Boneshaker 65

Page 65


  She opened her eyes. “What?”

  “Mother. ”

  She heard it again. She turned her neck to pull her face away from the pillow, and lifted her head. “What are you talking about?”

  “Mother, it’s me. ”

  It felt like shooting through a tunnel, the speed and ragged jolt with which she awoke. She was being dragged from warm darkness and into something colder, fiercer, and infinitely less comfortable. But there was a voice at the end of it, and she crawled toward it, or slid toward it, or fell up as she tried to reach it.

  “Mother? Oh shit, Mother. Mother? Come on, wake up. You’ve got to wake up, ’cause I sure can’t carry you, and I want to get out of here. ”

  She rolled over onto her back and tried to open her eyes, then realized that they were already open but she couldn’t quite see. All the world was blurry, though light did flicker off to her right, and above her there loomed a distinctly dark shadow.

  The shadow was saying, over and over again, “Mother?”

  And the earthquake in her dreams was rumbling still, or maybe he was only shaking her. The shadow’s hands gripped her shoulders and hurled them back and forth until her head snapped on her neck, and she declared, “Ow. ”


  “Ow,” she said again. “Stop it. Stop what you’re doing, that… Stop it. ”

  The brighter her vision became, the more aggressively it was accompanied by a burning sting, and a dampness that drooled over her cheekbone. She touched the sore spot with her hand, and when she drew it back, it was wet.

  “Am I bleeding?” she asked the shadow. Then she said, “Zeke, am I bleeding?”

  “Not real bad,” he said. “Not even as bad as I was. Mostly you’re just bruised up. You got blood all over the pillowcase, but it ain’t ours, so I don’t care. Come on. Stand up. Get up. Come on. ”

  He wedged his arm underneath her back and hauled her bodily off the bed, which was every bit as soft as her dream suggested. The room was the same too, so she must’ve been awake enough—in fragments—to gather her surroundings. But she was alone except for the boy, who dragged her to her feet and forced her to stand.

  Her knees buckled, then locked. She stood, leaning on Zeke. “Hey,” she said. “Hey, Zeke. Hey, it’s you. It is you, isn’t it? Because I was having the weirdest dream. ”

  “It’s me, you crazy old bird,” he said with affection and a grunt. “What are you doing in here, anyway? What were you thinking, coming inside this place? ”

  “Me? Wait. ” As much as it made the sore spot on her head swim, she shook her head and tried to make it clear enough to object. “Wait, you’re stealing all the things I was going to say. ” Slowly, then suddenly, the understanding landed. She said, “You. It’s you, you dumb boy. You’re what I’m doing here. ”

  “I love you too, Momma,” he said around a smile so big he could hardly shape the words.

  “I found you, though, didn’t I?”

  “I might argue that I found you, but we can fight about it later. ”

  “But I came looking for you. ”

  “I know. We can fight about it later. First, we need to head on out of here. The princess is waiting for us. Somewhere. I think. We ought to go find her, and that Jeremiah guy. ”

  “The what? Or the who?” The warbling throb around her ear kicked hard, and she wondered if maybe she hadn’t been wrong about her state, and maybe she was dreaming again after all.

  “The princess. Miss Angeline. She’s real helpful. You’ll like her. She’s real smart. ” He released his grip on Briar and left her to stand by herself.

  She wavered, but held steady. She said, “My gun. Where’s my gun? I need it. I had a bag, too. I had… some things. Where are they? Did he take them?”

  “Yeah, he took ’em. But I took ’em back. ” He held out the rifle and the satchel and all but shoved them into her hands. “You’ll have to work that thing, because I can’t shoot it. ”

  “I never taught you how. ”

  “You can teach me later. Let’s go,” he ordered, and Briar wanted to laugh but she didn’t.

  She liked the look of him, even frantic and controlling—even leading her like a child while she came all the way to her senses. Someone had given him nice clothes and maybe a bath. “You clean up nice,” she said.

  He said, “I know. How you feeling? Are you all right?”

  “I’ll survive,” she told him.

  “Good. You’d better. You’re pretty much all I got, ain’t you?”

  “Where are we?” she asked, since he seemed to have a better handle on the situation than she did. “Are we… under the station? Where did that bastard put me while I was out?”

  “We’re under the station,” Zeke said. “You’re two levels down from the big room with all the lights on the ceiling. ”

  “There’s another level underneath?”

