segunda-feira, 6 de setembro de 2010

Chapter 15

I have not asked Them whether I am fated to die when Their work is done. I am too frightened that
They may answer me.
—II. xxix
Windows shattered and cables broke in the world of dreams.
Ten thousand arms grasped at yellow-brown ichor. Towers swayed; brass and copper and glass
puddled in the air before raining into the rising sea of bile. The searing heat of the fire and the sticky cool
of the swamp clashed and annihilated each other. Steam burst upwards and tore the red sky, opening
rents into horrid other spaces, which screamed above the incessant booming of the clock.
Aaron fled for his life.
The diseased child-god had used him. Whatever the Lord and Lady had done to keep their malformed
spawn from invading the city, Aaron had undone.
At first he had seen her clearly, as Mama Engine emerged into man’s realm at the beckoning of her
priest. The layers of her essence unfolded in sequence, revealing progressively deeper levels of her mind,
from the simplest surface thoughts, to capricious desires and whims, to deep convictions of love and pain,
to an exacting point of fire, hungry to consume and smelt and mould.
At one instant he had been safe, buoyed inside his silver body and anchored firmly on Adam’s earth.
The next, he felt a tug at his mind, then dull claws slashed into it and a howl of pain ripped through him. In
that instant he became a thousand individuals writhing in pain on a thousand beds, cots, and street
corners, every sliver of his body ground apart from within by teeth and gears, black oil spilling from every
orifice. He’d looked up and seen the faces of friends and family, tormentors and cloaks, sometimes no face at all.
The diseased child-god burst from Aaron’s soul like water through a breached dike. In moments, the
thing’s pus-body had attached itself to the towers and walkways of the dream world, and then began to
oxidise them.
As the tower of hands bent and closed in, Aaron had torn himself free. Something of him was left
behind, to singe and curl and turn to ash.
The void. Where is the void?He ran through the copper-plated streets, through glass arches and across
chain bridges. Every turn brought him to a new corridor, identical to the last, or to a new chain bridge
over choppy, black seas.
It must be somewhere. He reached into it to get me, so there must be an entrance.
He reached a ledge and halted. From there, he scanned the sky ahead. A chain ran from the ledge some
two hundred yards to the prismatic saw creation that stood in for the Docks Tower. Beyond, black skies
and London’s army of ghosts waited and watched.
Words came to him from that echo of his mind that knew the unknowable:They guard the ancient
dreams of London from all invaders, even yourself.
He spun and looked back. Cracks spiderwebbed across the sky. Long trails of smoke flew in all
directions as the tower of arms lurched and bent and smashed against its foe. The air filled with the
wailing of souls on both sides as the gods threw those captured wretches into the fray.
Grandfather Clock ticked in steady rhythm, and did nothing to help or hinder.
He’d run as far as he could. The tower and the chains shook, and he wondered what good any amount
of distance would do him.
There is always a way out.
He closed his eyes and reached up with his mind. The rock-and-dirt world shunned him as he touched it.
A brief impression of pressure, damage, and deformity flashed over him: his second body had been lost,
and with it, his link to the city above.
The heat and the noise swelled. Aaron began to hear the screams of men and women echo in from the
real world, and longed for the peace of the void, which hid from his reach.
There really was no way out.
Was he to be a mute witness to this, then? Was he to sit and watch and do nothing?
What else could he hope for? His body was gone, and escape into the void unlikely. He dared not place
himself between the two entities clashing before him.
So there was no other course. Seeing was what he had always been best at: seeing, thinking, planning,
advising, but never acting. He had acted once, and he had been killed.
So he seated himself upon the hot air, and watched.
On a crowded cable car, halfway between Cambridge-Heath and Dunbridge, Thomas started
The cries flew out into the vast spaces around, vanishing without echo. White eyes in black faces turned.
Oliver’s company froze as one for an instant, uncertain. The stunned silence dragged on, each passenger
waiting to see if the sound was repeated.
“Ah, bugger the dog! Jesus!”
