Read Mortal Engines me-1: Mortal Engines Online

Authors: Phillip Reeve

Tags: #sf_fantasy

Mortal Engines me-1: Mortal Engines (23 page)

36. THE SHADOW OF BONES

Hester took the lead, climbing up through the open top of the dome into smoky firelight and the shadow of the great weapon. Off to her right, the charred skeleton of the 13th Floor Elevator lay draped over the ruins of the Engineerium like a derelict rollercoaster. The fire had spread to the Guildhall, and the Planning Department and the Hall of Records were blazing, hurling out firefly-swarms of sparks and millions of pink and white official forms. St Paul’s was an island in a sea of fire, with the Jenny Haniver swinging above it like a low-budget moon, scorched and listing, veering drunkenly in the updraughts from the burning buildings.

She climbed higher, out on to the cobra-hood of MEDUSA. Valentine came after her; she could hear him whispering to Katherine, his eyes fixed on the struggling airship.

“What idiot is flying that thing?” he shouted, working his way across the cowl to join her.

“It’s Tom!” Hester called back, and stood up, waving both arms and shouting, “Tom! Tom!”

 

* * *

 

It was the shawl that Tom saw first, the one he had bought for her in Peripatetiapolis. Knotted round her neck now, streaming on the wind, it made a sudden flash of red, and he saw it from the corner of his eye and looked down and saw her there, waving. Then a black wing of smoke came down over her and he wondered if he had only imagined that tiny figure inching out on to the cobra’s hood, because it seemed impossible that anyone could survive in this huge fire that he had caused. He made the
Jenny Haniver
swoop closer. The smoke lifted, and there she was, flapping her arms, with her long black coat and her long-legged stride and her ugly, wonderful face.

 

* * *

 

Katherine opened her eyes. The cold inside her was growing, spreading from the place where the sword had gone in. She was still hiccuping, and she thought how stupid it would be to die with hiccups, how undignified. She wished Dog was with her. “Tom! Tom!” somebody kept shouting. She turned her head and saw an airship coming down out of the smoke, closer and closer until the side of the gondola scraped against MEDUSA’s cowl and she felt the down-draught from its battered engine pods. Father was carrying her towards it, and she could see Tom peering out at her through the broken windscreen, Tom who had been there when it all began, whom she had thought was dead. But here he was, alive, looking shocked and soot-stained, with a V-shaped wound on his forehead like the mark of some unknown Guild.

The gondola was much bigger inside than she expected. In fact, it was a lot like Clio House, and Dog and Bevis were both waiting for her there, and her hiccups had stopped, and her wound wasn’t as bad as everyone had thought, it was just a scratch. Sunlight streamed in through the windows as Tom flew them all up and up into a sky of the most perfect crystal blue, and she relaxed gratefully into her father’s arms.

Hester reached the airship first, hauling herself aboard through its shattered flank. But when she looked back, holding out her hand to Valentine, she saw that he had fallen to his knees, and realized Katherine was dead.

She stayed there, still with her hand outstretched, not quite knowing why. There was an electric shimmer in the air above the white metal hood. She shouted, “Valentine! Be quick!”

He lifted his eyes from his daughter’s face just long enough to say, “Hester! Tom! Fly! Save yourselves!”

Behind her Tom was cupping his hands to his ears and shouting, “What did he say? Is that Katherine? What’s happened?”

“Just go!” she yelled, and, clambering past him, started switching all the engines that still worked to full power. When she looked down again Valentine was dwindling away below, a dark shape cradled in his arms, a pale hand trailing. She felt like Katherine’s ghost, rising into the sky. There was a terrible pain inside her and her breath came in sobs and something wet and hot was spilling down her cheek. She wondered if she could have been wounded without noticing it, but when she put her hands to her face her fingers came away wet, and she understood that she was crying, crying for her mum and dad, and Shrike, and Katherine, and even for Valentine as the crackling light around the cathedral grew brighter and Tom steered the
Jenny Haniver
away into the dark.

 

* * *

 

Down in the Gut, London’s enormous motors suddenly cut out, without warning and all at once, doused by the strange radiations that were starting to sleet through the city’s fabric. For the first time since it crossed the land-bridge the great Traction City started to slow.

In a hastily barricaded gallery in the London Museum, Chudleigh Pomeroy peered cautiously over the replica of the Blue Whale and saw that the squads of Stalkers advancing on his last redoubt had all stopped in their tracks, pale clouds of sparks coiling about their metal skulls like barbed wire. “Great Quirke!” he said, turning to his surviving handful of Historians. “We’ve won!”

