How many worlds They have consumed, I cannot fathom. How many small creatures They have leashed
to serve Them—I cannot count them all. How many ghosts have been thrown screaming into Their
bellies, I dare not guess.
What I do know is that They will continue in Their way until the end of the universe, for They are
machines, and machines do only one thing, over and over.
Pennyedge had to be killed.
In the short time since retrieving Scared’s precious tape, Bergen had discovered he could not bring
himself to take it back to its creator. He knew he couldn’t stomach serving that troll one instant longer.
The horrid things he’d done to maintain his cover mounted on his conscience with each step, freed to
haunt him by the act of mercy just performed. He had to escape. He had to bring the tape into Bailey’s
hands and rejoin his true comrades in arms.
His cover might have been blown anyway. Scared would not have sent his child-killer along if he didn’t
at least suspect.
And so Penny had to be killed. Mulls as well, as an inescapable consequence. That saddened Bergen a
bit, for Mulls, if he had escaped Scared’s trap and been raised by decent folk, might have become a
decent man. Penny was a monster and Bergen spared not a scrap of remorse for him.
The question washow to do it. Penny was sharp, and as silent as a snake in the ferns, and was at every
opportunity manoeuvring for a killing stab on Bergen. He probably wouldn’t strike until Bergen led them
to within sight of the rusted stair, which gave him perhaps two hours of time.
He passed up several opportunities to take his shot—times when Penny was beyond the range of a
good lunge and scanning the dark after some suspicious sound—because Bergen was unsure of what to
do with Mulls. How many shots would it take? Would the bullets even hurt him through all those
mechanical growths? Mulls might have to be down long enough for Bergen to hit him with the steam rifle,
and that was a long space of time indeed.
They passed a mound of sodden and collapsed debris on their right. Bergen heard the click of metal tines on stone. He drew his sidearm with his left hand, and aimed it into the dark. Penny spun the wheel
on his flasher, then dropped into a crouch and spread his arms, knife in one hand and striking rod in the
other. Mulls, after a moment’s delay, brought his rifle up to his shoulder, though he apparently did not see
anything to aim at yet.
A clickrat scuttled into the radius of their electric lights. Mulls let off a rough chuckle.
“Ha. Just a littl’un.”
“Quiet!” Bergen hissed. The clickrat stopped and began to make buzzing and ticking sounds. Bergen
tuned it out and listened to the other sounds of the dark around them. He let his ears guide his weapon,
until its aim rested at the top of the mound.
“Come out where we can see you,” Bergen ordered.
Mulls started and locked his rifle onto the same location. Penny did not move.
The voice came back. “We have you surrounded. Throw your weapons on the ground.”
“There is only one of you,” Bergen said. “And there are three of us. Can you shoot us all, do you think,
before we kill you?”
The enemy fell silent, considering, Bergen supposed, what to do now that his bluff had failed. It was an
“Boy, rush him,” Bergen whispered. “Mulls and I will pin him down.”
Penny turned his head just enough to examine Bergen in his peripheral vision, and did not move.
“What are you waiting for, boy?”
Penny’s fingers flexed on the handle of his knife.
He knows. It must be now.
He reaimed his weapon and fired at Penny’s back, but simultaneously, the youth darted to the left,
ducking under the swing of Bergen’s arm and dodging entirely the arc of fire. A clean miss.
Mulls, perhaps misinterpreting the action, fired his rifle at the hidden man on the mound.
Penny had spun about, quick on his feet like a dancer, and had already covered one of the two strides
necessary to slip his blade into Bergen’s throat. Bergen flicked his arm into position and discharged
directly into Penny’s chest. A spark exploded there, and the bent remains of the flasher’s striking rod
flew smoking from Penny’s hand as he closed the final step.
Bergen slammed the butt of his pistol onto Penny’s stabbing arm as it swung in. The strike cracked
soundly on bone, but an instant later Bergen’s flank split with the passing of the boy’s blade. Numbing
shock spread like lightning into his left leg and arm. His follow-up swing went wildly askew as Penny
Another shot rang out and Mulls tumbled to the street in a spray of blood and oil. Penny pivoted on the
ball of one foot and plunged the knife towards Bergen’s belly.
Bergen locked the fingers of his right hand around the boy’s wrist, keeping the knife still. Penny yanked
away but was held prisoner of the older man’s greater strength. With a kind of calm and deliberation,
Bergen planted his revolver against Penny’s chest and blew a hole in him.