Oliver leapt up into the wagon and tore the concealing burlap blanket from Tom’s face. A visage of
agony greeted him. Oil and pus squirted from Tom’s burned eye.
“Sorry, Ollie,” Tom managed.
Oliver knocked him on the head. “You should be. I’ve told you a thousand and one times you make too
much noise, chum.”
Tom chuckled through his grimace. “Like a banshee. Awooooo.” The mirth dissolved into a fit of horrid
coughing that produced brown bile.
Oliver skipped his gaze over his crew. Bergen was already reaching for his pistol with his left hand.
Hews was likewise reaching for his. Oliver shook his head at them and they stayed their hands.
“I’m terribly sorry.” It was Missy’s voice. “Our friend is very sick with the clacks. We didn’t mean to be
a bother. We’re taking him to see a doctor.”
Half the crowd nodded and turned away. Conversations began all about the car, passing quickly from
mouth to mouth; everyone knew someone with the clacks, and everyone had a story to tell. The men of
Oliver’s troupe communally exhaled a held breath. Missy slid smoothly into conversation with a woman
close by. Thomas coughed and spat up, but by then the crowd’s attention had been redirected.
“Got a good tongue,” Hews said, from his position at the right front handle of the wagon. “I couldn’t
have made that half as convincing.”
“It’s why I hired her,” Oliver said. He pulled a rag out of his pocket and started blotting the fluids spilling
out of his friend.
Tom chuckled. “Certain there weren’t other factors, eh, Chief?”
“You’re supposed to be sick.”
“Wouldn’t you know it,” Tom said. “A dozen knives to the heart and two shots to the belly and it’s a
bloody fist in my gut that gets me.”
Oliver jostled his shoulder. “You’re going out pounding cloaks, remember?”
Tommy coughed again. “Ah. Right-oh. Where would I be without you, Chief?”
Packing coal in Aldgate, healthy and in one piece, that’s where.“I’m sure you’d be neck-deep in trouble
by now even without my help.”
“Ah! Stung! God’s own truth, if I ever heard it. Where is the king?”
Oliver started. “Jeremy?”
“Yeah. The little bugger didn’t run off on me, did he?”
“I…er…sent him on a mission.”
Tom’s one remaining eyebrow perked up. “Truly?”
Oliver tried very hard for a casual shrug. “I said I’d make him a member of the crew, right? Little guy
has to pull his weight. Besides, he’s shown he’s capable.”
Tom squinted through his good eye. After a moment, his expression changed and his face fell.
“Knew he was a good pick,” he mumbled.
Oliver gestured to Hews. “Take over, would you?”
The older man ended his conversation with a fellow passenger and obediently mounted the wagon as
Oliver climbed out. The wagon was of native Whitechapel variety, made of iron rods, tin, and aluminium.
They’d loaded it with a pack of supplies, Bergen’s steam rifle, Lawrence’s manual, and the translation of
Scared’s tape—and then Tom’s body, for when he’d come to, he’d been unable to walk and was far
too heavy to carry.
Oliver walked round into Hews’ place at the right handle and faced Bergen, who stood at the left.
Phineas, Heckler, and the doctor, they’d left in the Underbelly: Oliver expected a strike on Shadwell to
come within the hour. Phineas could give fair warning and had been through the last Uprising; Heckler
was a capable lad, and a prodigy shooter; and Chestle…well, he’d be needed soon enough.
It would have been nice to leave Bergen and his cannon there as well, but…
“Where is this mechanic of yours?” Oliver asked.
Bergen regarded him coolly, as if evaluating whether he was trustworthy enough for such information.
“John Scared has a hide at the top levels of the Dunbridge slope, and the mechanic keeps his workshop
in it.”
Oliver crossed his arms and leaned on the wagon. “So you’ll be leading us right into Scared’s
The German glowered. “I dislike your tone, English. Had I wished your death, I could have effected it
any number of times.”
