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Authors: Andrea Cremer

The Inventor's Secret

BOOK: The Inventor's Secret
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(with David Levithan)

Andr ea Cr emer
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An imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group
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Copyright © 2014 by Broken Foot Productions, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cremer, Andrea R.
The inventor’s secret / Andrea Cremer.
pages cm
Summary: In an alternate nineteenth-century America that is still a colony of
Britain’s industrial empire, sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees’
struggle to survive is interrupted by a newcomer with no memory, bearing secrets
about a terrible future.
[1. Science fiction. 2. Survival—Fiction. 3. Refugees—Fiction. 4. Amnesia—Fiction.
5. New York (State)—History—19th century—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.C86385Inm 2014

Published simultaneously in Canada. Printed in the United States of America.
ISBN 978-0-399-15962-6
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Edited by Jill Santopolo. Design by Semadar Megged.
Text set in 11.75-point Sabon MT.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility
for author or third-party websites or their content.

For m y t e ac h e r s
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay,
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?

John Milton,
Paradise Lost
(quoted by Mary Shelley in
New York Wildlands, Amherst Province, 1816

closer. Charlotte heard the shallow pulls of
his breath, the uneven, heavy pounding of his
footfalls. She stayed curled within the hollows
of the massive tree’s roots, body perfectly still

other than the sweat that beaded on her forehead in the
close air. A single drop of moisture trailed along her temple, dripped from her jaw, and disappeared into her bodice.

The boy threw another glance over his shoulder. Five
more steps, and he’d hit the tripwire. Four. Three. Two.

He cried out in alarm as his ankle hooked on the taut
line stretched between two trees. His yelp cut off when his
body slammed into the forest floor, forcing the air from his

Charlotte lunged from her hiding place, muscles shrieking in relief as they snapped out of the tight crouch. Her
practiced feet barely touched the ground and she ran with
as much silence as the low rustle of her skirts would allow.

The boy moaned and started to push himself up on one
elbow. He grunted when Charlotte kicked him over onto
his back and pinned him against the ground with one foot.

His wide eyes fixed on the revolver she had aimed at
his chest.
“Please,” he whispered.
She adjusted her aim—right between his eyes—and
shook her head. “I’m not in the habit of granting the requests of strangers.”
Charlotte put more weight onto her foot, and he
“Who are you?” she asked, and wished her voice were
gritty instead of gentle.
He didn’t blink; his eyes mirrored the rust-tinged gleam
of the breaking dawn.
“I don’t know.”
“Say again?” She frowned.
Fear bloomed in his tawny irises. “I . . . I don’t know.”
“You don’t know,” she repeated.
He shook his head.
She glanced at the tangle of brush from which he’d
emerged. “What are you running from?”
He frowned, and again said, “I don’t know.”
“If you don’t know, then why were you running?” she
“The sounds.” He shuddered.
“Sounds?” Charlotte felt as though frost had formed
on the bare skin of her arms. She scanned the forest, dread
building in her chest.
The whistle shrieked as though her fear had summoned
it. The iron beast, tall as the trees around it, emerged from
the thick woods on the same deer trail the boy had followed. Imperial Labor Gatherers were built like giants.
The square, blunt head of the machine pushed through
the higher branches of the trees, snapping them like twigs.
Two multijointed brass arms sprouted on each side of its
wide torso and its long fingers were spread wide, ready to
clutch and capture. Charlotte’s eyes immediately found the
thick bars of its hollow rib cage.
“Who sent a Gatherer after you?”
His voice shook. “Is that what it is?”
“Are you an idiot?” She spat on the ground beside him.
“You must know a Rotpot when you see one! Everyone out
here knows how the Empire hunts.”
The screech of metal in need of oiling cooled Charlotte’s boiling temper. A horn sounded. Another answered
in the distance. But not nearly distant enough.
She didn’t have time to mull over options. She lifted
her foot from the boy’s chest and offered him her hand.
The only advantage they had over the Rotpots was that the
lumbering iron men maneuvered slowly in the forest.
“We need to leave this place. Now.”
The boy gripped her fingers without hesitation, but he
shot a terrified glance at the approaching Gatherer. They
were partially concealed from view by a huge oak, but the
machine was close enough that Charlotte could see its operator shifting gears from within the giant’s iron skull. She
watched as the man reached up, pulled down a helmet with
telescoping goggles, and began to swivel the Rotpot’s head
Charlotte hesitated a moment too long. And he saw her.
Cranking hard on a wheel, which made steam spout
from the machine’s shoulders, the operator turned the iron
man to pursue them.
“Go!” Charlotte shoved the boy away from her. “Run
east! I’ll catch up.”
“What are you—” he started to ask, but began to run
when she pushed him so hard that he almost fell over.
When she was certain he wasn’t looking back, Charlotte reached into her skirt pocket. Her hand found cool
metal, and she pulled a small object from within the folds
of muslin. It only took a few winds of the key before sputters and sparks leapt from her palm. She sighed and regretfully set the magnet mouse on the ground, pointing it at
the encroaching machine. The little creature whirred and
skittered away, its spring-anchored wheels accommodating
the rough path she’d set it upon.
“Come on.”
When Charlotte caught up with the boy, she ignored
the puzzled look on his face and grasped his hand, forcing him to run with her into the dark western wood, away
from the now bloodred haze of early sun that stretched
through the forest canopy.
Between gasps of breath, his fingers tightened on hers.
She glanced at him.
His tawny eyes had sharpened, and he peered at her
like a hawk. “What’s your name?” he asked.
Charlotte dropped his hand and gathered her skirts to
accommodate her leap over a moss-covered log.
“Thank you for not leaving me back there, Charlotte.”
She looked away from him, nodded, and ran a bit faster.
Behind them she heard the explosion she’d been waiting
for. Though they were hardly out of danger, Charlotte
smiled, feeling a surge of triumph. But a moment later, a
single thought chased her giddiness away.
Ash is going to kill me.


