Chimera

by Torino Koji

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/165926.html)

Tomas stared from under the shrilling engines, hat pulled tight over his ears with mufflers tightened to try and muffle the noise and save his hearing, to where Viktor was yelling at him like it mattered what he was saying. Of course neither of them could hear the other, and Tomas was no good at reading lips and they knew it, but Viktor was still yelling and looking stern, obviously trying to get Tomas out from under the engine. Tomas, though, had no intention of coming out when he was looking like that, his mechanical eye glinting and leaking a bit of oil down into the corner of his eyes; it was an unpleasant sight that made his stomach curl and tighten up almost to his throat, one that made him busy himself even further.

I can’t hear you, he said to himself, like he would out loud. Even if the engines weren’t screaming bloody murder over my head, I’ve got the hat and the muffler, and I can’t hear your raspy owl screeching, old man. Get out of my engine room before a valve blasts into your face, accidentally on purpose.

Tomas had been working in the engine room of the Gallant for six and a half years, since he was something like twelve years old and Viktor had found him on the street of Poliya, taking apart little mechanical companion animals and remaking them as Chimera-type beasts that still functioned as the little daily wind-up contraptions that the artificers had originally intended them. Viktor had been impressed with him from the beginning—Viktor had also initially thought him a little girl, though, when Tomas had been scruffed and dirty and had hair that was long and wavy blond curls cascading all around his face. Now, he wore his hair shorter and all around his face when it wasn’t under his caps. His face had matured over the years he’d been on the Gallant, and Viktor’s attention had waned. But Tomas was the only thing keeping the ship together, these days, with all the modifications he’d made. He was a brilliant mechanic, practically an artificer unto his own right, without all the fancy training and degree to say it; and so Viktor and Tomas were dependent on each other because Tomas could not leave and return to being a rat on the street, and Viktor could not train someone without Tomas here to oversee them taking over in his footsteps.

It had been just he and Viktor on the ship for years, since the old munitionist—a young man a little older than Tomas—had left for Lord only knew where. Before he had left, he’d offered to take Tomas with him, but Tomas hadn’t gone. The Gallant was a beautiful ship, and even if Tomas hated Viktor, he loved the ship.

Viktor was old, anyway, on his last breathes and bit of health, and Tomas was sure he would not last much longer in this world, and then the Gallant would be Tomas’s alone, and he would be able to do as he pleased—to outfit it with whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and bring aboard whatever navigator or munitionist or alchemist or diplomat or chemist or down right adventurer he pleased. Whores, even, if that’s what he wanted. With Viktor out of the way, he could have whatever sort of ship he pleased.

But now, the engine was screaming over his head because Viktor insisted on running her until she was fit to burst and tear herself to ribbons. Tomas spoke to her in quiet, soothing tones as he worked under her skirts.

Finally, after a dreadful moment of noise, the engine ceased its shrilling and went silent, with only the quiet rattle of the steam conductors and the water pipes to tell that she was still alive in there. Tomas slid out from under the engine then, sighing and leaning against the bulkhead to stare at the rattly old machine he’d just spent so much time under as he tiredly removed his mufflers and hat.

Without the hat, his hair fell down around his chin in wavy, dirty hanks, the wheat color of it lost to grease and matting and seclusion. Much like the rest of him, it was washed out and vaguely sunless-grey. The only part of him that was naturally that color was his eyes, which were the same pale gun-metal silver as some of his Chimera companions.

For a long time he sat silently staring at the engine, until there was a sudden, unholy rattle and shift in the ship and he had to grab one of the safety rails above his head. They were away from most major trade routes, though, he knew, because he’d plotted their trajectory over the last week and a half; and the only pirates out this way knew them and knew they were small fish to plunder, with nothing serious to loot because they were not very successful travelers because of Viktor. He looked up at the roof of the engine room, and then moved to the ladder and the door, scampering through the tight, cramped belly of the ship until he came to the navigation head.

Viktor was buckled over the helm, clutching his chest helplessly and looking a bit like a landed river-fish with his big gaping mouth and blinking eye and mechanical eye whirring loudly in its socket. Tomas stared at him incredulously for a moment, a little dumbfounded by the sight. Had he wished so hard for the man’s death that the Lord had saw fit to answer him; had Luck and Fate finally matched up for him for long enough to bring him something sweet and good?

Viktor gasped and stumbled toward him. The ship lurched and banked to one side, and Tomas stumbled. Viktor, with all his weight, lost his balance entirely and lay on the floor writhing. After a moment, Thomas walked up to him, feeling along his tool belt as he looked down at him.

“Someone needs to fly this ship, Vik,” Tomas said quietly. His wrench felt heavy in his hand, but no heavier than normal. Just a good, comforting weight. Viktor’s natural eye was filled with fear and pain.

The splatter his head made would be hard to wash from the metal. Now, Tomas had to land the ship.

They were leagues off course and aim. He landed in a field overlooking a snaking building-type structure that exhausted toward the sky with steam and coal exhaust. As Tomas buried Viktor’s body, he watched along the snaking building, trying to fathom it. Compared to Poliya, it seemed a very strange thing. It seemed to go on for a very long way, and was no taller than the orphanage where he had been left and had run away for the streets; the airship was wider than it was, and the rate at which it churned out exhaust was outrageous, like it was almost a living beast.

Outside the snaking beast, headed toward him, was a selection of slow moving figures with guns against their shoulders. Tomas was glad he’d stripped Viktor of his guns, but he was inept with them; except for being large and intimidating, they would do him little good. For now, the most he could do was stand between the approaching militia and the grave he’d dug.

A full hundred yards from him, they stopped. One of them was a woman, very young and sprightly; the rest were mixed but mostly men, including one who was clearly the girl’s father or uncle from their similar faces.

The girl’s father called to him, an authoritative voice that was thick with an accent so thick and full of regionality that Tomas could not place it or understand; the girl, beside him, spoke in the same firm tone, but in more proper English, which Tomas still struggled with but could understand, at least:

“We are the sentry of Ládcastel. State your business and purposes. We don’t do trade except through Hub.”

“I’m not looking to trade,” Tomas said back in kind, and the girl passed the message along to her fellows. They continued to look untrusting. Her father spoke again.

“What’s the machine behind you?” the girl offered for her father. Her voice was more colored with curiosity than her father’s. Tomas turned and looked at the airship, then back at the militia.

“You’ve never seen an airship? It’s an airship. What is Ládcastel? Where is it? All I see is this strange building.”