The youth spasmed and fell, releasing the knife. Penny writhed and sputtered across the flagstones,
gurgling and choking—the first genuine sounds Bergen had ever heard him make. Bergen raised his
weapon and sighted on Penny’s head.
“Don’t move!” came the command from atop the mound. The hairs on Bergen’s neck tingled.
“Lower your weapon,” Bergen shouted. “In a moment we will talk face-to-face, but these two must be
“No one else dies without my say” came the reply. “Throw that pistol on the street and we’ll converse
like civilised human beings.”
Penny gasped in a shuddering lungful of air. He began to look around and take stock of his situation; his
right hand fished into the pocket of his ragged trousers while his left clutched at blood streaming from the
Bergen held his aim steady. “I am an ally,” he yelled. “A comrade of Sir Winfred Bailey Howe. I am not
Unsteady footsteps approached from behind, twitching at Bergen’s instinct to spin and face the danger.
The unseen man did not sound experienced in combat; Bergen could probably cut him down before the
man got a shot off, but he dared not take his eyes from Pennyedge. At his left, Mulls began to stir.
“What you are,” the voice said, closer now, “is a man who just gunned down one of his own.”
“Weren’t you listening? I am a comrade of Winfred Bailey—”
“Don’t think that tossing that name about gives you any clout with me,” the unseen man snapped. “Place
your firearm on the street. The boy isn’t going anywhere.”
“You are a damned fool,” Bergen growled. He sank slowly to his knees and planted the barrel of his
pistol against the street. Slowly, eyes on Pennyedge, he unwrapped his fingers from the grip one by one.
Something of the predator slipped back into Penny’s expression. Bergen locked gazes with him, trying
to read into Penny’s eyes. The boy’s gaze broke for a moment and flicked to their captor, now only a
few paces behind Bergen.
I am the only danger to you in the next few seconds, boy. Attacking him will only gain me the time to kill
you. You must attack me.
Penny’s right arm tensed. Bergen’s fingers tightened back around the pistol’s grip.
Penny’s throw was awkward and slow. Bergen had his weapon up and aimed by the time the small knife departed Penny’s hand. His finger yanked back on the trigger.
A blast splintered Bergen’s left ear. White muzzle flash blinded him. Chips of stone and concrete
exploded up from the street and Bergen’s shot went wildly right.
Cursing, he blinked the sparks from his eyes and fired blindly after the blurred shape fleeing into the
dark. An instant later, the gun smoke cleared and the only available targets were a red stain on the street
and a cast-off electric lamp rolling to a tired stop.
With a burning fury Bergen stood, whirled, and cracked his captor across the face. The man clattered to
the street, a heavy express rifle spinning from his grip. Bergen straddled him as he fell and jammed the
pistol against the man’s nose.
He was tall, over six feet, and thin. A flat-topped ash hat, slightly askew, barely hid his tangle of
unkempt hair. Goggles and a mask mostly obscured his features, but he appeared to be smiling.
“You seem to have me at a disadvantage,” he said.
Something yanked at Bergen’s heel. The other man slapped Bergen’s pistol aside and scooted from
beneath him with surprising speed. Bergen ignored him for an instant and kicked away the clickrat
gnawing on his boot.
He swung his weapon back towards the other man before even turning his head.
“He’s developing a taste for shoe leather,” the tall man said.
Bergen squinted at the man’s firearm.
“My two shots to your one,” the man said, with almost a shrug. He held a two-shot derringer in his right
hand—a hand bandaged and obviously injured.
“You’ve been counting,” Bergen said. “Do you honestly mean to hold me hostage? It is a long way back
to the Shadwell stair.”
“It’s only until we decide what to do with you. Do you have a name?”
“I am Bergen Keuper, originally of Stuttgart, recently of Egypt and Sudan. And yours?”
The man considered a moment. “John Bull.”
“That was impolite,” Bergen said. “I spoke truthfully.”
“We’re spies, my friend. None of us are generally truthful.” He gestured with his weapon. “Don’t
pretend ignorance when I ask this: do you have the ticker-paper?”
“Yes, I have it.”
“Lay it on the ground.”
“HerrBull, you seem to be under the impression that you have an advantage over me. Allow me to
elucidate our situation. Your derringer, while sufficient to wound me at this range, is no match for my Gasser. You must also realise that, as I am losing blood, I will be forced to end our standoff in short
order. If you will not step down I must kill you.”
