The Doomsday Machine (Horatio Lyle)

BOOK: The Doomsday Machine (Horatio Lyle)
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The Doomsday Machine
Hachette Digital
Table of Contents
By Catherine Webb
Mirror Dreams
Mirror Wakes
The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures
of Horatio Lyle
The Obsidian Dagger:
Being the Further Extraordinary Adventures of Horatio Lyle
The Doomsday Machine:
Another Astounding Adventure of Horatio Lyle
The Doomsday Machine
Hachette Digital
Published by Hachette Digital 2008
Copyright © 2007 by Catherine Webb
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor
be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover
other than that in which it is published and without a
similar condition including this condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those
clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance
to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 9 7807 4811 1
This ebook produced by JOUVE, FRANCE
Hachette Digital
An imprint of
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DY
An Hachette Livre UK Company
To build the Machine, it took seven years, fifty-two scientists, nine eccentric inventors, three idiot geniuses let out of the asylum, two hundred and twenty-three labourers, forty-nine railwaymen with a grasp of steam technology, three barges of coal a day, ninety colliers to shovel it into the furnaces, several hundred thousand pounds levied from that year’s import of opium into China, one man with a will sliced from silvery steel, and a gentleman with a thing for lightning storms. And the London sewers - that part came last, five years into the project, the final breakthrough that they hadn’t even realized they needed, the moment when everyone at once sat up and thought,
Even then, they said, it still couldn’t be made to work - the scale was too big, the idea too grand, the enemy too clever, the expense too high, the forces at work too immense. Maybe in a hundred years, they said, maybe, there would be the understanding necessary or the tools available, able to chisel the two-mile construction site down to something smaller. Maybe, in a hundred years, men would understand the energy necessary to complete it. It took a risk, on the part of the man who had conceived the device, to make it come off, to find what was needed to turn the Machine into the monster it was meant to be.
But most of all, when the expense and the smoke and the heat and the metal, so much metal, was ignored, it took an
. In every glistening part of the Machine, in every cog and piston and giant arm fatter than an elephant ’s waist, in every bolt and screw, thousands of them gleaming in the firelight, was written the determination to win the war. Without an enemy, there was no need for the Machine. With so much feeling and anger built into its very rivets, even the coldest of observers watching its burning sides as it belched orange flame, began to speak of it as something alive. When it was only a few days from completion, work if anything seemed to sag - completed, it had only one purpose, and when that purpose was done, there would be no enemy, and therefore there would be no need for the Machine. It could rust with the rest of the weapons of this very special war. And also in those final few days, as the last coil was spun, one man, who had poured already a large part of his soul into the device, sat up and thought the forbidden thought -
This is the story of what happened next.
London, 1865
Somewhere in the eastern edges of Clerkenwell, a man is running. His feet splash in still, turgid puddles of oddly coloured liquid dripped from poorly dyed shirts hung out across the way, sending up droplets of thick water as he races down the street. He slips in the mud that has been loosened by the early spring showers, grabs hold of an old cart made entirely of splinters and mould left to rot in the middle of the road, swings himself round a corner and squints through the gloom for a light more than the sick orange glow from smelly tallow candles, seen under the doors of the houses. He hears footsteps behind, squelching on the mud, and above, the rattle of something fast and light on the roof, glances up and for a moment sees a shape dance across the plank between two rooftops and down through a broken ceiling into a house ahead. He spots a doorway to his right, open, dropping down and smelling of rotting straw and sewage, and turns, and runs into it.
The running man flees down the stairwell, under a black iron lamp that hasn’t burnt for years, into a tight street whose old cobbles are faintly visible underneath a thin coating of slime. He accelerates as his shoes slap loudly on the stones, as he hears ahead the sound of voices, sees a flash of light and prays this is it, escape, not believing he was so foolish as to get into this situation in the first place. He turns a corner and almost immediately runs into a shoulder that is pressed up against another and another and another and smells roasting nuts and lamp oil and sees cheap lace and neckties and hears, ‘Hey-o, Billy, Billy get the doxy missus!’ and, ‘Two’penny, yours for two’penny, if you just got the glint . . .’ and ‘Haybag, haybag, I ain’t never done nothing ...’
He pushes his way into the crowd, turning sideways into it and ramming his shoulder through, stepping on shoes and moving even as voices shout, ‘I was here first!’ and one or two, more sympathetic, cry, ‘Make way for the toff,’ and are answered by hoots of laughter, and one or two more knowing say, ‘It’s a bobby!’ and immediately open up space to let him through. The man is an odd sight in this crowd, and not just because of the way he moves, constantly turning his shoulder and feet to find the fastest way into the depth of the crowd, eyes forward and down. His coat is long and black, well cut but obviously neglected, with patches sewn on using the wrong colour thread; his pockets bulge; his shoes are practical but battered, turned pale brown from the mud spattered halfway up to his knees; his sandy-ginger hair is half-hidden by an old-fashioned broad-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes; he wears no waistcoat but looks as if he should; nor does he have any gloves. He has long fingers stained with odd, faded colours, though not from tobacco. As he moves, he starts pulling off his coat, not diverting his eyes from where he steps, but working steadily towards the object of the crowd’s attention: a set of double doors pulled wide open to let them into the heart of the nearby buzz. He elbows his way forward, slips a penny into the hand of the waiting doorman, a boy of no more than seven years of age with his cap out and an expression suggesting that if you didn’t pay
doorman, your kneecaps would never see another day, and enters the heat of the hall.
He can hear distantly the sound of two voices straining above the babble of slang within the theatre ’s thin walls, muddling their way through a sketch that will soon lead to a rousing chorus of ‘The Nutting Girl’ - a tribute to London’s best-loved ladies of repute - and other light classics. The heat is worse than the noise; it hits him full in the face and makes every capillary dilate in distress; it falls on him like a wave, making each moment more intensely hot than the last. Everywhere there are people, elbow to elbow: girls draped on the arm of their chosen lad, boys in groups shouting random abuse at another group across the hall, old men dragging their daughter off a rival’s son while glowering within the fringe of their overgrown whiskers. Few actually pay attention to the man and woman on stage, in huge ginger wigs and quantities of cheap lace, who are desperately trying to muddle their way through a chorus of, ‘Ah-hey-ho the haybale!’ Those who are listening join in, each in their own key and with their own special version of the tune, determined to drown out any rivals who might believe
know better.
The fleeing man glances over his shoulder, and for a second thinks he sees a flash of green, and a black silk top hat horribly out of place, that even as he looks is knocked off by someone in the crowd with a cry of ‘Toff, toff!’ He ducks down into the crowd, bending forward so that his head is lower than the average shoulder and the world smells of armpit, and starts butting his way further into the mêlée, following the nearest flow of people past the downward staircase that leads into the pit in front of the stage, and on to the upper balcony, which creaks and heaves under the weight of bodies who have piled in there for the evening. Something white and sticky falls on his shoulder: hot wax dripping from the foul-smelling, smoky candles intermixed with the battered lamps hung round the edge of the hall.
BOOK: The Doomsday Machine (Horatio Lyle)
2.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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