None but the tinymen and the rats ran these dark streets beneath the streets, where the river was piss and planks served for bridges. There was a time when Jabey would have traded a hand for a candle, but he’d been a new runner then, and young. Since then long terrified scrambles in this darkness had taught his feet as no map could do.
Now he scurried along the ledges built of dredged sewer rubbish. At a side tunnel he turned and paused, blinking against stabs of light: a drain. He clambered up through its broken bars.
The sun had set while he’d been below—the stabbing light was the glow of a streetlamp. Pressing himself into the shadows of a carriage house, Jabey peered upstreet and down at the dark, massive forms of the istocrats’ castles.
The west hill, right. He’d never been this close before. From where he stood it was castles all the way up, or so the chatter said, castles built of diamond windows and brownstone flecked with gold, and livedolls hung from the doors instead of knockers.
Just one pretty was all he needed. One sparkling trinket to buy himself into the clubber chief’s service—and to buy his protection.
Something rustled behind him, and he spun, certain he’d see Yol Stulbrend’s mutt closing in to tear him into a clutter of tinyman bones. But no, it was only a breeze scuffing newsprint across the cobblestones. Jabey shuddered against the chill and the trembling deep in his belly and slipped along the shadows to the nearest dark-windowed house. The stones jutted out slightly between their mortar, forming ledges just deep enough for the toe of a determined, barefooted tinyman.
He’d meant to find an opening from the roof, but at the second story a muffled snort drew him to a window. At his touch it swung silently open. On a bed lay a man stiff on his back, eyes closed, the whiskers of his mustache draping his face like rats’ tails. Jabey edged past into the hall and drew the door shut behind him.
A pretty, the hard-eyed kid had said, sneering down at him. Sewer running and pocket picking wasn’t enough, never mind that Jabey made no claims to be a sneak thief. It was a fine pretty he needed to buy into Sloan’s service—“And don’t think there ain’t others trying for the place, runt.”
Jabey didn’t let himself think about where that place was. Not yet.
What about jewels? In the safe, likely. Yol’s buddies had long complained of those. Silver? Yol boasted of stealing some rich’s silver teapot, years ago. The kitchen, Jabey guessed. Where’d riches keep their kitchens?
He wanted to smack himself for this plan—this lack of a plan. Except it was all he had between him and the stingwhip, which Yol’d lay on heavy enough if he got hold of Jabey again, if he didn’t set Kingfisher on him instead.
He swallowed the doubts and kept going, glancing in the open doorways as he passed. The rooms were filled with furniture and tapestries likely worth his life and more, but he could hardly have budged them, much less taken them below.
He had to crawl down the stairs, pausing once when he thought he’d heard something creak. It didn’t come again. He kept going, through rooms and doorways and more rooms all full of istocrat trappings, and finally into the kitchen. He climbed up a cabinet and wandered the countertops, opening cupboard doors and peering over into drawers. The plates were china and the tools all iron. He found a big pot he could have slept in comfortably, and behind another door a pantry stacked with jars and slouching burlap sacks, but nothing he’d guess for silver.
Not that he’d know it if he saw it, eh?
Brilliance splashed the room, bouncing from the hanging knives in their rack, casting Jabey’s shadow a full threefeet high against the window shutters. He whirled, hands high against the light.
A girl stood in the doorway with a single wavering candle. Above a high-collared nightie wide blue eyes peered at him. Her mouth opened, closed.
“Are you an elf?” she said finally. “You look older than me.” Another glance up and down him, over his stubby arms, his shirt and trousers smeared with sewer grime. “But you’re not taller.”
“Not taller,” he agreed. But not much shorter, which made her... three? Four? He couldn’t remember the year he’d stopped growing.
“I must introduce myself,” she said. “I’m Caroline Elisabeth Morrowbridge.” She set the candle stand on the floor and curtsied.
“Jabey,” he said. Would she called the coppers? Throw him out herself?
“I beg your pardon?”
“And are you an elf, Mr. Jabey?”
“I don’t think so.” She was hardly big enough to hurt him, but he’d enough on his head; he didn’t need to rough some rich’s little girl.
“Do you mean you don’t know? You must come with me, and I’ll show you.”
“I can’t be staying—”
“Then I should have to call Mr. Gaither to come and show you out.” Caroline crossed her arms. “And he doesn’t like being waked.”
Jabey gave a last regretful glance around the kitchen, so empty of pretties, and slid off the countertop. He followed her to the staircase, where she blew out the candle and crept slowly up, quite as softly as he had earlier. He remembered the creaking he’d heard.
She led him into a bedroom, shut the door behind him, and relit the candle.
“We must be very quiet,” she whispered. “I shall be scolded if anyone hears.” She reached beneath the bed and pulled out a book so broad and thick her arms trembled. Sitting on the flowery rug, she opened it to a page and pointed to a red-cheeked man clutching a nut as big as his head. “That’s an elf.” She looked up at Jabey and twisted her mouth. “I believe you’re too tall for an elf.”