“And you, Mr. Keuper,” the man said with a twitch of the eyebrow, “seem to be under the impression
that I am here alone. As I said,we have you surrounded.”
“Do not try to bluff me,Herr Bull. If there were other men in your party, I would have heard them.”
“I don’t doubt it—ifthey were men.”
Bergen squinted at the man.He’s bluffing, surely. I’d have heard…
He let his senses expand, let the focus of his hearing drift and the primeval jungle awareness of ancient
man predominate. Silence—but not empty silence. The silence of a tiger watching its prey. The silence of
an unseen snake curled to strike. Dozens of watchers, all around.
“Jeremy,” Bull called. “Bring a few up closer, if you’d be so kind.”
A sudden string of ticks; the skittering crawl of a clickrat; heavier steps following. Into the light lumbered
two monstrous hounds, a full hand taller than any that they’d fought earlier, with exposed gears churning
along their shoulders and back. Soundlessly, they opened their enormous jaws and let oil-saliva slide out
between savage teeth. The silver clickrat scuttled forth.
“Thank you, Jeremy,” said Bull, then to Bergen: “There are quite a few more.”
“Yes, I know.” Reluctantly, Bergen lowered, then holstered, his firearm. “How?”
“Not your concern, Mr. Keuper,” said Bull, also lowering his weapon. He popped the derringer into his
coat pocket. “The tape, if you’d be so kind.”
Bergen kneeled and began to shrug off his pack and the steam rifle. “I must know who you work for.”
Bull considered a minute, then nodded. “I work for Bailey. Against my better judgement sometimes, I
admit. I assume you work for John Scared.”
Bergen snorted. “No longer.”
“You were the inside man, then.”
“That settles that, I suppose,” Bull said. “Since you can imagine what would happen to you were you to
turn on me, I suppose I can trust you at least that far, eh?”
Bergen grunted. He reached into his pack to retrieve the tape. His first impulse was to unravel the steam
rifle and try to make a fight of it, but he stifled that. “I have told you the truth. You have not even told me
A muffled crack sounded from the right. Bergen and his captor spun to see Mulls, silhouetted by his own
lamp, firing his air rifle into the dark.
Bull was the first to react. “Stop! They won’t hurt you if you don’t…”
Bergen turned his eyes away and said nothing.
A half-dozen scraping growls went up, followed by a crash. Then Mulls’ lamp sparked and died, and
Mulls’ screams began.
“Jeremy!” Bull cried. “Stop them! Get them off him.”
The silver clickrat sat still and did nothing.
He had to die,Bergen reminded himself.If only the bullet had done its work.
Bull stepped closer to retrieve his rifle. Bergen clamped it to the brick with one powerful hand.
“What are you doing?”
Bergen set his face and eyes grim. “He is loyal to Scared. This cannot be avoided.”
What’s one more atrocity, after all the murder I have done for that man?Bergen thought. He stared into
the younger man’s eyes, wide and quivering behind the goggles, until the screams stopped and the tearing
and crunching began.
“He could have been taken prisoner,” Bull said quietly, venomously.
“He would have realised that bullets do not kill him and then turned on us.”
Bull faced the horror perpetrated upon the dead man’s corpse, though the dark hid it. With the breaking
of that gaze Bergen felt something die inside him. He quashed the sting of it, and refused to mourn.I
sacrificed my soul to this work long ago.
They sat in reverence until the feast ended and the silence rose once more.
Bergen released his grip on the man’s express rifle. Bull held out his hand.
Bergen handed it over. Bull slipped it into a pocket, then snatched up his weapon and his pack.
“Gather your property and let’s go.”
“I know the way back.”
“Then you lead.”
Bergen hefted the steam rifle and his supplies back onto his shoulders and pulled the straps tight across
his chest. They secured their burdens in silence. The younger man oozed regret and anger. Bergen
steeled himself against his own sense of shame and said what needed to be said.
“I apologise in advance for asking this, but I must know.”
Bull nodded for him to continue.
“Your hounds—did they get the boy?”
Bull’s stare was granite. “We’d have heard it, don’t you think?”
“Easy, Tom. Sit on up.”
“Ollie? Ollie! Jesus, I can’t see.”
“You’re breathing. That’s a start.”
