The Doomsday Machine (Horatio Lyle) (34 page)

BOOK: The Doomsday Machine (Horatio Lyle)
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Night time on Primrose Hill, and a man wearing an iron ring on one finger sits on the wet grass, which feels like cold silk under his fingertips, and stares down at the city, and tries to remember this very, very important thing he had to do.
Something about ...
... a thing that kept the rhythm ...
. . . being regular ...
... regulated ...
. . . something about ...
... green. Lots and lots of green.
A footstep on the grass near to him, a tiny sound of disturbed water droplets and the hiss of drifting fog. ‘Good evening, sir,’ says a polite voice.
The man looks over and sees a very plain gentleman, of almost no distinguishing feature at all, leaning lightly on a walking cane. ‘Good evening, my lord,’ he says.
Lord Lincoln smiles nicely at the man and says, ‘Tell me, Mr Havelock, do you feel that something’s missing in your life?’
Augustus Havelock thinks about it. ‘No,’ he says finally. ‘I feel . . . fine. Just fine.’
‘I see. Well, Mr Havelock, should you ever
not
feel fine, may I recommend a brief walk, a pleasant talk, a dip in the hot springs and perhaps some weight lifting of very heavy magnetically charged objects, to refresh your memory? I find nothing clears the brain quite so well. Good evening to you, Mr Havelock.’
‘Good evening, my lord.’
Lord Lincoln drifts into the fog. Havelock hesitates, then calls out, ‘My lord?’
Lord Lincoln turns. ‘Yes, Mr Havelock?’
‘I feel as though there’s something very important I need to be doing.’
‘There is, Mr Havelock, but not for a while. We have plenty of time yet for that sort of thing, and all the resources in the world. There’ll be time, and next time, fewer mistakes, I feel. We are, after all, only just beginning to learn. Goodnight, Mr Havelock.’
‘My lord.’
Lord Lincoln fades away, into the fog, leaving Havelock alone, his mind full of the colour of laughing green eyes.
 
Night time in Hammersmith, and all the lamps are burning in the house of Lord Thomas Henry Elwick. Lord Elwick sits in his study in the easy chair, and reads Voltaire.
There is a knock at his door.
‘Enter!’
Thomas enters. ‘Good evening, Father.’
‘Ah, Thomas, you are well?’
‘Yes, Father, very.’
‘I see you got cleaned up.’
Thomas blushes head to toe. ‘Father, I . . .’
‘I just want to know you’re safe, Thomas. That’s all that I care about; that’s all that matters to me.’
Thomas hesitates. Then nods. ‘I understand, Father.’
‘If you think that you can’t ... if you think I won’t be ... open . . . to what you have to say, I apologize. I apologize for ... many things.’
And Thomas Edward Elwick does something he’s never done before. He walks into the room and sits at his father’s feet like a child about to be told a story and says, ‘There is a lot I need to tell you, Father.’
And Lord Elwick smiles, and feels hot with relief, though he isn’t entirely sure why. ‘Well . . .’ he says. ‘We have time.’
 
Teresa Hatch sits in a bath that she has run herself, from water she boiled in the kettle while Lyle wasn’t looking - the second of the day. She won’t tell Lyle, of course, even though it’s in Lyle’s house; that would be admitting defeat, that would be confessing to enjoying the bath thing, which somehow would seem wrong after all the battles they’ve waged on the subject.
But for tonight, she has a bath, and it is wonderful.
 
Night time in London. The dead hour between two and three of the morning, and a man walks from Blackfriars Bridge to Westminster, unafraid of anything that might get in his way. And because his walk is so unafraid, no one does get in his way, the muggers and the thieves concluding that this man probably has a reason to be confident, a reason not to be afraid of the dark, and that therefore they should probably be afraid of him. And tonight, they may not be far wrong.
The lamps are burning on Westminster Bridge, but there is fog too, not too thick, but enough to cut one end of the bridge off from another, so that you may stand in the middle and see nothing but roadway on either side, never ending, no embankments and no water below.
 