Without waiting for her father, after she’d translated back for him, the girl said to Tomas, “That is Ládcastel.” Her father slapped the back of her head with an open palm, snapping at her darkly.

Tomas stood and watched them silently, shuffling and nervously kicking dirt down into the grave on top of Viktor’s body.

After the man had finished reprimanding her, the girl said for him as he spoke in his strange accented voice, “Ládcastel is none of your concern.”

“I need food, to restock, before I continue on my way,” Tomas said, kicking more dirt into the hole. One of the other men seemed to notice what he was doing and started toward him slowly.

The girl’s father, in translation, told him, “We don’t serve anyone, except at Hub. Go to Hub, and you’ll be served.”

“Where’s the hub?” Tomas turned his gun on the man approaching him, nervous and scowling. The man stopped and stared at him. He, like the girl, had a young face. Part of it was covered in burn scars. “Will you take me to it?”

“No strangers may enter Ládcastel,” said the girl after a moment of her father speaking, and she sounded very mournful over the fact.

Tomas was quiet a moment, before he raised his hands, and slowly put his gun down. “My name is Tomas.” The girl explained to the rest of the militia as he spoke, seeming to realize what he was doing after a moment of dumbfounded staring. “I have guns only for defense. This is my airship, the Gallant. I rebuilt her with my own two hands. I am a hard worker, and an honest man.”

The militia was quiet a moment, until the man that had been approaching him, the one with the burns, scowled softly and asked in heavily accented English, “What’s in the hole?”

“My companion. He died on the ship before we landed.”

Tomas’s tone brooked no argument, but the people continued to stare at him. After a long moment of silence, he said, “You know me now. I’m not a stranger. Take me to the hub.”

Ládcastel, Tomas soon learned, was a winding spider-arm of a city, three stories high and two steam-train track widths wide. He was not allowed onto the second or third level of the city, but the girl that spoke English for the militia—her name was Helen—told him quietly so her father could not hear that the level above them was the city itself, the commerce and washrooms and shops and all that; and above that then was the residences of every citizen of Ládcastel. There was a map of Ládcastel situated on the train heading to Hub, and Tomas realized, then, that what they were calling that was in fact Old London; and the sprawling networked tendrils around it, Ládcastel lit in red paint, were the legs of the beast that had sprung up as offshoots of Old London.

Helen was self-educated, it turned out, learned in reading and writing though Ládcastel only had schools every five leagues along the track. Beside her, Tomas felt a little silly, though he supposed their knowledge was comparable in that it was self taught and grew with their interests and passions.

They spoke together extensively, if softly, as the train wound through the dark underbelly of the city. Through the glass of the train, he could see the tunnel they went through, and there were no windows, though there were occasional cracks that Tomas realized were doors to the outside world. All the winding was accompanied by the rhythmic click-a-tack of the train, and the whirr of the still air of the tunnel sliding past them as they made their way to Old London.

“Have you ever been to Hub?” Tomas asked Helen, the closer they got. She practically vibrated with energy.

“No,” she said. “We’ve been moving out since my father’s father was my age, when the trains were new.”

Tomas thought about this and then looked at Helen a long time, trying to fathom the difference in age and what all this dreary darkness did—but perhaps it wasn’t dark on the second and third level; or perhaps, he knew not what. After a moment, he asked her, “How old is your father, then?”

“Not very. His father is still alive.”

Tomas tried a different tactic. “How old are you, then, Helen?”

She was quiet for a very long time, seeming to think of an appropriate answer, before she then said, “I’ll be thirteen in six days.”

In Old London, Helen walked with Tomas in the streets, and stared at the tethered airships above, and the elevated level of New London that was only for the wealthy elite. Sun broke through the large buildings above them, but Old London was a filthy place full of the destitute and the criminal. Tomas kept her close and took her gun from her, being that her father refused to come out into Hub with her.

“What do you need?” Helen asked, but seemed distant, as she looked around at everything and looked at no one. Tomas was glad she learned that quickly enough; perhaps it was something from growing up in Ládcastel, with people close enough together that not looking at each other was the only way to get a bit of distance between them.

“Supplies,” was all he said. He and Viktor hadn’t been to Old London since they’d lost their munitionist all that long time ago. The munitionist had been from Old London originally, had been the one to teach Tomas English in the first place. It had been their port of succor while the munitionist had been with them, and Tomas had learned it, and where suppliers were.

He took Helen with him as if he had intention to take her with him when he left, and she followed as if she had intention to go. They never spoke a word of any intent either way.

There was a new gun—smaller than Viktor’s, very much so—and bullets at an armory shop, dry and salted foods that would keep for a while from a grocer, potents and measures from an alchemist that remembered his face, and finally a box full of bits and bobs that he knew would be put to good use on the ship but that Helen stared at curiously when she wasn’t staring up at the airships and buildings above them. For a while after that, they wandered the streets of Old London, until they found themselves outside where the library use to be. The streets were lined in old machines that didn’t work any longer, and the destitute that hung around them; but the library itself was still in use, at least the last time Tomas had been, and so they went inside the public space for some long time, Helen looking around with marveled eyes.

It was dark when they left the library, and Helen hurried them back to the trains that left the station to go back on the tracks for Ládcastel. Her father and the rest of the militia looked stern and uncomfortable; he cuffed her in the back of the head, and asked what sort of things had kept them so long.

She held up a book. She had traded a bracelet with a mechanical lock for it. The book was thick and smelled of age and dust, and Tomas had nodded at her selection because it reminded him a little of a bible, though he was sure it was something like a technical book of some sort. Helen’s father was not nearly as impressed with it, and when he tried to take it from her, she hid behind Tomas with his new gun and packages.

The rest of the militia looked vaguely threatened. Helen’s father merely scowled. Tomas smiled.

“I would like to return to my ship,” he said evenly, and from behind him, Helen translated what he said.

Again, they went back into the tunnel.

In the dead of night, Helen and Tomas slipped from Ládcastel, and together they climbed onto the Gallant and went into the sky. Helen had with her a package of her most precious books—the one she’d just obtained by way of her mechanical bracelet, a bible, a dictionary of linguistics and Latin, and two books for pleasure—and a small brief case of clothes. She dressed mostly like a boy, which suited Tomas fine, as it would make it easier for them to move through places that were less friendly with women. Tomas didn’t ask why her brief case was so small; all the girls he’d ever known had two or three, carrying with them dresses and corsets and underthings in separate cases. But it didn’t matter much to him. He showed her how to take off from the ground which, he explained, was entirely different than taking off from the tethers in New London.

