. In Jesus’ name,amen .”
The table murmured assent. Bailey then looked at them each in turn, as if appraising them, their worth
perhaps, their dedication. At length, Bailey nodded, apparently satisfied.
“Praise to England,” he said. “God save the queen.”
The sentiment was echoed all around, and the men dispersed. The others left one by one, spacing their
exits to intervals of five minutes, as measured by an odd, water-powered clock that hung in the small
kitchen of Mrs. Flower’s establishment. Oliver loathed clocks. The thought of Grandfather Clock staring
out at one’s family or one’s personal affairs kept the majority of homes timeless places, and the majority
of pockets empty of watches. He mentioned as much to Hews, but Hews only shrugged.
“That clock was built in the East somewhere. Grandfather Clock has no influence on it, or so Aaron
seemed to think.”
Another few minutes’ wait brought them their turn at the door, and they tied their kerchiefs over their
faces and braved the exterior once again. Impossibly, the air had grown thicker since they’d last breathed
it. The only things now visible were a two-yard stretch of warped wooden platform all around them and
the dull glow of the Stack, huge and omnipresent, in the sky to the south, and even these were little more
than phantoms in the smog.
When they’d gone some distance and Oliver determined that they were thoroughly lost, he decided a
few words had to be said.
“Thank you,” he began, “for your silence in there. I thought I was going to be sacked for certain.”
“No thanks is necessary, lad,” Hews replied. “It’s a rare opportunity nowadays that I have a chance to
do you a good turn. And in any case, Bailey didn’t need the headache right then and neither did we.”
“But won’t Bailey discover it when Lawrence doesn’t report?”
“Lawrence was a member ofmy crew. Bailey doesn’t know him by face, and so won’t really miss him,
assuming I can hold up my end.”
Hews’ crew.Oliver suddenly felt ten inches tall as the realisation rushed into his consciousness. They’d
killed a man, a good man with friends like Hews and possibly family.
“Er…was he a married man, Hews?”
Hews nodded.
Oliver could only close his eyes and halt. He steadied himself on the railing. Images played in his mind, of
a mother at home, pacing, fretting, images of children sitting silently at a breakfast table, casting nervous
glances at their mother, porridge untouched.
“You coming, lad?”
Oliver swallowed hard past the lump in his throat.
“Hews…God forgive me. I’m so sorry.”
“I know, lad” was the reply. “You can say as much to his widow when there’s time.”
Oliver longed to see Hews’ face, but the smog rendered him ghostly and insubstantial.
“Let’s get on,” he said. “The cloaks are already moving against us, and we’re a long way from
They called it Sherwood Forest.
The tenement took that name from the branchlike protrusions of steel that poked out of the walls at odd
angles. The building had been constructed around a central set of two spiraling beams that roughly
resembled a trunk, the floors having been constructed at uneven intervals conducive to the use of the
trunk’s branches. Missy agreed that it did look rather more like a tree house than a proper dwelling for
human beings. Parts of it even hung over the edge of the Underbelly, perched with a preposterous slant
above a twenty-storey fall. Oliver had purchased it some years ago, with money gathered through the
ill-conceived thefts of his earlier years.
Oliver Sumner, respectable landowner.One half of her giggled at such silliness. The other half tallied this
as a point in his favour. She had always fancied tall men. And if that tall man had wealth, youth, other
men in his employ, and connections…well, that made him attractive indeed.
Now if only it weren’t for this distracting rebellion, and I could work on him a little harder…
She pursed her lips and chafed inwardly at that sentiment.
Yes, my dear, you are a heartless, calculating shrew, as I made you.
She hiked her skirts just up to the ankles and held them to the right as she climbed the grime-coated
concrete steps to the door. An endless battle raged between organic and mechanical spiders in the brick
door frame, sometimes spilling out of its many holes to harass unwary solicitors. She gently pushed away
some fresh webs and twisted the door handle first left, then right, then left three turns. The lock clicked.
The door opened.
Heckler’s traps lay dormant on the left and right sides of the inner arch. She did not care to muse on
how they worked or their intended result, and brushed past them into the foyer, where the stair twisted
around the steel trunk, and an uneven mezzanine ringed the room on the second floor.
Sherwood Forest had a kitchen, a dining hall, a lounge, a smoking parlour and eight apartments. Oliver
had offered her one of them once and she’d nearly slapped him for it. An unmarried woman living under
a roof with four unmarried men? She knew exactly what people would say about that.
Rumours are vicious little things. What does a lady have if not her reputation?One of Matron Gisella’s
In honesty, she had simply been terrified of the thought of men having uncontrolled access to her
bedroom. Missy had taken her own one-room flat down the street, one with sturdy locks and a fat,
scatterbrained landlady.
