Authors: Alan Gratz
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For Wendi, again and always
The secret entrance to the headquarters of the Septemberist Society could only be reached by submarine. Twelve-year-old Archie Dent had been there a dozen times before and still he had no idea where it was. Mannahatta? Staten Island? Breucklen? Queens County? For all he knew, the submarine they took to the group's secret headquarters didn't go to any of New Rome's boroughs at all. It might turn right around from the Hudson River Submarine Landing in Jersey and head back to Hackensack territory. And asking didn't help either. His mother and father either didn't know where it was, or they wouldn't tell him.
“I'll bet the Septemberist Society is under the big statue of Hiawatha in New Rome Harbor,” he told his parents as they wove their way through the crowd down to the submarine docks. “That would be so brass!”
“We don't talk about the Society in public, Archie. You know that,” his mother told him. “And I've asked you before not to use that awful slang.”
Archie sighed. His parents were such square cogs. They were researchers for the Septemberists, both of them, and they spent their days with their noses in old books and their nights with their eyes glued to telescopes, looking for signs that the Mangleborn might be breaking out of their underground prisons. That's why they had left their observatory and come to New Rome today: The stars were right for Malacar Ahasherat, the Swarm Queen, to break free of her prison in the Florida swamps, and the Society had to be warned.
“There,” Archie's father said. “The red submersible. That's the one we want.”
The red submarine was dwarfed by its ocean-liner cousinsâthe massive four-hundred-foot-long, seven-thousand-tonne gray behemoths that carried passengers up and down the East Coast, from Acadia in the north to New Spain and Brasil in the south. Men in heavy frock coats and neckties and women in crinolines and petticoats waited for clockwork porters to load their steamer trunks onto the subs. As much as Archie was looking forward to seeing the Septemberist Society's secret headquarters again, he wished he were boarding one of the enormous submarines, setting off on an adventure that would take him all over the United Nations and beyond. But no. After his parents delivered their warning to the Society, it would be back to the family estate in Philadelphia again. Back to the books and the telescopes.
The little submarine was whale shaped, with great fins at the back that controlled its position in the water. A white plume of smoke and steam rose from a hole on its back like water from a whale's blowhole, and it had great round eyelike windows at the front for the pilot to see out of. Its name, painted along its side, was the SS
“Ahoy there,” the Dents' Tik Tok servant called to the machine-man pilot who stood sentry at the wood-and-rope gangplank to the sub. “I am Mr. Rivets. This is Mr. and Mrs. Dent, and their son, Master Archie.”
“Thirty days hath September,” the Tik Tok captain said.
“Seven heroes we remember,” said Mr. Dent, giving the Society's secret pass phrase. He lifted the lapel on his jacket to reveal a pin with an image of a human eye atop a pyramid, set inside a seven-pointed star. The symbol of the Septemberist Society.
“Permission to come aboard, Mr. Hull?” Mr. Dent asked.
“Aye. Permission granted.” Mr. Hull was a brass Emartha Mark II Machine Man like Mr. Rivets, but instead of a riveted metal vest and bowler hat like the Dents' machine man, he'd been customized with a copper sailor's cap and captain's jacket, both of which had turned green over time. Mr. Rivets had talent cards that could be switched out to give him different skills, but Mr. Hull's Submarine Pilot card was permanently installed.
“Why do we have to give the Society's secret pass phrase and show him the pin?” Archie asked his mother. “Mr. Hull's been our captain every time. Doesn't he know us by now?”
“It's protocol, Archie. What if we weren't really ourselves this time?”
Archie frowned. “Who else would we be?”
“Hurry along, Archie,” Mr. Dent said from the hatchway. “Time and tide wait for no man.”
Inside, the submarine was all riveted steel and brass pipes and fittings. To the aft down a narrow passage was the hissing, steaming boiler room. To the fore was a small lounge with two red-cushioned couches. Beyond that, through a small open door, was the pilot's cockpit. Archie's parents and Mr. Rivets had already taken seats in the lounge and were fastening their safety harnesses when Mr. Hull closed the tophatch and screwed it shut.
Archie headed for the cockpit.
“Archie, I think we can leave the piloting of the ship to Mr. Hull this time,” his father said.
“But I always sit up front,” Archie said. As a kid, he'd begged to sit up front and watch Mr. Hull pilot the submersible, and Mr. Hull had always let him.
“Don't you think you're getting a little old for that?” his mother said.
Archie was crestfallen. Slag it. He was telling his parents all the time that he wasn't a little kid anymore, and the one time they agreed, he didn't want them to.
“It's all right by me, Mrs. Dent,” Mr. Hull said as he walked through the lounge to the cockpit.
Archie grinned and hurried into the cockpit with Mr. Hull before his parents could tell him not to. Next time he'd ride in the back. Maybe.
Archie sat down in the copilot's seat beside Mr. Hull. The Tik Tok flipped switches and turned dials and checked gauges. Archie had no idea what any of them did, but he loved the sound of them clicking and whirring and spinning. One day maybe he'd have a submersible of his own, and run missions for the Septemberists.
With a metallic clank and a lurch, the SS
disengaged from its mooring on the dock and turned in the cavernous underground port.
“Hold fast now,” Mr. Hull announced. “We're ready to dive.”
The machine man flipped a switch, and the submarine shook as air burbled out of the ballast tanks. Sloshing water rose on the window until the cave disappeared, replaced by the black of the Hudson River. The Tik Tok captain flipped another switch, and a keel-mounted carbide lamp lit up the water in front of them. The
passed underneath the huge steel hood that protected the submarine landing from New Rome Harbor, and the ghostly, shimmering light of the gray New Rome morning filtered down to them through the choppy sea. Ships had once traveled on top of the water, not underneath it, Archie knew. Mr. Rivets had shown him pictures in old books. But all that had changed when the Darkness fell on the Old World a hundred years ago. Now the Atlantis Ocean was too rough to sail above. It could only be navigated
the waves, and every submarine sent to Europe to find out what had happened never came back.
“How long can you stay underwater?” Archie asked.
“About two hours at normal speed,” said Mr. Hull. “Then I have to come up for air and stoke the furnace. But we'll have you to Septemberist headquarters long before that.”