THIRTY-FOUR. 1

The nightmare had come again.

It was the same as always—the heat, the smell of propane, the awful crackle of ropes snapping. Then falling to the ground, pushed from the gondola by her da, and watching him soar away, burning in midair.

Deryn had known the dream was coming from the moment she’d closed her eyes. After all, she’d been watching as the rocket had climbed up from the dark water and struck the jitney, setting one of its flimsy balloons alight. The dreadful image hadn’t left her mind even when the messenger eagle had arrived half an hour later, carrying the news that all hands had survived.

So she’d lain there all night, drifting in and out of conflagrations.

As the sun rose at last, Deryn flung the covers from herself. It was no use pretending to sleep. Today was going to be its own nightmare.

“All hands” meant Eddie Malone was still alive. He’d no doubt made it to the offices of the World with his airgirl story in hand. The Leviathan was docked only forty miles from New York City. Once the British consulate spotted the story, the news would make its way here by the fastest messenger eagle they could find.

At least the captain was off the ship. Deryn doubted that the first officer would have the nerve to toss her into the brig without orders.

Still, the looks on her shipmates’ faces would be bad enough.

Twisted knee or not, Deryn decided to wear a decent uniform for when the officers came calling. She had just dressed when a knock came at her door.

She stood there, staring out the window. Was this it, then? The end of everything she’d worked for?

“Come in,” she said softly. But it was only the lady boffin, her loris, and Tazza.

“Good morning, Mr. Sharp.”

Deryn didn’t answer, just stuck out her hand for Tazza to nuzzle.

Dr. Barlow frowned. “Are you unwell, Mr. Sharp? You look a bit peaked.”

“It’s just… I had a bad night’s sleep.”

“Poor dear. Our welcome to New York was unsettling, wasn’t it? But at least we had a bit of luck.”

“Aye, ma’am,” Deryn sighed. “Of course, if that bumrag Eddie Malone had been a bit less lucky, I might be happier.”

“Ah, I see.” Dr. Barlow pulled out the chair from Deryn’s desk and sat. “You find this morning’s news dismaying.”

Deryn swallowed. “News?”

“Of course. The whole ship is abuzz with the story.” Smiling, the lady boffin produced a neatly folded newspaper from her handbag.

“So it’s—it’s already…,” Deryn sputtered. “And the officers sent you?”

“No one sent anyone, young man.” Dr. Barlow handed the paper over.

Deryn spread it out, her heart thudding in her chest, the bees inside her kneecap awake and angry. In the middle of the front page was a photograph of Alek looking sodden before the wrecked sky jitney, and below that a huge headline said:

SECRET HEIR TO AUSTRIA’S THRONE SURVIVES ROCKET ATTACK

Little wonder that the attempt on Alek’s life was the main story. And as her eyes traveled across the page, Deryn found articles asking whether German agents had been involved, asking whether they’d also meant to kill Nikola Tesla, and about an election for the city’s mayor.

1

“FRONT PAGE.”

There was, however, not a single word on the subject of Deryn Sharp.

She flipped through the next few pages, finding photographs of the Leviathan over Tokyo, the airship’s encounter with Pancho Villa, and the German ambassador denouncing the great inventor’s threats against the Clanker Powers. There was even a somewhat mad allegorical illustration of Tesla taming the Darwinist and Clanker Powers with electricity.

But still no mad airgirl.

Deryn groaned. “Malone’s just waiting, isn’t he?”

“I think you’re missing the point, young man. The first headline says it all.”

Deryn turned back to the front page, and stared.

“‘The Secret Heir to Austria’s Throne,’” she murmured, the words finally sinking in. “But how did Eddie Malone find out about the pope’s letter?”

Dr. Barlow tutted. “The pope’s letter? Hah! I suspected you knew about all this!”

“Aye, ma’am. Alek told me back in Istanbul.”

“Indeed. One might ask if everyone on this ship has a secret identity?”

“I hope not, ma’am. It’s quite a bother, you know.” Deryn shook her head. “But why would he tell that…”

“That bum-rag,” supplied the lady boffin’s loris politely.

Then, all in a flash, Deryn understood. Alek had made another trade. Just like in Istanbul, when Malone had been about to reveal the revolution’s plans, and Alek had agreed to tell his life story in exchange for the man’s keeping silent.

But this time he’d given up his secrets for her.

“Oh,” Deryn said softly.