She sat for a moment on one of the foyer’s worn benches and fished her cigarette case from her
Unladylike, those accursed things,the matron had always complained.
Funny how all the girls smoked them anyway, behind your back, you old shrew.
Now, now. Some respect is due. After all, did I not feed you and clothe you and instruct you in all the
fineries of etiquette?
You sold us for two guineas a night, you black-hearted villainess!
The match lit on the first strike and she drew. The acrid smoke that stung its way down her lungs was
really no worse than the air outside; nor was it any more pleasurable.Why smoke them at all, then? She
left the question unanswered.
She found the occupants upstairs, gathered at a small table in the parlour. Thomas, Phineas, and Heckler
lounged in moth-bitten high-backed chairs, drinks in their hands, cigars in a tray on a small side table
made of battered tin. Moderate sums of money were spread on the table, as were several piles of cards
from Heckler’s star-backed fifty-two-piece deck. Portraits of stern-looking, haggard people of both
sexes hung around the perimeter of the room; they had been there at the time of purchase and were now
silent companions to the dwelling’s new occupants.
Thomas wore a beige wool shirt a tad tight on his large frame, revealing the irregularities of his structure,
particularly his metal arm. Missy had never seen him clean shaven, and yet never with a beard; he
seemed to have perpetual stubble. Thomas stared at Heckler with squinted eyes and sweat beading on
his brow.
Heckler was dressed in a crisp and clean white cotton shirt with tweed slacks and suspenders, looking
dapper as always. Missy secretly suspected he made a point of dressing well to hide his sunken chest
and bony shoulders. His face drooped in that lifeless way he referred to as his “poker face.” Phineas sat
slumped, nestled down in the same filthy black ulster he always wore, with an oversized, crushed top hat
sitting low on his head—like a leprechaun down on his luck. He also wore a thick blindfold across his
Slowly, and with no hint of a smile, Heckler laid his cards solemnly on the tabletop.
“Codswallop!” Tom said. He slapped his cards down as Heckler smugly swept the central pile of coins
to his edge of the table. “Some Yankee trick, that was. I’ll bet those bloody cards are marked.”
Heckler stroked back the corners of his handsome moustache and smiled serenely.
“Bad luck’s the heritage of mankind,” he said, his American accent drawn and smooth like stretched
linen. “You know Ah might have up and shot you, you gone accusin’ me of cheatin’ back home.”
“Cards ain’t marked,” Phin said through teeth clenched on the stub of his cigar. “Bastard’s just better’n
we are.”
Tom downed the remainder of his whiskey. “And how would you know that, you hunchbacked codger?
Not peeking, I hope.”
Phineas spat the cigar onto the silver tray along with a sizable trail of saliva, where it all landed exactly in
one corner. “I inspected the deck during the first shuffle. You think I trust this Yankee—or you, you pile
of rust?”
Tommy smiled, warming to the moment. “So you were looking at the deck after all, you limp waddler.
Why would one who stinks like a gull-eaten trout think he can one-up me dressed like a Shoreditch
“Ah, you’re one to talk, you chamber-pot reject. Probably spit rust out yer pecker. By the bye, there’s
a lady present.”
Missy smiled innocently as Thomas and Heckler shot out of their seats, faces reddening. They struggled
to hide drinks and extinguish cigars.
“Why,thank you, Phineas,” Missy said, swaying her hips as she stepped into the room. “I was beginning
to wonder if these men hadany manners atall .”
Phineas grunted, and lit another cigar.
“Beggin’ pardon, miss,” Heckler said. He smoothed out his felt vest and tugged his shirtsleeves back
level with his wrists. “Was quite improper of us.”
“Smoking and drinkingand gambling?” Missy said. She sucked daintily on her own cigarette and waltzed
to the table, where she lifted Phineas’ drink right from his hand. “Positively vile activities, the lot. You
gentlemen should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Heckler blanched, then shifted his feet in place like a boy of seventeen. Thomas held a serious
expression on his face for all of two seconds, then exploded into laughter.
Phineas just shook his head and stole Tom’s drink.
Heckler strutted around the table. “Mademoiselle Plantaget,” he said, gracefully sweeping up Missy’s
hand. Missy held his gaze as he lifted her hand to give it a kiss.
His nose came within an inch of the cigarette before he noticed. He coughed and withdrew, retrieving his
handkerchief and stuffing it against his nose as if he could wipe the smoke out. This time both Thomas
and Phineas laughed.
“Poor dear. Lost in my eyes, I suppose.”
Heckler faked a chuckle through his obvious shock.
“Ah, lass,” said Phineas, “stop punishing the pup for being a gentleman. You’ll ruin him for other
“He will develop a taste for it,” Missy said. “I’m certain he left those Colonial homestead girls behind for
a reason.” She raised the glass to her lips and drew the whiskey across her tongue. It slid down her throat like melted chocolate.