She watched and learned diligently, an appreciative student in everything, it seemed. When they were leveled, he explained to her that she would be staying in his quarters.

“Where will you stay?”

“I won’t sleep until we land next,” he told her. She looked at him then, and he took a moment, in the dim, warm light of the cabin, to get a good look at her.

She was an androgynous sort of young thing, fair and muted of colors like him, but with dark hair and eyes where he was silvering. With the boys clothes, Tomas supposed she was very much boyish in feature, being so young as well; and the look she wore was very innocent and confused. He smiled at her.

“Someone has to fly the ship. We won’t be flying long. I’ve been awake longer than we’ll be flying.”

She continued to stare at him a moment, and then said, “I’ll stay up with you then. I want to see us fly. I’ve never seen the sky before.”

And so, without hesitation, he allowed this and they flew together to the West.

The Metropolis was centered over what had once been Rochester, New York, America. It was powered by Niagara Falls, and sprawled in a fan from Rochester across the continent in a hydraulic marvel of the West. The flourishes of the Metropolis were, of course, along the Mississippi River basin; and civilization had diminished in the old Thirteen after the capital had moved to Rochester, due to the difficulties of getting the power over the Appalachians and the Blue Mountains. Toward the Fringe of the fan, where the power was weakest and the water was less abundant—in the Mojave and Texas—the peace and succor of the Metropolis ran cool and weak as the power, frontier towns springing up run more by terror than law. It was here that Tomas found landing for the Gallant.

They had been on the airship for two days by then. Helen had learned to fly in that time, and Tomas had exploited that to sleep for ten hours in the span, and work for another ten. He had guided the landing as well, making sure they were well away from the frontier of Carson City so they would avoid as much attention as possible, though attention was bound to occur in any case.

“How are we going to get into the city?” Helen asked as they disembarked from the hold of the ship. She was adjusting a sun hat that clashed with the lady’s blouse and boy’s trousers she wore. Tomas pulled his welding goggles down to shield his eyes from the oppressive light of the sun. Hydraulic power in the area had sucked what water there was out of the desert and made it even more dead and dry.

“We walk until the authorities find us.” She gave him that curious look which she got whenever she didn’t quite understand what he meant or why. “Trust me, they will. They’ve seen us; they’re probably just hoping the desert swallows us up.”

They loaded up on water distilled from the engines—enough to supply them and trade with the people of Carson City—and trinkets that might be of interest as well, and then set out toward the frontier town they had chosen to land near. It was one of the farthest reaches south and west of the Metropolis, though in the north where it was more lush lands were encroaching on British territories in the Northwest. To their west were the Sierra Nevada; beyond that, unconquerable lands for the Metropolitans, as attempts previously and the Appalachians and Cascades had proven. The Metropolis was confined within the Great Plains, for the most part, unlike it’s Eastern counterpart where Tomas hailed from, which sprawled so vastly on coal rather than water.

After some hours of walking under the sun, they were met by a contingent of men from the City—four on horseback, one on a buggy, and two on foot. The two on foot were Native, though one was darker than the other and possibly of mixed Native and Negro blood if Tomas had to call it; while the rest were white like Helen and he. The man on the buggy had a large rifle and a mechanical eye of better quality than Viktor’s.

“State your business.” There was no preamble beyond that, from the man on the buggy. He was older than the others, graying at the temples, and chewed with the corner of his mouth from a large wad that distended the lower pocket of the right side of his jaw. His accent was drawling and western.

“Supply and trade,” Tomas said casually. He held up one of their larger bottles of water. The dark Native looked at it with interest but otherwise no one moved, except for the buggy-man to spit to the side. The horses shifted.

“You pirates?” He gave Helen a long, slow look. Tomas moved in front of her a little bit, still holding the bottle up.

“Traders,” he said simply. “You saw our ship land in the scrub a bit back. Send one of your horsemen back to check it out. It’s just me and this one.”

The buggy-man spat again and whistled. One of the horsemen went off like a shot at the noise in the direction that Helen and Tomas had come from. Helen clung to Tomas’s arm carefully, staring at the men silently the whole while. These were, after all, much different people than her own militia men.

After a long bit of silence while they watched for the horseman to return, the buggy-man spat again, and whistled once more. The fairer of the Natives came forward toward Tomas and Helen, and Tomas, without being told, held the water out toward him.

“It’s distilled from the engine. It’s steam run.” The Native took the bottle and brought it back to the buggy-man, who in turn looked it over, then handed it on to the horsemen each to take a drink of it. Tomas watched silently as Helen clung to him. “We spared all we could. Six bottles that size, two larger. Twenty gallons in whole.”

“Big engine.”

“Need to stay up a long time.”

“Won’t get replenished here,” the buggy-man said bluntly. The dark Native handed the water back. He had pale eyes, which seemed very odd and drew Tomas’s attention for a moment before he deferred it back to the buggy-man so there would be no comment on his staring.

“We spared all we could,” Tomas said again, and that was all. Finally, the horseman returned, coming just as fast as he’d gone. The horse looked just as fit as normal, if a bit gleaming with sweat from the heat. Tomas silently admired the animal for its athleticism.

The buggy-man spat out the pack from the pocket of his jaw and nodded. “In you get, traders,” he said finally. Tomas nodded to Helen, who hurried forward first. If they were untrustworthy folk, they would shoot a little girl, and Tomas would take that risk; if they were trustworthy enough—and it seemed they were—she made it fine to the buggy and in, and Tomas after her. They sat in the cooler darkness of it, and it took a moment for them to realize that they were not alone.

Sitting there in the dark with them was a young man, between Tomas and Helen’s age, darkened by the sun except for his hair which was lightened, with rather fine clothes that were albeit too large for him and a rather sizable steam burn on his face. He stared at them from the other bench of the buggy, cuffs on his wrists, one leg crossed so the ankle rested on the knee of the other. On his shoulder sat a mechanical companion cat, which Tomas fixated to shortly after noticing the burn. It seemed peculiar that a shackled man should be allowed to keep his companion in his possession; Tomas did not pretend to understand the workings of Americans.

“Might I trouble you for a bit of that water,” the shackled stranger softly, gravelly asked. “I heard you saying it was engine-distilled outside.”