HE LAST BEAMS of sunlight were cutting
through the forest by the time they reached
the tree.

“Bloody hell!” Charlotte groped through
the tangle of roots in search of subtle tactile differentiation. Her companion gasped at her outburst,

and she spared him a glance. Not that he could tell. She’d
tied a kerchief around his eyes when the sounds of the
Gatherers seemed far off enough to risk slowing down.

The boy’s face scrunched up, as if he was thinking hard.
After a moment, he said, “Girls shouldn’t use that kind of
language. Someone told me that . . . I think . . .”

Though he appeared to be running from the Brits, she
couldn’t risk letting a stranger learn the way to the Cata

combs. The Empire’s attempts at finding their hideaway


had been limited to Gatherer sweeps and a few crowscopes, none of which had been successful. It wasn’t out
of the realm of possibility that they’d stoop to sending a
real person out to hunt for them. And someone like this
boy, who seemed so vulnerable, would be the perfect spy.
If he was and this was a trap she’d sprung, Charlotte would
never forgive herself.

“Well, you may not know who you are, but apparently
you were brought up in polite society,” Charlotte said
sourly, her mood darkened by new suspicions about who
he might be. “If you’re planning on sticking around, you’ll
find girls here do a lot of things they aren’t meant to do.”

He simply turned his head in her direction, puzzled
and waiting for an explanation. Charlotte’s answer was an
unkind laugh. Perhaps she should have been more compassionate, but the consequences of revealing their hideout
were too dangerous. And Birch was almost too clever with
his inventions. She’d never been able to locate the false
branch without effort, and delays could be very costly. The
Rotpots might have been stopped by her mouse, but nothing was certain. A slowed Gatherer was still a threat.

