segunda-feira, 6 de setembro de 2010

Chapter 14

Her chosen will call themselves the Brothers ofCreation. They will be Her Intention, the legacy of human
creativity bent to Her purposes, and weaned upon Her ancient Methods, and they, too, will call me
—V. i
Scared left Tuppence crying. They always cried, at first. In a while he would send the boy up to Gisella’s
house of sin and her girls would feed him and dry his eyes.
He toddled his ancient frame up the twenty wooden steps leading from his bedchamber, avoiding, with
great difficulty, those that concealed his various traps. Blast, he must take some of these out. Security did
him little good if he slipped one day and found himself stuck on the point of a poison dart.
It was a shame about the other boy. He’d died of fright, perhaps, compounded with malnutrition and
general filth. He’d left the poor thing’s body where it had fallen, as it provided a perfect learning
opportunity for the one still alive.
Such darling things, children. Such wonders of God’s world. When you call me husband and master, my
sweet, what wonderful offspring we will fashion.
“Tick, tick, tock, my sweet. The watch stops at the end of the day.”
His voice echoed back from the plaster walls. The heat that burned in the back of his head flickered in
time with the lamps in their sconces.
And what do you want with this other man, my sweet? Well, soon I’ll know that secret, too, and in time
I will own every scrap of soul you try to hide.
He wandered the halls of his labyrinth awhile, alone with his thoughts. When he was a boy, he’d
wandered in a similar fashion through Hyde Park, sometimes halting to climb the Gate, until some
policeman or well-meaning citizen chased him off. It had been a distraction then. Now it was a necessary
exercise to keep the mind calm and functioning.
The labyrinth was one of four hidden in various towers close to the Stack. This one was his least
favourite, lacking a proper amount of madness in its design. It was functional, for certain, but hardly
inspiring. Unfortunately, since his hides in Aldgate and Dunbridge had been compromised, he had to
settle for this one. It sat below Gisella’s den of sin, so there was some consolation there. Fine and stern
old woman, she was, and she’d be chaste to her dying breath, bless her.
He walked through halls and staircases, past row after row of identical doors. His mind churned and
refused to lie silent. He caught himself ticking several times and each time angrily clamped his teeth.
Why did he feel anxious? It was planned, all planned.
He stopped, halted his breath. His ears picked up the last distorted echo of a scuffing. An intruder?
Moran didn’t know of this place. Neither did the German, or Boxer or Hobbyhorse. And Gisella would
never lower herself to walk these filthy halls.
Scared twisted his cane’s head, releasing the knife from the tip. The click it emitted resonated down the
halls. Scared’s senses picked at that noise, dissecting, calculating.
He flattened himself against a shadowed corner and waited.
At length a figure stumbled around the corner at the hall’s opposite end, stooped and limping. The
intruder placed his hand on each door as he walked, as if counting them.
Scared had not fought with his cane for years. It had to be used like a bayonet to be formidable. For a
brief moment he feared his arthritic knuckles would not be capable of it.
He could hear the intruder’s laboured breathing, the moist sucking of the terminally ill. The figure
shrugged through a pool of light.
“Oh, my boy!” Scared cried. He rushed from concealment even as the figure collapsed to the floor.
Scared knelt down and gathered the boy’s head in his hands. “Oh, my darling. What have they done to
Tears rolled down Penny’s cheeks, from eyes that stared glazed at the ceiling. The boy’s mouth opened,
closed. A bullet had cracked through his sternum; his shirt was black with old blood and filth. The wound
had been cauterised, probably by the broken flasher still hooked to the lad’s belt. His skin was pale and
sunken beneath the grime.
“Lie still, my boy. I’m here.” Scared knew Penny was dying. Nothing could be done but to give him up
to the cloaks, and that, Scared could never wish on one of his sons.
Penny’s breathing grew more relaxed as Scared stroked his hair. Eventually, the boy fell into a light
No, my child, I cannot save you. But there is life in you yet, and you deserve more than an infected
death in a lonely hallway.