“They got me! They got me with their damnable flashers and…Lord Almighty, it was like being burned
alive and…They’re guarding the stair, Ollie—the Boiler Men! They were waiting and we…”
“Calm down, man.”
“Bailey’s dead, Ollie. I saw it happen. And Phin’s gone, and the other chaps, too. They’re guarding the
stair. We won’t make it back to…”
“Don’t worry about the Boiler Men, Tommy. Jeremy’s new friends can handle them.”
“We ran into each other.”
“I’m glad. But…Ollie, I can’t see. I can’t feel anything. I…I’m frightened.”
“You’ll be all right. Let’s see if you can’t walk and we’ll get you back to Sherwood.”
“Thanks, Ollie. Knew I could count on you. Always looking out for us, you are.”
Oliver had never seen a dead Boiler Man before.
This one lay sprawled across a decayed mound that might once have been a wooden cart. In his hands,
he still clutched a spear-length, copper-tipped flasher hooked to a machine on his back by a length of
rubber hose. His eyes had cracked, and his black armour was marred by deep, gleaming slashes and
dents. His chest plate splayed out in ribbons where Bergen’s rifle had cracked him like a walnut. Oliver
leaned over the hole. The scent of dry dust and spent gunpowder crinkled his nose.
Ten feet onward, the road dissolved into a jumble of bricks mired in mud, afterward stretching into an
uneven field of forgotten trinkets and stinking human refuse. There was some light here, shed by seepage
through the domino hole above. It illuminated a thousand half-buried items cast off from the city above:
pots, hats, empty matchboxes, bags and boxes of all description, wagons—whole or in pieces—and the
occasional corpse. What a strange disconnection of the mind it was to think that the things one tossed from the towers were instantly gone forever.
Across that small plain, the soldiers of Jeremy’s army wandered, stepping over the broken bodies of
both their comrades and their enemies without so much as a glance. Oliver could hardly believe that
twenty minutes ago these horrid gargoyles had been swarming the Boiler Men like a legion of hellish rats.
The first wave had been shattered by the Ironboys’ Atlas rifles. The second as well. But there were
more, so many more, that the rifles simply ran dry of ammunition. And as they fell silent, the horde of
screeching, buzzing, clawing, biting inhuman doom poured over hastily constructed defences and bore the
baron’s soldiers to the ground.
Even then it hadn’t been over. Possessed of an unnatural strength, the Boiler Men had, one by one,
tossed off their harassers and regained their footing. And then Bergen had blown them to pieces with his
Oliver shuddered to recall the look on the man’s face: like a statue, eyes colder than those of the
half-human wretches the downstreets had claimed.
He navigated between the remains of six or seven hounds, a good dozen of the Frankensteins, and two
more Ironboys, eventually finding a clear path, and worked his way back to Tom. The big man sat
leaning back against the oxidised remains of a copper boiler, arms piled in his lap, head lolling to the side.
The light danced over Tommy’s features and Oliver felt his heart clench up. Tom’s clothes had been
burned through by flasher strikes to his belly and shoulders. Wormlike scorch marks had been seared
into his one real hand and the skin on his neck and face; some had cracked and were leaking runny
Oliver had seen Tom injured before, had seen him with wounds much graver than these. It was Tom’s
posture that alarmed him: he sat with hunched shoulders and raised knees, shaking like a beaten child. To
see this happy soul so lost and afraid brought tears to Oliver’s eyes. He blinked them back, swallowed
hard against the quivering in his gut, and knelt by Tom’s side.
The big man started. His eyes flew open, panicked. “Ollie?”
Oliver laid a heavy hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Easy, chum. It’s me.”
Tom shakily exhaled. He reached up and clasped Oliver forearm with his real hand. “Jesus. Gave me a
start, there. It was so quiet, I’d wondered…”
As Oliver looked on Tommy’s face he felt the tears welling again. Tom’s entire left eye had been burned
away from the inside, leaving only an oozing scab over most of that side of his face. The right eye moved
around with random jerks, squirting oil with each movement.
Oliver gave the shoulder a squeeze.
“The battle’s won, Tommy. You should see it—Ironboys rusting in the mud. It’s positively the most
beautiful sight I’ve seen in years.”
Tom’s face fell. “I’d rather have fought.”
“Buck up, man,” Oliver said. The encouraging tone came automatically, quite in spite of any rational
evaluation of Tom’s condition. “Hews knows a doctor. I’ll post him a telegram when we get back to
Sherwood and we’ll have you fixed up in less time than it takes to down a pint.”