Jabey snorted. “Never been too tall for anything.”
She nodded seriously. “I know what you mean. I’m terribly small for my age—I’ll be nine in October.
“Perhaps you’re a sprite, instead? No, that’s silly, you haven’t any wings—have you? You aren’t hiding them beneath your shirt?”
“Ain’t hiding nothing,” said Jabey, freshly conscious of the slave collar scars at his neck—conscious, too, of the rips in his trousers and the sewer-filth crusted on his feet. He wondered if there were any folk like that in her book, folk with scars and bruises and mud under their toenails.
She frowned and turned more pages, muttering to herself. Jabey eyed the window—could he get it open? That latch didn’t look shut.
Caroline looked up, pouting, and said, “This book isn’t very useful. You don’t match the descriptions of any of the fairy-folk.”
“What, no tinymen in your book?” he muttered. “None of them that run your messages and keep your sewers running nice? Wouldn’t figure a rich’s book would talk about us.”
She leaned closer, eyes glowing with reflected candlelight. “I’ve never heard of a tinyman.” Her fingers stretched towards his face.
“Now, you can’t be telling people about me,” he said, edging away. Towards the window....
“Of course not,” she said, dropping her hand. “Father would be fearfully angry. He hates elves and brownies and sprites and all those things. He says they aren’t natural, that they’re frauds and foul things a lady shouldn’t think about.
“But you’re not a fraud—any ninny can see it. I don’t understand why Father should object so. Franny Grace—that’s my nurse, only I’m too old for a nurse now—she had a hat once with a sweet little bird on it. Every time she passed someone on the street, or said hello, the bird would cheep. And Father made her give it to the rubbish man!”
“Probably was a livedoll,” Jabey said.
“From the dark quarter. You know. From the animatists.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t you know the dark quarter?” He flicked his hand to the south. “Where the alleys are all closed in and there’s canvas stretched over the streets. Where the clubbers are. You know?”
Where poisons bubbled and vapored like the whiskey in Yol’s corn still. Where bastard babies were abandoned, never to grow to adulthood—though they might live that long, if you called it living. Where he hoped to find a place before night’s end, stupid runt that he was.
She was leaning forward, eyes wide. “Is that where you come from?”
“I guess so. Yeah.” Every tinyman began in the dark quarter, however quickly he escaped thereafter.
“I should so like to see it.”
“Why?” he asked, appalled.
“I’ve never been to Faerie,” she said. “I’ve read about it, the strange creatures and people there—quite dangerous, marvelous things they have in Faerie.”
“Dangerous, right,” said Jabey. “Folk like to knock you in chains as talk to you. Or use you up for their gimmickry, if you’re too old to work.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “I know to be very polite to everyone I meet, even the ugly people. I know to follow directions and not go where I’m not invited and never eat anything offered me. I’d be quite safe.”
Her lips drew thin. “You’ve come to rob Father, haven’t you?”
“Hey, now-” Jabey stumbled backward and fell against a chair only five feet from the window clasp.
“Just because I’m a child doesn’t mean I’m stupid. You fairy-folk are just like magpies, always after pretty baubles. The book said. Well, I’ll get one for you, if you’ll take me to your country.”
“A trade. I give you something nice, and you take me to Faerie.”
“I don’t know the way to Faerie,” he muttered.
“To your country, I mean. Or else I’ll tie you up in my bedclothes and wake the whole house, and they’ll put you in jail!”
“I can’t take you off with me. There’d be riches sending after me like wasps that got their nest smashed in, and coppers, too. I got enough folk after me now!”
“Please, Mr. Jabey, take me to see your country. You could return me before tomorrow, couldn’t you, so no one would notice?”
“Here, I’ll find you something—I know!” She stood up so fast the candle flickered out, and a moment later she’d crept out the door.
He backed the last few steps to the window, reached for the clasp, and hesitated. He’d better get out now. Except... night was wearing on, and he couldn’t flub this chance with Sloan. Couldn’t. Every time he popped up from below, there’d be roughs looking for him—more than one’d like to lay his hand on a tinyman’s bounty.
And then Caroline was back, pressing into his hand something heavy wrapped in cloth. “My opera glasses,” she whispered. “They’re very fine. Father had them custom made. Now, let us go before someone wakes.”
Clutching the bundle, Jabey followed her down hallway and stairs, where he waited while Caroline draped a dark cloak over her nightie. Then she led him past the kitchen and though a side door that she closed behind her.
“How do we get there?” she said.
For a moment he only stared at her, this rich girl just asking to be nabbed and ransomed. And then he shrugged and took out the paper he’d pulled from the ganger kid’s unwilling fingers. On it were the quick-drawn figures—a gemstone inked in crimson and three bronze lamps.
“What curious pictures,” Caroline said. “What are they?”
“That’s the street,” Jabey said, pointing to the gem. “I don’t know what the other’s for.”
He didn’t want to go. Now, with the bundle heavy in his hand and the figures on the paper to direct him, he wanted to drop it all and run, below maybe, to make his home with the rats.