Heckler looked as if he was about to say something, then sat down and began to total his winnings as if
that had been his intention the entire time.
Tom gave him a friendly and devastating slap on the shoulder that nearly threw him into the table. “You’ll
get used to it, chum.”
Heckler gasped in his lost breath, his neck turning red above the starched collar. “Certain Ah will, suh.”
“He’s a duck, isn’t he?” Missy said. She settled into the table’s fourth chair, an oak and velvet
masterpiece of comfort that had seen better days. Heckler jumped as if he’d been seized around the
“Beggin’ pardon, m’lady, but that there’s Mr. Sumner’s chair.”
“Oh?” She fixed him with a slow blink and a stare, as an elder matriarch might use to silence her
disrespectful grandchildren.
Heckler flushed fully up to his hairline and squeaked out a response: “He’s real particular about it.”
“God Almighty, let up on him, lass,” Phineas said, refilling his glass from the bottle.
Her eyes never left Heckler’s. “But he is such a charming young man. Shouldn’t I get him under my
thumb as quickly as possible?”Shouldn’t you claim him as one more ribbon in your hat? One more loaf of
bread in your carry basket?
“Ah, Michelle, but you are a cold bitch,” Phineas said.
A stinging in her abdomen. Missy’s composure broke, and she flinched visibly.
Truth is a difficult thing to accept in any guise,said Gisella’s voice.If I recall, you have used such
atrocious language to refer to myself on many occasions.
Her guts clenched and twisted and a horrid, potent loss and sadness gushed up. She pushed it down
with a careful, slow, ladylike inhalation, and painted a smile back onto her features.
“Oh, but I’m very warm as well.”
They chuckled, and the moment of tension passed.
She moulded her face into a scowl for a moment. “And you, sir, are not to call me by my proper name.”
Phineas’ eyebrow snaked out from beneath the blindfold.
A sigh, and Missy elaborated. “The use of such is reserved only for very particular individuals with
whom I share a relationship of a type not to be discussed in impolite company.”
Silence fell for a moment as Thomas gathered the cards and the other men scooped their winnings or remaining capital back into pockets and purses. It was a pity: Missy had always wanted to see how this
American game was played, but the presence of a woman always seemed to bring it to an irretrievable
Missy settled back into Oliver’s chair, doubtless referred to as a “throne” when its king was abroad.
You’ve designs on him. It was no accident you sat in this chair.
Or perhaps it was because it was the only one unoccupied, witch.The rest of the whiskey she tossed into
her mouth without ceremony.
You’re much cleverer than that, my dear. You wanted to announce your intentions to these three.
Romantics that they are, they’ll nudge him in the right direction. You think that and your whorehouse
charms will be enough to land him? It is an insult to both of you.
Gisella’s voice quieted as the alcohol fire bloomed in her stomach. She passed her glass to Thomas with
an if-you’d-be-so-kind. He refilled it to half its previous volume and passed it back to her.
“How were the rounds today?” Thomas said.
And you forgot to do the rounds. Stupid little girl.
Oliver insisted at least one of his crew go ’round the Underbelly every day, chatting, eavesdropping,
mingling. Then the roundsman had to give a report, a long, silly report in exhausting detail about the state
of things, the places people wandered, the things they talked about, the things they needed done. And
with that dutifully categorised and compiled in Oliver’s mind, he would set the crew about helping those
in need and so forth.
Why does the man bother to toss away his earnings on building repairs and doctor’s bills and food
baskets? He must have an angle, a sinister purpose in all of this, mustn’t he?
Missy knew men too well to think otherwise, and yet that assessment fell flat every time she tried to
assert it regarding Oliver.
The others were waiting. She cleared her throat and began with the one piece of information certain to
distract them.
“The Ironboys are in town,” she said.
The three of them fell instantly still. She continued.
“I saw them marching up the Parade, a full dozen, without cloaks to clear their way. I made some
inquiries. Apparently they entered the Blink from the south and descended into the downstreets.”
Actually, she had overheard it by pure chance on the walk back to Sherwood, but there was no need to
disclose that.
Thomas scraped his iron knuckles over his stubble. “Did they say why they were here?”
“No,” Missy said, sipping daintily at her new drink. “Not that they are the most talkative of gentlemen.”
Phineas, still blindfolded, looked to Heckler. “Lad?”
Heckler nodded. “Ah’ll take a look.” A little smugness showed as he hefted the velvet bag into which
he’d slipped his winnings. “Just a quick trip to mah room first, Ah think.” He strutted from the room.
“The precociousness of youth,” Tommy commented wistfully. “Those were the grand days, don’t you
think, barnacle-bugger?”
