Authors: Adam Dreece
Tags: #Emergent Steampunk
“I’m having a look around. I don’t like the idea of burning to death,” Tee retorted, her tone distant.
Elly couldn’t decipher anything from Christina’s steely expression. “Um, good point. Christina, I’m going to help her.”
“Please. Let me know if you find anything,” replied Christina, pushing her short, dark-blond hair back over her ears. There was something in Christina’s voice that made Elly feel that she didn’t expect the same results from her as from Tee.
Christina pointed at the prototype arm she and Mounira had discovered in the lab. “Start wrapping this stuff up,” she said to Mounira. “Use the clothes from over there to make sure it can handle a couple of bumps, okay?”
Mounira saluted and got to work.
Christina studied Franklin, who seemed to be engrossed with something on the second workbench. “If we can use it, tell me.”
Franklin shook his head, his eyes wide. “I don’t even know what this is,” he said, both impressed and troubled. He’d arrogantly always thought of his and his father’s inventions as the pinnacle of scientific thought. At school, he’d deftly defeated almost every challenger. The few times he hadn’t been top of the class, or won first prize at the biannual science competition, he’d found a way to make the person who had suffer. Part of him wished he didn’t need such pettiness to fill the hole from loss, but his father had always laughed when he’d learned what Franklin had done, so he didn’t see the harm.
Christina checked the contents of her and Tee’s backpacks. There was very little of use. “Anything that can be helpful, let me know. Also, if you find any sacks or other backpacks, we need them. Tee’s and mine are empty, but whatever we can carry out of here, the better. Assume we’re not coming back.”
Tee got a lump in her throat as she absorbed what Christina had said.
“I found some bandages and stuff,” said Elly from somewhere in the lab.
“Let me see,” said Tee, relieved for the distraction from her thoughts. She wandered over to Elly.
Tee inspected the bundle Elly had found. “Vinegar, knife, clean clothes, pins… Christina, we have one of my Granddad’s traveling medical kits.”
“Add it to your backpack, that could be vital,” said Christina.
“Your other grandfather is a doctor?” asked Elly, puzzled. “I thought he was a cook, you know, making muffins and stuff. A real baker.”
“Yeah, well, he’s good at a lot of things,” replied Tee, walking away with the medical kit.
Elly glared at Tee. Never before had Tee done that to her. The only secrets Tee had ever kept from her were about the nature of her grandfather’s inventions, and that was only until Tee’s grandfather shared them outside his family. In most of those cases, Tee had hinted so much to Elly that when the invention was revealed, there wasn’t much mystery left.
Franklin held the edges of one of the huge sheets of design plans. His mood had noticeably soured. Unable to contain himself, he asked Christina, “Is my father’s steam engine a joke?”
Christina bristled at the question. Shaking her head, she replied sharply, “We don’t have time for this.”
Franklin snapped down the top of the sheet with a quick jerk, and glared at Christina. “I can barely figure out what this says, but I do get the distinct impression that if Mister Klaus was an adult intellect, my father was at best… Mounira!” Before Franklin knew it, he felt a sharp pain in his right shin. An angry Mounira had appeared out of nowhere.
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t see you sitting there, being an idiot,” said Mounira.
“Mounira,” rebuked Christina, trying to sound as if she disapproved but unable to hide her smile.
The small Southerner nodded and went back to packing Christina’s backpack.
Franklin’s instincts told him there was something amiss. “You know what I’m talking about. Mister Klaus—Nikolas—has gone beyond my father’s steam engine, or he’s perfected it, or something. These drawings were for that rocket-cart thing, I’m sure of it. I can only figure out a couple of the encrypted words, but enough to suspect that even this small design went beyond my father’s stupid steam engine. Why have my father risk his life, and mine, to have me come here with plans no one needed?” barked Franklin.
Christina slapped him, stunning everyone. “Grow up. You want to have a meltdown, do it later when we don’t have a house full of soldiers trying to hunt us down. Right now, I’ve got a duty to get you all to safety, even you.”
Franklin seethed, his eyes wide. He’d never been treated that way, never mind by a woman. He thought of the time that a girl, Amy, had earned the mathematics prize instead of him, and how he’d set things up so that she’d gotten ink all over her dress when she went to receive the award.