But Yol’d find him, even if another runner didn’t turn him in. He had to come up sometime. Jabey fingered his neck, the scars there reminding him of matters more pressing than old memories—or tagalong istocrat girls.
“Let’s go,” he muttered.
At the drain Caroline balked, peering down between the bars. “Is it safe?”
He lowered himself to the ground and shimmied through the gap. “Safe is in your rich house. Go back if you want.”
A pause, and then she was scrabbling down beside him.
Once he had to pull her aside into a crumbling outlet when he heard the telltale of a runner scrambling past, ferrying message or cargo. Another time he took her hand and they ran by a sideway and the squeaking rats nested there. Caroline didn’t let go of him after they were past.
Eventually she said, “I don’t understand why you like it here.”
“Like? I got no say in it. Go up above, the real men’ll catch me, right enough.”
“Are they—are they worse than the things down here?”
“Only the ones that’d like to beat me. Or shoot me. Or lock me up for being a runt.”
She shivered next to him, from his words or from the chill. “It sounds like Father,” she said. “I’m sorry we’re like that.”
“Sorry?” He choked back a laugh. “You’re a rich muck’s little girl. What do you care?”
“I care. It’s not good manners, or good sense either, to provoke fairy-folk. Besides, I’m rather more like them than most, don’t you think? I’m so small. I asked Father once if my mother was a fairy. I thought that might account for it.”
“And?” Jabey said, after a pause.
“And she wasn’t, I suppose. Anyway, Father was terribly angry. I think he was afraid. That’s why I want to go with you. Father’s afraid of something to do with Faerie, and I want to know what it is.”
“Better you be afraid too, then.”
“Perhaps, but I’m not.”
“Not even now?”
A couple of deep breaths beside him, and then, “No. Not even now.”
And then they were crossing a plank into a sewer line he’d never run before. At the next storm drain he had to sniff at the sluggish air and listen to faraway drips before he could decide the turn to take. The air was stranger here; through the familiar sewage stench floated other odors—bitter, sick-sweet, acrid. The drain holes were few and their bars sturdy, though every so often they passed port doors in the tunnel sides, all clamped shut.
At a drain hole with two broken bars Jabey climbed up loose bricks and gingerly pushed his way out.
“Is it Faerie?” asked Caroline.
“Shh!” he hissed as he stared at the street beyond.
Belying its name, the dark quarter was radiant with the colored glow of dozens of windows. Draped in costumes sublime and hideous, men and women lurched past the windows and burst from wide-swinging doors. Above painted faces there sprouted plumage half again as high as their bodies, and tails of lizards and tigers and peacocks swept behind them.
Caroline pushed up beside Jabey. “It is Faerie,” she breathed, staring at the spectacle. “Guess you’re seeing things after all,” Jabey said, still looking. Something in the crowd’s loose swagger was familiar. “They’re soaked. Come on. They got no eyes for us.”
Bright-hued lanterns lined the streets on both sides, leaving no shadows in which to hide. Instead Jabey and Caroline wound their way amongst the revelers, who were too busy singing, shouting, and spilling pungent brew on one another to pay them any attention. The street ended in a wall disguised by some means of gauze and foam. Jabey boosted Caroline to the top and climbed over himself, and on the other side all was stillness and darkness again, save only for plain yellow streetlamps and the occasional candle in an upstairs window.
At the first cross street dim lamps shone green and gold—emerald, and perhaps topaz, Caroline said. They followed Emerald until they came to lamps of deep crimson that Caroline opined were garnet. They settled the question of which direction the “3rd lamp” should be counted from by starting off in one direction “until we reach the end—then we can count coming back.” But they didn’t need to. A few blocks before the street lost itself in labyrinthine alleyways, they came to a shop front with bright windows and three lamps glowing over the door.
Jabey looked at Caroline, shook his head. “I know this kind of place. It’s a gang lair—or a club, I guess. They got plenty of uses for a little rich’s daughter, and you wouldn’t like any of them.”
“But this is Faerie,” she said. “I can’t stop just because I’m afraid. Besides, you said you have business? Then surely you have safe passage—and I shall, too, in your company.”
“Not this time,” he said. “Here, get out of the light.” He pointed behind a rubbish barrel. Scowling, Caroline huddled in its shadow.
“Now don’t move. You’re staying out here and hiding until I get back. Or don’t you want to go home sometime?” As she began to reply, he turned and stalked up to the door.
No one stopped him; few even turned to look as he came in. He was put in mind of Rat Hold, but it was not the same. Where Rat Hold’s walls displayed skin-clad women in garish colors, these walls were paneled in wood. Rat Hold’s tables were sopping with cheap beer by this hour, but here were only single glasses of a reddish drink, some still half-full, with no evidence anywhere of bottles or kegs. And in Rat Hold at this moment there were surely the personal posses of two or three or even more of the thug chiefs, each jovial or surly as the booze took him. Here the faces all were somber.