That much was true. The man had certainly made an effort, and yet something about him tickled at
Oliver’s attention and set his mind to doubting every time the two ended up in the same room:Why would
Bailey, with his God-save-the-queen bravado, go out and hire a German? Why not a fellow Briton, born
and bred?
“Will Scared be there?”
Bergen snorted. “Doubtful. He’s likely evacuated to a different hide, as I know the site intimately. He
has another in Aldgate, and he has told me there are several more. I suspect one in Shoreditch, though I
could not say where.”
Oliver noticed Missy glance their way. After a second she turned back to her conversations with the
other passengers.
“Why would he evacuate, I wonder?”
“Barring any other report, he has to assume I’ve been captured, either by the cloaks or the English,”
Bergen said. “Although his spies have probably noted me with you. Scared is a prudent man.”
“Why did he hire you?”
Bergen crossed his own arms, arms much thicker than Oliver’s. “I am growing weary of your distrust,
Sumner. Do you interrogate all of your men like this?”
Oliver felt his hackles rising again.
“Keuper, I have a rule that I never question after the history of my people. I don’t believe a man has to
carry his past with him like Marley’s chains, and so I will not ask you about your past. I will, however,
ask you about the work you’ve done for Bailey, and for Scared, becausethat could be necessary.”
The cable car bumped as it passed over one of its junctions, where the cables hooked through the bent,
wobbling beams of an infant tower, still too young to hold inhabitants. The wagon car clanked and rolled,
and for a moment Bergen and Oliver halted to steady it with the handles.
“So, tell me,” Bergen said, when the car had stabilised again, “how do you choose your men, without
knowing anything about them? A man’s past is his definition.”
“I don’t believe that,” Oliver said. “I trust my sense of people is all. I consider myself a good judge of
Bergen barked a laugh. “Character? Your American is a criminal, Sumner. Your woman is a whore.”
Oliver’s fist flew out before he even felt the anger rising. His knuckles cracked the German across the
jaw, forcing him back and down against the wagon’s handle.
Good Lord, chap, what were you—
Bergen’s fist hammered into his cheekbone and drove through to the back side of his head. His neck
snapped in a wrong way and his whole body gave out.
He felt the German take a heavy footstep in his direction. Then Hews rang out like a bell: “That’s
Oliver groaned and tried to right himself. In his blurred vision, he caught Bergen, hand on his weapon,
and Hews, hand on his.
Missy appeared behind Bergen’s shoulder, eyes dark. She slipped one hand into her handbag and drew
an object halfway out. Even through tumbling perceptions Oliver recognised what it was. Missy’s lips
moved, muttering something for only Bergen’s ears.
“You came out the top on that one,” Hews said, still covering Keuper with his pistol. “Let it go.”
The German straightened, retreating into the general blur.
“I will not tolerate that again,” he said.
“Then don’t…insult…my crew!” Oliver slammed his hands down onto the grate floor and shoved
himself up.
“They bring it on themselves, Sumner,” Bergen said. “You have no discipline; you keep no controls on
your men. Africa would swallow you alive.”
“This isn’t Africa,” Oliver said. He grabbed on to the wagon handle to steady himself, then rose to his
feet. Feeling began to seep back into his cheek: an acute, throbbing pain. “But tell me: if it were, could
you kill every lion and tiger and snake and whatever else all by your lonesome? Could your one gun kill
all of them before they got you?” He jabbed his finger out. “It seems you’re so stupid as to think you can
fight this all on your own, and while I’d be happy to be rid of you, I frown on people getting themselves
needlessly killed.”
Bergen harrumphed. “Then you are a weak and stupid man.”
Hews stuck his gun in Bergen’s face, then in Oliver’s. “Enough,” he said. “I won’t stand for any more of
this lunacy. The next one to say anything gets a lump in the face.”
Bergen and Oliver exchanged glares. They stood that way for a long time. On their right, the slope of
Dunbridge faded into view through the smog. Their audience stared at them raptly, caught in their
Bergen broke the gaze and spat on the floor between them. Then he turned and strode away. The other
passengers parted around him, and watched as he walked to the far corner of the car and took a post
staring pointedly out at nothing.
