[identity profile] copperbadge.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] originalsam_backup
Chapter Sixteen

The journey to Brisbane was long, and would have been unbearably stuffy in a fully sealed carriage. As it was, the air that circulated up from the trap was dusty and warm, insufficient relief from the heat. By the first afternoon, Ellis had come to the determination that clothing as a concept was overrated, though he did no more than cuff his sleeves; Jack had stripped to his undershirt, and the girls had both rolled up their trouser legs.

Night, on the other hand, brought ferocious cold. Clare burrowed deep into an insulating pile of mail sacks, while Purva hoarded their bags and Jack curled up with his back against Ellis for what mutual body-heat they could grab under the thin blankets they'd brought along.

During the day they occasionally heard voices, and sometimes there were footsteps on the roof as guards paced back and forth. One evening it seemed like the whole of the Darwin garrison camped out on their roof and ate dinner, while below the stowaways sweltered in absolute unmoving silence. Jack, estimating speed, reckoned on one more day and perhaps one more evening before they reached Brisbane. They rationed accordingly, particularly their canteen-tins of water.

"Are the girls asleep, do you think?" Jack whispered, late that night when the guards had packed it back inside, probably to warm themselves in the car nearest the engine.

"I think Clare is," Ellis replied, pushing himself against one wall of the train car to sit upright, aware he probably wasn't going to sleep. Over the constant clack of the wheels and the distant whirr of the automated engine, he could just about make out heavy, even breaths from the pile of bags and clothing that Purva had curled up in. "Sounds like your pirate is too."

Jack pressed his head against Ellis' hip, apparently seeking warmth. "She's been pretty useful."

"Extremely so. I've no doubt we'd have found a way without her, but it probably wouldn't have been as convenient. I suppose we'll owe her when all this is done, though. I did promise her a chance to negotiate on behalf of Barataria."

"She'll do well. She has a tongue on her," Jack yawned. Ellis chuckled at the understatement.

"She does, at that. Perhaps she'd like to work for the Empire eventually. Always looking for new blood, us."

"You think she'd stay on land?"

"She's on land now."

"For good, I mean."

Ellis shook his head. "I doubt you could get a sea-going woman like her to settle down, even if we redefine the word settle to an unhealthy degree. Can you imagine Purva in a town-house in London?"

Jack chuckled. "No. But -- a ship's just a home that moves, really. I can imagine her treating a house like a ship. For a while, anyway."

Ellis looked down at him. "Purva stimulates your imagination, does she?"

Jack didn't even have the grace to blush. "I just wonder, that's all."

"Do you?"

"Well. I like Purva. In the kind of way where I want to..." Jack sketched shapes in the air with one hand, meaningless whirls and lines. "I want to build things for her."

Ellis tried to stifle his laughter. "Oh, Jack. True love among the engineers. Poor boy."

"Nothing poor about it. At least I can, you know. I have something to offer a woman. And that's not funny," he added, looking up earnestly at Ellis. "I'm nearly twenty. I have to start thinking of these things sooner or later."

"Yes, or wind up a bachelor like me," Ellis replied.

"I didn't mean that."

"It's all right, Jack, I don't mind. But I'd tread carefully with Purva. She loves the sea. Rather like you love engines."

"But don't you think that would be all right?" Jack asked, looking oddly hopeful. "She could go off to sea and I'd stay behind with my engines and we'd both be happy, and then when she came back we'd have...we'd have something really special. And when we got tired of each other she could go away for a bit again. It'd be like -- "

"Like your parents?" Ellis asked. Jack cut his eyes away.

"It worked all right for them," he said. "It's like some of the old stories, you know. Like with selkies? You can't go with them, you have to let them go. When Dad tried to go with her..."

Ellis found himself reaching out before he'd thought about it, smoothing Jack's hair down in an affectionate gesture.

"I hate to be the voice of reason in the face of true love," he said quietly, "but there's one other problem, you know. You've no idea if she feels the same."

"No, but I'm devising experiments for that," Jack said. Ellis stopped, lifted his hand, stifled his laughter again.

"You can't quantify the human heart, Baker!" he said. "It doesn't put out consistent rates of energy."

"There are ways to measure things," Jack insisted. "How do you feel when you're in love?"

Ellis fell silent, thoughtfully. "It's been rather a long time."

"Well, I've read a bit about it."

"Oh have you!"

