Sleep, little sister – The first rumblings – Professor Wadcroft – Andrew Parsons – The Rifle Club goes to war – Professor Enderby – The last throes – Alexandra Tennant
In the presence of suffering
Rina Prescott reporting
This world can be a place of misery. Pessimistic voices might say that it is a well oiled machine for making people suffer. Sometimes, it is necessary, like a kite that cannot rise, except against the wind. We must suffer the boredom of study to become who we want to be. What is important to remember, is that suffering is relative to one’s experience. A new-born babe suffers most grievously from the first slap on the bottom, and howls in anguish, when we would barely notice such a treatment later in life.
It is important to be aware of other people’s suffering. Imagine a gathering of veteran soldiers, most of whom are missing limbs, blind, or are driven to insanity by the constant presence of death. Imagine some thoughtless person walking in and telling them that they know exactly what they feel, having read everything written about the last Franco-Prussian war, in the warmth and comfort of their own home. Such a person would be in for a severe beating, if only with words.
In such a situation, silence is the best policy.
It was early in the morning when Brenda, Father, Fatin, and I sat down in the front row of the operating theatre. Fatin had Raage in his sling. Father sat next to her. We would be able to see everything, be it to watch my sister Alexandra be healed, or to watch her die. Dr. Singh was a well known figure in his field. There was a large gathering of medical students, here to watch him at work. They didn’t seem to recognise us, but they were eagerly discussing all the things that could go wrong in a large operation like this, from sudden heart failure to excessive doses of Ether. My sister would be put in a sleep deeper than any she had been in, one step up from death. A bell rung out three times, and a hush descended. A speaker came in, announcing the names of Dr. Bernhardt and Dr. Singh, and giving a summary of the things that were to be done. I sneered as he referred to my beloved sister only as ‘The Patient’, but then again, most of the people here did not know her, except maybe as ‘The sniper lady’ who had started a little social club involving rifles. I looked round to see Miss Linda Davenport and her little notebook. She smiled at me, crossed her fingers.
“Here she is,” said Fatin.
I looked. Orderlies came in pushing an operating table where my sister was already sleeping. A mask was over her face, sending the deadly fumes into her lungs. Her legs were bare, coloured with the evidence of her ordeal, and lathered in antiseptic solution where the cuts were to be made. I looked at Father, who sat up straight on the bench, his face betraying nothing of his thoughts. Dr. Singh and Dr. Bernhardt came in, wearing masks, holding up their gloved hands in front of them. Dr. Bernhardt would be guarding Alexandra’s vital signs, while Dr. Singh would replace my poor sister’s broken knees with unbreakable metal replacements. Assistants, similarly robed and masked, hovered round to hand Dr. Singh his tools.
Dr. Bernhardt put his stethoscope in his ears, and started listening to Alexandra’s breath and heartbeat. Dr. Singh wasted not a moment. After a few words spoken with Dr. Bernhardt, he held out his hand and was given a sharp scalpel. I shivered as he, surely and quickly, cut into Alexandra’s skin, folded it back, and stopped it bleeding with clamps. I could hear the whispers of the students round me, praising his technique, but I didn’t care. To me, it looked like it would never come right again. I felt Fatin’s hand in mine. She was singing softly, under her breath. Her eyes spoke of an unshakable faith that I envied her. Her smile filled me with hope.
It took Dr. Singh only a few minutes to expose Alexandra’s bones. Behind me, two students were discussing how Dr. Singh had to choose what tissue to cut, and what to leave. I tried to shut them out. Without hesitating, Dr. Singh put down the scalpel, and called for the saw. He exchanged a look with Dr. Bernhardt, who listened carefully to Alexandra’s heart, then nodded. I could not hear the noise of the saw, but my imagination was enough. I closed my eyes a moment, but then opened them again, feeling I owed it to my sister to witness every last moment of this. A thousand fears assailed me. Alexandra would wake up too soon, screaming in pain. The Doctors would try to wake her and fail. They would make a fatal mistake, and have to remove Alexandra’s legs. My worst fear, though, was that Dr. Bernhardt would look up, frighened, then a few minutes of frantic activity would follow, and then the final resignation. The sheet would be pulled over Alexandra’s lovely battered face, and they would wheel her out of the theatre, apologising to all present.