“I . . . I . . .” Beside her the boy was stammering as if
unsure whether to apologize.
“Hush,” she said, keeping her voice gentle, and he felt
Her fingers brushed over a root with bark harder and
colder than the others.
“Here it is.”
“Here’s what?” He waggled his head around pointlessly.
“I said hush.” Charlotte stifled laughter at the boy’s
bobbing head, knowing it was cruel given his helpless state.
She found the latch on the underside of the thick root,
and a compartment in the artificial wood popped open.
Quickly turning the crank hidden within the compartment, Charlotte held her breath until the voice came crackling through.
“Iphigenia,” Charlotte said with a little smile.
and his myths.
The boy drew a sharp breath. “Who is that? Who’s
there?” He sounded genuinely afraid.
“It’s all right,” she whispered and leaned closer to the
voicebox. “And there are two of us, so you’ll need to open
both channels.”
There was a long pause in which Charlotte’s heart began to beat heavily, once again making her question the
decision to bring the strange boy with her.
“The basket will be waiting,” the voice confirmed, and
a little relief seeped through her veins.
The pale boy was still twisting his neck, as if somehow
doing so would enlighten him as to the origin of the voice
despite his blindfold.
“What’s happening?” he asked, facing away from
Charlotte. Rather than attempt an explanation, Charlotte
grabbed his wrist and tugged him toward the roaring falls.
As the pounding of water on rocks grew louder, the boy
resisted Charlotte’s guidance for the first time.
“Stop! Please!” He jerked back, throwing her off balance.
“Don’t do that!” Charlotte whirled around and grabbed
his arms. “We’re about to cross a narrow and quite slippery path. If you make me lose my footing, we’ll both be in
the drink, and I don’t fancy a swim, no matter how hot the
summer air may be.”
“Is it a river?” he asked. “Where are we?”
Charlotte couldn’t blame the boy for his questions, but
she was close to losing her patience. Hadn’t she already
done enough to help him? All she wanted was to get inside the Catacombs, where they would be hidden from any
Gatherers that might still be combing the forest. What did
Meg always say when she was fighting with Ash?
Meg’s warm voice slipped into Charlotte’s mind.
Try to
see it from his point of view. It’s a horrible burden, Lottie.
The weight of leadership.
Charlotte looked at the pale boy, frowning. His burden
wasn’t that of her brother’s—a responsibility for a ramshackle group aged five to seventeen—but this boy bore
the weight of fear and, at the moment, blindness. Both of
which must be awful to contend with. With that in mind,
Charlotte said, “I’m taking you to a hiding place beneath
the falls. I promise it’s safe. The machines won’t find us
there. I can’t tell you more.”
The boy tilted his head toward the sound of her voice.
He groped the air until he found her hands.
She smiled, though he couldn’t see it, and drew him over
the moss-covered rocks that paved the way to the falls. As
they came closer, the spray from the falls dampened their
clothing and their hair. Charlotte was grateful the boy had
decided to trust her and ask no further questions because
at this point she would have had to shout to be heard.
When they passed beneath the torrent of water, the air
shimmered as the native moss gave way to the bioluminescent variety Birch had cultivated to light the pathway into
the Catacombs.
Charlotte wished she could remove the boy’s blindfold.
Entering the passageway that led into the Catacombs delighted her each time she returned. Not only because it
meant she was almost home, but also because the glowing
jade moss gave light that was welcoming. Seeing it might
ease the boy’s mind, reassuring him that she led him to a
place of safety rather than danger.
She turned left, taking them into a narrow side passage that at first glance would have appeared to be nothing
more than a shadow cast by the tumbling cascade. Within
the twisting cavern, the shimmering green moss forfeited
its place to mounds of fungus. Their long stems and umbrella-like tops glowed blue instead of green, throwing the
cavern into a perpetual twilight.
The boy remained silent, but from the way he gripped
her fingers, Charlotte knew his fear hadn’t abated.
“We’re almost there,” she whispered and squeezed his
hand, garnering a weak smile from him.
The passage abruptly opened up to a massive cavern—
the place where the falls hid its priceless treasure: a refuge,
one of the only sites hidden from the far-seeing eyes of the
Empire. While from the outside the falls appeared to cover
a solid rock base, several meters beneath the cascade, the
earth opened into a maze of caves. Some were narrow tunnels like the one from which they’d just emerged. Others