"Yeah, in your books, so shut it," Jack grinned at him. "Your heart beats faster and that sends all the blood to your face, and because it's beating faster you can't breathe as well so you get dizzy, that's the lack of air to the brain, and you say stupid things. So I've been monitoring her heartbeat and her breathing. And someone in love smiles a lot more when the other person's around, so I keep track of how much she smiles at everyone."

Ellis couldn't help himself. "Any solid results yet?"

"Well, she smiles at you and me more than Clare, but Clare smiles at you more than she does at Purva, so I think maybe that's just a girl thing."

"She does?" Ellis asked, curious.

"Yep. And Purva doesn't breathe as deeply around me as she does around you, either. So I'm pretty confident she's at least forty-five percent in love with me," Jack continued.

"The mathematics of romance," Ellis murmured. "Excellent title for a novel. I may steal you and put you in a book, Jack."

"Clare said you would."

"She's wise."

Jack yawned again. "But it's all pretty uncertain. I wish I had a plan."

"You miss building things."


"Perhaps when we get to Brisbane. There's bound to be things for you to play with there."

Jack nodded, huddling deeper in the blanket. Ellis put out a hand to try and Create something a little thicker; he was certain his lapsed skills still extended that far, but when he tried there was no answering tingle from the air, and no blanket appeared.

He turned over his hand, palm up, and tried to call up fire, one of the most basic and primitive Creations there was. Nothing; not a spark, not even a moment of heat.

Ellis tilted his head back and sighed as Jack drew his legs up and shut his eyes.

That was the end of it, then.


Jack noticed first that they were slowing, late the following afternoon. More accustomed to the rhythm of an engine than any of the others, he swore he could hear a difference in the clacks of the wheels.

"Listen," he said. "It was a different key before. It's flat now."

He saw Graveworthy raise an eyebrow at Clare, but neither of them scoffed, just cocked their heads to listen. Purva scooted to the edge of the open trap door, studying the dirt and wooden ties as they sped past underneath.

"Perhaps?" Purva ventured.

"I bet we're in Brisbane by sundown," Jack said. "Maybe sooner."

"Well, we'd best decide the wisest route out of this stuffy death-box," Graveworthy replied. "We have a few options. We can break the exterior seals and jump out while it's still moving along at a fair clip -- my elbows would appreciate if we didn't -- or we can try dropping through the trap once it's stopped. Or I suppose," he added, "We could pretend we were just unloading. It has the appeal of brashness."

"Brisbane's a big city, though," Clare said. "I doubt they have farmers unloading on this end."

"No -- probably fruit-sellers and day hires," Graveworthy replied. "Perhaps the trap is best."

"Another long crawl?" Clare asked, and Jack noticed that she glanced at the ragged bandages around his elbows where his sleeves were rolled up.

"We could pack Clare and Purva up in mail bags and let someone load them out," Jack said, to lighten the mood.

"Manhandled in a mail bag! No thank you," Clare said.

"Been in worse," was all Purva said, still watching through the trap, seemingly hypnotized by the railroad ties flicking past.

"I do think the trap is best. It'll give us a chance to see where we are." Graveworthy said. "Purva, any trouble going first?"

"No," she said with a wicked grin.

They sat in silence as Jack listened to the wheels slowing, and eventually the others began to discern it as well. The ride got rougher and the floor rocked beneath them; it made it difficult to tidy and rid the car of the evidence of their passage, but they managed. Jack helped Graveworthy pad and re-bandage his elbows, while Clare and Purva tore strips out of a discarded sack to pad their own.

It had been dim in the car the entire time they traveled, with the kind of oppressive heavy darkness that comes with enclosed heat. As the car slowed even further, however, the thin shafts of sunlight disappeared.

"I think we're in a station," Graveworthy murmured, and Jack nodded. "Useful. There'll be crowds we can lose ourselves in. Long as we don't lose each other."

Jack was about to reply when the train stopped suddenly, jerking to a halt and making odd crunching noises as the hitches slammed together between cars. Clare tumbled backwards, grasping for a handhold, and Purva rocked against the crate she was leaning on, almost falling on Graveworthy.

There was the sound of slamming doors and raised voices; Graveworthy jerked his head at Purva, who dropped through the trap and down into the outside world silently and stealthily. Jack watched, putting his head through as she crawled towards the engine. He could make out little more than a cool gloom. There were footsteps echoing around, but from what little movement he could see they seemed to be making for the rear of the train.