“You’re half my bloody age, grease-breath. You go talkin’ like that again, I’ll crush out your bile and use
it to polish my shoes.”
Missy sighed. “Charming, Phineas. It has always amazed me that you never married.”
Phineas untied his blindfold and tossed it into the corner. “Ah, I’d have an impossible time slinging the
seed at my age, so what’s the point? Unless I had some o’ that seal-testicle tea they make in Bangkok.”
Missy pointedly dismissed him and turned her full attention to Thomas, who stopped whatever pending
insult was about to escape his lips.
Missy swirled the liquor in her glass. “Is Oliver due back?”
“Yes, ma’am. Should be anytime, I’d say.”
“You’ll give us fair warning, won’t you Phineas?” Missy asked sweetly.
“I’ll hear him before he rounds the block,” Phineas muttered, then paused, regarding Missy from the
dark beneath his hat’s brim. “The lady here’s about to ask us ’bout the chief, brass-balls.”
Thomas fiddled unskillfully with the cards, trying to align them in a single direction. “Well, salt-spit, shall
we wait and see if this is an inquiry that deserves answering?”
Missy leaned forward.
“I want to know about the Uprising.”
Thomas’ hands fell still. Silence. Cold. Suddenly Missy’s breathing was too loud for the room. She
swallowed and pushed on anyway.
“Oliver led it, didn’t he?”
Phineas opened his eyes fully, eyes that might have been blue beneath frosty cataracts. He and Thomas
shared a long look, exchanging an unreadable communication.
Phineas slid his eyes back into a tight squint.
“Aye, he led it,” he said. “Started with a little girl. Chimney gang hauled her right out o’ her mother’s
arms and cut ’em both with a knife when they protested. Ollie was working some angle for Hewey at the
time. Can’t recall, now…”
“Tracking opium,” Tommy said.
They fell still. Missy shifted in Oliver’s chair. At length, Phineas continued.
“Ollie never talks about this, y’see, but the way some o’ the blokes tell it, he just went off. The gang had
a cloak leading it and Ollie went manic and beat his head inside out with a milk jug.”
Missy gasped. The image of it assailed her—the violence of the act.
He wouldn’t. Would he? Is he capable of it?
The man is a criminal and a spy. Of course he’s capable of it.
Thomas took up the thread, staring dully at the unmoving cards. “That might have been the curtain for
him, but when he took his first swing at that canary, all the regular coves and sweaters and coal backers
on the street just charged in. Forty or fifty to hear ol’ Hosselton tell it.”
Phin chuckled. “Wish you could hear Hoss tell this. Now, there was a man with a gift.”
Thomas continued as if Phin had not interrupted. “Ollie did what every red-blooded man in Whitechapel
had always wanted to do. He stood up to the damn cloaks. Those forty or fifty on the street that time,
they were Ollie’s first crew. A week later, they went and blew up a canary chapel in Cathedral Tower.”
“Woulda taken some stones, let me tell you,” Phin put in.
“After that,” said Tom, “word got around. I heard about it through the gossip when I was backing at the
air docks. A heroic young man leading a rebellion, killing cloaks—so many of us had just been waiting
for it.”
Missy sipped her drink, finding the fire unwelcome. “I remember the rags,” she said. “It went on for
Phin drained his glass with sudden exuberance. “I remember thinking ‘What’s this, a bloody kid’s in
charge here?’”
Thomas swirled his own liquor. “I believe your exact words were, ‘Sod it, I’m going.’”
“But there were so many by then, see,” Phin said. “More than a hundred, and they were all reg’lar
coves—family men, and youngsters and the like. And old, useless codgers like me. Ollie had us planting
bombs, ambushing cloaks, cutting trams lines. Everything that happened, he had a plan. Those were the
glory days, eh, clunker?” Tom nodded. “And Ollie took care of us, split us into crews, showed us the
best places to hide. Hell, he had these tunnels built under Shadwell so’s we could move ’round. Never
got caught, ain’t that a lark? Not once’d they get us.”
“Not even the Boiler Men,” Thomas said, finally reviving his smile. “You can’t rightwise kill ’em, but
they’re damned slow.”
They smiled together, and Missy smiled with them. But this was not what she had asked for, and they
knew it. No light anecdotes, but the meat of the matter.
The laughter died away into the same grim silence.
Phin refilled his drink. “The lady, here, knows how it ended.”
Missy nodded. “I read it.”
“Ollie saw it coming,” Phin said. “Wasn’t but a handful that listened to him.”
“All the men and firearms and gumption on the whole of the Earth are not enough,” Thomas said, raising
his glass. “One cannot fight the Boiler Men. They cornered us down here, blocked up the elevator so we
couldn’t get out, and shot every man they could find.”
