This is the crux of my self-made oblivion: I am not Job, who can endure endless quantities of earthly
hardship, but a weak man and a slave to drink and opium. The hand that now pens these alien letters
would have been my destroyer, but that They promised me an emptiness without emotion or memory, a
release so much more profound than the restless slumber of death. How could I refuse?
And to my shame: even knowing what is to come, I do not regret.
Oliver awoke to the cold.
It was not cold as he knew it. In the perpetual heat of the city, he knew cold to be merely a temperature
at which one did not constantly sweat. He did not know it as the shriveling chill that now assailed him.
It was as if all the strength had been sucked from his muscles, all the sturdiness from his bones. He
quaked uncontrollably, clutching feebly at his collar to draw it tighter. His heart lay still, his blood
stagnant. His lungs scraped a minimum of air through chattering teeth, when he breathed at all. His body
felt like a great hollow cavity, its sides ancient and flaking away.
He knew himself to be dying, and so did she. The subtle heat of her furnace miles distant played on the
back of his neck. It beckoned to him with the promise of its warmth.
Oliver buried his creaking, shaking fingers in his armpits and waited for the darkness to take him.
Someone shook him.
“Ollie? Still with us?”
Oliver pried his eyes open. The world swished in front of him like soapy water.
The hand shook him again. It was warm and large. Oliver drew in a lungful of scalding hot air, which
spread rapidly into his body, reviving him enough to speak.
“He lives! Our own John Bull—knew we could count on you, chap. Looks like they gave you a grand
Two powerful hands slid under his armpits and scooped him up. Tommy’s greasy stench enveloped him.
Once released, Oliver staggered back into an uneven, moist wall. He drew in a second, deeper breath,
realizing from the taste of it that his mouth was full of blood. He rubbed his eyes until they came back into
He found himself in the courtyardlike end of a back alley that he recognised as being just off Petticoat
Lane. Tommy’s bureau-wide shoulders plugged most of the alley’s width, but Oliver made out two
smaller shapes behind him.
Tom looked like an aged sow happy her piglet had come home.
“Haven’t seen you for almost an hour, mate. Feared they’d picked you off.”
Oliver nodded but said nothing. Each breath brought him further back to wakefulness and gave his body
more life. The muscles in his arms quivered and could move again. The cold fled, burying itself in the pits
of his gut.
Someone had bandaged his burnt hand—recently, as the wraps were still free of blood and grime. The
skin he could see between the wraps and his cuff was red from exposure. In his left hand, he still clutched
a folded newspaper and his newly acquired copy of theSumma Machina .
His heart beat, and the sudden pressure of blood blinded him.
“Careful, old chap,” Tommy said, propping Oliver upright with a meaty palm to his right arm. “Better get
your head on. We’ve a slight change of plan.”
One of the smaller men squeezed past and tossed Oliver a rifle. He snatched at it and dropped it, then
bent to retrieve it and managed on the second try.
The shadows resolved themselves into Winfred Bailey Howe’s broad moustache and humourless eyes.
“Everything well in hand, I see,” he said.
That roused enough ire to bring Oliver fully back to life. “You were to be here some time ago, if I
Bailey’s jaw muscles flexed before he spoke. “The murder of most of my men at our hideout
necessitated an alteration in the plan,” he said. “How did you come to be found in such an undignified
Oliver started as he discovered that he wasn’t entirely sure. He remembered the escape, then running
into the street, crowds of people he recognised, then charred bones, then people again, then a blur. He
tried to keep his indecision from his face as he concocted a plausible story.
It occurred to him that Bailey didn’t really want an answer: he had already concluded that some pack of
canaries had taken Oliver unawares, and that Oliver was a careless amateur.Fine by me. I’m through
trying to change your opinion, old man.
“They got the drop on me,” Oliver said.
Bailey loosed a guttural noise of frustration. “And the hand?”
Assaulted briefly by the memory, Oliver was tempted to actually tell the truth.Fine idea, man: tell him you
were visited and invaded by our mortal enemy—a sure way to earn the man’s trust.
“I burned it on a stove during the tussle.”
“And I suppose they bandaged it for you?”
“No, sir. I escaped, then bandaged it. They found me again shortly thereafter.”