Purva, squirming along in the other direction, looked over her shoulder at him and grinned. Jack grinned back, trying to ask a question without asking. She tilted her shoulders, one arm lifting across her chest and up to beckon him on.

"Purva wants us to come down," he whispered. Graveworthy was strapping one of the bags, tight and flat as possible, to Clare's back.

"I can't carry one of these, I'll never fit," Graveworthy said. Jack pulled himself up and Clare took his place below, following Purva. The pack was unceremoniously slung over his shoulders and tied so tight in front he could hardly breathe.

"If we get separated -- "

"We won't," Jack said. "Come on."

The front of the train wasn't as far a crawl as Graveworthy and Purva must have suffered when they snuck on in Port Darwin, but it still felt long, and it was hellishly hot under the big boiler of the engine. Eventually Purva tucked her arms against her body and rolled out between two of the engine's wheels and Jack followed gratefully, gasping in the suddenly cool air.

"This way," Purva whispered, taking his hand. "I see the door."

He followed almost blindly, his hand fumbling for and finding Clare's behind his. After a second, Graveworthy's hand landed heavily on his shoulder, and he turned to see his face pale in the gloom, eyes remarkably sharp and keen.

Purva stopped outside a wide slash of light that slowly reformed itself into a door, peering through.

"What do you see?" Jack asked, leaning around her.

"C'est beau," she breathed, and pushed the door open.

Light flooded over Jack, blinding him briefly; Graveworthy pushed him firmly through the doorway and followed, and Jack heard the click of the door shutting behind them, but it was the last sound that registered for some time.

They were in a large open oblong chamber, enormous and sunny -- a train station, but not one like Jack had ever encountered. He looked up to find that the roof was made of panes of glass, arching over them in patterns of shrinking rectangles and inlaid triangles, occasionally fading away into swirls of metal where they ended. The walls were stone to about six feet and then they too were made up of enormous panes of glass, many of them tilted inwards to let a breeze through. Fans, turned by some force he couldn't see, blew air lazily across the room.

The sky through the glass was a dazzling blue, almost unreal to eyes that had been in the dark for three days. Huge doors with decorative sunbursts of inlaid yellow stone edged the nearest wall, apparently an exit out to the street. Across from them, row on row of high gates led to platforms decorated with wrought-iron arches designed to look like foliage. Jack could feel his fingers go lax and drop Clare's hand as he stared around him.

"Have you ever seen anything like it?" Graveworthy asked in a hushed voice.

"Have you?" Jack asked.

"The Sistine Chapel comes close..."

"Houses made of glass," Purva mumbled. "I have never seen such a thing."

"Look at the pattern they make..." Jack lifted a hand and sketched his fingers through the air, along the lines of the ceiling.

"We're making ourselves conspicuous," Graveworthy said, grasping his wrist and lowering his hand. "Come along, Jack. The sooner we get out of here, the safer we'll be."

Jack followed without really looking, his head still upturned to gawp at the glittering glass above their heads. A dark figure was crawling along the roof with a rag and a pail, scrubbing it from the outside. People bumped and jostled past, but Jack didn't really look down or pay attention to his surroundings until he almost collided with a well-dressed woman, who glanced at him and sniffed as she passed.

There was no doubt they were drawing attention; all four of them were dusty and rumpled, and Jack was sure that his habit of gaping upwards wasn't helping, but it was difficult not to.

"We need money and a place to rest and wash," Graveworthy was saying, as he led them through one of the sunburst doorways and out into the city. "I think I -- "

Once again they were struck silent. They had emerged onto a wooden walkway running parallel to a cobbled street, but the cobbles were smooth and nearly seamless. Prowling along the street was a machine with no hitches or rails or even a boiler large enough to power it; Jack watched as the long, sleek hooded cart passed them, all shiny metal and purring power.

"Welcome to Brisbane," Clare said, giggling a little hysterically.

"Oh god," Jack managed, as a similar cart, smaller and noisier, passed in the other direction.

"Heel, Jack," Graveworthy said, grasping him lightly by the collar of his shirt. "Now's not the time."

A million questions filled Jack's mind. He could see small pipelike vents between the rear wheels of the carts, and grilles on the front that looked like they should be vents but apparently weren't. Where were the boilers? Where was the smoke from the heat source?

He felt Graveworthy give him a light shake. Clare sidled up and grasped his arm, anchoring him; when he looked at Purva she was staring upwards at the incredibly tall building across the road. He followed her gaze, counting windows vertically.