“Don’t weep, my darling,” he whispered. “All is not lost. There are potions, my dear, secret mixtures
that can sustain you for a few glorious, final days. I will make one of these mixtures for you, my sweet,
and it will fill your veins with burning blood and bring strength into your legs once more.”
Penny opened his eyes again.
“And we will get you knives, my darling, for I know how you adore knives. And for those few days, you
will express that one act at which you were so blessed by Providence to excel.”
Penny’s tears dried up. Some of that stone came back into his eyes, that carefully crafted heartlessness
Scared had slaved over for so many years.
He could not help but smile.
Ah, pride; how can they call it a sin, my love?
The little bell dinged. Oliver found the shelves in their places and the lamp buzzing overhead. His first
step onto the floorboards sent up a creak, and then the skittering of retreating rats. He let the door slide
shut behind him, and waited.
Outside, Bergen sat casually on the front step, puffing on a thin cigar.
Oliver heard the whispering of shifting cloth, and turned to face the bookseller as he floated into view.
“I thought I’d be seeing you again,” the old man said.
“You seem to be closed for a while,” said Oliver. “Let’s have a chat.”
If anything, the man’s smile grew toothier.
“Of course. Shall we?” He indicated the rear of the store.
“Right here is fine, if you please,” Oliver said. “I have questions for you.”
“I’m sure you do.” The man’s hands clicked softly as he folded them together against his stomach. He
settled back into a sitting position, as if buoyed on whatever lay beneath his skirt. “I’m happy to
accommodate them, with the Lady’s blessing.”
Oliver opened his coat and drew the heavy book from within. Fickin’s eyes followed it.
“This is not theSumma Machina, ” Oliver began. “Not the real one anyway.”
“It’s the real one.”
Oliver breathed slowly. “I want no lies, Crow.”
“I have none to tell, Mr. Bull. That is the original script as written down by Atlas Hume in 1834.”
“Then can you explain to me why the canaries haven’t gone to war with you yet?”
“Ah, yes, the prophecies.” Fickin steepled his fingers. “The Brothers for Order cannot go to war, Mr.
Bull. Their only reason for being is to bring things into harmony. What wars have you ever known to be
Oliver rubbed the raggedy stubble on his jaw.
“So they know?”
Fickin nodded.
“And they do nothing about it?”
“You must understand the mentality of the clock, Mr. Bull,” Fickin said. “A clock is a machine. It
repeats one task endlessly, unchanged. That is its role. Even for its own preservation, a machine cannot alter that role.”
“What is Grandfather Clock’s role, in your opinion?”
“Grandfather Clock exists to bring about harmony and precision. He controls the environment, to make
it safe for the Mother to create. He makes it possible for the Great Work to be built.”
A faint sound penetrated the windows: two taps of Bergen’s foot. Entry had been accomplished.
Fickin straightened, agitation coming into his eyes. “But Grandfather Clock never stops with simple
harmony. He wants everything to tick to his tune, so that nothing can ever be out of place. Once he is
done with humanity he will turn his efforts against the Mother herself. He will suffocate her, as he has for
their entire union. Gods, when I think of the aeons he’s been doing this to her…”
A flicker of fire lit Fickin’s eyes.
And there you are, my Lady.Oliver tapped his pocket. Inside, Jeremy stirred.
“You have no idea, Mr. Bull, how old they are. They’ve been on our small little world since the great
beasts ruled it, hiding in their primitive brains and waiting for a race capable of birthing them. We are their
chosen people now, the builders of their womb and the stewards of their kingdom.”
“She didn’t think to kill him sooner?”
The fire flashed deep in those sunken eyes. “She didn’t know how, Mr. Bull. She doesn’t understand
him well enough. It is like asking a tree to understand a steamship. We were the first she found that were
capable of fathoming him; that is why she adopted us as her children. She needed our help. The Lord
simply wanted to dominate us.”
Jeremy nudged his nose out of the pocket. Oliver spread open the book and began leafing through
pages, focussing his attention on the flashing brass, to draw Fickin’s eyes there.
“She found someone, didn’t she?” Oliver said. “She found a whole gaggle of people lining up to help her
cause. Like Scared. And myself.”