Bailey nodded satisfaction, though his eyes still searched Oliver’s face. “Walk it off,” he said. “Mr.
Moore, here, Mr. Macrae, and yourself are to accompany us to the downstreets. I’ve left Heckler in
charge of the Underbelly.”
Oliver’s hackles rose. “You’ve given orders to my crew.”
“Had you been among your men and conscious, I wouldn’t have had to do it.” Bailey spun on his heel
and marched away, brushing Tommy aside with the sheer force of his presence. “We must leave
immediately. Scared’s group has several hours on us already.”
Bailey and the man accompanying him strode away towards the flickering lights of Petticoat Lane.
Tom dropped his voice.
“‘Mr. Moore,’” he scoffed. “Like I’m a gentleman or some foolishness. So what happened, really?”
Oliver felt some tension ease away in the presence of Tommy’s toothy grin. “I’ll tell you when I sort it
“That’s fair.” He indicated the book. “Never fancied you for a reading man.”
Oliver turned the book cover up. The title and author’s name glittered on the front cover—inlaid gold?
“I was talked into buying it, I’m afraid.” Oliver stowed it back under his arm. “We’ll pass it to Michelle
on our way through the square.”
Oliver gestured to get moving, and Tommy began his clunking walk out of the alley.
“‘Michelle’?” he asked.
Oliver shrugged. “She tells me that’s what she prefers.”
Tommy grinned over his shoulder. “Does she now?”
Oliver did not have the energy to scry the meaning in that statement. Echoes of the flaming hell he’d
glimpsed reverberated in his mind. It must have distracted him visibly, for when he next looked up,
Tommy loomed down at him with a quirk of concern in his perpetual smile.
“Sure you’re all right, Chief?”
Oliver nodded. “Fine enough to move my feet, Tom. I just…I never realised exactly what we were up
against before. The Lord and Lady—they’re notnatural, Tommy.”
Tommy nodded, jaw set, face grim.
Oliver sighed. “We’re in deep-shit trouble.”
“Wait until you see the Ticker Hounds” was Tom’s answer.
It was a thrill to have a gun.
Just to hold it gave Missy tingles. The cold of it, the heaviness, the etched scrollwork on the
cylinder—these things were alluring in a way, titillating almost. Her stomach burst with butterflies, and she
turned it over and over.
“It’s just a bitty one,” said Heckler, who flinched every time she waved the barrel in his direction. “Think
it might do for you, though, being not too bad on the wrists.”
“It’s marvelous,” Missy said. “No wonder men so fancy the things.” Her gloves whispered against the
wooden grip as she wrapped her fingers around it.
Heckler held his hands slightly forward, as if Missy held something fragile. “ ’S just a .38 and not much
good beyond, say, fifty yards.”
“Oh, I very much doubt I would be able to hit anything at that distance,” said Missy. She took aim at an
unfortunate sconce over a nearby doorway. “It is a fine specimen, as guns go?”
“Prettier’n most, if that’s what you mean.”
Missy sighted on a scuttling clickrat at the far end of the alley. “Forgive my ignorance, but I did not think
guns were judged on their appearance.”
“Oh…er…” Heckler shuffled a bit. “ ’S all right in terms of power.”
“How many shots would it take to kill someone?”
The American flushed. “Now, ma’am, that ain’t no proper talk…”
“Oh, hush. You’re beginning to sound like Tom and Phineas. Why lend it to me at all if you’re just going
to become squeamish and womanly?”
Missy smiled as the young man seesawed visibly between masculine pride telling him not to be womanly
and masculine pride telling him not to be talked to in such a way by a woman. Eventually, he steadied
himself, straightened his suspenders, and replied, “Depends on where you hit ’em, ma’am.”
“Where would you suggest?”
“Uh…chest is good. Head’s better but a harder shot. Stomach’s good too, but real slow.” Heckler
swallowed. “Bad way to go.”
The alley had one guttering oil lantern that had not been cleaned in some time. That and the light flooding
in from Coll’s Bystreet combined to give the metal a multitoned fire.
“Look, ma’am, you be careful with it,” Heckler said. “It ain’t no toy.”
“I’m quite aware of what it is, Heckler.”