After a while, Dr. Singh put down the saw, was handed another scalpel, made a few more careful cuts, and then he pulled away Alexandra’s knee joint. He held it up for a few moments, turning it in his hands, looking at it from all sides, then put it in a kidney-shaped dish held up for him by an assistant. He spoke a few words, and then another assistant handed Dr. Singh the shining metal object carefully crafted by Andrew Parsons. After exchanging a look with Dr. Bernhardt, he put his hand carefully on Alexandra’s thigh and pushed the end onto her exposed femur. He nodded appreciatively at Dr. Bernhardt. A perfect fit. He took the prosthetic out again, and from a bowl plastered a paste into the end. I almost laughed. They were going to glue my sister’s leg up! Next came a surgical drill, to drill pilot holes into my sister’s very bones. I had done the very same thing as a ship’s carpenter. Were we Humans to be reduced to mere pieces of handicraft?
Dr. Singh worked quickly. Every minute that Alexandra was under the Aether was a calculated risk. With confident, swift motions of his hands, he inserted Alexandra’s bones in the place where they were meant to go, fixed them with screws, then rearranged the muscle and other tissues. He nodded at an assistant, and she began to close the horrific wounds and suture up the skin, so that Alexandra’s leg almost looked normal again. Meanwhile, Dr. Singh, after another quick exchange with Dr. Bernhardt, started on Alexandra’s other leg.
“Tennant.” Brenda knocked her knuckles on my shoulder. She leaned over to me.
“Don’t look. One of the students on my nine is carrying a bowie knife under his shirt. That’s not a religious thing is it?”
A chill ran up my spine. I resisted looking. “I daresay it isn’t.”
Brenda nodded, then turned to Father. “Skipper?”
Father looked round. “Miss Lee?”
“We’re under attack. You get Missus Tennant back to the Lady, and we’ll get the bastards. Leave to your right.”
Father gave her a look, then nodded. “Fatin, my dear, I fear we must leave. The Enemy is near.”
Fatin looked at Father, then at me.
“I’m hunting,” I said.
“Good hunting,” said Fatin.
Father and Fatin got up, and she took his arm. Together they walked up to the exit, leaving me and Brenda.
“How many?” I said.
“Two. One more by the door. What the hell are they planning?”
“To kill us all,” I said. “What else?”
Brenda looked ahead through narrowing eyes. “I ain’t ready to die. Ain’t got naked with Andrew Parsons yet.”
“Neither have I,” I said. I looked over my shoulder. Fatin and Father were half way to the door and I looked closely to see if there were any attackers Brenda had missed. I hadn’t brought any weapons. Why would I?
“To hell with this,” said Brenda. She got to her feet and walked straight to the ‘student’ with the big knife. She kicked his feet.
“Watch what you’re doing, cocksucker!”
The student glared at her and went for his knife. Brenda’s arm shot forward with lethal speed, a flat palm to the face. His head snapped back, and he slumped in his seat. Brenda reached out and took his knife. She ran up the stairs, where another knife wielder was waiting for her. He slashed out at her, but she ducked, and struck his leg. He fell down the stairs at her feet, and without a moment’s hesitation, she stabbed him in the back, grabbed his knife, and ran to the door.
I ran up the other flight of stairs. I looked up at my father, who had made it to the door. Someone stood up, also drawing a large knife. Father pushed Fatin behind him, grabbed the man’s knife arm, and then with all his might kicked him in the shin with his steel foot. The man screamed, and Father threw him tumbling down the stairs. He landed sprawled in front of me, kindly providing me with a weapon. I stepped on his arm and took his knife away from him. I turned it round in my hand and administered a short sharp blow to the back of the head. I ran up and joined my father and Brenda. Behind me, panic started. I stepped away from the door as a wave of students came through, running for their lives. I exchanged a look with Brenda. A dangerous little grin was on her face. She was enjoying herself!
“Father? We’ll take you all to Lady I. Then…”
Father shook his head. “You had better see that Alexandra and our friends are allright. I will take Fatin and little Raage to our Lady. You make yourselves useful here.”