Oliver sighed, righted himself, and turned to face the crowd.
“Don’t.” Missy pressed him back against the wagon with a firm palm. “Right now it’s gossip and that’s
all. There’s no sense turning it into something bigger.”
“You all right, lad?” Hews asked.
Oliver checked his jaw, his neck; nothing seemed permanently damaged. He nodded.
Only then did Hews stow his pistol. He swung his legs over the edge of the wagon and sat. For a
moment he wrung his hands. “That was far from prudent, Oliver.”
Oliver rubbed his cheek and said nothing.
Hews frowned. “The man’s been trying to get your goat since he met you and you just up and handed it
to him.”
Missy’s face suddenly compressed and she snapped at Hews through bared teeth. “Hogwash, Hewey.
If this is the only way to put that man in his place then let’s have more of it.”
“Lass?” Hews said.
“That’s a vile man we’ve hooked up with. I’ve said it before that he can’t be controlled. Do you need
more proof thanthat ?” She indicated Oliver’s face.
Oliver watched the tiny twitches of Missy’s lips and eyelids.
Hews leaned down over his shoulder. “Lass, our boy, here, struck first.”
“The German struck first,” Missy said. She looked at Oliver. “Didn’t he? Didn’t he really?”
After a moment, Oliver nodded. “That’s the truth of it.”
“Codswallop,” Hews said. “Your bloody temper’s the truth of it. That was disgraceful.”
“I’ve enough of a lashing for that already, Hewey,” Oliver snapped. “And you’ve no right to speak to
me like a child.”
Hews flushed. “I’ve all the right in the world, boy. I raised you—”
“You let me sleep under your smelting pots, Hewey,” Oliver said. “You let me carry coal and ore and
paid me a pittance to do it. And sometimes,sometimes, you told the other coves not to kick me for the
fun of it and then walked around puffing yourself that you were helping some charity orphan boy and
what a good soul you were.”
Hews trembled for a moment, cheeks puffing, eyes bulging. The words came out with slaver through the
teeth: “We fed you, boy. We clothed you and kept the Chimney gangs—”
Oliver cut him off. “Istole most of what I ate, Hewey. You weren’t about to share any of your wife’s
cakes, either, as I recall.”
Hews looked fit to explode. The next words came out barely a whisper: “Ungrateful child.”
Oliver returned the man’s glare until Hews turned away. Then Oliver dropped his head and chewed the
insides of his cheeks. Missy stood back, scowled, said nothing.
The maw of the Dunbridge station, edged in random growths of iron like crooked teeth, sucked the
cable car inside. The omnipresent haze of Whitechapel vanished, to be replaced by glaring electrics and
blasts of hot steam from a dozen unfathomable engines. Half-human crows scuttled to and fro, tinkering,
tightening, massaging, and placating. The Boiler Men that had watched every station for the past
twenty-four hours were conspicuously absent.
As the gates slid apart, Oliver and Hews each took up a wagon handle. Oliver felt every muscle popping
as he strained to move the wagon that first few feet. The wheels screamed terribly and caught on their
own axle every couple of inches.
The exertion pushed blood into his face, which made the pain worse. He must have a jolly bruise by
If that was the least damage you’d caused today, it would be a blessing.
Hews marched beside him, puffing and sweating, unused to such work, but no one was about to ask
Bergen to join them again. Oliver stole a look over. Hews, weighted with exertion, walked with dragging
heels—crestfallen, tired, and old. Fifty-seven years of life scraped together on Hews’ face in divots,
wrinkles, scars, and jowls, and Oliver felt a powerful sense of wrongness.
Hews should be sitting by his fireplace in a country estate by now, sipping port and talking about the
upcoming birth of his first grandchild to any ill-fated cove he could con into listening to him. Instead he
had set up shop in Whitechapel, spied for the queen, lost a wife to cancer of the lungs, employed a whole
gaggle of men, and kept one little boy from falling into his own grave.