Helen looked at Tomas concernedly, and Tomas looked back at her, then shrugged. After a moment, she pulled her water skin from her belt, and passed it toward him.

His companion came down from his shoulder and hopped to the floor. The buggy began to move, and the man caught Helen by the wrist as he took the water.

“Don’t be frightened,” he told her as she squeaked. Tomas reached for the gun on his belt that the contingent had not inquired about. Frontier men carried guns, after all. The man with the shackles smiled and took the water skin without further oddity.

They sat in quiet amiability together, until Helen softly asked, “Why are you in here?”

“Oh, we’ve made a sporting game of it, the old constable and I!” said the man as he smiled. It contorted the burn on his face to a fierce, frightening nature. His companion jumped up next to Tomas, and Tomas watched it. It had been some time since he’d fooled with the mechanics of one. “You see, there was an accident in the plumbing some years back, and the constable’s son and the nigger out there and I were all there. Well, the nigger got out without barely a scratch and went on to be a deputy, and I got out with all this on my face, and the constable’s son—well now somehow I’m more wanted for everything than a nigger.”

The man laughed and slammed a shackled fist against the roof of the buggy. There was a responding thump of a rifle-butt hitting in return.

“Isn’t that funny, then?”

Helen sat silently, staring at him. Tomas gently touched the companion cat, who vibrated with mechanical purring.

“Now the constable and I make a sport of it, oh, once a season. Seeing whether or not he can catch me up to anything. The judge always lets me go in the end—he thinks I’m troubled, what from the accident and being rattled in the brain from the burn and all, but.” The man smiled and folded his hands demurely in his lap. “Is the constable playing a game with the two of you as well, then? Or are you both really here for trade and supply, in little damn Carson—excuse my French, m’lady.”

Tomas grabbed the cat and flipped it on its back for a moment, staring at its gears. The man watched him quietly a moment, and then leaned over a bit.

“Do please stop attempting to find a way to fornicate with my Prometheus, he’s not too fond of being used that way.”

Tomas was startled out of his stupor as Helen giggled shrilly and then cleared her throat and apologized. The man smiled at Tomas genially, as if such a statement were completely within his rights to say. Tomas stared at the burn again.

“I wasn’t planning that. I was wondering how he’d look with the body of a bird.”

The buggy went quite still and quiet for a moment, and then the man nodded and hummed. “Fair enough, my good sir. I dare say, you’re a little mad. But fair enough.”

In Carson City, they were dropped at the Inn and left. The man in the buggy waved as they left, thanked them for the water, and then the contingent of deputies was gone to the jail, they presumed. Tomas and Helen went inside and Tomas ordered them a room in exchange for a bit of silver threading he had little use for any more. It got them four nights in the City.

While Helen stayed in the room to bathe—a task Tomas found a bit strange to want to do in a desert town where water was scarce and luxury—Tomas went to the market to look through what might be of use to them. This was of course the standard food restock, and supplies for refurbishing the ship, but also now books and trinkets he thought perhaps Helen might like, which seemed a strange thing, given that he had been around her so short a time and knew very little about her except that she was young and curious and eager to learn. These things, to him, were quite good though; he strove to make this a relationship better than his own had been with Viktor, though, as she was so close in age as he had been when Viktor had taken him from the streets. And so he picked out no intimate or suggestive things, but only books or trinkets, trading up from what they had to give, keeping in mind that they had four days to be in Carson City.

Back in the room, Helen was sitting in her slip and petticoat, brushing out her hair a bit and humming a folksong under her breath. Tomas knocked a little when he came in, dropping the package he’d gotten in the market on the end of the bed. Helen smiled and took to it, but didn’t open it. She put it away for now while Tomas wandered the room a little.

“We might have to go a little earlier than expected,” he said after a moment. She said nothing to that, watching him as he looked out the window. Then, after quite some time of silence, he turned away from the glass and looked at her as if he hadn’t said anything at all. “Shall we eat then?”

They stayed nearly the whole time of their allotment in the inn. The second to last evening they were there, the man with the burn on his face was released from the prison in Carson City, and while they were out in the market, they came across him discussing the prices of silk scarves and kerchiefs with a merchant who was very dark skinned and possibly not American at all. The man looked up and saw them, but only nodded. Tomas watched him as they passed and said nothing.

Some time later, they stood at a food cart, Helen eating the thoroughly cooked flesh of a desert lizard, when the scarred man came to them, smiling as he had before in the buggy. Tomas continued to watch him quietly, almost warily.

“Good to see you both again,” the man said. “I told you both the judge would let me out without a scratch, didn’t I?”

“You did indeed,” Tomas admitted. Helen continued to eat her lizard, staring at both of them quietly. “Faster than expected, I must admit. Is it always this fast?”

The man smiled, his burn crinkling strangely. “No, I think this is the fastest on record so far. Perhaps it’s the strangeness of a traveler in our midst. They’re likely distracted. Waiting for you to foul up so they can throw you in for my place.” He was quiet a moment, and then laughed at his own joke. Tomas chuckled softly, smiling tightly.

“I’m afraid,” Tomas said quietly after a moment, “that you never told us your name. Only how you have a fight on with the constable.”

“Oh, how silly of me,” the man chuckled, and fluttered his hands a little before bowing like a formal, high-born man. “They call me John. That’s it, entirely. Simply John.”

“John, who worked with the waters,” Helen mused softly. For a moment, her voice—so soft like that—sounded deeper, and Tomas looked at her. “Would that make you a Baptist in these parts?”

The man with the burn, John, was quiet a moment before he laughed with quite a bit of surprise and pleasure, smiling at Helen. Tomas just continued to stare at her quietly a moment, trying to figure her tone and pitch, before John began to speak again:

“Well. Well, I’ll be. I never thought of it that way. I think, these days, many people around these parts do wish my head on a silver platter. That’s rather fitting for a Baptists, don’t you think, little friend? And what of your names, then, hm? I don’t know either of yours, travelers?”

“Helen,” she said to John quite simply without thinking too much of it. She finished her lizard, and gestured with the skewer at Tomas as she said, “And this is Tomas, who flies an airship and killed the other man on his ship.”

Tomas boggled quietly. John chuckled.

“Oh. Is that so?” But Tomas neither confirmed nor denied the accusation, and John shrugged. “Come, walk with me. I must collect my Companion, and then we can continue our discussion. Tell me, Helen, do you know how to ride a horseback?”

She shook her head definitively. “I’d never seen one before we went to Hub.”