He stared for so long that someone glanced at him and said, “You’ve brought a message?”
“Sloan.” he mumbled. “I’m looking for Sloan.”
Soon the sneering half-grown kid from the square was chivvying him along through the tables, through the thick sweeping curtains, and into an alcove behind another curtain, even thicker, so that when it was drawn to behind him the outside murmur was hushed.
Another moment, and the curtain swept open and closed again around a thin, pale-faced man in a suit and a string tie. He eyed Jabey from beneath stark black eyebrows and motioned him to a circle of chairs around a low table.
“You realize you are in a peculiar position?” the man said. “The number of individuals beginning their employment in this district after the age of five or six years is remarkably small.” One eyebrow arched. “Much like the number of tinymen at liberty to seek employment.”
“‘At liberty’ is a manner of speaking, Mister,” Jabey said, lifting his chin.
“I thought it might be,” said Sloan. “If I may?”
Jabey shivered as Sloan’s cool fingers brushed against his neck, pausing at the scars. “I was lackey boy to a ganger named Yol for a long while.”
“Until quite recently, I would guess.”
Jabey met his eyes. “Yeah.”
Sloan dropped his hand and nodded as if this were expected. “If you would show me the item you brought—the token, as it were, of your eagerness to join my enterprise.”
It came to Jabey that he’d never looked at these glasses in proper light; what if they were just a cheap shiny? But the sudden sharp panic receded as he pulled them from his pocket and unwrapped the linen. They were indeed a tiny pair of opera glasses, with a simplicity and a heft about them that suggested expense.
“How very interesting,” said Sloan, taking them from him. “You understand that I do not personally secure raw material?” he said. “And of course, if the child is dead or grown they are only a token, but even so....”
Caroline. They were Caroline’s glasses.
Jabey’s nails dug into his palms. A ‘token,’ right. And he was a tinyman, he knew what good tokens were to the dark quarter’s shapers-flesh, what manner of gimmickry they could do without even touching a person, so long as they had a handkerchief or a snip of hair. Stupid muck, what’d he been thinking? Not thinking, that was it.
Sloan was patting at his pockets, finally bringing out an instrument with a gauge at its end, scented faintly of oil. He held the instrument to the glasses. “The child is indeed alive. Yet the reading is irregular....” He frowned and pulled a different gauge from his pocket, this one with tines jutting from its end, and held the glasses beneath the tines. “You are either a fool or far more subtle than I guessed.”
Had it been any old gang chief maybe Jabey’s bravado could have held, but it melted under Sloan’s glare. “Mister, I guess I’m a fool, because I got no idea what you’re saying.”
“Haven’t you?” But it didn’t sound like an accusation.
And then the curtain opened and a man huge but blank-eyed stood there, his massive hand engulfing Caroline’s. A bogey. He intoned, “Delamander says, ‘This girl says she’s with your visitor.’”
“Increasingly curious,” said Sloan. “Leave her here. Tell Delamander, ‘Sloan says, “Post an alert, and keep an eye on the borders. Security is over-loose.”‘”
The man walked out.
“Young lady, if you will kindly sit beside your associate here. May I ask how you come to be here, and with what purpose?”
Caroline curtsied and sat. “Mr. Jabey brought me, sir. We made a bargain. I gave him my opera glasses”—she pointed—”and he brought me to his country.”
“She thinks I’m an elf or such-like,” said Jabey miserably.
“And I always wanted so much to visit Faerie.”
“Faerie, indeed,” said Sloan. “May I ask your name?”
“Caroline Elisabeth Morrowbridge, sir.”
“Morrowbridge. Morrowbridge—I could vow I was familiar with the name. Your parents...?”
“My father’s Jonathan Standish Morrowbridge. My mother was Ellen Gainsborough before she married Father, but she’d dead now.”
“Morrowbridge. Of course. And it explains the peculiar reading.” Sloan glanced at his instrument. “Not peculiar at all, actually. What a marvelous coincidence it all is, don’t you agree?”
Caroline sat at the edge of her chair, silent, eyes bright. Jabey shook his head. “Look here, Mr. Sloan, I’m looking for a place to courie, as you like, and any other odd bits a tinyman might do. I didn’t mean nothing by bringing you those bungy glasses, nor by bringing this girl here, either, which I sure didn’t mean to do. If you’ve no mind to tell, that’s fine by me, sir, but just you know I don’t know nothing you don’t tell me.”
Sloan raised an eyebrow. “A wise attitude—a pity more don’t take it.” He turned to Caroline. “Perhaps you would enjoy a tour of Faerie?”
What about the job, Jabey wanted to ask. Was he in? Did he even want to be in? Gangers were no cheerful companions, but they were as good as kin next to clubbers, who were known for being sheer uncanny—which seemed a fair enough estimate of Sloan.
Not that he’d a choice between Sloan and any old ganger. It was Sloan or Yol.
He followed them out reluctantly, twitching at every sound behind him.