The sudden rage, wherever it had come from, boiled away, and Oliver’s guts sank into his shoes.
The wheels of the wagon clattered and bounced as they tipped off the ramp and into the station. Missy’s
silence and Tom’s fevered moans trumpeted their arrival in Dunbridge.
Oliver should have known better than this.
Missy mopped her forehead with a lace-lined white handkerchief. It came away yellowed and soiled.
It was Gisella’s cardinal rule: don’t ever be a mess. A lady should never sweat, never smell otherwise
than with perfume, never have her clothing or her hair out of sorts. She’d discouraged it even at the height
Gisella isn’t here, bird.
That didn’t matter. Missy still felt vile, soiled.
You were born in filth, little girl.That had been the repeating refrain of her inner voice the entire climb.
It had taken considerable coaching and cold water to rouse Thomas enough to get him on his feet. Even
then, he wobbled terribly with each step, flopping his tremendous weight to and fro without pattern. It
had taken all three men to keep him upright, and Missy had added her shoulder as well, knowing they
needed her but would never ask. Missy had never really been to Dunbridge. She had stopped through it
on her flight from the bordello, those eternal months ago, but she had merely stopped over at the station,
never experiencing the through-the-looking-glass maze quality of its platforms and walkways, its
staircases and ladders and dead ends.
She found her eyes leaping with fright to the shadows slinking out of the smog. Always, they resolved
themselves into Chinese women carrying baskets, men backing slips of metal, and stunted, bleary-eyed
children tromping after. They watched her with tiny eyes.
And no wonder: Thomas lurched like Shelley’s monster, falling every twenty steps to dent or crack a
stair or rail. Hews directed them with a few terse words at every crossing as they marched on. Bergen had returned, but the men spoke to each other only in the sparest, most necessary exchanges.
She’d caught the German looking at her several times. She couldn’t read the look. It wasn’t lust, not as
she understood it, but neither was it suspicion nor anger. It was a rapt and undisturbed attention,
detached and frigid.
When will Oliver listen to me and turf him?
Well, it seems you have two men here that cannot be controlled.
At long last, Hews announced that they had arrived, and they proceeded to wrestle Thomas through a
door far too small for even a normal man, and more or less dump him onto a thin mattress and a few
blankets in the corner. Each of the men threw the supply packs they carried against the wall. Then they
collectively stood back for a rest.
Missy glanced around. All about the place lay filthy blankets draped over filthier men. The air stank like
a sick house: sweat and piss, and some other acrid smell Missy didn’t recognise. The occupants could
have passed for corpses, for how still they lay.
Missy tugged on Oliver’s sleeve. He turned, still panting. Her nose wrinkled at the rough smell of him.
“Why did you bring us to such an awful place?” Missy whispered.
Oliver smiled. “It’s not so bad, compared to some. Besides, it’s friendly territory.”
“I would hardly call it that.”
“We find our friends where we can.”
A squat, plump Chinese lady waddled from behind a red curtain at the back of the room. She wore a
decorative Oriental dress of the most garish green with dulled gold detailing. Hews removed his hat and
stepped up to greet her.
“Mrs. Flower, I’m afraid we must once again impose on your hospitality,” he said.
The lady inclined her head slightly, then turned and vanished into the back.
“We’ll take a few minutes’ rest,” Oliver said. “Then Bergen and I will go visit this mechanic of his.”
A twinge picked at Bergen’s lower eyelid and he glowered darkly. Much to her horror, she realised she
understood that expression.
Yes, it’s the murderous one, isn’t it, child? Never forget that you are a killer now, too. Born a dog,
trained a whore, now you are in full blossom. Isn’t that just proper?
“Shut up,” she hissed. She slapped her hand over her mouth.
Only Oliver noticed. His eye flicked momentarily her way. Hews interrupted before anything could be
“I’ll go,” he said, hitching pants and fixing vest as he spoke.
Oliver knitted his eyebrows. “Hewey, I’m not…”
“I won’t hear it, boy. When was the last time you slept?”