 

* * *

 

Valentine watches the red airship fly away, lit by the flames of Top Tier and by the spitting forks of light that are beginning to flare around St Paul’s. He can hear hopeless fire-bells jangling somewhere below, and the panic-stricken shouts of fleeing Engineers. A halo of St Elmo’s fire flares around {Catherine’s face and her hair sparks and cracks as he strokes it. He gently moves a stray strand which has blown into her mouth, and holds her close, and waits—and the storm-light breaks over them and they are a knot of fire, a rush of blazing gas, and gone: the shadows of their bones scattering into the brilliant sky.

37. THE BIRD ROADS

London wore a wreath of lightning. It was as if the ray that should have reached out across a hundred miles to sear the stones of Batmunkh Gompa had tangled around the upper tiers instead, sending cataracts of molten metal splashing down the city’s flanks. Explosions surged through the Gut, heaving vast fragments of wreckage end-over-end into the sky like dead leaves in a gale. A few airships rose with them, seeking to escape, but their envelopes ignited and they shrivelled and fell, small bright flakes of fire amid the greater burning.

Only the
Jenny Haniver
survived, riding on the fringes of the storm, spinning and pitching as the shock waves battered her, streamers of rainbow light spilling from her rigging and rotor-blades. Her engines had all failed together in that first great pulse of energy, and nothing that Tom knew how to do would make them start again. He slumped down in what was left of the pilot’s seat, weeping, watching helplessly as the night wind carried him further and further from his dying city.

“It’s my fault,” was all he could think to say. “It’s all my fault…”

Hester was watching too, staring back at the place where St Paul’s had been as if she could still see the after-images of Katherine and her father lost in the brightness there. “Oh, Tom, no,” she said. “It was an accident. Something went wrong with their machine. It was Valentine’s fault, and Crome’s. It was the Engineers’ fault for getting the thing to work and my mum’s fault for digging it up in the first place. It was the Ancients’ fault for inventing it. It was Pewsey’s and Gench’s fault for trying to kill you, and Katherine’s for saving my life…”

She sat down beside him, wanting to comfort him but afraid to touch him, while her reflections sneered at her from fractured dials and blades of window-glass, more monstrous than ever in the fluttering glare of MEDUSA. Then she thought,
Silly, he came back, didn’t he? He came back for you.
Trembling, she put her arms around him and pulled him close, nuzzling the top of his head, shyly kissing away the blood from the fresh wound between his eyebrows, hugging him tight until the dying weapon had spent itself and the first grey daylight crept across the plain.

“It’s all right, Tom,” she kept telling him. “It’s all right…”

London was far away, motionless under banners of smoke. Tom found Miss Fang’s old field glasses and focused them on the city. “
Someone
must have survived,” he said, hoping that saying it would make it true. “I bet Mr Pomeroy and Clytie Potts are down there, organizing rescue parties and handing out cups of tea… …” But through the smoke, the steam, the pall of hanging ash he could see nothing, nothing, nothing, and although he swung the binoculars to and fro, growing increasingly desperate, all they showed him were the bony shapes of blackened girders, and the scorched earth littered with torn-off wheels and blazing lakes of fuel and broken tracks lying tangled on themselves like the cast-off skins of enormous snakes.

“Tom?” Hester had been trying the controls, and had found to her surprise that the rudder-levers still worked. The
Jenny Haniver
responded to her touch, turning this way and that on the wind. She said gently, “Tom, we could try and reach Batmunkh Gompa. We’ll be welcome there. They’ll probably think you’re a hero.”

But Tom shook his head: behind his eyes the
13th Floor Elevator
was still spiralling towards Top Tier and Pewsey and Gench were riding their black, silent screams into the fire. He didn’t know what he was, but he knew he was no hero.

“All right,” said Hester, understanding. It took time to get over things sometimes, she knew that. She would be patient with him. She said, “We’ll head for the Black Island. We can repair the
Jenny
at the air-caravanserai. And then we’ll take the Bird Roads and go somewhere far away. The Hundred Islands, or the Tannhauser Mountains, or the Southern Ice Waste. I don’t mind where. As long as I can come too.”

She knelt beside him, resting her arms on his knees and her head on her arms, and Tom found that he was smiling in spite of himself at her crooked smile. “You aren’t a hero, and I’m not beautiful, and we probably won’t live happily ever after,” she said. “But we’re alive, and together, and we’re going to be all right.”

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am gratefully indebted to Leon Robinson and Brian Mitchell, who provided me with inspiration, encouragement and good ideas, to Mike Grant, who published my early efforts in his late lamented small-press magazine The Heliograph, and to Liz Cross, Kirsten Skidmore and Holly Skeet, without whose patience, enthusiasm and sound advice this book would have ended its days in my fireplace as a lot of very neatly typed kindling.

 

Philip Reeve

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Document ID: fbd-d30f3c-a520-8e4c-3ba0-7a83-4ec0-b116e8

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