It was a weak lie weakly presented, but it seemed enough for Tom, who managed a smile.
“If you say it, Chief, then I’m game.”
“There’s my lad,” Oliver said. He clapped Tommy on the back. “Now, let’s get you on your feet. You
still owe me that round.”
Tommy’s face crumpled in concentration. “How do you figure that?”
“I beat you to the ground, Tommy. And a gentleman like yourself’ll surely keep to our bargain, eh?”
“Codswallop. You probably tiptoed like a ballerina down the whole route. There is no earthly way you
could have beat me to the ground.”
“Perhaps. But seeing as there is no apparent way for us to compare our arrival times, the round still goes
Tommy frowned, adjusted his hat. “Again: how do you bloody figure that?”
“Simple: I now have to haul your not-inconsiderable bulk up that whole blasted stairway.”
Tommy cracked a smile at that. He threw off Oliver’s hand and lifted himself up to perch on unstable
“A round says you’ll have to do nothing of the kind.”
“Double or nothing, then?”
“A deal, Chief.”
Oliver held his hands ready to provide additional stability to his friend as Tom tested the motion of his
legs. His joints shrieked terribly.
Tom chuckled. “Like a banshee. Hee, hee.”
Oliver looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps.
“Twelve of them dead,” Bergen said, in the manner of a soldier giving a report. “That is their full number.
A lucky thing, since I am nearly out of ammunition.”
Bergen’s eyes had not changed. They were stone, lifeless, emotionless. The rest of his body kept
perfectly still like a compressed spring, as if the man was still expecting battle.
The man was a killer; that was the long and short of it. There could be no guarantee of controlling him,
no matter with whom he claimed to lay his allegiances. And if Bailey really had met his end, Oliver might
not be able to pawn the fellow off on another crew.No good will come of this partnership, and that’s the
But that was something to leave to Providence and a later day.
Bergen tilted his head. “We should return to the city.”
“Let’s get ourselves to the base of the stair,” Oliver said. “We’ll wait there.”
“Why would we wait?”
“So that Phineas Macrae can find us. Let’s get on.”
He urged Tommy into a slow shuffle by gentle pressure on his back. Bergen scowled, but fell into step.
“Do you truly still hold out hope that any of your party survived?” the German asked. “If the Boiler Men
did not kill all of them, surely your rat’s army finished the work.”
Tommy swallowed hard before adding his comment. The pain of the admission contorted his face: “I
hate to say it, Ollie, but…I haven’t seen him. He’d have found me, I think, if he was still…”
Tommy choked off the last few words, and Oliver gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.
“He isn’t dead, Tommy. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he was already waiting for us at the stair.”
The German grunted—a half laugh. “If he’s truly so resourceful as to have escaped his fate, he would be
quite capable of rescuing himself without our aid.”
The mockery in that tone raised Oliver’s hackles. He ground his teeth a moment before making a reply.
“You’re quite correct, Mr. Keuper. He does not need our help. But getting Thomas all the way back to
the Underbelly in his present condition is going to require more than one man.”
“We have more than one man.”
“Keuper, ever since you first laid eyes on my friend’s state, you’ve been thinking that he is an
unnecessary burden. You’ve been scheming ways to rid our expedition of him so that we can make
Tommy gasped, looking towards Oliver for confirmation.
Oliver’s eyes tracked the rolling mud battleground ahead. He did not look at either of them. “And so I
have decided not to trust you with my friend’s safety.”
His mood improved slightly as Bergen fell into a sullen silence.
Oliver took the further silence as affirmation.
They found Phineas at the base of the stair, perched on the edge of an overturned rail car, one so out of
style it might have predated the baron’s takeover of Whitechapel. He stubbed his cigar out in the mud
and left it there as they approached.
Oliver resisted the urge to rub his satisfaction in Bergen’s face.
Phin greeted them with a tip of his impacted hat.
“If you blokes walked any slower I’d rent a cab for you. Hellfire, I’dbuild a cab for you and rope a
couple of those dogs to pull it. And what in God’s name is wrong with Thomas?”
Tom smiled through his grimace. “War wounds, you piss-yellow dodger. I assume you’ve none of your
“He took a few prods from those flashers of theirs,” Oliver explained.
Phineas scowled. “I know that. I wasthere, or hasn’t gear-guts told you? I mean that bloody noise.”