Oliver blinked back his surprise. “I don’t…”
“If the answer isn’t ‘this morning,’ then you’re staying here. In any case, I’m the only one who knows
the ins and outs of this tower.”
Oliver stood a moment, considering.
Missy’s eyes flicked to Bergen. She recognised that look: studying a man to see how he could be
It is your duty to control your client, to bring him to his pleasure by whatever means are most agreeable
to him. For each man, a unique set of actions, phrases, and gestures will be his reins. You will learn to
pick these out through observation and intuition. Now, please, drink your tea, lay on your cots, and the
training will begin.
Oliver could be controlled by treating him like a child.
I won’t do it.
Of course you will, my dear. It is what you were trained for. The German lacks the flexibility to conquer
him, but you, my child—you are as fluid as rain. You can be whatever he needs you to be.
It was a new voice, rougher than she was used to. Chills ran up her spine.
At last, Oliver sighed.
“Fine. Just be back quick as you can.”
Hews screwed his bowler hat onto his head. The Chinese woman reemerged from the back, carrying a
tray with a brass kettle and four porcelain cups. Hews took his hat off again and bowed towards her. He
jabbed Oliver with an elbow and Oliver removed his hat as well, spilling unkempt brown hair to his
“Regrettably, we must go, Mrs. Flower,” Hews said. “By God’s graces, we shall be back before the pot
is cooled.”
Mrs. Flower did not appear to acknowledge the sentiment. She merely placed the tray on the floor by
Hews’ feet and retreated through the room, checking on her various semiconscious patrons.
Hews replaced his hat. Bergen dropped his steam cannon into the corner and stood it against the wall.
He’d climbed the whole way with it lashed to his back and barely looked out of breath.
He’s going to murder Hews and then he’s going to come back and murder you. But you’ll stop him long
before that, will you not? You and your little handbag.
Missy found herself piqued.
He would deserve it.
There’s my little dog.
Bergen ducked out into the dark of midafternoon. Hews made to follow. Oliver stopped him with an
arm on the shoulder.
Hews shook his head. “No time now, Oliver.”
Oliver let him go. The door shut. Missy had never seen a man so alone in a room full of people.
Now would be the moment to do it: just step outside the door and put a bullet through the German’s
“Come on, then,” she heard her mouth saying. “Let’s have a sit.”
Oliver wandered in her direction, then swerved and flopped to the floor beside Thomas. He used his
hands to draw his knees up to a cross-legged position, then shrugged out of his coat. Missy gathered the
tray and sat beside him.
She poured the tea and tried not to let her hands shake when it came out red. Gisella’s tea was always
red—that awful soporific that conjured up the hobgoblin man.
Heh. I see you remember me.
The teapot rang as it bounced off the tray and regurgitated its contents onto the floor.
“Oh, God…” Missy breathed.
Oliver reached across and righted the teapot. “No one will notice.”
That wasn’t what she meant.
The hobgoblin man is real. He came to visit me.
She felt the phantom sensation of his ghastly fingers against her face, and she forgot.
She returned to herself to see the profile of Oliver’s scruffy face. He stared at Thomas, who gurgled as
he breathed, and simultaneously stared at nothing. Tea soaked into the leg of his trousers. His skin had
turned several shades towards yellow. The lamplight reflected flickering flames into his eyes.
Something wasn’t right. Oliver’s mussed hair fell forward over his brow, shadowing his eyes, so that it
could not possibly be reflected light.
She shivered. He reacted to the motion, and turned those subtly burning eyes on her own.
“What so you see?” he asked.
She told him.
His eyes drifted closed. “It’s getting worse,” he said. “It feels like a hot iron up under my skull.”
She felt a chill rake through the moist air, and dared not ask what he meant.
He continued anyway. “It gets hotter the closer we get to the Stack. Mama Engine has taken up
residence in my head. It seems she fancies me as a consort.”
Missy sat very still, her skin crawling.