"Fifteen stories," Graveworthy muttered.

"How -- " Jack started, and Graveworthy shook him again, just a warning.

"It's a hotel," Clare said, leaning around Jack to face Graveworthy. "We could use a hotel right now."

"Not that one. Look at us -- we'd be utterly conspicuous," Graveworthy answered. Jack counted the windows again just to be sure. "Come on. There's bound to be something cheap and ugly. We look like we've come off a cattle drive. Probably smell like it too. Besides, we haven't the money yet."

"We haven't any money," Clare said. Jack looked to Graveworthy; this was his mission after all, and he must have had some kind of plan.

Graveworthy smiled, a feral smile in a dust-smudged face. He held up his left hand and shifted his thumb across his palm; a fan of thin, narrow metal sheets shot out from between his fingers.

"Hard currency," he said, twisting his hand and reshuffling the strips of metal into a pile. "Not exactly bank notes, but they'll work -- Anderson told me what to look for. This ought to be enough to see us through tomorrow, anyway."

"Where'd you get those?" Clare demanded.

"Ask me no questions," Graveworthy said. "Come along. We're back in civilization! Let's find somewhere with a bathtub."


It was good to walk on hard land again, without having to account for the swaying and bumping of the rail car. They followed the road east, away from the enormous buildings and the beautiful train station, walking for some time before they found a shabby hotel that suited Ellis properly. Clare felt that perhaps they could have risked a little conspicuousness to find somewhere closer, but inside there were half a dozen men and women, as dusty and hard-bitten as their little crew must look, and she had to admit that nobody batted an eye when Ellis asked for two rooms and laid down a pair of the metal strips in payment.

It had been so long since they'd lived anywhere with proper doors that she almost forgot to close it behind her when she stepped into the small, dimly-lit room that she would share with Purva. Next door she could hear Jack and Ellis talking faintly through the wall. There was a bath, in a little closet off the main room, and even hot running water.

"You go first," she said to Purva, who nodded agreeably and turned on the taps, stripping unconcernedly and shaking her hair out of its matted ponytail. Clare slipped out into the hallway once Purva was locked in the little room, knocked perfunctorily on the door next to theirs, and entered without waiting for permission.

Jack was struggling out of his shirt, and she could see an amusing inverted triangle of sun-browned skin just above his collarbones where his shirt normally gapped. His hands and arms were dark too, but she'd forgotten how ungodly pale the rest of him was. He hardly looked like a studious Harvard engineer anymore, with shaggy hair hanging past his ears, three days' worth of stubble, and blue eyes bright in his deeply tanned face.

"Clare!" he said, when he'd pulled the shirt all the way off. "Do you mind?"

She rolled her eyes. Ellis, seated on the bed, chuckled.

"Go on, Jack, the bath's got to be nearly full," he said. "Clare, come over here and be distracted while Jack disrobes. Minister to my wounds, won't you?"

She sat on the bed next to him, putting her back to Jack, who snorted in annoyance but apparently decided not to fight further. She could hear him close the door and splash into the water as she worked at the knots on the bandages binding up Ellis's scrapes. He hissed as his wounds began to bleed again when the fabric was pulled away.

"You should have gone first," she said. "These should be washed."

"I'm afraid I'm for nothing more than clean clothes and a quick splash with a rag," he replied. "Just to scrub off the worst of the smell."

"Why on earth? I'm sure there's enough hot water to go around."

"That cash won't last us long. I need to get some more, quickly, and that's most easily done if people think I'm a dim country boy."

"Where'd it come from?" she asked again. He held a scrap of rag against his bleeding arm while she worked on the other.

"Picked a pocket."


"What?" he asked. "We needed money."

"That's just outright theft," she scolded.

"You see, this is why I told you not to ask."

"Ignorance is better than disapproval, then?"

"Well, of course," he said. "Let me put it to you this way. If you were absolutely convinced that giving me your money would save a war with the Empire, you'd give me your money. And if you weren't willing to, then you're not the sort of person that deserves to have it in the first place."

She looked at him for a while. He gazed back, unperturbed.

"There's something wrong with your ethical code," she said.

"Perhaps, but you're about to reap the benefits of it."

"And that's what you're going to do today? Go steal more wallets off innocent people?"

"That's hardly efficient."

There was a quiet, satisfied groan from the bathroom.

"Don't drown," Ellis called.

"I'm never moving again!" Jack's muffled voice echoed through the wall.