John looked at Tomas, tilting his head to the side slightly. Tomas shrugged and quietly said, “Hub is what the people in the spider-arms call Old London.”

“Ah, London!” John exalted, clapping his hands. “I have a friend in London, he’s a very good man. He runs a brothel with items about your age, Helen.” Helen and Tomas both balked for a moment, Helen more than Tomas; they both continued to walk with John.

In a house two blocks down from the inn they were staying at, John showed them up past some scantily dressed women barely older than Helen to a poshly furnished room. There, his mechanical companion cat uncurled itself from the bed and rolled itself to him on nimble legs, stretching to him and mewling with that edge of grinding gears. Tomas watched it; Helen watched the room and the single window in it.

“Do you still wish to turn my cat into a monster then?” John asked Tomas as he picked up the little Companion and sat on the bed, petting it like it had fur to stroke rather than metal. Tomas shrugged.

“It was only a passing notion. Mostly to see if I still remembered the processes of chimeraing.”

“Ah, so you’ve done that sort of cannibalising before. Are you an artificer?”

Tomas shrugged and shook his head in one motion, watching John’s mouth the entire time. “A mechanic on the best of days. A street-rat on the worst.”

John smiled and chuckled softly, letting the Companion down to roam. Helen, from the window, made sweet noises at it, and John watched her quietly. After a very long time, he said, “I got my cat from a man in Tokyo Harbor, in the Floating City. He’s there still, and he makes the most curious things with the mechanics, you know? I imagine you’d greatly enjoy meeting him—but, you know, the Japanese there in the Floating City.”

“I don’t, actually,” Tomas said.

“Exactly,” John said with more of a smile as he looked over the both of them. “I’ve been in, though, and I could be again because I know the man. You see? It’s all quite neat providence, don’t you think, us meeting like that?”

Helen and Tomas exchanged a quiet look, and then Tomas looked down at the little Companion. It looked up at him and gave a grating mechanical meow.

“And we have such a convenient night cover at the moment,” John quietly said in the last, and Tomas knew that John wasn’t so much insinuating an idea as inviting himself regardless of any objection. Somehow, Tomas got the feeling John was quite good at doing this sort of thing with great regularity.

Outside of Carson City, the world slipped away to the quiet roll of the engine. They had not gotten near as many supplies as Tomas had hoped, but they were afloat once more, and the lights of the Metropolis sank away under them, a living water-powered beast of light that they could see getting hazy and brighter in the distance, like dawn coming on early. Helen was in the bunk room, lying down with a pain in her head and chest which John said was likely to be desert sickness from the heat, his Companion on her chest. John stood at the edge of Tomas’s knowledge in the helm room, watching him pilot.

“Do you sleep ever?” he asked with a chuckle.

“On occasion,” Tomas said softly over the noise of the engines as he set in the flight plan and steered along with it with determination. “Helen helps me now. Before this, Viktor flew us. And before that, we had a munitionist and navigator who we put down in Old London a while back who would switch off with Viktor and taught me when Viktor was asleep.”

John was quiet a very long time.

“Were you intimate with any of those men?” he then asked, and Tomas, who turned to look at him, saw he addressed the question to the ceiling of the room.

“I don’t suppose how any of that is really your business, John the Baptist, unless you’re planning on washing away my sins of it,” Tomas replied softly in kind, looking out over the cool dark night laid out before them. It would be hours before they reached Japan.

“I’m trying to gauge my chances, you see,” John said with a chuckle and smile. Tomas was quiet, and John continued, “You see, it’s been a very long time since I’ve entertained any pleasant company, and you—despite your proclivity for hanging around so young a person which might imply a certain—”

“I don’t,” Tomas assured.

“—Very good!” John replied. He smiled. His burn, in the dim light, was not so red and hideous but seemed only a slightly darker shade of his skin and crinkled strangely. Tomas looked back at the artificial horizon of his instruments. “And you’re devilishly smart. I’ve been trying rather hard to amuse myself with a game I play of imaging what you look like without your blouse on.”

The airship banked off a pocket of warm air current.

“Too much?” John chuckled. Tomas was aware of John moving closer to him from the wall to where he stood over the helm. “However. Were it that you did not take so kindly to male attention and so had a woman on board—and she were older than she appeared, as will happen in people from shadowy climes, you know, they can be stunted at times without the sun to blossom them, and will lie about their age—to entertain yourself because that was your inclination. Well, I myself am a little queer, you understand, but only a little. I like both boys and girls. You understand?”

“Yes, I understand. Our munitionist was the same way. We had only men on board. He’d take to whores when we landed. He took me to a House once. They dolled me up rather than laying me.”

“I’m sure he had quite a laugh.” John stood behind him then and nuzzled his neck. Tomas thought of how long it had been since he’d been with another. He tried to remember the munitionist’s face and immediate reaction to the situation. All he could remember was afterward, back on the ship, being fucked in the engine room while Viktor flew them, keeping quiet under the noise of the engine and how his hands and knees ached for days afterward.

“It was certainly an event,” Tomas said quietly. “I need to fly.”

“Of course.” But John didn’t stop nuzzling him. “And the other, Viktor?” Tomas was quiet. He reached back and pushed at John’s stomach to get him to move back. John, respectively, did. “I take that to mean it was not so pleasant as being made beautiful for your munitionist. I’ll keep that in mind then.”

They flew until morning. Then, there was a curious rattle in the center of the engine cavity that Tomas did not trust and they were flying over Hawaiian territory, and so they put themselves down on the Big Island. The folk, much as the folk of Ládcastel, were not so keen on visiting foreign strangers, but were far more familiar with the sight of an airship and so did not startle so like Helen’s folk had when Tomas said to them that he needed only to look at and possibly repair his engine and then they would be on their way. Still, they offered no assistance.

The air was fresh and clean, with a coolness off the water. John, in his leisure while Tomas worked, wandered the village near where they landed with his Companion across his shoulders. Helen stayed and watched in one of her airier dresses. It struck Tomas that she hadn’t many of them that she had brought.

“When we get to the Floating City,” he said from the echoing gut of the underbelly exterior of the ship, “I’ll buy you some more. If you’re going to be staying for very long, you’ll need quite a few.”

“Oh,” Helen said quietly as she lifted her skirt from the ground a bit. It had collected a bit of sand at the hem. “That’s alright. I’ve got skirts and blouses plenty, I could probably make new dresses if I wanted to.”