“The other one is in my guts. I’m not entirely sure what he wants from me.” He grabbed and gripped
Tommy’s flesh-and-bone hand. “This can’t be for nothing.”
There’s the opening. Take him in your lap, coddle him, sing to him, tell him everything will be all right and
make him yours.
Missy began reaching for Oliver’s hand.
I don’t want to.
Yes, you do.
She stopped, stripped off her filthy red glove, and took his fingers, skin to skin, in hers.
“You never asked me,” Missy said, “where I came from, Oliver.”
His fingers were calloused and scarred, and rough against her skin. They lay immobile in her hand, but a
slight flush crept up Oliver’s neck.
“Who you were isn’t my business,” he said.
Missy swallowed. “Oliver, I won’t…I can’t…tell you, but just…” She breathed. “Just understand that
the place I came from was a terrible place. She made us…I was dying there all the time.”
He was staring at her, and the dancing fire did not seem so threatening now.
“Never think that it was for nothing, Oliver.”
God, thelook he gave her. She felt a heat in her chest, a lightness of limbs. He was beautiful, his lips in a
small smile potent with such warmth that she…
She shot to her feet.
“Well, I’d best let you rest, I’d imagine,” said her mouth. “Weighty mission tonight, if all goes well.”
Still staring at her with that smile—that damnable alluring smile—he said, “I suppose that would be
“Indeed. Well, I quite think I’ll step out for a moment, perhaps buy us some biscuits or whatever they
sell here.”
“That would be delightful, Miss Plantaget.”
“And you needn’t worry for my safety. I’m quite capable of caring for myself.”
“That is something I would never doubt.”
“Good. Well…I shall be back soon.”
She fled to the door.
You forgot!
The handbag! She turned, snatched it, didn’t look at Oliver, returned to the door, and all but bolted into
the street. The grey of Whitechapel afternoon closed over her. Dunbridge, not having any classifiable
streets, had neglected to install streetlights, and thus the day was only slightly brighter than the depths of
The bag settled over her shoulder like an old friend. Just the presence of it kept her safe.
Couldn’t he keep you safe?
I’d rather have the gun.
The heat and the weightlessness ended with that thought, and she screamed in her mind to take it back.
Well, child. Is it not yet clear to you that your fate is one of villainy? With such thoughts as that, it is a
wonder you even affect a liking for him.
He would take care of me.
That was always my promise, as well.
She walked on, to move, to flee fitfully from the voice that haunted her. She told herself over and over
that she would indeed go back to him, and that she would bring something to eat. Something small, and
perhaps he would smile at her again, in that way.
Six turns, two flights of stairs, a pair of Chinamen babbling in their disturbed language, and she was lost.
Hopelessly. The only landmark visible was the Stack, its top crowned by a fierce, incessant red glow.
There were no proper stores to be found, only an endless succession of tenements, growing one into the
other with the vagaries of the tower’s supports. No alleys or façades broke the endless stretch of doors
unmarked and without signs, even in Chinese. At last, she stopped in an open plaza and stomped her
foot. “Prick on a stick,” she said.
“Now, now. What would the good matron think if she heard you using such language?”
The hobgoblin man shuffled from the dark.
Reflections boiled in her memory: his words, his laughs, the too-sweet smell of his breath, the horrid
prodding of his goblin nails, the commands that sunk down to stimulate the baseness of the animal, words
inscribed on the mechanisms of thought.
He trained you. I fed you the tea; then he came to you to implant deeply the lessons I rendered. He
primed you for this obedience, and you cannot cross him.
“With me, if you would,” he said.
Her feet followed his. He led her down a thin walkway to a dead-end circle stacked with garbage.
Rats—flesh ones—chittered and ran at their approach.
He’s real. Why didn’t I remember it?
“Come, my dear. Time is short,” he said. “It wasn’t unexpected, your lot coming here. The cloaks know
about this den of yours, too. But not to worry. I’ve put them off.”
He halted in the centre of the little circular end to the alley and pivoted, hunched over his cane. “What
was unexpected was my German being with you. I assumed my boy had done his duty, though he was
left a mess. Though his days upon the earth are limited, your Continental friend could still be of use to
Missy strained, breathed, whispered: “What do you want?”