“Just what the hell is going on here.” We looked, and saw the solid form of Porter Barker walk up through a wave of fleeing students.
Brenda raised her bloody knife. “Aren’t the doctors down there the only ones allowed to cut people open?”
Barker growled. “They are. I expect you’ll be wanting to give me that knife.”
“Life is full of expectations, Mister. This is one that ain’t gonna happen.”
“Barker,” I said. “There were three attackers. There may be more. There may be other targets. Parsons. Wadcroft. Enderby. Are more Porters on their way here?”
“Aye,” said Barker.
“Then why don’t you hold the fort here, we’ll look for the others.”
Barker gave me a dark look, then decided we would do as temporary deputy Porters. “Very well, Sir,” he said, and without another word he walked into the operating theatre.
Father and Fatin walked away in the direction of the front door. I looked at Brenda. I held up my knife.
“Look what I found,” I said.
“I found two,” said Brenda.
“Brenda ‘Two Hands’ Lee,” I said. “Wanna go find Prof Wadcroft?”
“Lead on,” said Brenda, and we set off for the Dons’ living quarters. “I’m sure that ‘Two Hands’ is already taken.”
There is something immensely satisfying in running through hallways. If you can do it while wielding weapons and with a deep sense of purpose, so much the better. The first stop was Prof. Wadcroft’s chambers. The door was open. The room was in disarray, one of the cupboards fallen over, the desk upturned.
“Professor!” I shouted.
“Carl?” Wadcroft’s voice sounded shaky.
“Yes! Are you all right?”
“Not very, my lad. If you could see your way clear to getting me some medical aid, that would be splendid. Oh. Mind the gentleman under the cupboard. I don’t think he has any fight left in him, but you never know.”
“Right,” I said. “Brenda?”
I found Prof. Wadcroft under his desk, clutching his pistol. A large stain of blood was on his shirt, possibly due to the knife in his side. He groaned as I lifted the mahogany desk off him.
“Good Lord,” I said. “Try not to move, Professor. Help is under way.”
“Attacker’s had it,” said Brenda. “Prof here tunneled his head. Well done.”
“I was aiming for his shoulder,” said Wadcroft.
“Good thing you’re a lousy shot then.”
“Good Lord… Margaret! If they came after me, they’ll come after her as well. Go! Go find her! I’ll be all right here until help comes.”
I looked at Brenda. She shrugged.
“Nothing we can do here anyway, Tennant, ‘cept hold his hand.”
Wadcroft sneered. “Get out of here. If Margaret dies, she’ll never talk to me again. I’ve got my pistol.”
“Don’t shoot the porters,” I said. “Let’s go!”
We set off at a sprint. Professor Enderby had her bedroom and study at the other end of the University Grounds, near the girls’ dormitories. The way there led past the shooting range, where we could hear gunshots from Rifle Club members practicing. Brenda drew level with me, eyes aglow.
“Guns,” she said, in an almost lustful way.
“Could be useful,” I said, and made a beeline for the range.
We found Jocelyn, Nigel, and some members I didn’t know, shooting at targets. Carrie, unable to use a rifle with her broken wrist, was acting Fire Marshal. We did cause a bit of a stir, running in with bloodied knives out.
“Cease fire!” shouted Carrie, and firing stopped. She stared at us. “What on Earth is going on?”
“We need two of your rifles and a lot of bullets,” I said. “Algernon University is under attack.”
Carrie opened her mouth to ask questions, then decided against it. “Edgar, Janice, give them your rifles.”
Rifles, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield were presented to us, and we quickly topped up the magazine. We stuffed our pockets with spare strips of bullets.
“Thank you,” I said. “There’s an unknown number of attackers out. If you see anyone unknown approaching, fire over their heads. They mainly have knives. They’ll not attack you if they can help it.”
“Who…” Carrie hesitated. “Who are they after?”
Brenda grinned. “Us,” she said.
It did feel good to be suitably armed, but I wish we had been quicker. We found Professor Enderby’s room in a state of disarray similar to Professor Wadcroft’s. There was no sign of her. That there was no sign of blood, was only little consolation.
“Too late,” I said. “We’re too damn late!”