Phineas finished for him: “And when they couldn’t find the men, they shot the women.”
They sat for some long minutes in silence. Thomas wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. It came away
stained brown.
Phineas set his glass carefully upon the table and slid his chair back. “If the lady would excuse me,” he
“Of course. Thank you, Phineas.”
The old sailor slunk from the room without another word.
Thomas began to work on the cards again.
“So why only three men, now,” Missy asked, “if he could rally hundreds before?”
“Three’s a lot fewer as can be killed, Miss Plantaget—oh, sod these things.” Thomas made a snort of
disgust and scattered the cards over the table. “The Ironboys came down on us with those awful Atlas
guns and steam cannons. You know they’re strong enough to push over a building with their bare
Missy shook her head.
Thomas continued. “Was all we could manage to keep ordinary folk alive. A few of the crews helped
out with evacuating people to the tunnels, but most of ’em were just too angry and…Those sorry
buggers. Makes no damn sense to charge down an Atlas rifle. No damn sense.”
He flicked at the cards with his metal fingers. “We lost a lot of people that day, fighting men and ordinary
folk both. Me and Phin stayed with Ollie, saved whoever we could. Tried to save the women and the
children, at least. We didn’t fight, ’cause what was the use of it?” He sighed. “Ollie’s a clever cove, but I
don’t think he ever realised that no one put the blame on him for what happened. Hell, half the
Underbelly’s just waiting for him to raise the banner again.”
A long pause. The portraits stared down from the walls.
Tom spoke again into the quiet.
“We’re just waiting on him to come back to himself. He’s not been right since that day.”
They sat in silence a long time, lost in their respective contemplations. Missy let her mental rendering of
Oliver stack up against these new images. It was no wonder he did things quietly now.
Except when inept little girls go on murdering his foxes, eh?
She ignored that.
“Why didn’t the cloaks come for him?”
Thomas shrugged. “My guess is that they only cared about stopping the rebellion. Once that was
done…and done thoroughly…”
Thomas’ mounting sorrow filled the room. Missy had what she wanted, but…I can’t simply leave him in
such a state.
“I have one more question, Thomas.”
“Happy to answer it.”
Missy blessed him with a smile. “Why will you drink and smoke and swear in my presence, but never
Tommy fidgeted, but his face had already relaxed some with the change of subject. “Well, it isn’t right to
gamble with a lady present. One has to draw a line somewhere.”
“But you two are atrocious. Why bother at all?”
Thomas worked his tongue inside his cheeks for a moment. “Well, there has to be a line. Wouldn’t be
proper otherwise.”
“Would you like to know what I think, Thomas?” Missy said with a twinkle.
“Certain as sunrise I would, miss.”
“I think that you don’t want me playing this game of yours because you know I would beat you.”
Thomas’ eyebrow crept up. “That’s a mite presumptuous of you, miss.”
Missy placed her drink on the table, then gathered the cards and tapped them into a neat pile. She
passed the deck into Thomas’ meaty palm. “Teach me the game and we’ll see, won’t we?”
Phineas chose that moment to reenter the lounge. He carried in his right hand a velvet bag that looked
suspiciously like Heckler’s, and which jingled suspiciously as if filled with Heckler’s money.
Thomas sipped his brandy. “What did you swap him for it?”
“An ill-tempered rat,” Phin said.
Missy was aghast. “You villain!”
Phin grinned his gruesome gap-toothed smile. “ ’S what he gets for fleecin’ us. If he screams like a girl
we might even give him his winnings back, eh, pewter-pecker?”
Thomas waved the cards in Missy’s direction.
“Still want to learn, m’lady?”
Missy rapped sharply on the table, and Thomas began to deal.

Chapter 4

The first principle of the machine is Purpose. The machine designs itself to this chosen end, aligning all
functionality to a single outcome. The machine, by its nature, cannot fathom or choose its purpose. It
must be handed down, as revelation or as doctrine, from a being of higher stature. In this way could it be
considered divine.
—IV. ii
Ticking: a thousand clocks echoing into endless dark, the motion of a million gears grinding and churning,
a morass of straining forces clashing against shaped metal, a finely tuned symphony of coordinated
motion, culminating in a single tick—repetitive, deafening, implacable.
The mind of Grandfather Clock.
Aaron had imagined himself shrieking and writhing, struggling against the bonds that held him. He
imagined a line of Boiler Men at the entrance to his prison, standing ready with rifles, rods, and steam
guns to block his eventual escape. He’d imagined a door locked with steam-powered bolts, to seal in this
man who was such a danger.