"How will you get money? Stick up a bank?" she asked, unwilling to be distracted.

"Do give me some credit, Clare." He studied the less-serious scrapes on the other arm, nodding approvingly. "I'm going to find a card game, join it, lose once or twice, and then clean them out."

Clare frowned. "That doesn't sound safe."

"I'm subtle. Worry not," he said, as if he could read her mind. "Tomorrow I will install you in a fine hotel far more suited to the status in life you ought to possess, and -- what day is it?"

Clare realized she had no clue what day it was, and might even be hazy on the month. "Don't know."

"Well, whenever Friday is, by then I will have amassed enough reasonable wealth that we may proceed. All this urgency about the safety of the country is well and good, but tired people make mistakes."

"Like picking pockets," Clare said, but she knew he could hear the amusement in her voice.

"We do what we must. We also stole a train," he reminded her. He eased the rag off his arm; the blood had begun to clot, dark and vivid on his skin. "Thank you."

"Thief," she said.



He held up a finger. "Ah ah. Not when I play cards."


"No, just very good at what I do."

She laughed and ruffled his hair, dust cascading out of it and down to his shoulders. It was something she would have done to Jack, and she didn't realize it was at all strange until he met her eyes again, a question in his face. Perhaps she'd taken too much of a liberty; she'd seen him shirtless, injured, hungry, sick, and tired, but in a way those had been liberties too.

Before she could stammer out an apology she heard Jack climbing out of the bathtub. She stood quickly, making for the door.

"I'll leave money with Jack to buy you all dinner," he called after her. "I'll be back later tonight."

She raised a hand to show she'd heard him, and the door shut behind her just as Jack yelped in outrage at the cold air from the corridor leaking into their room.

When she came back to her own room, Purva was drying her hair, threading her fingers through it to comb it into some semblance of order and attempting to braid the loose tendrils with minimal success. Her clothing hung wetly on the windowsill and a blanket from the bed was wrapped around her body. The bathtub had a puddle of mud in the bottom, but Clare sluiced it out with water in her cupped hands and filled the tub again.

She followed Purva's example, washing her clothes after she'd soaked away at least two layers of dirt. The warm Australian breeze filtered through the window, drying the clothes reasonably quickly, though they had to send Jack away the first time he banged on the door and demanded they come with him to eat before he expired of anticipation. Apparently Graveworthy had already left, and Jack was restless and bored now that he was clean.

"Come ON!" he called a second time, half an hour later. "Clare, there are steaks. There are potatoes. There's bread and fresh butter and chicken and beer! And you are preventing me from eating ALL OF IT!"

Purva rolled her eyes as she buttoned her shirt. "The beer will not vanish, Jack Baker!"


"You'd think he'd find the hot water taps more fascinating," Clare said conversationally.


Clare sighed and opened the door. Jack's clothes, which obviously hadn't been washed, gave off the faint acrid odor of train that they'd all had to breathe for three days straight. She and Purva shared a look of mutual scorn for his state of dress.

"Come on, come on," he urged, already walking down the hallway. "While you two were...whatever it is you were doing, I found a place to eat."

The place Jack had found was a pub not far from the hotel, shabby but clean, with wide shutters that opened onto the street. Jack held the door for them both, following them inside, and led them to the nearest table, pulling out chairs for them as if it might make them hurry more and the food come faster.

Clare was just settling into her seat and noticing the strange lamps on the walls -- entirely enclosed, and not powered by any source that she could see -- when a middle-aged man put a hand on Jack's shoulder.

"We don't serve Tribals in here," he said, looking pointedly at Purva. She lifted her chin imperiously.

"She's with us," Jack replied, shrugging the man's hand off.

"That's as may be, but we don't serve Tribals in here," the man repeated, pointing to a sign hanging near the entrance. NO DOGS, NO TRIBALS.

Clare felt her breath catch angrily in her throat.

"What the hell kind of stupid rule is that?" Jack asked, and his accent slipped so badly that Clare stood abruptly and shot him a warning look.

"Fucking northerners," the man muttered. "We don't want no trouble, but we don't serve Tribals."

"Well, if she can't eat here, neither can we," Clare said sharply. "Surely you don't want to lose three very hungry people."

"There's a room round back for her kind," the man replied, just as sharply. "Puts people off their food, eatin' with Tribals."

"She's not -- " Jack began, and Clare elbowed him. Purva's chin lifted another notch.

"We will eat in the back," she said firmly. "I do not want to see this man's face while I eat."