Oliver helped Tommy to seat himself on a bent train wheel. The big man groaned with the effort. Oliver
handed him a canteen—the last remnants of his water supply. “What noise, Phin?”
Phineas gestured at Tommy with a vague sense of disgust. “The…thenoise, man. He’s always been a
damned factory all to himself but…Oy, bolt-britches, you hear that grinding?”
“I can’t hear hardly any, you…you…” He sighed. “They burned me something terrible. Yeah, I can hear
Phin shared a look with Oliver, which even through Phineas’ perpetual squint Oliver knew as a warning.
And now Mr. Keuper is thinking that Tommy is a danger, as well as a hindrance.
Bergen remained stony silent, bending a little now under the weight of his enormous weapon and several
hours’ long hike. He kept Phineas under a watchful eye.Doesn’t trust any of us. Perhaps Missy can crack
him. Missy would dive right into the man the instant she saw him: smile at him, charm him, melt him, rub
him down under her heel.
Phineas was giving Tommy a pat on the shoulder and muttering some encouraging, if vulgar, words.
Oliver motioned him over. For Bergen’s benefit, he announced ten minutes’ rest.
The German nodded.
Oliver drew Phineas aside, to the edge of the rail car.
“What’s this grinding, Phineas?”
“Something in his belly, I’m thinkin’,” Phin whispered. “Wasn’t there last I saw him. Like a clickrat
crawlin’ in mud.”
“Any ideas on its identity?”
“Not a one, Cap’n. Ne’er heard it comin’ from inside a man before.”
Oliver sighed and glanced back at Tom, who had fallen into still, regular breathing. Bergen was
unabashedly observing their conversation, though he was probably too far off to eavesdrop. Oliver
turned back to Phineas.
“How did this happen, Phin? Didn’t you warn them?”
“Wasn’t any warning to give, Cap’n. Not firstly, anyways. The Ironboys, they don’t make any noise.”
“Codswallop. They shake the bloody ground.”
“When they’s movin’, sure, but when they’s still, they’s silent as the bloody grave. No breathin’, no
gears grindin’ or heart pumpin’. We didn’t even know they were there until we’s thirty feet away.”
“But the dogs, man.”
Phin crushed his hat farther down his head, until the dropping brim almost hid his eyes.
“I heard the damnable mutts ages before we got to ’em. Mr. Knight ordered us ahead anyway.”
Oliver nodded.Can’t say I blame him. Hounds or Boiler Men? I’d have chosen the same. “And the
Phineas spat into the mud. “What’s I supposed to do against the Tin Soldiers, Ollie? I lit out. Not my
fault that copper-balls goes berserk. He didn’t even use his rifle, for Christ’s sake.”
Phineas ground his teeth
“I hid in the dirt, Ollie,” Phin said through gnashing teeth. “ ’S what they all should’ve done. Blasted
stupid, just like the Uprising.”
“You gave them your warning, man. Everything else is on Bailey’s head.”
Phin smoothed out his impossibly wrinkled coat. “Bailey’s dead, Ollie. He took two or three shots. I
heard him crying those eloquent curses of his. The Ironboys, they charged him and stomped him down.”
Oliver nodded. It was what Bailey had wanted—to die in service of his beloved queen. Oliver felt a
curious hole in his stomach, like a coal burning there.It’s what I wanted, too: to be free of that man. To
be free of his rules and his damn distrust— Oliver felt guilty just thinking it—and now I am.
So, what now? With what the cloaks knew, would Joyce still be alive, to build this weapon on Scared’s
tape? Would any of Bailey’s other nameless compatriots still be alive? Would…Hews?
“What do you think, Ollie? We’s a bit buggered, eh?”
Oliver looked up. Phin stood expectantly, fiddling with his pockets.
“Let’s get climbing.”
They turned and walked back to the base of the stair. Jeremy Longshore had returned, and sat looking
contented with his head poking out of Tommy’s pocket. Tommy stroked the silver ridges of the thing’s
back, murmuring silent nothings to it. Bergen crouched like an ape, watching wordlessly.
“Stalwart like an ox, Chief,” Tommy announced, proudly hoisting Jeremy into the air. “What did I tell
“He’s more than proved himself to me, Tommy,” Oliver said. “Let’s make him an official member of the
crew, shall we?”