“Let’s go find Parsons,” said Brenda. “We dont know where she is, and we can only lose time looking for her.”
“Running round like bloody headless chickens.” I sighed. “You’re right though.”
We arrived at Andrew Parsons’ workshop. A few porters were already at the doors, and they let us in. We were too late again. One of the attackers lay on the ground, twisted and broken, and a single look was enough to know he was dead. Andrew Parsons was sitting on the ground, hands over his head, rocking back and forth, whimpering, muttering. Miss Sunderland was next to him, arms round him.
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
“Miss Sunderland,” I said.
She looked up at me, tears streaming down her face.
“They’ve got Enderby,” she said. “They’re taking her to your airship. They’re going to use her to get in, and then they’ll kill everyone and steal your ship.”
Andrew tossed back his large, bearded head, and howled. Miss Sunderland pulled his head to her.
“Andrew! It’s not your fault!”
I looked round. Brenda was already on the run, and it took me a while to catch up. I caught the look in her eyes.
“Brenda! What’s wrong?!”
“I am sick to my teeth of this goddamn scum! I’ve had it with these bastards. No more playing nice. No goddamn mercy. They are dead.” She looked at me. “I used to be a goddamn marine! There’s only two kinds of people. Combatants and civilians.” She sped up. “You do not attack the goddamn civvies!” She turned her run into a sprint and said nothing more. I wondered, not for the last time, just who we had invited into our midst.
We were running down the path past the Homoeopathic Gardens when Brenda, in mid-run, threw herself to the ground. I did the same, and landed next to her. She pointed, and I saw the barrel of a rifle sticking out of a hedge. Brenda pointed her hand at it, and gave me a strange look. Alexandra was the sniper of the family, but I knew that what you don’t do is stick out your rifle barrel for everyone to see. You may as well tie a flag to it. Before I could comment, Brenda was already on the move, moving quietly but quickly round to behind the rifleman. I followed her, but kept my distance. As I watched, she sprang forward, grabbed the shooter by an arm and raised her knife. There was a high pitched scream.
“Don’t kill me!”
“Brenda!” I shouted, recognising Miss Anna Melchior, one of the Rifle Club girls.
“Please!” Anna threw away her rifle, raised her hands.
Brenda grunted. “Oh calm down. I’m a bit…” she looked at me. “Cross, but I can still see the difference between an enemy and a goddamn idiot. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“We’re… we’re providing cover fire.”
“Oh for Christs’ sake! Put that gun away, and go somewhere safe! You’re going to hurt someone!”
“That’s the point,” said Anna.
I saw Brenda take a deep breath, and I put my hand on her shoulder.
“Miss Melchior. Please, please do not get involved. The Porters are in control of the main building. Go there, and leave the fighting to us.”
Anna gave a nod, and started to run down the path.
“Wait! said Brenda. “Are there any more of you amateurs lurking around?”
“Yes,” said Anna. “Jocelyn and Nigel on the Brownings, with Florence and Bertram using the Smellies, that’s the SMLEs. The rest are hiding in the shed.”
“Thank you, Miss Melchior,” I said. “Off you go.”
We watched her run down the path, rifle in hand, and hoped she wouldn’t shoot anyone. Brenda rolled her eyes.
“Wonderful. So we’ve got a bunch of amateur snipers round the place. What else? Improvised land mines? Maybe some artillery?”
“Who knows?” I said. “Let’s move.”
We ran on, down the path to the field where Lady I was floating above the ground, as high as her cables would let her, which was about forty yards. I could see the gangplank lying on the ground. The starboard door was open, suggesting that Father and Fatin had lifted off in a hurry. We were not the first to arrive. In the field below were three men. Two of them were holding Professor Margaret Enderby between them. The third, a large heavy man, was shouting at those inside Lady I to come down.
We were a few hundred yards away, maximum range for our ancient rifles, and neither of us had ever fired them before. All we could do was shorten that difference, or we might even hit Enderby. As we ran, we saw how the leader turned round, took a hold of Professor Enderby’s chin, paused a moment, then hit her back-hand across the face with a dramatic swing of the arm. She cried out in pain, and then his arm came round again, hitting her in the stomach. Enderby crumpled up, but she was pulled up again. We were at a little over a hundred yards distant. It would have to do.