The man looked as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing and Clare was sure she saw him start to pull back to hit Purva, but Purva was already brushing past him, her considerable glare landing on anyone who happened to be looking in her direction. Clare grabbed Jack and all but hauled him along, following Purva as she rounded the corner of the building and thumped her fist against the wall.

"I see idiocy is alive and well in Australia," Jack murmured.

"Is always the way with the English," Purva snarled. Jack put out a hand to touch her shoulder and she shrugged it off. "English ships are good prey. They always think we are savages. Why not prove it? They are pigs. They are putains! "

Clare's heart ached for her, and her own fury was making her half-blind; if Ellis's casual and unintended ignorance had annoyed her, this was like a slap in the face.

No Dogs, No Tribals.

Jack tried again, this time succeeding in wrapping an arm around Purva's shoulders.

"We can go somewhere else," he said.

"I am hungry," Purva replied. "I will not be driven away. Besides, you want steak."

"It'll be the same everywhere, Jack," Clare said softly. "And we can't make ourselves conspicuous, you know that."

Jack glanced at her then, and she saw that he'd only been thinking of Purva when they were inside; now he was thinking of her, too.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Let's just eat," she said tiredly, not wanting to talk about it. "We'll eat and sleep and tomorrow we'll figure it all out."

Jack nodded, releasing Purva and following her as she strode imperially to a battered back door.

This room was dimmer and dingier, a little stuffy, without the odd enclosed lamps of the main room; instead, kerosene lanterns hung from hooks, few and far between. To Clare's surprise, there were more than Tribals inside -- white men and women were scattered around, eating with Tribals in groups or sitting at small tables. Hardly anyone bothered more than a glance as they entered; Jack led them to a table, his face set angrily, and accosted a woman emerging from the kitchen. Clare heard him demanding food in a low, furious voice she'd rarely heard Jack use. The woman looked at him wide-eyed but didn't give him any trouble, and he dropped into his chair across from them still looking angry.

"Ridiculous," he muttered. "Don't see why we should give this place any of our money."

They lapsed into hungry silence until the food was brought out; Jack ate with the single-minded intensity of someone who didn't want to talk or think. Clare had thought that this place would kill her appetite, but...

Well. There was fresh meat, warm bread, cheese, things she hadn't seen or eaten in months, or had only gotten a few mouthfuls of from Darwin. She glanced sidelong and saw that Purva was obviously feeling the same, torn between eating as fast as possible and savoring the treat.

"We should get some food for Ellis," she said, breaking the silence once the edge had gone from her hunger. Jack grunted, shoveling another heaping forkful of vegetables into his mouth. "Did he say when he'd be back?"

Jack shook his head, swallowing. "Tonight was all he said. He has a key. He'll probably eat...somewhere."

Clare leaned back a little and looked around the room, trying not to seem as if she was. "That man called us Northerners. You think maybe things are different in the North?"

"Plater had his own farm," Jack replied. "I bet they get a lot of northerners bringing their stock down. The northerners didn't seem too fond of the south, either."

"But I know..." Clare trailed off. "It can't be this way everywhere. I mean, it looks like some of the men are married to Tribals, doesn't it?"

She nodded slightly at a pair of diners across the room, a white man and a Tribal woman, eating in the kind of comfortable companionship that comes from close quarters.

"Not allowed," Purva said. Clare glanced at her. "I think. Like between castes in India. Outlawed."

"Well, maybe not married, but you know. Close-as," Clare said. She wanted to think and was too tired to think; she felt vaguely that they should have refused their business to people who rated any kind of human on the same level as dogs, but she didn't have any energy to spare anymore. She wanted to know where Ellis was, and she wanted to go back to her room with the bed in it and burrow under the blankets and sleep for a week.

Jack reached across the table and tapped his fork on her plate. She looked up at him, caught his smile.

"We'll be okay," he said. "We'll sort it out in the morning, remember?"

"Okay," she echoed.

"And are you going to eat that potato?"


Graveworthy returned to them late that night. The door latch woke Jack, and he sat up in bed to watch as the older man took off a hat he hadn't owned that morning and shed his shirt, carefully unwrapping the new bandages on his elbows.

"Hello," he said to Jack, when he saw he was awake.

"How'd it go?" Jack asked. Graveworthy gave him a tired grin and tossed the hat on Jack's bed.

"Check the inside," he said, and Jack pulled a handful of metal strips, copper and silver and gold, out of the band. Jack hefted the metal, a thoughtful grin on his face.