were enormous open spaces, large enough to house a dirigible. Far below them, the surface of an underground lake
rippled with the current that tugged it into an underground
river. A dark twin that snaked beneath earth and stone to
meet its aboveground counterpart some two leagues past
the falls.
They were standing on a platform. Smooth stone reinforced by iron bracings and a brass railing that featured
a hinged gate. On the other side of the gate, as had been
promised, the basket was waiting, dangling from a long
iron chain that stretched up until it disappeared into a rock
shelf high above them. The lift resembled a birdcage more
than a basket. Charlotte opened the gate and the basket
door, pushing the boy inside and following him after she’d
secured the gate once more. The basket swung under their
weight, and the boy gripped the brass weave that held
“You put me in a cage?” Panic crept into his question.
“Shhh.” She took his hand again as much to stop him
from ripping the blindfold off as to reassure him. “I’m here
too. It’s not a cage—it’s an elevator.”
With her free hand, she reached up and pulled the
wooden handle attached to a brass chain that hung from
the ceiling of the basket. Far above them, a bell sounded, its
chiming bounced off the cavern walls. A flurry of tinkling
notes melded with the roar of the falls for a few moments.
Charlotte shushed the boy before he could ask what the
bell meant. Now that she was out of the forest, away from
the Gatherers and a short ride from home, she was tired
and more than a little anxious about what awaited her on
the upper platform. Not so much what as who, she had to
As the clicking of gears and the steady winding of the
chain filled the basket, they began to move up. The swiftness of the lift’s ascent never failed to surprise Charlotte
slightly, but it caught the boy completely off guard. He
lurched to the side, and the basket swung out over the lake.
“Stop that!” Charlotte grabbed him, holding him still
at the center of the swaying basket. “If you don’t move, the
lift won’t swing out.”
“S-sorry.” The boy’s teeth chattered with nerves.
Peering at him, Charlotte felt a creeping fear tickle her
spine. She’d assumed his awful colorless skin had been a
result of his fear, but looking at him closely, she thought it
might be the natural state of his flesh. And it struck Charlotte as quite odd. Flesh so pale it had an ashen cast. She
forced herself to hang on to him so he wouldn’t unbalance
the lift again, but she now worried his wan quality was a
harbinger of illness. And that it might be catching.
Her nagging thoughts were interrupted when they
passed the lip of the upper platform and the gears slowly
ground to a halt.
The first sight that greeted her was three pairs of boots.
The first was black, thick-soled, and scarred with burn
marks. The second pair was also black, but polished and
trimmer of cut and heel, showing only their shiny tips
rather than stretching to the knee like the first pair. The
third pair made her groan. Faded brown and featuring an
array of loops and buckles that held knives in place, this
pair was soon joined by a grinning face as their owner
crouched to peer into the basket.
Jack, clad in his regular garb of leather breeches and
two low-slung, gun-heavy belts, threaded his fingers
through the brass weaving of the basket, rising with it until he was standing. “Well, well. What a fine catch we have
today, mateys.”
“Cap it, Jack,” Charlotte said.
He pushed stray locks of his bronze hair beneath his
tweed cap and continued to smile as he opened the platform gate. “A mermaid and a . . . what?”
Jack’s mirthful expression vanished as he stared at the
blindfolded boy.
Charlotte swallowed the hardness that had formed in
her throat. Jack turned to look at the wearer of the polished boots. Charlotte was looking that way too.
The boots were mostly covered by black military pants,
close fitting with brass buttons from knee to ankle and
looser to the waist where they met with a band-collared
white shirt and burgundy vest with matching cravat. The
owner of the boots carried an ebony cane tipped with a
brass globe.
Ashley wasn’t wearing his usual black overcoat, but its
absence did nothing to impede his air of authority.
“Pip called in that two were arriving instead of just
one,” he told Charlotte.
She glanced over to the wheelhouse where a slight girl
wearing goggles was mostly hidden by pulls, levers, and
cranks. Pip gave Charlotte a quick, apologetic wave and
then ducked out of sight.
Throwing her shoulders back, Charlotte exited the basket, dragging the boy with her.
“The Rotpots were after him,” she said, meeting her
brother’s stern gaze. “I had to help him.”
“Of course
had to.” Ash tapped a shiny boot on the