It wasn’t so. He hung now in a chair, arms and legs supported by thin scraps of brass, six copper tines
penetrating his neck. He spasmed randomly. He drooled. He bled dark oil from his eyes and ears. To his
left and right, above and below, thousands more trapped souls shuffled mindlessly, their bodies jerking in
the indecipherable rhythm of the Great Machine.
He’d fought when they dragged him here, to the Chimney. He’d despaired to see the endless column of
quivering humanity vanishing upwards into the core of the Stack, and to know the fate of those there
interred. He’d soiled himself from terror, and begged for death instead.
But the baron, in his passionless monotone, had directed the Boiler Men to string him up and keep him
conscious while the tines did their work. The baron had stood and watched with immobile copper eyes
as the encroaching cacophony of Grandfather Clock’s thoughts had hammered their way into Aaron’s
mind. Aaron’s last visual memory was of that man’s featureless face: not even a smile of triumph, nor a
vicious grin to condemn Aaron as a man. Aaron was a mere faulty part in the Great Work, now
tempered and put to better use.
Aaron threw imaginary arms over an imaginary head. He ran on imaginary legs, desperately searching for
a spot to hide, but in the Chimney all was Grandfather Clock. Every turn took him between grinding
gears or into the path of uncoiling springs.
He ran this way for ages, in an agony beyond measure, swallowed, like all the others, worn down until
he was but a dead man who hadn’t properly died. The tines tore into his neck as the gears and the noise
tore into his mind, and he gave up every secret he had ever held. He gave up his friends, his plans, his
secret hideaways, his many paltry indiscretions against propriety and against God—anything to make the
pain stop. But Grandfather Clock cared nothing for pain, as long as the gears turned.
After countless long hours, something changed. The million ticks did not come together in one. For a
single instant, they cascaded like a short but powerful wave as Grandfather Clock hesitated.
Aaron came alive again. He stole the smallest and quietest of breaths, and as he did so he felt his body
do the same. What was it he felt drawing the attention of the vast being all around him?
He reached out, felt the gears and springs around him clacking in their altered pattern. The rhythm came
to him, clearer now that it was not so loud. His subconscious did its work, and impressions formed in his
imagination: thickened, greyed images of Grandfather Clock’s purposes and directives. Huge,
unfathomable, yet with character, with flavour.
Apprehension: that the Great Work may not be finished.
And then a command: to seek, to capture, to preserve.
Joseph,Aaron realised.Joseph escaped.
He laughed.
And suddenly the ticks came together again. A crashing slap of sound battered him. A hundred thousand
bells exploded into chaotic song—church bells and electric buzzers, alarm clocks and hammers striking
Grandfather Clock had seen and heard Aaron’s thought. All the sharply ordered energies of the machine
tumbled onto Aaron’s head. He felt bones breaking in his real body.
Stop laughing!was the command.
So Aaron laughed more, even as he screamed.
Grandfather Clock crunched him down like a mechanic scraping rust off a stubborn bolt. Aaron flaked
apart and drifted away. What remained tightened securely, then began to spin at its designated frequency.
It became part of a work greater than itself, part of an infallible string of physical logic inside the perfect
It was the chin, Missy decided. The broad chest, the muscled arms, the swept-back short blond hair
were certainly no drawback, but it was the square, almost Roman chin that really caught her attention.
The man had taken position on the edge of the road, head down, back to the closest wall. He and Missy
and all the other grubbers of the Shadwell Underbelly stood squashed to the edges of the street as the
Boiler Men passed through. The cloaks, one could have fun with: a shoe in the wrong place when passing
was always good, seeing as they were too proud to sully their dignity with childish finger pointing; a little
flash of ankle at the right moment was amusing as well, for the canaries at least—eyes like hawks, them,
but feet like an elephant on a frozen lake when their blood rose up. With Boiler Men, one just kind of got
out of their way.
If she was like most people, Missy would have dropped her eyes and tipped her ash hat down and tried
to have no more presence than a pig in a butcher’s shop. She would have held her curiosity down with
fear and shuddered in her shoes until the Ironboys passed, then gone on about her business as if all was
fine and the sun was due to come out any minute. But Missy was not like most people, and neither was
the man with the chin.
He watched the Boiler Men with narrowed eyes. Missy noticed his hand had twitched towards the large
leather-wrapped object he carried on his back the instant the Ironboys had appeared. He’d restrained
himself, evidently, and had retreated to the steps of a storefront flanked by his two companions, a
brown-clad ogre and a slim urchin boy. The vantage allowed him an unobstructed view of the grim
procession, and Missy an unobstructed view of him.
Now whatisthis lovely specimen up to? she mused. He was far too fixated on the Boiler Men to notice
her, and so she was free to study him at leisure. He stood with muscles taught, legs comfortably wide as
if he expected to dodge aside at any moment. His thick moustache and mop of hair seemed to bristle like
tiger’s fur. He stood alert, tense, exuding an aura of control.