“‘Oh,’ indeed,” the lady boffin said. “That was rather slow, Mr. Sharp. Are you sure you didn’t bump your head along with your knee?”

Deryn looked up from the newspaper. “Why are you calling me Mr. Sharp?”

“Because you would appear to be the midshipman of that name. And given this”—Dr. Barlow tapped the newspaper—“no one is likely to believe otherwise. Now please get ready. We shall be traveling within the hour.”

“Traveling, ma’am?”

“To New York City. The Serbian consulate is giving a party for Mr. Tesla and Prince Aleksandar this afternoon. A formal uniform is required, of course. I see you’ve managed to dress yourself.”

“Aye. But why are you dragging me along?”

“Mr. Sharp, you apparently have the ear—perhaps even the affections, though I shudder to think it—of the legal heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.” Dr. Barlow snapped for Tazza. “As long as your little skeleton remains in the closet, the Zoological Society of London shall have many uses for you. Now get ready, Mr. Sharp.”

Mr. Sharp,” her loris said.

The ride across the Hudson River was splendid—the Statue of Liberty standing tall to the south, the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan ahead. Even the ferry’s engine smoke pouring out across the blue sky looked rather grand. Deryn had grown used to Clanker engines over the last three months, she supposed, just as Alek had become a bit of a Darwinist. The rumble of the motors through her body felt almost natural now, and seemed to soothe her injured knee.

She and Dr. Barlow—and their marine escort—were met by an armored walker at the ferry docks. It was smaller than a proper war machine, nimble enough for the crowded streets of New York, but definitely bulletproof. After the attack last night, no one from the Leviathan would be venturing out unprotected. Deryn’s rigging knife waited in a sheath inside her jacket, and the walking cane that Klopp had made for her was topped with a brass ball the size of an empress plum.

She might be dodgy in one leg, but Deryn reckoned she still had a bit of fight left.

The walker made its way through teeming crowds and beneath elevated trains. As they traveled north, the buildings grew shorter and were more like the row houses of London than skyscrapers. The air was clearer here than in Istanbul, the city driven more by electricity than steam, thanks to the influence of Tesla and the other great American inventor, Mr. Thomas Edison.

At last the walker reached the Serbian consulate, a large and solemn stone building with a line of policemen stretched along the footpath outside.

“Blisters. They look ready for trouble.” Deryn turned from the small windows. “But the Germans wouldn’t be daft enough to start a fight in the middle of Manhattan, would they?”

“The Germans will test President Wilson’s patience, I’m sure,” the lady boffin answered. “But the country is divided. There may have been hard words for Germany in the New York World this morning, but Mr. Hearst’s papers called the attack the work of anarchists, not Clankers.”

“Hmph,” Deryn said. “Maybe that bum-rag really is a German agent.”

“Mr. Hearst certainly dislikes the British.” The walker lumbered to a halt, and Dr. Barlow began to straighten herself. “And the Germans know that one stray rocket won’t drag America into war.”

Deryn frowned. “Ma’am, do you reckon the Germans were after Alek? Or are they more worried about Mr. Tesla?”

“Last night I’d guess they wanted Tesla.” Dr. Barlow sighed. “But after reading this morning’s papers, their priorities may shift.”

Within the consulate walls it was easy to forget the armed policemen outside. White-gloved butlers in velvet tails took the lady boffin’s hat and traveling coat, and the strains of dance music echoed from the marble walls. At a short staircase past the entryway, Dr. Barlow kindly took Deryn’s arm, lifting a bit of weight off her bad knee.

The beastie on Deryn’s wound had done its work quickly, and she could walk without limping now, but she was still glad for her cane. The sounds of voices and music grew as a butler guided them through the consulate to a large and crowded ballroom.

The party was in full swing. Half the gentlemen were in military uniforms, the other half in morning dress—striped trousers and tailcoats. The ladies wore soft pastels, a few hemlines rising to the daring height of midcalf. Deryn’s aunties would have been scandalized, but perhaps it was only another sign that American women were changing fast.

Of course, that all mattered less to Deryn now that her secret was safe again. She wouldn’t be staying here in America, but heading off with Dr. Barlow to work for her mysterious Society. Deryn had been so relieved this morning that it had taken all day for that simple fact to sink in—when the Leviathan departed for London tonight, she would be leaving Alek behind.

Just as the thought struck her, there he was across the ballroom, with Bovril on his shoulder, standing beside Tesla in a group of fawning civilians.

“Pardon me, ma’am.”