The fire dimmed. “I’ve always been a bit ashamed that she felt she needed to look outside the
“So it really doesn’t matter who gets their hands on this weapon of hers. As long as it’s used, she’ll be
the one who benefits.”
Fickin licked his lips. “She’s waited so long for freedom from her tyrant consort. And now, through our
help, through the help of this man Scared, it is within her reach.”
The emotion welling up in the bookseller was Mama Engine’s own.
“We areher salvation, Mr. Bull. Can you fathom that? We tiny creatures of flesh and blood. She loves us
so fiercely for what we are willing to do for her.” He eyed Oliver with a smile. “She will need to take
another husband, you know.”
Three taps of Bergen’s foot: instrument delivered, awaiting the go-ahead.
“I think she will be disappointed,” said Oliver. “She and her kind aren’t welcome here.”
Fickin perked up. The fire danced in his eyes, casting its glow over the rows of spines lined on the
“So you know about the child, then?” he said.
Oliver nodded.
“Mother Engine always wanted children of her own,” Fickin said. The heat of his body touched Oliver’s
face. The air began to grow smokier. Illumination from no discernable source spread into the room. “She
once tried, long ago, to conceive from the Lord’s seed. What was born was an abomination to both of
them, a creature of disharmony and decay. It has dogged at their heels from world to world, unable to be
rid of them just as they are unable to be rid of it. But what else could come from a union of such hatred
on the one hand and indifference on the other?”
Fickin became distracted with the passions washing over him. Oliver took the opportunity to scan the
room and take in the changing light, the sudden smokiness of the air. Right now, in the back of the store,
those four furnaces were flaring higher as a fanfare for the goddess’ arrival.
It was time to leave. Oliver took one quiet step back towards the door.
“She likes you, Mr. Bull,” Fickin said. “You have qualities she fancies.”
Another step back. Jeremy poked his head fully out of the pocket.
“I don’t presume to understand her,” Fickin said. He floated closer as Oliver retreated, stretching out his
hands in a kind of pleading gesture. “She has needs and desires far outside the boundaries of human
experience, and she engages in many kinds of unions.”
There’s a vile image.Oliver snapped theSumma Machina closed and slipped it back into his pocket.
“She knows my opinion of her, Fickin. I’ll be going now.”
Fickin snatched Oliver’s sleeve. The voice that spoke next was no ancient bookkeeper’s, but a rattling
gasp like the last breath of a dying man. “Sheneeds you. She cannot suffer this again. She must have a
husband who will love her.”
The lamp overhead exploded, raining sparks onto the shelves. Strips of Fickin’s skin peeled off steel
bones when Oliver tore his sleeve loose, and Oliver bolted for the door. Jeremy burst from his jacket in a
flurry of ticks and buzzes as the shop exploded into orange light.
Oliver did not see what Aaron Bolden did next. For an instant time suspended, sound deepened, and
space expanded past comprehension. The cracks and fissures in the walls began leaking yellow pus. A
sickly green light flared up outside the windows.
Fickin’s cry for deliverance gurgled away.
The pus fell to the floor, where it picked up a sudden speed and rushed past Oliver’s feet. An instant
later a blast of heat struck him from behind, followed by a wall of hissing steam, and a shriek of pain went
up like the beams of a tower ripping itself apart.
This time without hesitation, Oliver tore the door open and plunged into the street.
The crack of the sidewalk against his cheek brought him back to clear reality.
Bergen made no move to help him up. The German drew his revolver and trained it on the bookshop.
Oliver lifted himself off the street, straightened collar and cuffs.
“Light it now, Phineas,” he whispered, knowing the sailor would hear him.
The derringer leapt into Oliver’s hand.
The bookstore stood dull and darkened. The door creaked shut. They waited.
Phineas appeared by Oliver’s side.
“Got the block evacuated, sir,” he said.
Oliver nodded, keeping his eyes trained on the door.
“Better cover your ears,” Bergen grumbled, leaving his own unprotected. Phineas ran off, already
bunching his collar around his head to dull his hearing.
Oliver’s heart stung for him.I’m sorry to have to do this to you, Phin.