Tomas had never known a girl to turn down getting a dress before, but then Helen liked books and things, and so Helen was not like any girl he’d ever had the chance to make the acquaintance of before. He brought her into the gut of the ship with him and showed her the workings of the engine from beneath, explaining to her as he worked and having her suppose with him what might be wrong.

They broke when John returned from the village with lunch and Helen went down a little way to the beach. Tomas and John followed a short ways behind with their lunch, keeping her in sight as she stripped to her slip and bloomers and waded into the shallow, calm waters.

“She’s quite something,” John said quietly. Tomas said nothing and only watched her, out in the ocean, head tilted slightly to the right as he squinted against the sun and ate of the native folks food.

They sat in the quiet a while, before John said next, “Do you suppose, back in Ládcastel, she has a husband?”

“If so, I doubt she would have left. It seems a very close place. We left at night so her father wouldn’t stop us.”

John leered a little. “Sly dog. Whisking the girl off in the night. Ah, look at her go. For someone stunted by the shady climes, she does well in the water.”

Tomas watched as Helen ducked into the water and swam about in the shallow surf, the paleness and glittering sun washing her out entirely, and he and John were quiet for a very long time as they ate their lunch and Helen enjoyed the water. After a while, Tomas finished, and left the water’s edge to continue working on the engine so they might leave in a timely manner and not be flying on straight into the sun; Westward evening flight was never favorable.

It was some time before Tomas heard Helen and John coming up the beach toward the ship, Helen’s higher voice a shrill of nasty obscenity preceding John, who laughed and leered behind her, holding her dress to her front as she stormed the hold and onto the ship. Tomas came from under the ship and stopped John, remembering his untoward behavior of the night before as Helen had slept, and the way he had just then watched her swim.

“What’s going on?”

“Go on, go and ask Helen that, why don’t you,” John said, still laughing, and he shook his head as he dissolved into kicking the sand and muttering something Tomas couldn’t quite make out, stepping away a bit. Tomas watched him for a long moment before he climbed through the hold and onto the ship, making for the quarters at the rear.

He knocked, and the door swung open a little as he quietly inquired for her. She stood there, still as a rabbit, with her back to him, hair dripping water sluggishly. It had that quality, for a moment as he watched her, like it might smear down her back like mud and wash away clean another color entirely; and the rivulets of water drew his eyes downward to slim hips as Helen turned.

It occurred to him, then, that Helen was of an age to be developing, as a young girl. It had not struck him, before, the lack of chest. Now, as he stood in the doorway and Helen scowled at him, the androgyny and occasional shifts in tone and pitch of voice made sense, though the dresses were still a mystery.

“Get out,” Helen hissed, eyes moist.

“Right,” Tomas managed, voice course and tight in his nose. He slunk back and shut the door tight, trying to get the sight from his mind.

John stood in the hall, smiling self-satisfactorily.

“Well, you’re quite right. I doubt very much that Helen is married back home.”

Tomas scowled and stomped past him to climb down into the engine room and pull on his hat and muffler and goggles before crawling under the engine turbine to open it and work with the wiring and plumbing.

Before he could crawl all the way under, he was grabbed, and came up swinging punches. John caught them, bullying Tomas to the wall and pushing his goggle and muffler to disarray as he leaned in to ferociously kiss him. One of John’s hands remained on his face, holding him as their mouths moved and nipped at each other, and Tomas watched him with half-open eyes, while the other hand moved heavily down his chest and stomach to between his legs. Then, John laughed softly and squeezed, making Tomas groan.

“So little girls don’t turn you on, but the little boy does? I’m sure Helen will love to know that.”

Tomas swung a punch, and this close, it connected solidly. John licked his lip where it bled and Tomas wheezed with adrenaline and discontent.

Their mouths met again, rough and biting, as John pulled at the tool belt Tomas wore. It fell with a heavy noise to the metal of the floor, and then was shortly followed in sound by the slithering noise of Tomas’s belt releasing his slacks from around his hips and joining it in a pile around his feet. Tomas squirmed against the bulkhead and pushed his hat and muffler and goggles off entirely so they wouldn’t be digging into his forehead and neck; John pulled at his hair as his mouth moved to his neck and the hand, busy with Tomas’s fly now, tugged and worked at it with calm but speedy determination.

Tomas made no attempt on John’s array of clothing, panting mildly, eyes heavy and blurred as he stared at the struts that held the roof of the engine room above them. His slacks and pants sank around his knees and then his ankles, and he toed his boots off with them. John’s hand, on his thigh, felt rough and course suddenly, and Tomas supposed that was work to speak of; he dressed rather like a gentleman, but he had a hard working life in his background, on the frontier, and there was a bright spot of respect in Tomas for that.

John stroked his prick, and bit more at his neck.

“Stop. Stop that. You’re going to leave a mark,” Tomas whined and pushed at his head a bit. He remembered, dimly, laughing and whining about the same thing with the munitionist years ago when he was younger and more golden. John didn’t laugh; he bit harder and sucked up a bruise as he pleased. Tomas moaned and twitched in the hand that held him. It made John laugh, then.

“Shall I be rough with you, then?” John hoisted a leg up and pressed himself flush against Tomas. He was hard through his clothing, and he rutted against Tomas, making him turn hot in the face for a moment, possibly pink with lust-addled shame. “Oh, just close your eyes, lie back, and think of whatever you like. I’ll be as rough as you please.”

Tomas swore in an odd mix of the languages he’d grown up on before Viktor found him and English. John pulled one of his hands down to touch him, and for a moment Tomas felt childish and lost. Then he squeezed, until John’s face contorted beyond pleasure, and Tomas had a moment of strange glee before John slapped him.

“Behave yourself.”

“Says you,” Tomas sassed, and John slapped him again, swatting his hand away from his crotch and undoing the fly of his slacks. He wore no pants beneath, merely untucking the tails of his shirt and pulling out his prick to stroke it. “I won’t suck it. I won’t. I’ll bite it off.”

“You wouldn’t, sassy man. You’re hard and you like it and you want it in you.” It was large and uncut, and Tomas looked at it a long time as John stroked it. He swallowed slightly and squirmed a bit as John reached out to stroke him again. Their heads were close together, swollen and flushed with blood, and Tomas again felt childish though now from that general shy machismo that came about between the comparison of two men in any situation. John was larger than he, thicker, and the way he was smiling and stroking them both at the same time with little puffs of breath was infuriating and distracting in that he knew and had acknowledged his superiority and had something else in mind as well.