“Well…just, I’ve seen a lot of folk shoot off their own fingers, or their brother’s toes and such.”
She shook her finger playfully. “Mothering me again, little man. That will not do.” She dropped the gun
into her small leather handbag, where it landed with an energetic thump. She hefted her handbag a little to
feel the weight.
Heckler looked at her curiously.
“For protection, you say, miss?”
Missy smiled broadly. “Surely you cannot object to it in such times as these.”
“Best protection’s not to get shot at.”
Missy swept past him towards the street. “Advice I’m certain you have ignored at every opportunity.
After a moment, Heckler followed her into the street.
Coll’s Bystreet murmured under the meek blaze of four oil-fed streetlamps and one eye-stinging electric.
People moved about it like shadows, spilling from the Beggar’s Parade into Marlowe Square and
washing about like leaves in a river. Hawkers, musicians, and beggars stolidly held their places, while
pickpockets floated around the crowds like hungry ghosts. In the centre of the square stood a smashed,
dry fountain. It had been a figure once, of what Missy did not know.
“There,” said Heckler.
She looked up in time to spot three canaries crossing the square. Two were toughs, the kind of men
she’d known too much of back in Shoreditch, in her previous life. The other seemed a gentleman of some
stature, sporting an immaculate grey suit and silk hat. The electric light cut severe lines across their
“Now, where are you three off to in such a hurry?” she thought aloud, then to Heckler: “I’ll take them.”
Heckler nodded and moved off up the Parade towards the lift.
Missy took a vantage point on the front steps of a tenement on the square’s corner, where she watched
the cloaks jostle their way through the uncooperative crowd, who showed them only the barest of respects: a tip of the hat (causing the elbow to block the cloaks’ path), a slight bow (therefore remaining
in the cloaks’ way a few seconds longer than necessary), a sales pitch (louder and more insistent than
with anyone else). The tension of the crowd grew second by second.
They’ve not forgotten the Uprising,Missy realised.Not a safe place to be a cloak, I’ll wager.
They were heading directly for St. Margaret Street. Missy slipped into the crowd to pursue. She had
chosen today a large-brimmed, backwards-slanting ash hat, an oversized wool coat, and a tweed skirt.
She had also neglected any makeup, and so blended in seamlessly with the Underbelly unfortunates in the
square. Hiding from view was a new activity for her, unknown before joining Oliver’s crew.
She’d always been a feast for the eyes. In her younger years she had fancied herself a succubus, like in
the old fairy tales, stripping men of all qualities but lechery and stupidity.And it was such fun—wasn’t it,
bird—to watch them drool over you? And then things had changed, and the kindly old woman had
turned out not to be so kindly, the men cruel and lustful and endless.
She brought down a wall on the memories.It’s over, love. Another life. A bad dream. You have Oliver
And she had a gun.
And she’d killed. That knowledge shivered in her stomach with excitement and revulsion. It had been
horrible, the feel of the act so base and vicious, and yet…the lecherous sot had gotten exactly what he
She felt a flush creeping into her face and dropped the sentiment behind the mental wall, returning her
attention to her task.
Oliver’s lessons in pursuit came back to her.Stay behind crowds, greet people you know, look at shop
windows, linger sometimes. Do not watch your fox too closely. It’s your attention on them that they will
notice first, even if they don’t know you’re there.
So she greeted passing ladies, who gave her a polite smile, and passing gents, who gave her a lingering
taste with their eyes and tipped their hats. She bought an ugly tin brooch from a vendor for a penny. She
hurried when the cloaks vanished momentarily over a rise in the road or behind a group of locals, so as
not to lose them.
You’d stick out like a brass boil if anyone was watching you,she said to herself. She checked around
and found a few sets of eyes idly looking her way. Avoiding notice was not her strength.
She crested a rise in the road, where the lateral slant was so pronounced the buildings on the left were a
storey higher than those on the right. From that vantage she could see the Blink, shimmering in the
lamplight like a city of smoke—from which all the streets had been excised. The Blink’s various roofs
and balconies sported an improbable assortment of weather vanes and chimneys, lending the whole an
appearance of an oversized pincushion. The cloaks hurried towards it.