“The king bowing to another master? Never!” Tommy said, chuckling. Phineas helped him up, all four or
five hundred scraping, squealing pounds. Oliver pointed to Bergen.
“You’re our lead climber, Keuper.”
Bergen rose. “So that you can keep a watch on me?”
Oliver held his mouth shut.
“So, tell me, since you have styled yourself our governor,” Bergen said as he approached the first
rickety, rusted and bent step of the stair, which at its base turned out to be more like its namesake.
“What shall we do, now that Bailey Howe truly is dead?”
Oliver felt acute stares from Tom and Phineas. Once again they looked to him to take up that mantle
he’d watched burn five years past, and lead them all to their deaths in some heroic folly. They wouldn’t
let him off, not again, not when he’d been hiding from the responsibility all this time.
You wanted this, chap. Deep down, you always wanted it.
A second chance. A second Uprising.
Tom rocked foot to foot. “Ollie?”
“We return to Sherwood,” Oliver said. “We gather the crew and call in Hews and Sims and Joyce and
He stared at Bergen, matching the man’s intensity.
“And then…we proceed,my way.”
“I know who you are.”
That was all Baron Hume had said.
The lift locked into place with a shower of sparks and the two Boiler Men jerked Bailey forward. His
captors’ titan strength had long ago crushed the bones in both arms, and Bailey was beyond the sensation
of pain. He was aware only of the endless layered thrashing sounds of machinery to rival hell itself, and
the smell of cooked meat drifting up into his nose. The Boiler Men had welded a metal plate to his skin
using their lightning rods, to steal his death away.
Bailey had looked into Hume’s impenetrable brass eyes and seen nothing—not anger, not satisfaction,
only the cool detachment of logic. Bailey was not a defeated enemy made to kneel; he was a faulty part
being corrected, so that the machine would run smoothly once more.
We are as nothing to them.Empty, lifeless soldiers that moved and killed and could not die, weapons that threw lightning and steam and bullets faster than a man could tap his fingers—Lord, what were we
thinking? What arrogance to assume we could topple these creatures. These…gods.
His legs lost all power, and he fell forward. The Boiler Men dragged him by his shattered arms without
breaking stride. Bailey’s tears splattered on the walkway. His twisted feet smeared them as they passed.
They were deep inside the Stack by now, past the visitor ledges on the outer rings, down past the
workrooms and storerooms and the holy places of the gold and black cloaks. Down here Mama
Engine’s furnace burned eternal with a heat to rival the sun, and the eldest of the black cloaks, their
humanity stripped away by layers of iron limbs, tempered the foundations of the Great Work.
The endless gyrations of the machines faded, and a hum rose in their place. The sound boomed and
echoed around the cavernous space into which they now passed, ringing like the song of a thousand
angels, or the hissing of a thousand devils.
Good Lord, if I have ever been good to you, take me now…
The chamber stretched a hundred or more yards across, lined on all the outside surfaces with clocks of
senseless and maddening design. The walkway extended into it, held up by gossamer golden cords, to
the room’s central feature.
Bailey could not look. He knew what he would see: row upon endless row of broken, drained, mutilated
men and women and children; golden wires piercing their skin; muscle and flesh rotting off their bones;
and yet none of them dead—none permitted to die, so long as the Great Machine had need of them.
The Boiler Men dragged him to a halt in front of a creature constructed of tangled strips of brass.
Porcelain eyes assessed him, a single finger indicated the place of his fate. Bailey watched the creature as
it turned away to its duties, and knew instinctively that it had once been human.
His shoulder came loose as his captors renewed their march. His bowels gave as they slammed him
roughly into an empty brass chair. His last breath escaped as they forced steel bolts through his hips and
chest to pin him there. His vision darkened.
A wire broke the skin of his neck and began digging into him, burning like an electric worm. A second
punctured his rib cage, a third, his lower back.
Not this,he screamed.Death I have always welcomed, but not this.
The Boiler Men marched away, and the ticking began. It grew, instant by instant, pummelling his
perceptions with its insane repetition, until it deafened his very thoughts. It stripped away everything he
knew, everything he had ever thought, every hope and every plan. The weight of Grandfather Clock
crushed him down, hammered him, shaped him. He became a perfect component of a larger whole,
losing all that he had been before.
And all was harmony in the Great Machine.
The Second Day
It must be dull and lonely to live in a new city, while to live in an old city like London is to enjoy the society of a very noble army of ghosts.