He drew back the foreskin and Tomas stared at the head of John’s prick a moment, the pink glans and the slight glimmer of fluid at the tip before he looked away as John pressed closer still to him and their heads touched. Tomas bit his lip and shivered minutely.

“This may feel a little strange,” John murmured against his neck, soft and pliant, placating in nature. “But don’t worry. You’ll like it quite a lot, I think.”

Their heads rubbed, glans touching sensitively, John’s smooth and Tomas could feel the moisture a little. And then there was the smooth, snug feel of skin against him. Tomas stared at the struts above them, panting softly. The space of the engine room felt too tight and close.

John stroked over both of them, slowly, especially his skin where their heads touched under it. Tomas whimpered softly as John groaned against his neck.

“Yes, oh, that’s it. Oh, you’re lovely.”

“…freak,” Tomas mumbled, lips dry, breath hitching as his prick twitched with blood and John groaned again. He laughed and bit at Tomas’s throat, all over, giving him a necklace of bruises. “Don’t. Stop that. God, what are you doing…”

“Hush now. Hush.” John panted against him and moved his hand a little faster as Tomas shook and wasn’t entirely sure about the growing warmth in his gut from all this nonsense and touching. “Such a nice, sweet thing, like this.”

“Stop…talking,” Tomas growled, but it earned him only John’s free hand fisting in his hair and tugging brutally. He moaned and his hips stuttered as much as they could, with his prick held nearly in place with the length of another man’s pressed so intimately close and the skin tight around the head of both of them and he was quite certain he could feel, now, the beginnings of a tell-tale leak that meant John would not last too terribly much longer.

He stopped talking though, returning to his pastime of chewing on Tomas’s neck like it was a good cut of meat or he a vampire, the bruises aching and no doubt dark. Tomas’s breath rattled with insidious pleasure as they continued to rub together as obscenely as they were. John scraped his nails across Tomas’s stomach where it was easiest to reach, making him arch and squirm a bit.

“Stop…ah…”

“Stop what? You like it. You want me to drive you to the edge.” John’s hand moved a little bit faster, more urgently. Tomas shivered and whined, pushing at John’s shoulder as he panted and bit at him. John gave a mumble, a purr of delight, and Tomas shivered a little harder as John murmured on about ravishing him, about having his way and how good it would be, he and him and the sky and the Gallant, and Tomas thought nothing of the words. His mind was buzzing with the impending sensation, rippling warmth coming up from below the center of his gut like the furnace of the engine turned on high to boil all the water and blood inside him.

He squeezed his eyes shut for an instant. John, against his neck, yowled like a cat in heat, and Tomas could feel the wet, slick heat of both of them for the skin pulled over their pricks to hold them tight together as they coupled like this.

They stood for a moment, engaged still, until John shuffled back and went about tucking himself away and doing up his trousers casually. Tomas slumped to the floor in the pool of his pants and trousers and belts, blinking dumbly.

“Oh, my. I do believe we’re going to have quite a bit of fun together, you and I, Tommy.”

Tomas was silent, looking up at John, as the frontierman left the engine room.

The Floating City in Tokyo Harbor was aptly name, though that was not the original name, nor the Japanese one, but merely the name that the community of English speakers—and thus most Europeans as well, with some variation of accent—called it by. It was a structure of pyramid nature, metal and glass in nature, under technical jurisdiction of the Japanese but within the thick bulkheads that had been constructed, a world unto itself had amassed; for trades and craftsman frequented the space, but due to Japan’s isolation there was need for permits and permissions. The Japanese and the Dutch and English had built it together, but it was more a place of pirates of any ilk now than anything else, and Tomas had known that before they had set out for it.

Helen stood at the helm as they flew toward it, John at communication routed next to the gun turret, and Tomas stood with Helen, unsure of what to say to the young teen in the fair dress, hair trussed up more femininely then normal. John had been obstinately rube since Hawaii, but Tomas had avoided the subject entirely, though he never left the two alone together. Now, he wondered how to address it.

As they idled and waited for their okay to approach the glimmering Floating City, Helen answered the unspoken tension for Tomas.

“I’m still going to wear the dresses. It’s what I’ve worn my whole life, so there’s no reason doing otherwise. And you can call me a boy if you want, though I know people on the ground will give us queer looks because of the frock.”

Tomas gave him a quiet look. “You’ve the pair of trousers you wore when we left Ládcastel, still. The Floating City won’t be kind to you as a girl, I don’t think, from what I know. I don’t think many of them have seen a girl in a while—least wise not a girl that’s not a whore.”

Helen stared at the sight out the window. Gently, Tomas touched his shoulder and neck.

“What’s it matter to you?” Helen asked quietly. “I’m a curious oddity, same as the chimera you make, or John is with his burn and strangeness. You picked me out of Ládcastel because—what? I speak and I’m self-taught and I know my way around a gun well enough, but I’m a bumpkin.”

“It matters.”

“You killed your crewman,” Helen accused, but the tone was not harsh or cruel.

“He was dying anyway. And anyway, he—”

John came down then, smiling at both of them. Tomas turned away from Helen and went silent as John continued to smile, now conspiratorially at Tomas. After a moment, he said, “We’re allowed to dock. We have a day, which is more than most random passers with no good trade get, so you can thank me for that later then.” He gave Tomas a heavy, appraising look.

Helen, without looking at either of them, took the ship into the Floating City.

Quickly, the daylight left them, and they were in mostly darkness but for lamp light along the dock as they moved in. Tomas took the helm when they came to the docks and tethers that they would be kept at for their stay, Helen watching and John lingering behind them quietly. After some time, they were tethered among a multitude of merchant ships and other types, and were cleared to leave onto all but the residential floors—which they were docked below, regardless.

John, as they left the ship, handed Tomas the Companion and a small calling card with a name printed on it, as well as a small purse of coins. Tomas took it all, barely looking up.

“I’m going to buy Helen a proper outfit,” John said simply, and Tomas looked up.

By then, they had moved away, though he could still make out John’s back. Helen, shorter than most others in the crowd near the airships, had disappeared beneath people’s shoulders.

Tomas looked at the Companion, who looked back at him with curious mechanical eyes and then mewled. Without thinking, Tomas put the beast over his shoulder—where it became quite comfortable after a moment—and set off in search of the man who made them here in the Floating City, with only a calling card and purse to guide him.