Pointing a finger sharply at Franklin, Christina continued. “You don’t understand the importance of what your father’s invented. It’ll scale. It’ll allow for bigger and better things to have been invented than anything before it! More importantly, the world’s ready for it. Keep your insecurities in check or I’ll check them for you. Got it?”
Franklin was about to retort, but Christina interrupted his thought with a renewed glare.
“Go see if there is any food or other supplies we could use,” ordered Christina, taking the plans away from him and folding them up. She took solace in knowing that if Franklin tried to take anything from the lab, he only had his pants pockets and not a backpack to hide it in.
“I can’t believe your Grandpapa had this place,” said Elly, following Tee around.
“I know,” replied Tee, her tone flat and distant.
“So you never knew about it?” asked Elly, fishing.
“No,” replied Tee, studying the ceiling and then a wall.
“Not even a hint?” pushed Elly.
Tee stopped and rubbed part of a wall. “No. I always wondered where he did his real work, though. There were little things that I noticed, like when he’d been up all night, but his workbenches upstairs hadn’t been touched.” Tee stopped and thought for a moment. “Christina, there is another way out. A couple of months ago, my Grandpapa showed me a horseless cart. It wouldn’t have fit through the doorway upstairs. He must have gotten it out somehow.”
“You guys search for an exit,” replied Christina. “I’ll be back in a minute. There’s something I need to check for.”
Elly frowned, noting there was no surprise in Christina’s voice. “What’s a horseless cart?” she asked Tee, folding her arms. “When did he make it?”
“He showed it to me when LeLoup was in jail. It looked kind of like a normal cart you’d attach to a horse, but it moved on its own. He must have built it here, but how did he get it out?” she said, lost in thought as she studied each item they passed.
Elly bit her lip.
“There,” said Tee, pointing to a picture on a wall. “That’s the way out.”
Elly studied Tee’s face. There was no uncertainty present; it was as if Tee had just read a sign that said ‘Exit’. She stared at the symbol Tee was focused on, and then it hit her. “Wait, isn’t that the same as the one on the door to our treehouse?”
“How long have you known what that means?” asked Elly angrily.
Tee gave Elly a blank stare, then turned and walked back to Christina.
“I found one of the two panels that we need to push to open the exit,” reported Tee.
“Good work,” said Christina, relieved.
Elly tapped Tee on the shoulder. “How do you know there’s a second panel?”
Tee’s eyes were cold, brown, and steely. Elly had never seen that withdrawn expression before, and it shook her deeply.
Franklin noticed Elly’s expression and felt a bit of relief at not being the only one offside. He stopped himself from feeding the growing rift and trying to wedge himself between them, hoping to create a closer bond with one of them. Instead, he blurted out, “Before we leave, is there anything else we need to take from here? Something that can humiliate my father publicly perhaps?”
“Enough,” snapped Christina. Slinging her half-f backpack over her shoulders, she followed Tee to the first panel. At the back of her mind, she kept expecting to hear an explosion and have the rug and its secret elevator come crashing down.
“Christina?” asked Tee.
Realizing she was staring at the ceiling, she turned to focus on Tee. “Do you think there’s another way for them to get down here?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Tee, shrugging.
“Really?” asked Elly, incredulous. “Are you sure? Because this is a matter of life and death.”
Tee glared at Elly. “What are you talking about?”
Christina yelled, “Stop it! Look, we’re all scared, so let’s focus on getting out of here.”
Elly shook her fists and then stopped, fingers flaring out. “Never mind! You said you’ve never been here before, so you’ve never been here before. Though somehow, you knew exactly where the exit was and that there’s another panel we need to find.”
“Everyone, look for something with a picture of spring or coil that has two lines through it. That’s going to be the other thing we need to unlock the secret door.”
“No,” said Franklin, playfully folding his arms.
Christina drooped. “Look, Franklin. We all need to—”
Franklin smiled smugly and pointed to the wall behind them. “It’s right there. Behind you.”
Tee pushed part of the picture around the shield in, then twisted the embossed shield to the right. She then ran over and pulled out the other panel a few inches.