“Left’s mine!” I said.
Brenda made no reply. At the same time, she and I dropped to one knee, aimed, fired. My target fell down, hit in the side. Brenda hit hers center-mass. He was dead before he hit the ground. We ran forward, closing the rest of the distance. The last man turned round, holding up Professor Enderby by her hair. Seeing the expression on her face made my blood boil, but I had no clean shot. He drew one of the knives I had seen them all use.
“Drop your weapons! Else I gut her like a fish!”
“Like you won’t otherwise,” said Brenda, under her breath.
“Now!” He slashed his knife across Enderby’s shoulder, cutting her shirt and her arm. She screamed, her legs gave, but he pulled her back up. “Drop them now!”
“Stop!” I said. “I’ll do it. See!”
I put my rifle on the ground, taking a gamble on Brenda not doing the same.
“Now let her go!”
He spat at Brenda. “You too, whore!”
Brenda didn’t move a muscle. “I don’t know this bitch,” she snarled. “I’ll shoot her and you too.”
“Drop the gun!” The man raised his knife high. “I can stick her, and she won’t die for hours. You get to watch her bleed to death.”
There was a sudden cracking noise, and then the man’s forearm exploded into bloody fragments. The knife fell to the ground. Only then did we hear the shot. I looked, and in the distance I saw a girl with long dark hair, sitting on the ground, rifle resting on her knee.
“Won’t you look at that?” said Brenda. “It’s Hand Job Girl!”
I could see Jocelyn was watching us through the rifle scope, so I waved at her and pointed at the University building. As I saw her get up and run away, there was a gunshot behind me. I turned round like a whirlwind. Brenda had shot my first target in the head. She pulled back the bolt and let it click back.
“Just makin’ sure,” she said.
The other man was on the ground, clutching his mangled arm. Brenda kicked him in the chest, aimed.
“Don’t kill him!”
Why not?! I took a breath. “Dead men don’t talk.”
I dropped to my knees next to Enderby. She had her eyes screwed tightly shut, and her teeth were chattering.
“Professor? Are you hurt?”
Professor Enderby opened her eyes, looked at me. She tried to speak, but no words came out.
“Get her in here!”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. Silent like a ghost, Lady I had descended. My father stood in the doorway. I gave him a nod, looked at Enderby. She was clearly in no condition to walk, so I picked her up and carried her to Lady I. I gently put her down in the entrance, as the gangplank was still lying on the ground some distance away.
“Keep an eye on that man. I’ll be right back.”
“And don’t shoot him!”
“Christ, Tennant. I know! If you really don’t want him dead, bring a tourniquet.”
I carried Enderby to one of the empty cabins and put her on the bed. She was still shivering uncontrollably, which was no surprise. I ran and grabbed the medical kit, poured her that cure for everything, a Laudanum-and-water. I made her drink it. She calmed down, and fell asleep. I turned round. My father stood behind me. In his hands were two Mauser pistols on their belts. They were at least as accurate as the Lee-Enfield rifles.
“My son, take that piece of human filth to the Porters, and then go and guard Alexandra. I don’t have as much faith in their abilities as Dr. Pike.”
I took the tourniquet out of the medical kit and leapt down. Brenda was waiting for me with her thumbs pressed down on the man’s arm.
“You took your sweet time! I’m not the one who wants this bastard alive, remember?”
I dropped to my knee, wrapped the tourniquet round the man’s arm and tighened it so Brenda could let go.
“I brought you a Mauser pistol to make amends.”
“Nice,” said Brenda. She put on the belt and tightened it.
“And I’ll carry him,” I said.
I looked at him. He had lost consciousness through blood loss, but he was still breathing. I hefted him onto my shoulders.
“Oh now you’re being too nice, Tennant. You’ve got a rotten job lined up for me, haven’t you?”
As soon as we walked into the building, we were met by Dr. Godfrey Pike, who looked uncharacteristically angry. He waved over a pair of porters with a stretcher, who took my burden off my shoulders. We followed them to the infirmary, heaving with activity. When a few hundred students are on the run, there will be accidents. Pike turned to me.