The money proved of more use than the card itself, sterling pounds of fresh mint that the merchants took kindly to as Tomas asked where he’d find the man that made the particular Companion on his shoulder. It narrowed the assortment down, at least, to black market pirates and sales men and finally to an artificer tucked in corner with the lights of his shop all turned down, the noises of animals wound down into the grating of gears and mechanics to rub of the nerves of passersby.

Around the door slithered a six foot long Orient dragon, little claws hooked into the post and lintel of the frame, scales gleaming as it twisted it’s head. It and the cat touched noses briefly as Tomas stood there, staring into the dim interior of the artificer’s shop. Slowly, the dragon came down from the frame of the entrance; standing on all four haunches it came to Tomas’s hip and was a fine creature. Tomas, quietly, stepped into the shop, and the dragon followed.

In the back, a light shone, and Tomas, curious, moved toward it. A four winged bird fluttered from a roost near the office down to the check stand before it, and bleated out a noise that was between a crow squawk and the chime of a old clock. Tomas, startled by the noise, roused into a cage of budgies, who fluttered noisily on their whirring wings. From the office, a silhouette appeared.

The lights came up in the main room, and the dragon, before on the floor, flipped up with a whir of air and mechanics like that of an airship, to contort and twist toward the office doors. A soot and oil streaked man, about the age the munitionist would be now, Tomas figured, stood there quietly observing him, as the four winged bird took to the air after the dragon.

Tomas, at a loss, said quite frankly, “It’s a remarkable thing you’re doing, with your work. I quite admire it.”

The artificer was silent, staring at the cat on Tomas’s shoulder. The Companion purred against Tomas’s ear, a constant mechanical hum that was as soothing and familiar as the engines of the Gallant.

“I didn’t know you were here until recently, though, though I’m sure I’ve seen your work before. I’ve come across Companions before. I…you see I take them, and I—”

“That’s mine,” the artificer said bluntly, pointing at the cat. Tomas stopped.

“I. I’m sorry?”

“That’s mine. Englishman stole it from me. It’s mine. I want it back.”

Tomas took the cat from his shoulders and placed it on the ground. It curled about his legs and purred and didn’t move toward the artificer.

“It’s mine. Englishman stole it. I want it back!”

“Alright,” Tomas said. “Alright, take it. Take it, it’s not mine, take it.”

The artificer appraised him quietly a moment, as the Companion finally seemed to realize that it was meant to approach him. It rolled itself over on nimble legs, jumping onto the check stand and sat placid and quietly, purring again after a moment. Tomas stood quietly a moment, slinking back toward the entrance of the shop.

The dragon, quietly, followed along with him, and Tomas worried silently of having the artificer snap at him. But he turned away to his office and the cat followed as the dragon followed Tomas. At the entrance, the dragon climbed up onto the post and lintel again, glittering and whirring and looking stunning and vaguely dangerous, like anything based, in some ways, off an airship.

Tomas, unsettled, turned and made his way back toward the tethers. He could not imagine staying here a full day.

Helen and John were still out when Tomas arrived at the Gallant, and Tomas crawled through it and walked the corridors silently and laid in the bed that had been his for so long which he had sacrificed for Helen’s sake while he had slept in the engine room on the rare occasion he did sleep on the ship, and John, now, holed up in Viktor’s old bunk. The sheets smelled sweet and a little musty. The room was in disarray, with clothes and books scattered everywhere. Tomas laid in the bed, inhaling the smell of teenager and hominess and earth, and wondered why it was he had brought Helen with him.

At some time, he drifted into warm, comfortable dreams, roused only by the noise of a body entering the hold. Addled by his impromptu slumber, he sat up in the bed, and didn’t move otherwise.

The next he looked, John stood in the doorway.

“…where’s Helen?”

“Really,” John said softly, “you have to wonder what sort of name that is for a boy. Does he have a queer sort of issue? I mean—not in the manner that you have, of course, with your proclivity for boys and violence, but. The boy goes by Helen and wears a smock.”

“Where. Is. Helen?”

“Oh, getting a little fresh are we? I might ask: where’s my Companion, hm, Tomas? I didn’t hand my cat over for you to sell it for a bit of fun with some bit on the side, you know.” John chuckled and shook his head a bit. Tomas stared at him incredulously.

“It wasn’t yours. You stole it. The artificer told me.”

John smiled and laughed, reaching out and cupping Tomas’s chin, pinching hard until Tomas obligingly opened his mouth.

“Well then we’re both little thieves, aren’t we? Help me pack this stuff up.”

“Why? Where’s Helen?”

John shook his head, still smiling and pinching Tomas’s chin. “You’re an idiot. You think I brought you to a den of pirates with something like that, and I wasn’t going to line my pockets with a little bit of money? Little Helen took quite the pretty price, going off to meet my friend in London.”

Tomas was still a moment. It seemed, in the stillness, that the book Helen had bought on that excursion into Old London appeared to him in his hand, hefty and thick. He swung, and this close, it connected with the solid exhale of John’s breath, the wet noise of a rib or two. John stumbled back, eyes wide and startled, as Tomas tossed the book aside on the bed, and stood up to his full height.

John, slowly, backed toward the door of the room as Tomas advanced. There was a stunted flurry of motion, John slowed by pain and Tomas sure of himself in the ship, before they were fumbling down the ladder into the engine room.

“Tomas. Tomas, don’t.”

From the rack of tools he kept, Tomas grabbed one of the hammers he used for flattening scrap metal before he welded it. John fell to the floor, and Tomas took an almighty swing at the other side of his ribcage.

“What ship?”

“Goddamn, man!”

“Tell me,” Tomas said, swinging back his arm again to prepare the follow through. “Tell me the name.”

“Cal…Calypso. The Calypso, it’s the Calypso, get off me!”

“You sold my linguist to pirates to put in a brothel,” Tomas said slow and quietly, arm still held back. “You expect it to be that easy?”

The next blow was still at John’s chest. The one after that to his arm. John’s face contorted with pain and anger and, for a moment, fear. Tomas dropped the hammer and turned away from him. There was blood smeared a bit on the grating of the floor. He could hear the rasp of John’s breathing, heavy and wet, behind him. From the wall, he picked an ugly, cruel metal knife.

“Tomas. No. Tomas!”

An hour later, Tomas’s hands were red and John’s head sat on the galley table. The engines burned brighter with tallow in them, but the whole of the Gallant stank. Tomas, without thinking, leaned and kissed the stiff, unmoving lips of the head on the table, and went up to take his ship out of the Floating City.

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