Steel fingers slick with blood moved the shop door aside. One spindly appendage, bending evenly at a
hundred different joints and arching like a spider’s leg, reached beyond the doorjamb. Oliver heard
Fickin’s voice from inside.
“Why do you do these things?” the bookseller rasped, his face a hint of teeth and bloodied scalp. “Why
do you hate her so? All she wants is your love.”
The voice held all the sadness and hurt of the unjustly wronged.
The German loosed a shot that took Fickin in the face and drove him back. An instant later the building
exploded and they all crashed to the ground.
The concussion broke windows halfway down the street. A gout of fire threw the back of the shop’s
roof and its supports into the air and lit the Underbelly with more light than it had seen in twenty years.
The roof of the bookshop rained down in fragments for blocks around. Some of it had probably struck
the underside of the upper Concourse. Bits of plaster and twisted steel clattered on the street around him
as Oliver lay curled on the ground.
“Gott in Himmel,”Bergen cursed beside him. “How much did you use?”
The last pieces of the bookshop crashed to the street all around, and Oliver slowly uncurled.
“Twenty-seven,” he said. “A full third of Heckler’s supply.”
“Why so much?” the German asked.
They both got to their feet. Oliver removed his hat and shook it off, then ran a hand through greasy,
knotted hair. “I had to be sure that abomination of his never gets loose in the Underbelly.”
“I wouldn’t lay odds on it now, English,” Bergen said.
“I won’t be satisfied until I see it in pieces, Keuper,” Oliver shot back. “Now keep me covered.”
Obediently, the German raised his pistol and aimed it into the ruin of the shop. Oliver caught the rare
flicker of an actual expression on his face—amusement?Bugger him.
Amazingly, the door and much of the building’s façade had stayed intact. Dying fire flickered through the
shattered windows. Greater fires than these had already claimed the atmosphere of Whitechapel.
The door cracked off its hinges as Oliver swung it open. The bookshelves had toppled forward like
dominoes, spilling their wares all about the floor. Some were burning; most were simply blasted into
pieces and lay snapped and mangled in piles against the remaining walls.
Beneath one shelf lay a twisted heap of iron and steel. It twitched ceaselessly, respiring puffs of dry,
dusty smoke. It had too many arms, too many legs, and not nearly enough skin left on it, but it lived.
One of the old man’s arms grasped feebly at Oliver’s shoe.
“I’ll tell you why I hate her, Crow,” Oliver said. “I hate her because all the women and children that
slave in her factories or twitch and rot on her husband’s Chimney aren’t alive enough to hate her. I hate
her for the air, and the dark, and for the disease that’s eating my friend alive from the inside.”
The shape screeched like a heavy door on unoiled hinges.
Oliver watched Fickin trying to crawl and had to blink back tears. “I hate her because she doesn’t let
her people die.”
He raised his eyes and stared into the empty space were Mama Engine had once come for him.
“Please,” he asked, “let this one go.”
The twisted shape continued to squeal, continued to grasp at unseen things with steel fingers.
Oliver sighed, and stepped over the body. He walked over the downed shelves to the back of the shop.
The dynamite had broken a hole clean through the Underbelly. No sign remained of Fickin’s monster or
the four furnaces used to craft it.
Bergen, from behind: “Are we finished here?”
“Yes, Keuper, we’re finished,” Oliver said. “Get Tom ready to be moved. We’ll be going shortly.”
The German retreated.
Oliver stood amongst the ruins of the shop and let his sadness have expression. After the Uprising, with
the Underbelly burning, he’d sworn it in a silent pact with God: no more children shot in the streets for
getting in someone’s way, no more families broiled alive by steam guns for hiding in their cellars, no more
homes or lives burned and torn down.
And here I am, destroyer of my own city.
But this was the hideout of an enemy. This was the stronghold of an invader who would have brought
only more misery. That made a difference, didn’t it?
And what of those who might have been hit by stray debris? What of those who will suffer at the hands
of the cloaks when they come down on you for this?
Strange. That had sounded like the German.
The echo of Bergen’s momentary smile flashed in his mind. The German had never laughed; Oliver
imagined him laughing over this.
He dug the crushed body of Jeremy Longshore out of the rubble before departing.

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