Sloan led them through warehouse rooms full of rabbits, rooms where goats bawled and lank-tailed monkeys screeched. He gave Caroline an apple to feed a pair of sheep bleating and milling in their pen. He led them strolling through laboratories thick with the same sharp odors that filled the sewers below.
Jabey scanned each new room for familiar benches or shelves, for the particular water-stained ceiling that he remembered clearest of anything in this place because he’d spent so much time staring up at it, months and months as they drained the growth out of him.
Finally they came to the room he knew, the high-beamed laboratory crowded with benches, instruments, and rows of vats. Sloan swept his hand towards one and said, “And here, as you can see, is how we begin the process of making tinyman.”
Caroline turned to Sloan, eyes huge. “You make them?”
“Certainly. Your associate Mr. Jabey was destined to be a full-sized man, once.”
Jabey jammed his fists deeper in his pockets. He dared not look in the vat, where the baby slept. This part of the dark quarter he knew quite well; could never unknow, however he’d like to. The bogeys standing over the vats were the same that had tended him, the huge mindless men who spoke only others’ words. They’d never spoken any to him.
“Then how did you make him small?” Caroline was saying.
“We’ve certain methods that we find quite satisfactory.”
“Trade secrets,” Jabey said, amazed at the mildness in his voice. “They don’t tell outside folk.”
“The techniques would bore you,” said Sloan. “However, the principle is simple enough. You, as a living entity, enjoy certain quantities of which you are almost surely unaware: quantities such as the general health of your body, the amount of growth you will experience over your lifetime, the vast complicated sum of your intelligence.
“Imagine yourself a beaker.” He dipped a nearby glass in the vat’s blue fluid. “Here you are. And here is something else—something entirely lifeless, completely inanimate.” He held up another glass, empty. “What a simple matter it is to pour some of you into some of it.” Fluid sloshed into the empty glass. “A tinyman was a full glass once, but we poured most of his growth into something else... useful.”
What sort of useful? What was it they’d cheated him to make?
And what was this ache in his hands, as though they would snap out and strangle Sloan of their own accord?
“You mean Mr. Jabey is an ordinary man? He’s only—” Caroline paused, searching for the word. “He’s only made?” She peered around at Jabey, eyes glimmering with tears. “He isn’t of the fairy-folk?”
Sloan didn’t seem to hear. “There is one more thing I should particularly like to show you, Ms. Morrowbridge,” he said. “This way, please.”
Caroline gave Jabey a last forsaken look and followed, turning her head away when he caught up to her. He buried his hands in his pockets and stomped ahead. Dumb rich’s girl, he shouldn’t oughta expect anything else from her.
Beyond was another hallway lined with doors, in each a window criss-crossed with bars. At one of these Sloan set a wide, shallow-stepped ladder and held Caroline’s hand as she climbed it. Jabey pushed up beside her.
Through the window was a child’s nursery, very small, wallpapered and wood-floored and carpeted with a colorful rug. In the bed slept a girl somewhat smaller than Caroline.
“Why is she here?” Caroline said.
“A man has requested a simulacrum of his late beloved,” said Sloan. “We procured an unwanted girl infant, and have since been molding her flesh in the desired pattern. But of course she would grow at the rate of any ordinary child if we did not supplement that growth with, shall we say, the contents of someone else’s beaker.”
“So you shall have another tinyman?”
“Who can say? Human growth is costly. This man offered us a source of his own, rather than pay the fee we asked, and we must extract the growth indirectly, via tokens and potions—an inefficient method. Perhaps he will decide sometime soon that the usual growth rate is sufficient.” A slight cough. “I am not sure he will even see the project through. He is rather a nervous man.”
Jabey looked at the sleeping girl, doubtless accustomed to her tiny world and the people staring at its window. He had been her once—only he had never grown, and she would. Maybe. So someone else would be the tinyman...
A suspicion struck, as sudden and brilliant as a flint spark.
He crawled down the ladder, certain every thought was written in the tension of his shoulders, in his glare. If Sloan noticed a change, he ignored it as he ushered Caroline to the floor.
Caroline, who was terribly small for her age...
Jabey kept his eyes low as he followed them, composing his face. What did it matter if Caroline’s rich papa was draining her growth away for that ‘project’ back there, to gimmick up his dead wife? It didn’t, that’s all. Caroline was a rich’s girl; she’d be all right no matter her size. It didn’t mean anything to Jabey.
Sloan returned them at last to the club, pausing at the door to allow them ahead. “To the same meeting room,” he said. “We’ve one last matter to discuss.”
It wasn’t until Jabey had pushed aside the curtain—under the blank eye of a sentry bogey—that he realized Sloan was some distance behind them.
Caroline slid into a chair and watched Jabey carefully as he stood by the next one. That’s right, rich’s girl, look at him, nothing special, just made. “What is he going to do to us?” she asked.
“Won’t do nothing,” Jabey growled. No way a gimmicker would risk gumming up a project.
“He won’t turn us into anything, will he?”
Sloan pushed aside the curtain and smiled down to Caroline.