The sight of the Blink stirred up memories of the German fellow she’d followed that morning. Raw
stupidity, that was. She’d been lucky to escape with her life and person intact, and yet a part of her sat
with crossed arms and pouted at the memory.Why did he have to be such a gentleman? I could see it in
his face, that sick, sinful desire, and yet he held back and didn’t give me the chance to stick him.
She gasped at that thought. One hand flew to her lips.
Oh, poor bird. What has happened to you?Suddenly her handbag felt a much heavier burden.
Well, she couldn’t very well dispose of ithere, and quite besides: it might be needed in the crooks and
corners of the Blink. One never knew, in such a place.
She loitered out front of an apartment building—as if waiting impatiently for someone to meet her
there—until the cloaks had slipped out of sight into one of the Blink’s alleys. She counted ten heartbeats,
then stole in after them.
She dogged them through the Blink’s random turns, following with ease the tick-tock regularity of their
footfalls. After a dozen twists, they stopped, and Missy crept to the next corner to listen.
“Where are we, you dullards?” one of them boomed.
“Dunno,” said another.
“Harmony is built upon obedience, whatever-your-name-is. The spring turns the gear, and the more the
gear protests, the less the efficiency of the whole.” Missy heard something that could only have been a
sharp blow. “Sobe respectful !”
Their footsteps began again, and retreated off. Missy stepped around the corner and pursued them into
a section of alley particularly twisted and misshapen.
A hand darted from a close nook and clasped onto her shoulder.
“That’s right! Come on!” she screamed, whirling with one rapid step and plunging her hand into her bag.
Heat and rage flared up in her so rapidly that she did not recognise the wide eyes until her fingers were at
the trigger with her arm tensed to draw.
Two long-fingered hands waved surrender. “My fault. I ought to have learned from the last time I snuck
up on you.”
Missy gasped. “Oliver? You ass! Have you any idea what you almost made me do?”
Oliver grabbed her wrist and pulled her down a side alley. “Oh, I can imagine it.”
She flushed. “I don’t think you can. What are you doing here? What is all that?” She gestured to the
pack Oliver wore, and the long rifle strapped to its side.
Oliver ground his teeth a moment before replying. “Bailey’s called us in. We’re going down, Michelle.”
“Into the downstreets.”
Missy stood stunned a moment, as the statement sank in.
I told you it would not last, bird, this fantasy of yours.
She crossed her arms to keep them from shaking. “And I suppose you’re going to tell me you’re coming
Oliver’s smile looked forced. “That’s my plan, even if Bailey doesn’t share it.”
“You are a poor liar, Mr. Sumner.”
Oliver adjusted his pack’s straps and regarded her with a furrowed brow.
“I should catch up. I stayed behind only to ensure they didn’t follow us.”
“I suppose you should,” said Missy hotly. “Duty to England and all that rubbish.”
“I don’t want to hear it, Oliver.”I don’t want to hear you tell me you are not going to die, that I’m not
going to have to go back to…to… “If you must follow that madman to an early grave, who am I to get in
“I’ll be back inside a day,” he protested.
“Idon’t want to hear it! Your fool’s crusade is your own.”
“My fool’s crusade is—”
“You won’t come back. You know it; it’s written all over your face.”
“Oh, for the love of Pete—here.”
He jammed a hand at her, holding a leather-bound book. Missy looked from his eyes to the golden
letters on the cover and back.
“What kind of absurd gesture is this?” she said.
“I’m leaving this with you,” he said. “I intend to read it when I get back. I’m told”—his face relaxed a
bit—“that it’s a ripping good read.”
“Oh, nowthere’s a reason for returning,” she replied, snatching the book.
Missy knew he was staring at her, but did not raise her eyes from the golden script. As the silence
dragged, she felt an unwelcome heat creeping up her neck.
“Try not to give up on me,” he said at last. “If all goes well, we’ll be eating gruel in Sherwood by
Missy jammed the book in her handbag.
“Hadn’t you better be off?” she said.
Oliver swallowed hard before replying. “I suppose I should.”
They shared a long look, filled with unspoken words.
Oliver turned and vanished into the alleys. Missy stood alone for a while.
Shall you make your way back to me now, little one, or will you await the news?
Hewould have had faith inher, and so she would wait until morning.