stone platform.
She didn’t offer further explanation but refused to look
away. Charlotte didn’t want to quail before her brother
because rumors of her unexpected guest seemed to have
spread throughout the Catacombs. From the mouth of the
caverns that led to their living quarters, half a dozen little faces with wide eyes peeked out, watching Charlotte
and Ashley’s exchange. The children should have been at
their lessons or chores, but Charlotte knew well enough
that when something this unusual took place in their
mostly cloistered lives, it was irresistible. When she’d been
younger, Charlotte had snuck away from her responsibilities many a time for events much less exciting than the
arrival of a stranger. Ash had always chided her for her
impetuous behavior. Her brother had been born a leader,
all sobriety and steadfastness. He was never tempted away
from duty the way Charlotte so often had been.
Ash frowned and walked up to the blindfolded boy.
“And what do you have to say for yourself?” Ash asked
him. “Who has my sister brought us?”
“I . . . I can’t . . .” The boy strained toward the sound
of Ash’s voice.
Ash put the brass tip of his cane beneath the boy’s chin.
“I know you can’t see, boy. If you’ll tell me how you came
to be in the forest, perhaps we can show you a bit more
Charlotte stepped forward, hitting the length of the
cane so it thwacked away from the stranger. She jerked the
kerchief down so the boy blinked into the sudden light.
“Leave him be. You weren’t the one being chased by an
iron beast with a cage for a belly.”
Ash stared at her, his dark brown eyes full of incredulity
and budding fury. He didn’t speak to Charlotte, though,
instead turning his hard gaze on the faces peering out from
the cavern opening. Ashley didn’t have to say anything.
The children bolted away, the pitter-patter of their speedy
steps echoing in the cavern like sudden rainfall.
“Do you know if he’s hurt, Charlotte?” The boy wearing the burn-scarred black boots scampered forward, peering at the new arrival.
Jack, who’d taken a few steps back as if to survey
the unfolding scene from a safe distance, answered as he
threaded his thumbs into his wide belt loops. “He looks
fine to me. Are you sure he was really running from them?”
Charlotte ignored Jack, instead smiling at Birch, who
trotted over to the boy’s side.
“Let’s have a look.” The boots weren’t the only pockmarked part of Birch’s wardrobe. From his thick apron to
his elbow-length gloves, the tinker’s brown leather clothing boasted enough black marks to rival a leopard’s spots.
The boy was shivering, but he nodded and didn’t object
when Birch inspected him.
“No injuries I can see. He’s not feverish. If anything,
I’d say he’s a little clammy.” Birch scratched his thatch of
wheat-colored hair.
A tiny head capped by large round ears peeked around
one side of Birch’s neck. Its wide black eyes stared at the
strange boy. The boy stared back as the bat climbed from
Birch’s neck onto his shoulder. Its minuscule claws fastened
to one of the straps of the tinker’s leather apron, never losing its grip as Birch moved.
“There’s, there’s something on you,” the boy said, his
tone wary, but also curious.
“What?” Birch glanced at the shoulder the boy pointed
to. “Oh. That’s just Moses. He’s usually crawling somewhere on my apron. Doesn’t like to roost anymore, understandably. Fell when he was just a baby and broke both
wings. I found him floating in the river one day when I was
collecting guano to make gunpowder. Had to rebuild his
wings myself.”
Birch coaxed Moses onto his hand and then gently
stretched out one of the bat’s wings, which produced a soft
clicking sound as the appendage unfurled. The underside
of Moses’s wing glinted with silver.
“The key was creating a new bone structure using hollow tubes,” Birch explained. “Light enough so he could
“What proof do you have that he was trying to escape?”
Ash was still watching Charlotte instead of looking at the
Charlotte’s charge seemed content conversing with
Birch, so she gave Ash her full attention.
“Only that he was alone in the forest and running from
Rotpots.” Charlotte thrust her chin out. “That was good
enough for me.”
“How reassuring,” Ash said. “And you failed to notice
that he’s dressed in clothes from the Hive?”
Charlotte’s eyes went wide. She turned to look at her
companion, feeling blood leach from her face. Her brother
was right. While the trio waiting to meet them wore a
mishmash of clothes cobbled together into outfits favored
by each, the boy wore gray tweed pants and a matching
fitted jacket with button and chain closures. His wardrobe
marked him as belonging to the Hive: the artisan caste of
the New York metropolis.

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