“Ms. Morrowbridge,” Sloan said, “it has been my unexpected pleasure to show you around my small realm.” Another smile, which Caroline didn’t return. “As a last treat before you make your way home, perhaps you’d care for a bit of a brew we make here?” From a tray behind him he brought a steaming mug and set it in front of her.
She took a gulping breath. “I mustn’t drink things from Faerie. If I do, I’ll have to stay here for always.”
“Ah, but in this corner of Faerie it is different. Here, you must drink a bit of our brew, or else we cannot allow you to leave. And you have had enough adventure for now, have you not? You would prefer to return to your home and your bed?”
“Thank you ever so much,” Caroline said, “but I mustn’t drink it.” Her voice was firm but her hands trembled in her lap.
“Just leave her be, why don’t you?” Jabey said.
Sloan hushed him with a wave of his hand and crouched to look Caroline in the eye. “Ms. Morrowbridge, I shall be frank. I cannot allow you to remember clearly the things you have seen here.”
“I won’t tell,” she whispered, shrinking back.
“That is not enough, I’m afraid. This brew—which is, I assure you, a most pleasant and warming potion—will leave this night’s happenings a dream, and no more. If things have frightened you here, then you will remember them as only a nightmare. If you have been disappointed,”—he gave Jabey the barest glance—“then this brew will dull the sorrow. But I cannot allow you to leave until you drink it.”
She turned frightened eyes to Jabey. She’d reason to be afraid, little rich’s girl in this down-and-under city. Something would have scared her sometime if she’d hadn’t come here.
Still he didn’t like seeing it in her eyes. If forgetting was all Sloan’s drink would do to her, maybe it was just as well. Jabey nodded to her.
“All right,” she said. Her eyes still on Jabey, she picked up the mug with both hands, lifted it to her mouth, and did not lower it until it was empty.
“Excellent,” Sloan said. “Now, perhaps you will find the getting out of our district a simpler matter than the getting in.”
He led them down a long casement of steps to a room with all the damp, dark odor of a cellar. At the far end was a rounded bronze door with a mechanism on its face. “We have our own uses for runners, on occasion,” he said. “Jabey, when you return we can discuss the details of your employment. I believe we can find a mutually satisfactory arrangement.”
Jabey nodded, mute.
Sloan pressed at one knob and twisted at another, and the whole door swung in—bringing the sewer stinks with it.
“Right. Come on,” Jabey said, taking Caroline’s arm and helping her climb over the door’s edge. It clanked solidly behind them.
The trek back to the west hill was slower because of Caroline, but less tentative now that Jabey’d begun to see the pattern of these new sewers. They’d just crossed a plank into familiar lines when Caroline sniffled. Another three steps, and she sniffled again.
“That wasn’t Faerie,” she said.
“Could have told you that,” Jabey said.
“I knew it wouldn’t be. I know there’s no such place as Faerie.” Another sniffle. “I’m not a baby. But when you talked about it, it sounded like Faerie, all full of magic. And it was. Some of it was so very pretty, like the lamps that told the street names, and those creatures we saw dancing. I couldn’t have imagined half the things I saw. It was just like I thought Faerie would be.
“I always knew why people wanted to go to Faerie—it was beautiful and strange and full of things that you couldn’t explain with ordinary words. But now I think understand why they should want to leave.” A pause. “That’s why I drank what Mr. Sloan gave me. Was I foolish?”
“Maybe you don’t want to remember all that,” said Jabey.
Caroline wrapped both her hands around one Jabey’s. “And I always knew you weren’t an elf,” she said softly. “But you’re still small, like me. I’m sorry Mr. Sloan and those people did those things to you.”
“Nothing for you to do about it,” he muttered. It was just her istocrat manners talking, he told himself. It didn’t mean anything. “Come on, we gotta get you up there before dawn and people start watching.”
She didn’t say any more, and in another ten minutes he was half-carrying her. It came to him, as they climbed the last few blocks uphill, that there’d be questions regardless. Her dress was streaked with slime and she smelled like a runner. They’d probably think she’d fallen in someone’s privy.
At least she wouldn’t have to worry about explaining, if that muck Sloan knew his business. She wouldn’t know any better than anyone else.
Finally, the right storm drain. He left her leaning into the wall while he clambered above to look for passersby. The faintest hint of dawn hung at the horizon. He boosted her up and got her the last few steps to the side door, where she fell into a heap, already dozing.
Much longer and the whole world would be waking, not just the milkmen and the lamp-dowsers. Regular folk, and Yol, too, hunting his runaway runt. He knew a side drain down the hill where no one would bother him, where he could sleep a while before reporting in to Sloan.
He turned towards the drain, glancing back once to the girl huddled at the door. She was just a rich’s girl, and anyway she was safe now. She was no worry of Jabey’s anymore. He crawled below and headed towards that side drain.
Terribly small for her age....
