Page 49

Dimity said, “Would they be so bold as to run a test like that in front of everyone?”

“I wondered the same thing. Perhaps the test was a mistake?”

Soap said, “Monique did say something about range. Perhaps the mistake was that it didn’t take out more mechanicals? Or that it hit too many?”

They looked at each other in silence for a long moment.

“Is it possible that the vampires are trying to take control of all mechanicals, throughout England?” Sophronia wondered, looking at Felix.

Felix said, his voice soft, “Of course it’s possible. Anything is possible with vampires.”

Sophronia thought of her bladed fan, a gift from a vampire. Was Lord Akeldama trying to buy her cooperation? Though he was a rove, and unattached to a hive, he could be acting in the interests of all vampire-kind. “There is another possibility. They could be trying to discredit mechanicals and through them the new crystalline valve technology. Remember, vampires missed out on the monopoly.”

Felix liked this guess. “They get the politicians on their side.”

Dimity said, in a small voice, “There are sides? Whose side are we on?”

“The werewolves,” said Sidheag instantly.

“Goodness, are they involved, too?” wondered Sophronia, trying to fit that into her various theories.

Sidheag considered. “Vampires and werewolves aren’t particularly friendly, but they will band together against an antisupernatural enemy as needed.” This was said pointedly for Felix’s benefit, but then she returned to Sophronia’s question. “However, in this case, I think, no. Werewolves are less likely to tinker in industrial politics than vampires. Plus, we’ve got our own dilemma right now, remember? What do wolves care for the politics of machines?”

Felix shot back with, “Yet it’s interesting that the vampires are making this power play right after one of the most powerful packs in Britain has been fractured beyond repair. Isn’t it? Perhaps they want to take advantage of the dewan’s distraction.”

“Are you implying that the vampires somehow caused it? I think that highly unlikely,” objected Sophronia.

“Lady Linette always says there are no coincidences, only opportunities,” said Dimity, trying to play the peacekeeper.

“If anyone is likely to take advantage of this kind of situation, it’s the Picklemen,” said Sophronia.

“What does that mean?” demanded Felix, for some reason annoyed. “Do you support vampires against Picklemen?”

Vexed by such a direct questioning of her loyalties, especially when she felt she had made her thoughts plain, Sophronia took the unprecedented step of stating her position outright. “I support balancing out power. Perhaps you might want to think about the broader scope yourself.”

“Vampires have enough power already,” hissed Felix.

“Would you please try to be logical, without prejudice?” Sophronia couldn’t help it; some of her frustration with Felix’s myopic perspective leaked out. Why isn’t he trained like we are, to think about motives and manipulation? Why doesn’t he understand that this damages my affection for him?

Felix was having none of it, although he kept his voice low. “As if you weren’t prejudiced against Picklemen.”

If Sophronia had had a temper, it would have flared up at that accusation. As it was, she only gave Felix a pitying smile. “They destroyed my mother’s gazebo and tried to kill me with a huge mechanimal. Then again, the vampires kidnapped and nearly killed Dimity. For that matter, the werewolves just attempted treason. Everyone is bloody handed. That’s my point.”

“Sophronia, language!” barked Dimity.

“Whose side are we on, then?” reiterated Soap, mildly, looking strangely cheered by the dissent among his traveling companions. He watched Sophronia and Felix bickering with something bordering on delight.

Sophronia was wondering that herself. Perhaps I’m better off making a patron of the queen like Mrs. Barnaclegoose. Then she remembered that she had to hold this whole impromptu expedition together, and that they were still hiding out in an enemy train. They all needed a patron right now. She drew herself up.

“We are on Sidheag’s side,” she said firmly.

“Well, thank you very much, Sophronia,” said Sidheag. “But I’d rather not take responsibility, if I don’t have to.”

“Then we are on the side of curiosity and evenhandedness. Once we know what’s really going on, then we choose.”

“That’s a very murky position,” objected Felix.

“So’s the weather. But this is England, we must learn to live with uncertainty.”

Their train did not head to London, but trundled roughly northward on one of the lesser-used regional tracks, out of the way of faster engines. Sidheag occasionally looked longingly across the landscape, where black smoke indicated a faster locomotive, but she didn’t say anything about it. At least they were moving in the general direction of Scotland, even if it was at a snail’s pace. Occasionally they paused before starting up again, probably so that the transmitter could be used.

Around noon they stopped for twenty minutes at a station so tiny there was no point in Sidheag’s jumping down and taking a risk by waiting for another train. Any train that came through would be, if possible, slower than the one they were already on. The only interesting thing was the continued absence of station mechanicals. Had they broken down again, or were people now scared to use them?

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