The man perked. He adjusted his top hat and regarded her quizzically. “Tick, tick. Did you just speak
under your own volition, my dear?”
Her head moved.
“Heh.” The man reached one knobby hand into his pocket. “Either you are exceptionally strong-willed
or you are simply a remarkable freak in nature’s panoply. This will be quite dangerous, indeed, but I
suppose there’s no avoiding it.”
He slipped from his coat a stoppered bottle of red fluid. Her chest tightened up at the sight of it. “I trust
you remember this, my dear. Gisella’s preference is to dilute it with hot water.” The man opened the
bottle with two rough fingernails, then upended it and allowed a single drop to fall onto his fingertip. It
stayed there, quivering, like a blot of honey.
“Open your mouth, my dear.”
Her head shook slowly, back and forth.
“That won’t do, girl,” the man said. “I have other affairs that need tending. Open.”
Her mouth opened.
The man approached. “Stick out that tongue of yours, girl.”
The tongue obeyed.
The hobgoblin man smeared the drop from his fingertip along the length of her tongue. He tasted like
sweat and granulated sugar.
The gun, the gun, the gun, the gun…Words echoed in her mind. The fingers twitched. The handbag
opened. Inside: deliverance, power, revenge.
And suddenly a prison of ice closed on her, a glacial field too vast to cross, and canyon walls too high to
climb. It froze away the awareness of her body, the perception of walls and street and air. She dreamed
cold dreams. She dreamed of the hobgoblin man.
“Always a new experience,” he said. “I enjoy pure tastes myself time to time. It is a jaunt to heaven or
hell, as you please.”
Fingers rubbed her forehead, temples, cheeks, neck, prodded in armpits, ribs, hip bones, thighs, ankles,
Her shoes were off. Did he take them off? Did she?
“Speak to me of Oliver Sumner, my dear.”
Missy’s mouth opened, and she dictated Oliver’s every motion and word over the past day, up to his
frightening and cryptic remarks in the den.
Fingers over the eyes. The hobgoblin man was whispering under his breath, into himself.
“Why did you choose him over me, my love? Was he to be your champion and liberator?”
Fingers bearing down, penetrating, shearing into the brain.
“I am wounded, my love. I am betrayed.”
Fingers shaping, pulling.
“Heh, heh. But my, it is strange, my love, how things fall into place. Perhaps you intended to put our
weapon into his hands, to stay mine.” A gruesome smile. “But now my German is alive and he will carry
our torch into your husband’s depths instead.”
The fingers withdrew, wisps of thought and intention clinging.
“And so now I will do as rivals are meant.”
Missy floated up, buoyed on frigid winds ripped from the juices of foreign plants and the chemicals of
the brain. The hobgoblin man wrapped his horrid hand about her chin and cradled her skull.
“Little one, listen now. And as always, forget after you have heard, and be as you always were.”
Missy nodded.
“Heh. Or be as I made you, should I say? No matter.”
Fingers from the other hand, snaking along the jaw, scratching, soiling.
“Here is what I wish of you, girl. Go to Oliver Sumner, on whatever pretence suits the moment. Then
dispatch him by the most expedient means available.”
The head nodded.
“Obey me,” the man said. “But remember nothing until you next lay eyes on me. Now get on your feet,
dress, and go about your business. This should be done with all haste.”
Her shoes were back on.
“Off you go, now.”
The moment crumbled and the memory fell with it. She found herself at the edge of a dim, unremarkable
junction of several walkways.
“Prick on a stick.”
Where was she going? What was she doing?
You went to fetch food, you scatterbrained child.
Yes, of course. Something to eat. Something to make Oliver smile at me.
A flash of inspiration hit her and she knew exactly what he needed.
What does our dog-turned-whore-turned-murderess have on her corrupted little mind, I wonder.
Shut your trap, you old bat.
Missy strode into the dark.

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