It was somewhere beneath the dark quarter, not quite to Sloan’s street, that Jabey realized what he was going to do. It didn’t feel like a decision, like when he’d stood at the door of Yol’s shop, thrown the severed slave collar behind him, and run. It was like the tide washing into Upper Inlet, each wave a little higher until the grounded ship rocked on her hull.
He was going to save Caroline. They’d gimmick no more growth from her; he’d see to it.
And, like a ship knew which way the ocean was, Jabey knew how. Maybe.
He didn’t crawl up the same drain this time. He hadn’t been watching the way they’d come to Sloan’s laboratories, but his feet knew, even here below. When he was under the right street he started sniffing for that peculiar bitterness of a tinyman’s vatwater and followed it to an incoming pipe hardly wider than himself. He squeezed into the drain and edged upwards. Those drain holes in the corners of Sloan’s laboratory, they were big enough for him. He’d be fine. As long as no early-rising gimmicker spilled something and no one mopped the floor and no one had bothered to secure those grills that covered the drains, he’d be fine.
Finally the pipe turned upwards and dim light filtered down. Jabey wedged himself against one side and wriggled up, wedged himself against the other side and up again. He reached the top and pressed against the grill, nearly slipping as he did. It didn’t move. He shoved his shoulder up and it unstuck. Carefully he slid it aside and heaved himself onto the laboratory floor, cringing as the grill scraped against cement.
Across the room something skittered away. Jabey dropped to the floor, lungs tight. There was a squeak, more scuffling, and then he just saw a rat’s tail as it disappeared around the door.
Just a stupid rat, and he was jumping like he’d never seen one before—him, a sewer runt. He took another breath and started walking.
It was a few moments’ careful skirting of the benches, twisting of doorknobs almost above his reach, creeping down silent hallways before he found the laboratory they’d first come to, where Sloan had laid Caroline’s glasses. Jabey hoped—it was all he had, a hope, a suspicion—that Sloan would not leave a token there unless there were other tokens about.
Caroline’s glasses still lay on a bench; whether that was good sign or bad, Jabey couldn’t guess. He walked down the row of cabinets, opening them one by one and searching for any collection of oddments that might be tokens. He found squat beakers and glass bulbs with long slender necks, matches and vials of fluid. Tiny white crystals like salt—maybe they were salt—sat beside stones the size of his fist.
At the end of the row stood a block of steel taller than Jabey with a wheel in its front and the slit outline of a door. If he were a clubber with gimmicked pretties to keep, he’d keep them here where would-be thieves like him couldn’t snatch them. He ran a finger down the groove, felt the solid inflexibility of the thing. He rummaged a blunt knife from one of the cabinets and poked at the groove, wedging the blade in until it began to bend. The wheel, now, that was how it opened properly, wasn’t it? He tried it and it rotated smooth and silent under his hand, but the door did not suddenly swing open nor a lock click free.
He shoved at the immobile, immovable mass. No good; the thing was solid as a sewer wall under twenty feet of rock.
Sloan. If he could get a jump on Sloan, make him open it -
“I meant that you should report to me personally.”
Jabey twisted, already backing against the safe.
It was Sloan, of course, in the same cheap suit, though a rat was now draped over one shoulder. In the half-light Jabey caught a glimpse of its eyes and shrunk from their glittering brightness.
“Perhaps you will explain why you are attempting to deface my safe?” Sloan’s voice was cool, mild.
Jabey straightened as tall as his body allowed and kept his mouth closed. He wasn’t going to snivel even if he was going to get gimmicked one last time.
Sloan dropped to a crouch and looked Jabey in the eye—as did the rat. Jabey pressed just a little harder against the edge of the safe. Sloan noticed. “Go,” he said, and the rat hopped down and scurried into the shadows.
“Now, if you will kindly explain....” The voice hardened.
The words burst from him. “You got no right!”
“Undoubtedly,” Sloan said, “but to which wrong do you refer?”
“That girl back there,” said Jabey, “the one growing up for some crack-kettled rich—it’s her father, isn’t it? Caroline’s.”
“Ah.” Sloan nodded, stood. As he lit a lamp on the workbench he said, “I may not violate the privacy of my clients, of course, but allow me to compliment you on your astuteness.”
“Caroline ain’t been left on your doorstep like some cellar queen’s kid. What do you think, you can do your gimmickry on any muck you like, like they’re just air, free to take?”
“Better that she be abandoned before we use her? Better that she slip into the sewers afterwards, like so many sources do, to become couriers and pickpockets for the city’s underlife?” Sloan smiled faintly. “You of all men know our business here in the quarter. You sought employment nonetheless, did you not?”
Jabey stared for a moment, his teeth clamped so hard his jaw ached. And then, “You go on talking like that, like maybe you’re sorry about her and the others, when you made us this way. Look at me. I can’t even reach to punch you in the apples. I can’t go abroad for fear the right-living folk’ll catch me. And it’s not just me, either, nor the other bastards folks leave in your alleys. You do this to rich muck’s girls, just for coin.