You must not judge a client by his looks, nor his manner. To you, all men are Adonis and Casanova.
Missy frowned at the thought, and wondered if it was wrong to wish that they had all been like this one.
Even though you flee me, the lusts are still on you. You were born to this work, child.
The Boiler Men moved off, though their heavy, synchronised footsteps would echo in the Underbelly for
some time yet. The crowd began to swell out into the street again, silent at first, gradually building to
hushed conversation.
The object of Missy’s observation conferred with the ogre at his side a moment, then gestured with his
head for the lad to follow. He shot a glance sideways, directly into Missy’s eyes. Her heart jumped at
first; then her face flushed with sudden anger.He was playing me! She responded automatically with a
coquettish smile and a wave.
The man quickly looked away and down, shifting his focus to the street ahead and the crowds swarming
Ready for anything but the tempting touch of womanhood,Missy realised.Refreshing, after a fashion.
The three hurried ahead at a good clip, purposeful and terribly out of place in the Underbelly. Missy
walked more naturally, mimicking the shifting wanderings of the tower’s occupants. Though her quarries
moved faster, their directness clashed with the aimless dance of the crowd, and Missy kept pace without
The floor of the Underbelly was like a giant bowl of concrete, warped and misshapen to conform to the
vagaries of the tower’s steel supports. She tracked the three strangers between two-and three-storey
tenements, inexpertly constructed of whatever spare wood and plaster could be scrounged from the city
above. The place had a ruined graveyard quality about it, enhanced by the few ghostly street lanterns that
Missy had always detested. When this silliness with the queen’s agents had run its course, Missy intended
to make Oliver buy her an apartment in Aldgate.Oh, why compromise on fantasy?…in Cathedral Tower!
She trailed her foxes into a nest of rum dives and two-step alleys called, for reasons unknown, the
“Blink.”They must know the area, she decided,to stride so confidently into that labyrinth. Why, then, had
she not seen them before? The other two, though odd in stance and motion, would pass for locals with a
little effort. The man with the chiseled chin, however, she would surely have remembered him. She
slipped into the alley some minutes after them, to ensure they’d passed the first of the alley’s many
pointless corners. The hem of her skirt brushed the narrow walls, and she gathered it together in front of
her to keep it from staining on the piss and puke all over. Why was it the drunks never managed to quite
make it to the street?
She stopped at the first corner. Cursing sounded from ahead, echoing off the stained walls above:
possibly the ogre having trouble manoeuvring through, and the chin man’s backpack as well. She peeked
around the edge and saw, just as she thought, the ogre’s wide shoulders stuck between loose window
trim and a pipe. The chin man must have been in the lead, for she saw only the teenaged lad. He cocked
his head, and began to turn.
She darted back into cover with a stifled yelp. Something in the lad’s posture, head lowered between
raised shoulder blades, suggested a cat about to pounce, or a dog about to growl and charge.
A sudden fear blinked in her mind like an electrical spark: why was she following these men?
Because Oliver will ask you what they were up to, and if you don’t have an answer he is sure to chastise
you like a little girl and sulk the rest of the evening.There. It was on his head now.
It is preposterous to maintain belief in the innocence of your motives, child. You sully the very idea of
goodness in people by your association.
Heedless of the noise, Missy slapped herself hard on her cheek.
I’m done with you, old woman. Leave me be!
Gradually the cursing ahead subsided, and after a few minutes in silence, Missy plucked up her courage
and followed.
After a few more turns, she emerged into one of the little plazas that were referred to by a term she
wouldn’t repeat, even to herself. Lit by a single oil lantern hanging off a second-storey windowsill, the
plaza gleamed with moisture and stank of filth of every kind. A descending stair on the left led to a rum
house entrance, a boarded door on the right to a condemned shop with broken windows.
Three more alleys led off. All three took their first turns too early to see very far along, and the only
sound audible, despite the constant muted thrum of the factories from above, was some murmuring and a
badly played tin whistle from the rum house. She could find no trace of her little foxes.
Well, that’s that. Perfectly acceptable, me losing them in here. And Oliver can’t rightly argue with me not
wanting to take my lone, feminine self into a grog house, can he?She dusted her hands together in
symbolic dismissal of the whole affair and turned to leave.
A man stepped from the dark of the rightmost alley. Missy’s hand flew to her chest as her heart began to
thunder. Words came automatically to her, rehearsed and practiced so many times before: “Goodness,
you do give a lady a fright, sir.”
The man with the exquisite chin gestured for her to step towards him, and backed into the alley.
“If you would, miss,” he said. His voice was rich with a husky Germanic accent, though it was also
scratchy, as if he had spent a lot of time yelling.