“On board Lady I, superficial injuries, sedated.”
“Good. Wadcroft’s in the infirmary. Tough as an old boot. Demanding to be let out already.”
I looked round the room. “Where is Alexandra?”
“In her room, still asleep. Barker himself is guarding her. She is safe.”
“Where’s Dr. Singh?”
“Lending a hand with the plasters. There’s a couple of students here who have been bandaged up by the most ridiculously overqualified physician imaginable. I have sent someone out to the Police, but he won’t be back for at least an hour. I don’t want to give the enemy time to plan something. If you are up for it, I need a few people to sweep the grounds looking for leftover evildoers. Can I volunteer you?”
I looked round the ward a few times. I desperately wanted to see Alex, but she was still asleep. And as Dr. Pike had said, there were evildoers to hunt.
“All right,” I said.
“Splendid,” said Pike. “Miss Lee?”
“I’ll volunteer her as well,” I said.
Brenda grinned. “Great. Now I can go on a rampage, and it’ll be all your fault.”
Pike took hold of one more Porter, a dour old man named Stephens, and went through each and every corridor in the place, with Pike opening every door with his master key. He knew every single nook and cranny, from the top of the bell tower to the basement with the heating boilers, where he kicked an ashtray filled to the brim with cigarette stubs.
“Filthy habit,” he said.
“Can name a few worse,” said Brenda.
We walked back up the stairs, and out onto the courtyard, meaning to go to the Alchemy laboratories. Porter Stephens stood still.
“Dr. Pike? The front gate is open.”
“Body,” said Brenda. “By the stables.”
“That’s Wilson,” said Porter Stephens.
“Cover me,” said Brenda, crouched, and ran towards the still body. She slid down on her knees, pistol out, looking round. Then, she held a finger to the man’s neck. She looked back at us over her shoulder, shook her head.
Pike came walking up, calmly. He looked down, then took off his jacket and draped it over Wilson’s face.
“I sent him out to get the police. They’ll be here shortly, if I know Inspector Morris. I think some of our enemies saw him return, and seized the opportunity to flee in the carriage.”
“Back to Lady I,” I said. “We may be able to spot them from the sky.”
We left Porter Stephens to guard the body of his unfortunate colleague, and ran back to the field, not as quickly as might be, because one of us wasn’t as young as he knce was. I ran ahead, while Brenda stayed with Pike. With Lady I‘s gondola nearly brushing the fences, we steered her towards Brenda and Pike to shorten their way. With all on board, we shot up into the air and manned the telescopes. Father was at the helm, and he spun Lady I round in a slow circle. Pike was the first one to see the bright yellow roof of the Algernon University carriage.
“On our two o’clock,” he said. “On the road to Colchester.”
Father turned the wheel to starboard, and we sped up in pursuit. Presently, we overtook them, and descended in front of them.
“Carl,” said Father, with an enviable calm, “Aft cannon if you please.”
I ran, and lowered myself onto the gun deck. The red drum of incendiary rounds was still on the gun. I blew into the speaking tube.
“Yes my boy?”
“Ready Father. Standing by.”
Father took us down to a stomach-churning ten yards above the hard ground. The men in the carriage noticed us, and one of them pulled out a gun and fired. I heard the bullets hit the gondola.
“Father!” I yelled down the tube. “They are shooting at us!”
“Shoot back, Son. Honestly, do I have to tell you everything?”
I grabbed the handles of the machine gun, aimed. I would have given anything to have Alex here with her rifle. The Parsons Repeating Rifles, Mark Two, were not precision instruments and I might well hit the horses. Nothing to be done about it, though. I aimed in front of the carriage and pressed the trigger. The canon shook in my hands and belched angry fire at the carriage. As it happened, the horses did not appreciate the fireworks, and bolted off to the side. The carriage overturned, taking the poor animals with them. One of the men was thrown out of the carriage, fell to the ground, and didn’t move.
“Father! Dead stop!”
I could hear the propellers change their pitch, and Lady I brought herself to a shuddering halt. The other man had freed himself from the carriage and aimed his gun at me.
“My gun is bigger than yours,” I murmured. I fired another salvo, stopping just short of the man’s feet. I stared at him through the gun sight. “Go on. Fire again. See what happens.”
