Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 55

“I wouldn’t go that far. I’ve been living without their use for almost a year. I assure you, human staff are perfectly serviceable. Perhaps not quite so strong, but better able to follow complex instructions.”

They were getting off point. “Why ‘Rule, Britannia!’?”

Monique looked genuinely confused. “What are you on about?”

Monique had either gotten better at playing dumb or she didn’t know that “Rule, Britannia!” was the song malfunctioning mechanicals sang. It hadn’t been named in the papers. Perhaps Monique was just executing commands without knowing the end result? But that idea didn’t sit right; something was off here.

“How are you doing it with only one crystalline valve?” Sophronia persisted. “I thought the technology meant you would need one for each mechanical.”

Monique looked confused again and shook her head. “I assure you, Mr. Smollet is perfectly capable of undertaking the necessary, with the system provided.”

Sophronia couldn’t help feeling that they were talking at cross-purposes. If anything, Monique seemed as frustrated with Sophronia as Sophronia was with her. Monique would enjoy avoiding questions and being difficult, if she knew what Sophronia wanted. Clearly, she didn’t.

Monique returned to griping. “Really, Sophronia, I knew you were thick, but how can you be on their side? Don’t you realize how dependent we have become on mechanicals? How lazy and slothful.”

“For certain, Monique. I can certainly see you washing your own laundry. Making your own tea. Dusting your own china.”

Monique almost growled. “No, you idiot, not that! Who controls the mechanicals? Who controls the government? We have allowed them too much power. We have allowed them too much control.”

“Funny, there are many who say exactly that about vampires. It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Monique actually squealed in annoyance. “And you have the wrong perspective. Let me down, you idiot, you’re going too fast. They are going to spot you.”

“Who is?”

Monique’s gaze fixed on the side forward window near Soap. “Too late,” she said. “Too late.”

Sophronia, although she knew it could be a trick, turned to see what Monique was staring at.

Out of the clouds, a little to the front of them, floated that same dirigible. Now it was much closer. It was sinking down, and it was heading toward them.

“Outrun them,” advised Monique. “Get away now, Sophronia. Shovel coal as if your life depends upon it, because your life just may.”

“Really, Monique, you can’t frighten me. Who are they, anyway?”

“Flywaymen, of course. Who were you expecting, the British Navy? Get away now! They aren’t going to take this lightly, and they are going to think it’s coming from you, because I won’t admit to anything.”

Sophronia only said, “I think they’ll see reason, if I explain myself properly.”

Monique let out a genuine bark of laughter. “My dear, even you are not that persuasive. You do know what we have been doing, don’t you?”

“Messing with mechanicals.”

Monique shook her head. “Silly child.”

Sophronia turned away, suddenly worried. “Soap, give her more power.”

Soap was already shaking his head. “Another switch, we can’t risk it. We’re getting in closer to Birmingham and there’s likely to be more trains sharing the tracks, even on rural lines.”

They had to stop at the signal.

The dirigible moved inexorably down toward them. It floated out of sight around the front of the locomotive, so that when they started back up again they had no idea exactly where it had gone.

Soap stuck his head out the door to see, swinging wide so most of his body was arched out, holding on to the jamb with a free hand.

It had Sophronia’s heart in her throat, but she knew better than to call him back or express concern. Soap would never question her abilities; it wasn’t for her to question his. In this they understood each other completely.

“Nothing,” he said, returning to his station as driver.

Sophronia shoved Monique aside and did the same out the other door, swinging out not quite so much.

Monique tried to shove Sophronia with her foot but was hampered by skirts.

Sophronia whacked her smartly with the backside of her closed fan in retribution.

The tracks began to curve enough for Sophronia to catch sight of…

“Soap, brakes!” she yelled. “Those fools landed on the line!”

SESSION 11: FELIX VERSUS THE FLYWAYMEN

Soap yanked on the brake lever. The locomotive screamed in protest. Sidheag’s eyes went wide in sympathy for the poor train. She and her little friend stopped stoking and began scraping the coals out into the grate in an effort to cool the boilers.

The engine stuck out so far in front of the cab that they had no idea how much leeway they had before they crashed. They could do nothing more than slow the train as soon as possible. Sophronia was certain the wheels were sparking against the brakes.

The train squealed to a stop well before the dirigible. The abruptness of the halt almost threw Sophronia out the cab door. She scrabbled for purchase and hoped Dimity and Felix were adequately braced. She must rely on Dimity to act the capable intelligencer, and Felix not to let his ego get in the way of sensible precautions. She had no idea it would be so challenging to depend on the abilities of others.

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