The man walked to the middle of the bridge, where one shadow waited under a lamp. He said, ‘Hello, Miss Lin.’
She said, ‘Hello, Mister Lyle,’ and did a little curtsey.
‘I’m surprised you wanted to see me - here, now,’ said Lyle, looking into the fog.
‘I like it here,’ said Lin. ‘It seems very private, at this time, but in a public space. That pleases me.’
‘You are pleased by odd things, miss.’
‘You brought a magnet, though?’ she said sweetly. ‘Don’t you trust me?’
Lyle bit his lip. ‘No,’ he said finally, in a thoughtful voice. ‘I find it hard to trust anyone, right now.’
‘You’ve had a bad few days,’ she admitted.
‘You could say that.’ He smiled grimly. ‘On the plus side, I’ve still got my little finger.’
‘That was how we first met!’ She clapped her hands together happily. ‘That was a nice night.’
‘For you, maybe.’
‘Don’t be so negative.’
‘Negative?’ he exclaimed. ‘I’m talking to a Tseiqin on a bridge where . . .’ He hesitated.
‘Your friend died?’
‘One . . . of my friends died here, yes,’ replied Lyle. ‘Not too long ago, on this bridge, fighting . . . I want to say monsters, but you’d probably find that offensive.’
‘Not at all. It hardly matters what shape the monster is, what colour their blood is, if their actions are, by definition, monstrous.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Then he asked, ‘What do you want, miss?’
She smiled, and held out one hand. ‘To dance.’
‘Come again?’
‘I like dancing, Mister Lyle. I think it’s the best thing humanity has had to offer so far. Dancing and maybe the toffee apple.’
‘You like toffee apples?’
‘Yes!’ Her tone implied that it was stupid and futile to ask anyone if they liked toffee apples. ‘Now, you may look at me and see an evil Tseiqin manipulating her scheming way to some foul intent, but that doesn’t matter. I look at you and see someone who has had a very bad succession of days, and needs something to take his mind off it. Will you dance, Horatio Lyle?’
He hesitated. ‘I’m not sure if it’s entirely appropriate for . . .’
‘A man to dance with a woman, alone in the night?’
‘See, when you put it like that, it sounds downright wrong, all things considered, with all due respect, ma’am.’
‘Think of me as ... less a lady and more . . . something unique.’ She raised her hand again, fingers beckoning him towards her.
‘I’m very bad . . .’ he began.
‘Of course you’re very bad, you’re a scientist with a vague concept of the legal system, this makes you by definition an uncharismatic, unattractive, socially inept baboon of a dancer!’
‘Well, when you put it like that . . .’
‘But you do have lovely eyes, Mister Lyle.’
He hesitated. Then he said, ‘Tell me, Miss Lin, just one thing. I have seen the Machine, I know how it works. I could have built it, if I had had . . . the imagination, I suppose . . . to dream it up. I suppose what I’m asking is . . . am I ... I mean, would you . . .’ He stopped, then grinned. ‘Socially inept, wasn’t it?’
‘I think,’ said Lin carefully, ‘that the answer is “no”. Unless your question was about to take an unexpected and interesting twist, in which case the answer might have been “yes”, but I find it unlikely you were going to say anything surprising, so the answer remains “no”. You are not my enemy, Horatio Lyle. I don’t think that having enemies as such is really the best way to get by. Merely . . . misunderstood acquaintances, yes?’
Lyle thought about this, staring into the fog. Then, without a change on his face, he reached into his pocket, and pulled out a very small, grey magnet. He put it carefully on the balustrade on the side of the bridge, and stepped away from it. He took Lin’s out-held hand, looked into her eyes, and said, ‘What do we do about music?’
‘Notes don’t really matter, just the rhythm, the dance.’
‘Well, yes, but . . .’
‘I can sing?’
‘Christ, it’s going to be a long night. Ow!’
‘Was that your foot, Mister Lyle?’
‘I’m really not a very good dancer . . .’
‘It’s quite simple, you just
step
two three,
step
two three . . .’
‘Like this?’
‘No.’
‘Ouch!’
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, swap round.’
‘What?’
‘I’ll be the man, you follow what
I
do, all right?’ said Lin impatiently.
‘I’m sure this is a sin,’ sighed Lyle.
‘Atheist,’ she replied sweetly.
‘Me too, doesn’t mean I’m going to covet my neighbour’s camel any time soon.’
‘You’re still not going to see my ankles, although many men would swoon at the suggestion.’
‘You aren’t like normal people - of any kind - are you, Miss Lin?’
‘This from a man who fears green eyes. Now . . .
step
two three,
step
two three,
step
two three . . .’
‘Am I going . . .’
‘Be quiet and pay attention!’
‘Sorry,’ mumbled Lyle, and was surprised to find he meant it.
‘And
step
two three,
step
two three . . .’
They drifted through the fog. ‘You know . . .’ Lyle’s voice was muffled by the greyness rising from the river, ‘I feel I’m getting the knack of this . . .’
‘No, I’m merely not pointing out the error of your ways. There are snowmen with carrots for noses who have more elegance and grace than you when it comes to the waltz, Mister Lyle.’
‘I could just go home, you know, have a nice night in with the oxides ...’
‘It is more ungentlemanly
not
to dance for a lady’s pleasure, Mister Lyle, than it is to dance badly . . .’ Lin’s voice, like wind chimes, waltzed through the air. ‘And
step
two three,
step
two three . . . mind the toes ...’
And though things might be bad, or have been bad, or may be bad again - as in all probability they will - just for now, in this moment they dance on, into the night.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Webb
published her extraordinary debut,
Mirror Dreams
, at the age of 14, garnering comparisons with Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman. Subsequent books have brought Carnegie Medal longlistings, a
Guardian
Children’s Book of the Week, a BBC television appearance and praise from the
Sunday Times
and the
Sunday Telegraph
, amongst many others. Catherine Webb is currently reading History at university but still found time to establish herself as one of the most talented and exciting young writers in the UK. She lives in London - without a cat but she plans to remedy that, soon.
 
For more information about Catherine Webb and other Atom authors go to
www.atombooks.co.uk
BOOK: The Doomsday Machine (Horatio Lyle)
8.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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