  “At least one, maybe more. This place is a maze, Momma. You wouldn’t believe it. ” He stopped her at the door and opened it fast, then looked left and right outside down the hall. He held out his hand and said, “Wait. Do you hear that?”

  “What?” she asked. She came to his side and let him listen and squint while she checked the rifle. It was still loaded, and inside the satchel all her belongings seemed to be in place. “I don’t hear anything. ”

  He listened longer and then said, “Maybe you’re right. I thought I heard something, but I’ve been wrong before. There’s a lift at the end of the hall, over there. You see it?”

  She leaned her head around the door and said, “Yes. That’s it, right?”

  “Right. We’re going to run for it. We’ve got to; otherwise Yaozu is going to catch us, and we don’t want that. ”

  “We don’t?” Briar didn’t mean to make it sound like a question, but she was still pulling herself together, and for the moment, it was the easiest way to participate in the conversation. Besides, she was so happy to see him that all she wanted to do was touch him and talk to him.

  Off in the distance, she heard gunfire. It was a large crack and loud, the sound of a rifle, not a revolver. More shots answered it, bullets from a smaller gun with a faster firing rate.

  “What’s happening?” she asked.

  “Long story,” he said.

  “Where are we going?”

  He took her hand and pulled her into the hallway. “To the Smith Tower—the big one where they dock the dirigibles. ”

  A memory flickered as her footsteps followed his in a furious patter. “But it’s not Tuesday yet, is it? It can’t be. We can’t get out that way—I don’t think it’s a good idea. We should head back down to the Vaults. ”

  “But we can get out that way, at the tower,” he swore. “Jeremiah said there’s ships there. ”

  She tore her arm away from his as they reached the lift. The iron grate covered the same lift as the one she’d taken from the top side; she pulled it over and pushed Zeke onto the platform. As she joined him and closed the gate, she said, “No. I’ve got to go see Lucy. I need to find out if she’s all right. And—”

  More shots exploded, somewhere closer.

  “And something bad is happening up there. ” She pulled the Spencer around and held it in position as the lift rose to the next level. “We should get off here. Let’s avoid as much of it as we can. ”

  “It’s probably just rotters,” Zeke said, and tried to keep her on the lift as she stubbornly hauled the gate aside. “But we can’t leave yet. The princess might be up there!”

  “Well, she isn’t. ”

  Briar swung the Spencer around and pointed it at a smallish woman with skinny limbs and long gray hair that was braided into a rope. She looked native, though Briar couldn’t have guessed which tribe; and she was wearing a man’s blue suit with a tailored coat and pants that were too big for her.

  The woman was holding her side. Blood squished out f
rom between her fingers.

  “Miss Angeline!” Zeke ran to her.

  Briar lowered the Spencer, then changed her mind and held it out, ready for any trouble that might come from some other direction. After all, they were in the midst of a large room with several doors, all of them closed. There was nothing to mark this room as different from any other, or as having any particular purpose. It was mostly empty, except for a stack of tables against one wall and a clump of broken chairs that were piled on top of one another and left to collect dust.

  “Ma’am,” she asked over her shoulder. “Ma’am, do you need some help?”

  The reply came without a drop of patience in it. “No. And don’t touch me, boy. ”

  “You’ve been stabbed!”

  “I’ve been scratched, and it’s ruined my new suit. Hey,” she said to Briar, tapping her on the shoulder with a bony linger. “If you see a bald-headed Chinaman in a black coat, you shoot him between the eyes for me. That would make me happy,” she fussed.

  “I’ll keep a lookout for him,” Briar promised. “Are you the princess?”

  “I’m a princess. And I’m mad as hell right now, but we’ve got to get out. If we stay here, they’ll catch us. ”

  “We’re on our way back to the Vaults,” Briar said. “Or the tower!” Zeke insisted.

  Angeline said, “Either one of those would work, but you might want to head to the fort instead. When the Naamah Darling’s fixed, you can get old Cly to take you out, if you’re looking to leave. ”

  Briar frowned. “Cly’s here? At the fort?”

  “He’s making repairs. ”

  More commotion upstairs told Briar that she’d have to ask about it later.

  Zeke asked, “Wait. We’re going back to that ship? With that big old captain? No; no way. I don’t like him. ”