“Listen!” said Mounira happily.
The sound of chains moving and clanking filled the room, and then a wall down the hall slid away, revealing a dark corridor. The cool, spring night air washed over them.
“Okay, wait here. Tee, crank a lantern,” said Christina, pointing to one on a hook.
“Anyone else find it eerie how the light from the lab extends up to here and then just ends?” asked Mounira, standing where the wall had opened.
Elly and Franklin nodded.
Tee took the lantern, and after a moment of examining it, found the lever she needed to bring it to life. Its blue glow was similar to that of the study and lab.
As Christina returned, resettling her full backpack, she took the lantern from Tee. “Let’s go.”
They descended the mountain path in silence, until something caught Elly’s attention and she stopped to look back.
“The house is on fire!” screamed Elly, spinning to Tee. To her astonishment, Tee was staring at the ground, her face hidden by her yellow hood. “Tee, your Grandpapa’s house is on fire! Doesn’t that mean something to you?” Elly grabbed Tee by the shoulders angrily, trying to shake her back to normal.
Tee reluctantly met Elly’s gaze. She knew what this was doing to Elly, but her instructions from her parents had been clear. “What do you want me to say? If we stay here, we’re going to get killed. There’s no point crying over things we can’t control,” she said, her voice devoid of emotion. She couldn’t bear to watch the flames destroy the home of her favorite childhood memories.
All the King's-Men
“Abominator was an excellent term to label our kind with, really. It’s astounding to think that a hundred years ago, with one word and one night of horrific actions, King Falson turned every inventor, scientist, and engineer, every simply gifted person, into the target of everything that illed his realm. Imagine what it was like in those first days: friend turning on friend, neighbor turning on neighbor.
“I wonder if he’ll ever be recognized for how brilliant that was. I still find it hard to imagine what it was like to be in his presence in that first hour of him being on the throne. The new king surprising everyone with a vengeful royal edict, and then going with his closest guards room by room, executing King’s-Men, including my grandfather. It showed a savage level of conviction,” said Marcus Pieman, staring out the window of his carriage as the beautiful Frelish landscape raced by.
He turned to Nikolas Klaus. “I’ve read the accounts, over the years,” continued Marcus. “How they broke down the doors of my grandfather’s royal suite and beheaded him in front of his family. They killed all of the King’s-Men that night. Loyalty, years of service, strategic advantage for the kingdom didn’t mean a thing. Falson wanted to ensure that everyone understood he had supreme authority over all matters. And thus, a dark age was born—all out of one man’s adolescent anger.”
“None shall shine brighter than the king,” said Nikolas, quoting a famous line from the long-dead king.
Marcus rubbed his thumb and fingers together. “Do you know what is so beautifully sinister about that phrase? It reaffirms not only the supremacy of the royals, but that everything is justifiable in order to preserve it. It was the spark to a dry age ready for a brush fire. Like all such fires, it destroyed in an instant that which took ages to rebuild.”
Nikolas rubbed his bald head, thinking back to how he’d lost his family in just such an attack. Marcus was the closest person he had to a brother. Yet, in all the years he’d known him, Marcus had never mentioned his tie to the dawning of the Era of the Abominator. “Your father survived by the kindness of a soldier, yes?” said Nikolas.
“No, actually,” said Marcus, staring out the window again. “There was so much blood in the room that my sleeping baby father was thought dead. The soldiers were so excited, with the king right there with them, that they went on to the next execution. My father simply slept through it. The next morning, a maid was sent to clean the room and found him.”
Nikolas closed his eyes, fighting to recall. “Maven, yes?”
“You remember the name?” replied Marcus, chuckling a bit, rubbing his short white hair. “Your memory never ceases to impress me. Maven Senior, yes. She ran off with my father, and delivered him to a wealthy family. Her daughter, Maven Junior, was my nanny.”
“Hmm,” said Nikolas, “I did not realize there was a junior and a senior Maven.”
For a while, they sat in silence. Marcus resisted the urge to get to work. He was enjoying spending some time with Nikolas. Though occasionally throughout his life he’d found someone with whom he could have a truly intelligent conversation, it was never the same as with Nikolas.