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Authors: Vanessa Barger

Into the Ether

BOOK: Into the Ether
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Into the Ether

by Vanessa Barger

Published by Astraea Press, LLC

www.astraeapress.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.

 

INTO THE ETHER

Copyright © 2011 VANESSA BARGER

ISBN
978-1-936852-13-0

Cover Art Designed By Elaina Lee

Edited By Kim Bowman

For my family, who love me even if I am a little eccentric, and who gave me my love of reading and technology. Love you!
 

For my friends, because you listen to me ramble and pretend to know what I'm talking about, even if you don't. Thanks. You're awesome.

For the YAFFers who are the best critters I could ask for!

Chapter One

 

In the distance
a steam engine stalled out
and throbbed in the night air.
My skin rippled with distress
as I picked through
sludge-
stained cobbles
.
I could hear the
machine
drawing closer, but s
till far enough away that
,
perhaps
,
I wouldn't be noticed.

My heart fluttered
,
adrenaline sharpening
my senses.
Only a few more steps.
A
bright shaft of light
sliced
across my back, sending my
shadow into sharp relief on the pavement.

All pretense thrown aside
,
I
broke into a run
.
The steam auto roared behind me and I risked a glance over my shoulder.
Two police officers hunched in the cramped glass carriage of the auto.
One drove,
following commands barked by his partner, who rode in the passenger seat.
He hung out the win
dow, his spotlamp
trained on me.

At the nearest corner I flung myself to the left and searched for an alle
yway, a door
;
any place to
hide.
The brick buildings coated with soot and grime did
n'
t offer any respite.

My lungs burned and fear made my legs watery.
T
he auto was close enough, even after making the turn, that I could see the sparkling moisture gathered on the lookout's brow.
I hoped his eyebrow
s
singed in the heat from the gas spotlamp.

Paying too much attention to what was behind me, I missed the curb and slipped.
I
tumbled
, both hands spread to break my fall.
My knees scrape
d rough pavement and I heard the sound of ripping fabric
.
Pain radiated
from
my wrists
to my elbows
from the impact.
The auto pulled along side and I paused, waiting as the officer le
apt from the auto, laughing
.

I
slid
my feet under
my body
,
hiding them in
the folds of my ragged skirt.
When he reached out to grab my hands, I sprang up,
caught
him off guard
,
and pushed
at his chest with all the force I could muster.

He
toppled
,
eyes wide with surprise and a wicked oath on his tongue.
I noted with some satisfaction that he'd landed on his rear in a large puddle of something unpleasant.
Then I
spun and ran back the way I'
d come.

When my knees felt like pudding and my chest burned with each breath, I stopped, crouching in the shadow of a doorway.
I
strained to hear past my
heavy pants
.
For the moment, there was nothing.
I'd run more than ten blocks
.
Surely
they hadn't
followed
.
All the same,
I
waited
, pressed against the glass doorway, for several minutes.
No sense in getting away once only to be caught again.
I didn't have enough stamina for that.

Somewhere
near
by a church bell tolled the hour.
Nearly one.
Time for a shift change at the station.
No police officer stopped if they were on their way home.
Too much effort.
Creeping out of my hiding place, I made my way down the street, clinging to the walls and shadows, staying away from the pools of flickering gas light under the lamps.

Almost halfway home, I stopped and patted my pockets, anxiety making my heart jump.
Tonight I had been sent out
alone
, which didn't happen often.
My value lay in knowing an object's worth rather than
actually stealing anything
.
I never came back with much, but I didn't want to come back empty handed.
This evening, only a few small coins
weighted my pockets
.
I reached inside
and curled my fingers around the round metal discs, warm from my body heat.
Continuing, I sighed in relief.
Everything was still there.
M
y hands burrowed deeper
where the icy air could
n'
t reach.

F
ootsteps sounded behind me, slow at first,
then
gaining
speed.
They
drew closer as I approached the dark mouth of an alleyway.
My stomach knotted
,
and I jumped over a mound of blackened snow
,
landing neatly in the center of the street.

Before I could summon the energy to run, a dark shape rammed into my gut and locked arms around my waist.
All the air rushed from my lungs and I narrowly avoided cracking my skull on the pavement.

I kicked and scratched at the human attached to me.

“Ow!
Gennie!”
The attacker squeezed harder, and cold soaked through the back of my dress.
A
familiar
,
smudged
face appeared over mine.

“Terry?”

“Geez
,
Gennie!
I know you're jumpy, but
there's
no need to tear me apart.”

I shook my head and shoved him off.
“You're such a pain.”

He whacked his cap on his thigh a few times, winked at me,
and
grinned.
“That's why you like me so much.”