The man hesitated one moment, then scowled. The next moment, Brenda came running up, pistol out. I could just hear her shouting instructions. The man fell to his knees, then lay down on his stomach. Lady I descended further, until the landing wheels touched the ground. Next, Pike came into sight. He walked over to the other man, and after one look walked back to Brenda. I climbed out of the gun deck, and ran to the door. The attacker, held at gunpoint by Dr. Pike, stepped on board, and was led to the cargo hold. Brenda came up carrying the other man on her shoulders. She dropped him on the floor in the corridor.
“I think the horses are all right,” she said. “Just fallen over. If we put the carriage back on its feet, we can drive it back home. Do you know how to drive a horse and cart?”
“I do,” I said. “You stay on board and help Pike guard the prisoner. I’ll drive back.”
“Aye-aye Your Worship.”
We freed the horses from the carriage. It took the strength of both myself and Brenda together to get the thing back on its wheels, while Fatin held the horses, stroking them and whispering in their ears, which seemed to calm them down. Still, their ears twitched nervously as we put them back in front of the carriage. I looked at Fatin. I didn’t like the idea of her being in the same airship as a dangerous individual.
“Would you like to drive home with me?”
Fatin grinned. “I will wrap up Raage.”
I stood by the horses’ heads, gently stroking their muzzles, as Lady I rose above us. I jumped into the box, and looked behind me. Fatin, Raage in her lap, a blanket over her knees against the cold, looked up at me.
“All ready?” I said.
“Go. I want to see Alex now.”
It took us the better part of an hour to get back to Algernon University. I took it fairly easy, never pushing the horses above a trot. They were still a bit shaken from their fall, not to mention having a few dozen tracer rounds dropped in front of them. The run did seem to do them some good, though I suspected the stablemaster would have some hard words for our treatment of them. When we reached the gates of Algernon, I could see two police carriages standing in the courtyard. A stable hand came to me and started to look over our poor beasts. I ignored his looks. I wanted to see my sister.
Fatin and I walked to Alexandra’s ward. As I entered, I saw Father, Prof. Enderby, and Brenda sitting on chairs round her bed. She was lying back in the pillows, her dark hair contrasting with the white linen. Her eyes were closed. I took my sister’s hand, stroked her hair, kissed her forehead. A slow smile appeared on her face and she opened her eyes. When she spoke, her voice sounded like it came from far away.
“I knew you would get all soppy over me, dear brother of mine.”
I looked at the blanket, and saw the shape of two legs and two feet underneath.
“How are your legs?” I asked.
Alexandra blinked slowly. “Hurting like bloody hell. But Dr. Bernhardt has some good medicine.”
“The operation…” I started, but Alexandra’s eyes had fallen to again.
The door opened, and a tired-looking Dr. Singh came in. He took off his spectacles, polished them, put them on again.
“Good afternoon,” he said. “How are we doing?”
“We appear to be sleeping,” I said. “How is she, Doctor?”
“The operation was a complete success,” said Dr. Singh. “No complications, and the prosthetic was a perfect fit. Miss Alexandra may have grown half an inch, but that is well inside allowable tolerances.”
“I hope you weren’t, um, disturbed by the… unpleasantness and noises?”
Dr. Singh gave a little chuckle. “Good gracious me, no. I studied for my doctorate in a rather disreputable place named Roanapur. Many opportunities for studying broken bones, I can tell you. I have performed surgery while someone held a gun to my head. My profession is not one for people of a nervous disposition.”
Alex’ eyes fluttered open. “Doctor. Good afternoon. How are we doing?”
“We,” said Dr. Singh, “are going to have a lovely sleep. It will take maybe twelve hours for the cement to set. After that, we will get you into the gymnasium, and will start practicing your walk.”
“I can walk tomorrow?”
Dr. Singh nodded. “Not only can you, my dear, you must. I have mistreated your leg muscles like never before, even in Sudan. You must keep them from seizing up through gentle exercise. But that is something for tomorrow. For now, it is better that you rest.”
Alex’ eyes closed again. “Thank you, Doc-tor,” she whispered. Then, she fell asleep.