Dr. Barlow followed Deryn’s gaze. “Ah, yes, of course. But do be… diplomatic, Mr. Sharp.”

“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” Deryn said. “But I’ve been diplomatic enough to fool you these last three months.”

“Gloating is unchivalrous, young man.”

Deryn only snorted at that, and made her way across the room. She was soon within earshot of Tesla, who was expounding about the commercial potential of Goliath—how he could use it not just to destroy cities, but to broadcast moving pictures and free power to the whole world.

She hovered at the edge of the circle of rapt listeners until she caught Bovril’s eye. The beastie murmured something into Alek’s ear, and soon the boy was easing himself away from Mr. Tesla, who hardly noticed.

A moment later they were alone together in a corner.

“Deryn Sharp,” Bovril said softly.

“Aye, beastie.” She looked into Alek’s eyes as she stroked the loris’s head. “Thank you.”

Alek wore the same soft smile he always did when he was rather proud of something. “I promised to protect your secret, didn’t I?”

“Aye, by lying. Not by telling the barking truth!’

“Well, I couldn’t let you be disgraced. You’re the best soldier I know.”

Deryn turned away. There was so much she wanted to tell Alek, but it was all too complicated and unsoldierly to say here.

She began with, “Volger must be a bit angry with you.”

“He’s been oddly calm about it.” Alek’s gaze drifted over Deryn’s shoulder, but she didn’t turn to look. “In fact, he’s at work charming the French ambassador as we speak. We’ll need their recognition if I’m ever to take the throne.”

“Hang the barking throne. I’m just glad you’re not dead!”

Alek’s eyes came back to her. “As am I.”

“Sorry to be snappy,” she mumbled. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”

“It was almost like your father’s accident, wasn’t it?” He displayed his hands. “But I emerged without a scratch. Maybe the curse is broken. Providence.”

“Aye, there’s no denying you’ve got a ruinous case of good luck.” She looked away. “But now that I’m Midshipman Dylan Sharp again, I’ll have to leave with the Leviathan. Our twenty-four hours is up tonight.”

“Ah, I’d forgotten that this is still a neutral port.” Alek’s stare faltered, as if he’d only just realized that by protecting her secret he’d sent her away. “Not much chance of them kicking you off now, is there?”

“No.” She looked around at all the people in their fancy clothes. No one was watching her and Alek, but it still seemed wrong to say good-bye in a crowd.

“You could still…” He cleared his throat. “What if you stayed anyway?”

“What? You mean jump ship?”

“Why not? Sooner or later they’re going to find out what you are, Deryn. And now that your secret’s safe, you can join us without a scandal.”

“Desertion is worse than a scandal, Alek. I can’t abandon my shipmates.”

“But if they knew what you were, they’d abandon you.”

She stared at him for a long moment, then shrugged. He was right enough, but that wasn’t what mattered. “My country’s at war, and I’m no deserter.”

“You can help your country by ending the war. Stay with me, Deryn.”

She shook her head, unable to speak. She wanted to stay, of course, but not for any noble reasons. However awful this war might be, she wasn’t guided by anything so grand as making peace. Being steered by providence was for barking princes, not common soldiers.

And what Deryn wanted was out of reach, whether she stayed here or went ten thousand miles away.

Alek couldn’t read her thoughts, of course. He straightened and said in a small voice, “Sorry. That was foolish of me. We both have our duty. In fact, Mr. Tesla is talking to some very rich men over there. We’ll need their money to make improvements to Goliath.”

“You should go back and impress them with your Latin, then.”

“The faster this war is over, the quicker we can…” His voice faded.

“See each other again, aye.”

Alek clicked his heels. “Good-bye, Deryn Sharp.”

“Good-bye, Aleksandar of Hohenberg.” She felt a hard spot growing in her throat. This was really happening. They’d be apart for years now, and all she could think to say was, “You’re not going to get soppy and kiss my hand, are you?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Alek’s bow turned into a slow step backward, as if he were trying to leave but couldn’t. Then his gaze went past her, and he smiled with relief. “In any case, there’s someone else who wants a moment with you.”

Deryn closed her eyes. “Please don’t tell me it’s that bum-rag Malone.”

“Not at all,” Alek said. “It’s the ambassador of the Ottoman Republic and his beautiful young assistant.”

“The who and his what?” Deryn said as she turned around.

Standing before her were Lilit and the Kizlar Agha.

1

“OLD ALLIES.”

Contents

Обращение к пользователям