He hid his copper hair under the hat again and fell into step beside me.
“What did you get this time?”

I held out the coins briefly and then pushed them back into my pocket.

Terry snorted.
“You really stink, you know that?”

“I'm aware.”

“Its good Justin doesn't keep you based on your takes.”

I pushed at him and he laughed.

“Do I even want to know what loot you're carrying around?”
I asked.

He started to pull something out of the inside pocket of his coat, but stopped.
There hadn't been more than a couple other people on the streets
.
They were suddenly absent.
We
crept
forward
in silence
.
My
gaze
searched the misty
city
ahead of us, while Terry looked behind.
A noise caught m
y ear, and I tugged Terry into a dark alcove
.
The
poosh-poosh-poosh
of a steam auto
got louder
.
The hulking metal beast rounded the corner, brass scratched and dull in the wavering gaslight.
Gray puffs burst from the steam stack at the rear, and smuts winked red in the night before littering the pavement.
Police sat in the fro
nt, keeping an eye on things
.
I pulled my coat closer.
They weren't looking too hard or they would have turned a search lamp
on
our hiding spot
.

“They're getting more frequent.”
Terry's teasing tone vanished.

I squeezed
his
shoulder.

“Don't worry.
You'd outrun them in a flash,” I said, but my heart wasn't quite in it.
They'd been patrolling our side of London more often than normal.
Our antics were beginning to get noticed.

Terry shrugged and slid around the corner without answering.
His fingers waved me forward.
Sometimes, I forgot Terry was
a year
older than me.
He could be so childish one minute and so grown-up the next.
Right now he seemed thirty instead of
seventeen
.

“Elliot and I tried to tell Justin about the police a couple days ago.
He didn't believe us.
Maybe if you say something, he'll take it more seriously.”
Terry waited for my nod.
“We're stealing from important people.
It's too noticeable.”

I knew that.
I'd held every stolen object and seen the lives that touched it.
Being a
touch
-know
and seeing the memories of
objects
had been a thrill for a
while.
Now…I pushed the thought aside.
My abilities gave me a warm place to sleep, a full belly, and a family.
Any second thoughts were
foolish
.

“I'll talk to him when we get back.
Besides, he'll probab
ly insist I get another lesson i
n pick pocketing from you and Elliot when he sees how little I've brought back.”

Terry rolled his eyes.
“You know
how
to steal, Gennie.
You just don't want to.”

We both knew he was right so I just shrugged
.

The rest of our
trek through the streets went by
in tense
quiet
.
We passed two more patrol autos.
T
erry was right
,
it wasn't
normal.
They were looking
for us.
And i
t frightene
d me how close they
'
d gotten
.

We slid behind Grant Dennison's pie shop and
pushed
a pile of old crates to one side.
Behind them,
a small wooden door guarded an
entrance into the network of sewers an
d abandoned tunnels of
London's Underworld.
Terry rapped out a pattern of knocks on the wood and the door opened.
Elliot waited for us to get past before reaching out with a curved metal bar and yanking the pile of debris back into place and closing the door.

“Have you two seen anyone else?”
Elliot asked.
His eyes were red around the edges, as if he'd been crying.

We shook our heads.

“What's wrong?”
I said.

Elliot shook his head and wiped his nose on his wrist.
“Nothing.”

I put my hands on my hips and glared.
Elliot was three years younger, so sometimes I could bully him into telling me what I wanted to know.
Tonight a scowl did the job.

“Clarissa is missing.
She should have been back hours ago, but no one's seen he
r.
I just know the police
loaded her into the back of one of their autos.
They're goin' to take her and throw her in Newgate and I'll never see her again.”

“That's ridiculous,” I told him.
I forced my words to sound sincere, even though I didn't believe them.
“I'm sure your sister is fine.
She's probably just taking her time coming back.”

Elliot shrugged and his eyes shimmered.
He mumbled something and sniffed.
“You two'd best be on your way.
Justin's sent word that you should go to him directly.”

I wanted to stay until Elliot felt better, but we knew Clarissa's chances grew slimmer as the evening wore on.
Besides, if Justin sent word that he wanted to see us right away, something big was happening.
I should have been more nervous about what he wanted.
Instead I dreaded having to show my meager earnings in front of everyone.
Again.

Terry took a few steps down the dark passage and then glanced over his shoulder at Elliot.
“You go ahead.
I'll stay with Elliot a little longer.”

“But Justin
said
—”

Terry waved a hand at me.
“Just tell him I didn't come in with you.
I'll be along in a bit.”

BOOK: Into the Ether
2.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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