“I’m some dumb runt, is what I’m thinking, because I’d take those kid glasses and lay your head with ‘em—I know the place, you learn that kind of thing running for gangers, which is all you left me to. All that, and -”
But the words were getting caught and his eyes burned with tears. He could only stare blurrily all the way up to that pale face, those eyebrows sardonically raised.
“All that,” Sloan finished, “and you still find whatever I might offer you preferable to running for Yol Stulbrend, avoiding that cur of his and the stings from his slave collar.”
“Sure don’t. Sure don’t.”
Sloan turned away. “Very well, then. Kindly step aside.” Jabey shuffled away as Sloan walked to the safe. He spun the spokes once, twice, back again in some pattern Jabey couldn’t see, and then pulled the door open. Inside were shelves of jars, each with some oddment or two, although not what Jabey had expected: curls of hair, pilings of dull white clippings like maybe istocrats’ fingernails. Sloan plucked a jar from the array, swung the door shut, and twirled the wheel. He held the jar out for Jabey to see. “This, I believe, is what you came for?”
A ringlet of brown hair curled at the bottom. It looked like Caroline’s.
Sloan set the jar on the bench and crouched again. Jabey did not shrink away this time.
“How badly do you want that the contents of that jar?”
Sloan sighed. “I planned to offer you our usual compensation: food, clothing, security from all but accident and your own stupidity. But I see by your face that this isn’t enough. Suppose I offered you that jar and its contents as well?”
“Don’t make sense,” Jabey said. “I’m just another no-account runt. What do you want me for?”
“You shall run my errands and my messages. You shall travel among your old circles of petty criminals and would-be gangster kings and report on all you hear. You shall be a spy, an envoy. In all these things I will require absolute obedience.”
“That’s dumb. You can have any muck you want for a coin or two.”
“But I cannot hold their loyalty as I hold yours. It would be a simple matter to obtain a few more strands of hair from the girl if I wished. If you acted against my interests.”
“You give me that jar, and I gotta trust you won’t gimmick Caroline anymore?”
“As I must trust that you will not betray me.”
“Why won’t I run out right now and shout to all the coppers and the gangs about you?”
“First, because they won’t listen. Second, because you don’t yet have anything to tell them. But most importantly because you would not be standing in my laboratory if you didn’t care more for that young lady—whom you’d never met until last night—than for your own convenience.”
“She’s just some rich’s girl,” Jabey muttered.
“Yes.” Sloan folded his arms and looked down at Jabey, his expression blank. “She is but one of many projects. There is the wife Caroline’s father requested, for example. I make you no promises about her fate, nor about that of any other creature in my laboratories. Think carefully, Jabey Tinyman. Do you trade your liberty for one little girl’s height?”
That was it: a job and Caroline being all right. Everything he’d wanted—more than he’d wanted—when he’d crawled out of the west hill sewer, looking for a pretty.
“The glasses, too,” Jabey said.
Sloan raised an eyebrow, nodded in what maybe was approval. “The glasses, too.”
Jabey pushed away the picture of the little gimmicked girl sleeping in her little room. He couldn’t help her. He couldn’t help all those others either, people and beasts and some in between. This was all he could do.
“Yeah, okay,” he said. “You got me.”
Sloan left him to attendants with instructions to feed him and find him a place to sleep, and when he woke again Sloan sent him with a message to a dive across town. “You needn’t hurry on the way back—just see you don’t get caught. You’ve no security yet from rabble like Yol.”
Jabey heard the hint—though he wondered why Sloan would give it—and after he’d delivered his message to the gape-mouthed serving girl, he ducked beneath the streets and walked the sewer line up, up, following his feet along the turns.
A few candles still lit the windows of Caroline’s house. He knew the window he wanted this time, and he climbed up and out to it, remembering how the catch hadn’t been quite closed. It wasn’t now. He jogged it until it scraped loose. Frozen, he waited, but there wasn’t a sound. Silently he swung the window open and crawled in.
There was no sleek head on Caroline’s pillow, just a lump of quilt.
Nothing, for a moment. Then fingers slipped out of the quilt and slowly it slid down from Caroline’s eyes, just glints in the dark.
“Wh-ho are you?” she whispered.
The potion. He should have remembered. “A tinyman,” he said. “Like an elf, kind of.”
The head disappeared. “I don’t want to see an elf.” The quilt muffled the words. “Go away.”
“I’m Jabey. Don’t you remember me?”
But of course she didn’t.
She peeked out again, the cover still pulled up over her nose. “I dreamed about you.”
“Yeah?” He took a step forward.
Again the head ducked out of sight. “It was a bad dream,” she said, her voice wavering. “Please, go away.”
Stillness. No sound but quick, sniffling breaths beneath the quilt.
Finally Jabey said, “I won’t bother you again. But I’ll be seeing nobody else does, you hear?” He whispered the last words. “I’ll see you’re all right, Caroline.” He unwrapped the cloth from the opera glasses and laid them on the table by her window, and then he slipped out again, and down, and into the seeping streets known only to the rats and the tinymen.
Return to Issue #17