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Authors: Lian Tanner

Icebreaker

BOOK: Icebreaker
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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For Margaret Connolly, with love and thanks

 

MAIN CHARACTERS

O
N
THE
O
YSTER

 

P
ETREL

   

an orphan and an outcast; known to the crew as Nothing Girl

 

M
ISTER
S
MOKE

   

a rat, and a law unto himself

 

M
ISSUS
S
LINK

   

another rat, and one with a talent for stitching wounds

 

O
RCA
,
First Officer

   

a woman with little patience for fools (Braid)

 

C
RAB
,
Second Officer

   

a man who values tidiness above all things (Braid)

 

D
OLPH
,
Orca's daughter

   

a girl as sharp and proud as her mam (Braid)

 

K
RILL
,
Head Cook

   

a huge man whose gruffness is all on the surface (Duff)

 

S
QUID
,
Krill's daughter

   

a young woman with quick wits and a kind heart (Duff)

 

A
LBIE
,
Chief Engineer

   

a cunning, vicious-tempered man, and Petrel's uncle (Grease)

 

S
KUA
,
Albie's son

   

a bully, but not as dangerous as his da (Grease)

 

T
HE
S
LEEPING
C
APTAIN

   

who may or may not exist

 

A N
AMELESS
B
OY

   

found on an iceberg and brought onto the ship

 

O
THERS

 

T
HE
M
AW

   

a monstrous fish that follows the
Oyster

 

B
ROTHER
T
HRAWN

   

leader of the fanatical Anti-Machinists known as the Devouts

 

T
HE
T
HREE
T
RIBES

 

T
HE
O
FFICERS

   

They navigate and steer the ship. They live on the upper decks of the
Oyster
, which are called Braid.

 

T
HE
C
OOKS

   

They feed the crew and keep the stores. They live on the middle decks, or Dufftown.

 

T
HE
E
NGINEERS

   

They keep the ancient engines running, and anything else mechanical. They live on the lower decks, which are known as Grease Alley.

 

PROLOGUE

The child's face was beaten silver. His mind held the knowledge of ten thousand libraries. His fingers were so cunningly made that they could mend the broken bones in a kitten's paw, setting each one in place with care and precision.

So far, every moment of his short life had been spent hiding from the Anti-Machinists.

For all his cleverness, the child could never understand why his enemies hated him so much. “They have not even spoken to me,” he said to Professor Serran Coe. “They do not know me.”

“Ah, but they
think
they know you,” said Coe with an angry laugh. “They think they know all about you. According to them, you are an abomination, even worse than the automobiles and trains that they delight in smashing. They say you are too clever to be trusted. That you wish to set yourself up as a false god.”

“That is not true,” said the mechanical child.

“No, of course it isn't,” said the man who had made him. “The whole thing would be laughable, if only their aims were not so deadly. Last week they burned seven libraries and besieged a university. Their ideas are spreading, and not just in this country. A battle is being fought all across the world, between knowledge and ignorance … and ignorance is winning. I fear we are heading into a new Dark Age—”

A knock interrupted him, and a young woman peered anxiously around the door. “The Antis have found us again, Professor. They are twenty minutes away, a hundred or so of them, shouting their stupid slogans and brandishing their axes. We must leave, immediately. The carriages are waiting.”

Serran Coe did not move. Instead, he sat and stared at the mechanical child, as if trying to fix those fine silver features in his mind.

“Professor?” said the young woman.

“Yes, yes, I heard you.” Coe stood up and stuffed various papers into the pockets of his coat. “I will take him to the ship,” he said over his shoulder.

The young woman's face lost its color. “Must you?”

“We cannot put it off any longer. You and the others had best go to the university and begin packing up the laboratory. I will meet you there as soon as I can. Be careful. The mobs will be watching for us.”

The young woman bit her lip. “I wish they would chop each other to pieces,” she said fiercely. Then she rushed forward, kissed the mechanical child on his forehead and hurried out of the room with tears in her eyes.

“The ship?” said the mechanical child, staring after her. “I do not know of any ship.”

“It is my finest creation, after you,” said Professor Coe, taking a long metal box from a cupboard and placing it carefully on the table. “There has never been another ship like it. It could cruise for a hundred years at the farthest end of the earth if necessary, and never come to port.”

He grimaced. “Perhaps such a long voyage will not be needed. Perhaps this Anti-Machinist nonsense will fizzle out by summer's end. But somehow I doubt it. Come here, my dear.”

The mechanical child stood trustingly while a panel in his shoulder was unscrewed. “Will I like the ship?” he asked.

“You will like it—very much.” Professor Coe swallowed, peering down at the screwdriver in his hand as if it were an assassin's knife. “Forgive me,” he mumbled. Then, before he could change his mind, he dipped his fingers into the child's body and removed two intricately wired devices.

The light in the child's eyes died immediately and he fell against Coe in a jumble of limbs. The professor cradled him, then laid him carefully in the box, straightening his arms and legs and stroking his silver face.

“I have hired the most trustworthy crew I could find,” whispered Serran Coe, “but I dare not give you the run of the ship, in case there are Anti-Machinist spies among them. Sleep well, my dear. You are my joy, and the hope of the world.”

It was only when he had kissed the child's cheek and closed the lid of the box that he took a second box from the cupboard. This one was considerably smaller, and when Serran Coe opened it, a reluctant smile flickered across his face.

“You will be his guardians,” he said. “And when the world is safe again, your sacrifice will wake him.”

Before he left the house, the professor paused in the hallway to wrap his cloak around the boxes. Then he threw open the front door, looked both ways for signs of the approaching mob and ran down the steps to the waiting carriage.

 

Professor Coe was right—the Anti-Machinists did not fizzle out by summer's end. Instead, their grip on the world gradually tightened. They infiltrated armies. They toppled governments. They killed anyone who disagreed with them.

In this way, a hundred years passed.

 

And another hundred years …

 

And another. At the farthest end of the earth, the ship kept its course. But on board, much had changed …

 

CHAPTER 1

NOTHING GIRL

Petrel was asleep when they came after her. She'd made a nest of rags in the narrow space around the shaft of the wind turbines, and for once she was warm and almost happy. The familiar sound of the icebreaker's engines rumbled through her dreams like a lullaby, and she smiled, and snuggled down deeper into the rags.

The Officer bratlings might've caught her there if they'd had more sense. But they were so sure of themselves—so certain that
this
time they had her trapped—that they didn't even try to be quiet. Petrel woke to the sound of eager voices coming at her from two directions, and the smell of hot tar.

“This way! This way!”

“We've got her!”

There were ten of them, mostly girls, with Dolph grinning in anticipation at the front. Petrel saw them out of the corner of her eye as she sprang from her nest and leaped for the iron ladder above her head.

Dolph screamed, “There she goes! Quick, grab her!”

But by then Petrel was halfway through the rusty hatch that led to the next deck, and running for her life.

BOOK: Icebreaker
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