Missy fixed him with her most disarming flutter of the eyelashes. “Now that would hardly be proper,
would it? Me following a strange man into a dark place.”
“You have been following this strange man for some time, miss.”
The bastard prick knew.She smiled shyly. “Sharp eyes on you, I see.”
He made no response to that, though his eyes flicked for an instant a little lower than her face. Revulsion
surged in her gut for an instant.
Remember that your client has come to you to be toyed with. It is his wish to be led by your wiles and
have that responsibility lifted from him for a time.
Something useful from you for once, old bat.
As an experiment, Missy took one direct and intentional step inside the range of his arms. He responded
by backing away, wary, hands by his sides but open and turned out slightly to be ready to reach up at
any moment. She fancied she saw his skin pale and chuckled inwardly. Why was it the big strapping ones
were always the easiest to unman?
“Now, what’s a fellow handsome as yourself doing in the Underbelly, I wonder.” She gauged his pained
squint to mean she could safely proceed further. “Nothing that can’t wait, if the company’s right, I hope.”
His neck flushed red. Missy folded her hands sweet-as-you-please in front of her, the back one slipping
her switchblade partly out of her sleeve. Befuddled though he was, the man carried a sidearm just out of
sight in the shadow of his right hip, and she wondered if the slight lump beneath his shirt just above the
waistband might be a belt of ammunition, like Heckler carried. The man’s right hand held steady just
above the sidearm’s grip.
“I am not interested, miss,” he said.
Her fingers wrapped around the knife’s grip.Oh, but you must be, for I’m ready for you.
“Well, not yet, love. But the day is young, and you’ll find I know a mite of pleasurable conversation,
among other things, if you’d give a doe a chance.”
The flush and jitteriness vanished, to be replaced with a cold, discerning stare. The man’s entire posture
grew fierce, and Missy suddenly realised just how large he actually was.
Stupid. Too forward. Now he’s…
“Why were you following me, miss?” he asked, voice flat as cold slate.
She retreated one step from the force in the man’s eyes and managed to sound cross.
“I’ve told you already, sir. Well, I can see you’re not interested. Good day to you and I’ll be on my
She stuck her nose up and spun away. What on earth had possessed her to trail this man into the Blink
of all places?Dignified, now. Slow down. Dismiss him. He’s nothing at all.
His hand engulfed her shoulder and spun her back around like a top. She found herself staring into
startling blue eyes, as hard as steel. She tugged the flick-blade loose. A quick poke and he would drop
like a domino, just as before.
From some unexplored part of her, a primal rage welled up, a screaming order to thrust the knife
through his heart. He deserved it. They all did. All these cruel and lecherous swine that thought they had
so much power.
She pressed the catch and the blade leapt into place. Was it the eyes that made her hesitate? Was he
just that much faster?
He never broke their gaze. His other hand snatched her wrist the instant she began to thrust. Shoots of
pain darted up and down Missy’s arm and out into her fingers. She cried out and the knife clattered to
the street.
She couldn’t move her arms. She couldn’t run. He leaned in closer, filling her nose with his scent.
“Listen!” he hissed. “Do not continue following us. My associates are heartless villains and they will
murder you. Do you understand?”
She nodded meekly. He shoved her away.
“Play yourVersuchung games elsewhere.”
She nodded again, swallowed to quell the shaking of her insides, and retreated. She kept him in sight,
watching his eyes and his firing hand until she reached the little plaza, then spun and bolted down the
nearest alley. She ran through the twists and turns, bashing her elbows on the downspouts and scuffing
her dress on the walls, and did not halt until the vast lamp-lit cavern of the Underbelly opened around
She found a rotting crate behind a bakery where no one could see her from the streets, and sat down.
Tears poured out of her eyes, soaking her cheeks and chin, dribbling onto her jacket.
“No, no, no,” she muttered. She crammed her fists into her eye sockets.
Do you require further demonstration of how powerless you are, child? Surrender these unladylike ideas
of independence and return to me.
Her entire body shivered. Her insides rolled and squirmed. A sharp pain began throbbing between her
legs. From inside her mind, Matron Gisella fixed her with a tight-lipped scowl.
The world abounds in examples of your weaknesses. You are as frightened a little girl now as you were
when you were dumped upon my doorstep.
No, no, no, no…
She pulled her slick fists away from her face and clamped them down on her legs and then her arms,
until they went stone still. Then she hugged her midsection so tightly she thought she might break it.
She held herself in that death’s grip until her insides stilled and Gisella’s voice fell silent. Then she inhaled
with great deliberation, rose, straightened her clothing, wiped her face.
She would get another knife. She would get a gun. Then she would teach that Kraut bastard not to make
her feel like that. She would teach anyone who crossed her that she was powerless no longer.
She headed for the hideout.