"I was perplexed when Anderson said Australian coinage is made of precious metal taken at face value, but I begin to understand its use," Graveworthy said, taking off his shirt. "The North has to be a barter economy, for the most part, so precious metals do well there, and of course all external trade is paid for that way. The things men will tell you at a poker table -- you wouldn't believe," he added, turning on the taps in the small bath-cupboard.

"Do they really play poker?"

"Well, some variant. There are only so many ways to play cards."

"Have you eaten?"

"Oh yes. How was dinner?"

Jack frowned, tucking the metal strips back into the hat's inner band. "Unpleasant."


"They wouldn't let Purva eat with us unless we ate in the back."

"Mm, yes, I saw some signs about that. Separate entrances for Tribals, separate dining rooms." Graveworthy shook his head.

"Do you think it's like this everywhere?" Jack asked.

"We won't know until we've seen more of the country. Tomorrow we'll find somewhere a bit..." He looked around, sniffed, shook his head. "At any rate, I have a feeling we'll be parting ways soon. Surely Clare will want to go to Melbourne, and I have business here in Brisbane."

Jack nodded and looked away as Graveworthy stripped down for a bath, listening to the taps turn off, the splashing and eventual silence. After a few minutes he tucked the hat up against the pillow of the second bed and rolled over, going back to sleep.

When he woke again the sun was well up in the sky. He tumbled out of bed, his back and legs protesting, and glanced over to see Graveworthy propped on the other bed's pillows, a bowl of hot oatmeal in his hands. He looked blissful.

"Life," Graveworthy said, when he saw Jack was awake and staring at him, "is a series of desperate gambles and boxing matches for the wits, bookended on the one side by events in which one is shot at, and on the other end by mornings like this."

"Uh," Jack said sleepily.

"Well, my life is," Graveworthy added.

"Bath," Jack said. Graveworthy grinned and tilted his head.

"Go on."

He emerged, dressing, to find Clare and Purva had joined Graveworthy and were enjoying a shared platter of toast and eggs.

"Oh god, eggs," he said, and Purva smiled at him and offered him a triangle of toasted bread, dipped in runny fried-egg yolk. There was the promise of a clean, spacious hotel in his future, and Clare and Purva both looked happy to be awake and alive and well-fed.

Life was distinctly looking up.

Graveworthy herded them out once they were done, paying for their rooms and shouldering one of the bags, tossing the other one to Purva. He guided them through backstreets, apparently a route he'd mapped the night before, and brought them out into a sunny stone-lined plaza, the cobbles making pretty geometric shapes around squares of cultivated grass and trees. Jack had mostly been concentrating on not getting separated from the others, but now he stopped and looked upwards at the impossibly tall buildings.

"Keep up, Baker," Graveworthy called, sounding amused, but Jack hardly heard him. Along the side of one of the buildings was a narrow shaft, like a giant chimney, topped with a pulley whose thick cable-ropes ran down to some kind of engine inside a metal cage. As he watched, the engine leapt to life and the pulley squealed as the ropes were wound through it. "Jack, come along."

"Where did they get it all?" he asked, tearing his eyes away from the pulley only to fixate on another one of the power-driven carts as it passed the plaza. "I mean. Where did they come up with it? You can't build things that tall in -- "

"Jack!" Graveworthy hissed, and Jack winced. "Do try not to get us arrested on our second day in town, would you please?"

"Sorry, sorry," Jack said, refocusing. "Where are we?"

"Near the city center. We'll take rooms here," Graveworthy said, indicating a huge white-stone building on the southern side of the plaza. "And this afternoon, I think perhaps purchase some clothing. My shirts are unanimously unwearable, and none of us are blending in terribly well."

Jack felt a jerk at the back of his neck and turned to find Graveworthy's fingers firmly wrapped around his collar; he hadn't realized he'd been wandering over to inspect an odd-looking light on the street corner.

"You, troublemaker -- am I going to have to tie you to de la Fitte?" he asked. "Hotel first, clothing second, and then if you promise to keep your mouth shut I'll show you a surprise."

"A surprise? Am I five?" Jack asked.

"You're acting like it." Graveworthy gave him a shake by his collar. "I mean it, Jack. I know you're fascinated, but you need to keep your mind on us right now. If I didn't know better I'd say you were more excited to be here than Clare."

"What makes you think he isn't?" Clare asked, as they passed through the hotel lobby. Graveworthy gave her a small, knowing smile, and turned to the desk.


It was worth all the scolding and chiding and watching over Jack that he'd had to do, Ellis thought, to see his face when he took him by the sleeve of his new shirt (a strange cut, looser at the throat, tighter at the wrists) and led him into the garage.

Jack's mouth went small and round in surprise, his eyes widening as he took in row upon row of the engine-driven carts, gleaming and silent. He'd already nearly killed himself trying to disassemble one of the strange filament-lights in their rooms, and Ellis was a little uncertain of his mental state, but he'd promised a surprise. Jack had at least made every attempt to behave himself while they were in public.

"They're beautiful," Jack breathed. Ten "automobiles" -- according to the attendant, who had looked a little bemused by Graveworthy's subtle questioning -- stood in a neat row, each subtly different from the others.

"They belong to guests of the hotel," Graveworthy said. "You can't disassemble them."

Jack looked mildly disappointed, but he stepped forward and crouched in front of the first one, which had a long narrow body and only two seats, one with a large, ungainly-looking wheel in front of it. Jack peered through the metal grille, studying what he could see of the interior.

"They can't possibly be steam-powered," he said, nose almost brushing the metal. "Some new kind of propulsion system. This is...enormous. This is leaps and bounds forward in mechanical engineering. I was on the wrong track entirely..."

"What track was that?" Ellis asked.

"Well, I was thinking clockwork horses. Not necessarily shaped like a horse but the same general idea -- using clockwork to drive an engine that would propel a cart. You couldn't do it with steam -- you could, actually, but it'd be awkward. There were just too many variables for me to even start on...oh," he interrupted, falling to the ground and flipping over onto his back, using his heels to shove himself under the automobile.

"Well," he said after a moment. "That's...huh."

"What?" Ellis asked.

"Nothing, just -- "

"JACK! You are not allowed to take apart the automobile!"

"I'm not!" Jack said defensively, in the tone of voice that meant he'd been about to do just that. "It's just, I think I see how they steer it!"

He rolled out from under the machine and stood up, studying the grease on his hands.

"I don't think you realize the magnitude of this," he said to Ellis, his voice and face suddenly serious, much older than his years. "I really don't think anyone here can possibly know. This -- what did you call it?"


"This automobile uses a completely different engine from anything I've ever seen. It's just...it's beautiful, Graveworthy. This is a total reconfiguration of everything they teach at Harvard. An engine like this, even just the schematics for one, could completely rewrite the rest of the world."

"Well, our time has not been wasted then," Ellis said practically. Jack looked at him, blue eyes slightly glazed.

"Why here?" he asked. "They have fewer resources, fewer people, no real trading partners. Why here, Graveworthy?"

"No Creationists," came Clare's voice, as she and Purva appeared in the doorway to the garage. Purva was still wearing trousers and some kind of durable dark-colored shirt, but Clare had found a light, pretty dress that fell rather short of the usual American low hems. "They said we'd find you here. Jack, you're already getting grease on your shirt!"

"It'd get there sooner or later," Jack brushed this off, annoyed. "What do you mean, no Creationists?"

"No Creationists. No magic solutions," Clare said. "Everything here has to be made to last. Besides," she added smugly, "Only the really clever prisoners were sent to Australia. Stands to reason they'd all be inventive."

"Which explains the lights and the automobiles and the -- wow," Jack said, looking stunned. "Wow."

"Breathe," Graveworthy ordered. Jack swallowed and inhaled. "We're all in a little bit of shock, because we just spent a lot of time in a very small place with not actually a lot to do, and now we're here. You need to listen to me, Jack. The pair of you as well," he added, and Purva lifted her chin as if awaiting orders. Quite the change since she refused to do anything he asked without Jack's direct order first.

"We are going to rest and eat, because we haven't done enough of either recently. Tomorrow we'll concern ourselves with what to do next -- I think, Jack, you might like to visit a library, and I'll need to anyway."

Jack was about to object to the delay, and Graveworthy couldn't honestly blame him. He was tempted to let him, even, just to see how good Jack's arguments were, when de la Fitte stepped around him and offered Jack a rag from her pocket to wipe his hands on.

And just like that, Jack closed his mouth and cleaned off his hands and followed them away.

Young love. You couldn't beat it, really.

Chapter Seventeen
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.


The Original Sam Backup

May 2012

   1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 1516171819

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 18th, 2017 09:49 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios