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Authors: Meljean Brook

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Paranormal, #Fiction

Riveted (8 page)

BOOK: Riveted
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The first engineer ought to have been on duty now, not Mary. “Why did she have to?”

“Because García’s off ship. His wife came to visit. Five minutes later, he turned in his papers and decided to stay in Castile.” Elena’s arched brows and gleeful tone told Annika that she wouldn’t like whatever her friend had to say next. “And that makes
you
the first engineer.”

Oh, blast. Annika hoped not. García had twice as many duties as she did.

Elena laughed at her expression. “Look at you. Anyone else would be happy to take another step closer to a chief’s ticket. I’d be dancing for joy if I was dumped into the first mate’s position like this—and wouldn’t stop pushing until I was master of a ship.”

Yes, but Annika wasn’t here to make a career out of it. “Leroux will bring someone else aboard as first. Neither Mary nor I know the electric generators well.”

“You could learn.”

That was Elena’s answer to everything. “I’d rather spend my time sewing than studying schematics.”

Elena cast a critical look at Annika’s voluminous crimson skirt. “You
could
use the practice.”

Annika gasped and narrowed her eyes at the other woman, but wasn’t the least bit upset. Elena often wore the less elaborate pieces that Annika had given her. Her skill with a needle wasn’t in question; her taste was. Annika loved her clothes, however—and considering that her mother had often said the same of Annika’s penchant for bright colors and ribbons, the teasing simply felt like home.

“Say that again the next time you rip out the seat of your trousers and come looking for me to fix it.”

“And be pricked in the derriere for my honesty? I’ll hold my tongue until you’re done.” With a grin, Elena climbed the short ladder to her bunk. “Was there any word from your sister?”

Annika shook her head. In four years, there hadn’t been a response, though she’d regularly placed personal advertisements in every newssheet from Sweden to Far Maghreb. She’d have to soon find a different ship, a different route.
Phatéon
traveled from the tip of the southern American continent to the Scandinavian kingdoms, England, and Ireland, but avoided the more dangerous waters near the Ivory Market in Africa and the smugglers’ havens of Australia. Annika didn’t think that Källa would have ventured so close to Horde territory, but her sister had been infected with nanoagents since she was young. Even if she’d managed to secure fake letters of origin, perhaps she hadn’t been able to find a place in the New World—and though Källa could have made a home in the countries around the North Sea, temper might have driven her as far from Iceland as she could go.

Annika didn’t want to leave
Phatéon
any more than she’d wanted to leave Hannasvik. Finding her sister was more important than those wants, however.

But until she left, her job needed to be done. With a sigh, she scooted to the edge of the bed. “I’d best find the chief, then.”

On the third deck, she pounded on Leroux’s door, but the old engineering chief wasn’t in his cabin. Perhaps the engine deck. As she turned toward the companionway, the ship’s physician came out of her quarters. Lucia Kentewess carried a bottle of wine and wore a bright smile—a lovely look for the woman, whose smiles were usually tinged with melancholy.

Annika liked Lucia very well, and preferred her company to everyone’s except Elena’s, but she suspected that the doctor sought her out for conversation in the wardroom because she viewed Annika as something of an amusing oddity. Which Annika supposed she was, and so didn’t mind the woman’s attention. The New Worlders were often amusing oddities, too.

“Annika! Is the chief in?”

“No. I’m looking for him myself.”

“Ah, well. I shall give this to him after dinner, then.” The doctor glanced at Annika’s skirts, then swayed as a gust of wind jerked the ship around by the mooring tether. “You aren’t on duty?”

“I’m on the eight to twelve today.” Unless García’s leaving would change that, as well.

“Oh, that is perfect. My nephew, David, is aboard. If we can get away from the captain’s supper, I’d love to introduce you.”

So that explained the bright smile. His aunt had spoken of her nephew before, and had once shown Annika a ferrotype photograph of a grinning boy sitting in a small steam-powered cart, wearing a hook on his arm and his trousers tucked around missing knees. A tall native man and Lucia had stood on either side of him. If Lucia hadn’t told her what had happened to the boy’s mother and her own husband, Annika would have assumed that it was a portrait of a happy family, not one torn apart by a disaster.

Annika vaguely recalled that he had traveled since then, but she better remembered Lucia’s pride when she’d spoken of him than
any specific stories. David Kentewess likely wouldn’t find Annika as interesting as his aunt seemed to, but she didn’t mind meeting him, especially if it added to the new joy in Lucia’s smile.

“I should be in the wardroom unless there is a change to my watch schedule. García left
Phatéon
, so I’m on my way to discover that now.”

“Oh, of course. Go on, then.”

Annika did, gathering her skirts at her knees to descend the ladder. The distant
thud
of the closing cargo doors echoed up the companionway. They were done with the loading, then, and might soon be under way.
Phatéon
couldn’t carry as much weight as a sailing ship, but was often stuffed to the deckheads with perishables and mail. On this run, they carried laborers to Smoke Cove; crates of dry goods and foodstuffs bound for the island of Heimaey filled the rest of the cargo hold, and mail drops would be made at a few coastal communities in between.

Annika didn’t participate in any of the loading or unloading. Her job was simply to make certain that
Phatéon
arrived at her destination by tending the furnace and engines at the heart of the ship.

She caught sight of the chief outside the engine room, his white hair easy to spot even in the dim passageway. Almost seventy, his face deeply lined and tall, bony frame stiff, he had difficulty going up and down the ladders to this deck. He usually sent instructions and messages from his quarters, relaying them through García.

“Fridasdottor! There you are, girl!” His voice boomed down the corridor. Leroux always shouted—as one had to do in this part of the ship when the engines were engaged. They were silent now, but he still yelled. Too many years in an engine room had destroyed his hearing.

“Chief Leroux!” she shouted back. “I’ve heard that García turned in his papers!”

“That boy did, and ran off.” Leroux didn’t care that García
was a forty-year-old man, just as it didn’t matter that Annika wasn’t a girl any longer. “You’ll be acting as my first on this run.”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Eh?”

“Yes, monsieur!”

Thin lips pursing, he gave her a considering look. “I’ve never had a girl as first.”

Annika smiled in response. Before Leroux, she’d never taken orders from a man, either.

His eyes narrowed. “Always smiling, you are. We’ll look over that generator together tomorrow. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you’ve avoided learning about it.”

That erased her smile. “Yes, monsieur.”

“The captain doesn’t want to take on any new men until we’re back to Port-au-Prince. Until then, you’ll be a two-section watch and splitting the third’s duties with Chandler. As first, you’ll decide how to split them. Don’t take the worst jobs for yourself.”

Maintaining the privy pipes and flushing systems. “I won’t, monsieur.”

“All right. You know what you ought to be doing now?”

What would García typically be working on before they left port? “I need to perform the engine checks before we fire her up again, and make certain the balloon warmers are in order.”

Leroux nodded. “We don’t want that envelope deflating the moment we fly into arctic weather.”

And didn’t want a spark from a badly maintained warmer igniting the hydrogen. “Yes, monsieur.”

“Then get to it, girl.” With that, he was off, his walking stick thudding against the boards.

Even though Mary had opened the portholes, the engine room was stifling. Humid air continually rose through the open hatch in the deck floor that allowed for easy access to the furnace and boilers on the deck below, the vapors condensing on the pipes and
propeller shafts overhead. A rhythmic rasp from the boiler room told her that Mary was stoking the furnace, which was never allowed to go out. The copper pipes carried heated water through the ship, warming the cabins; another bank of brass pipes carried sound from the quarterdeck, for commands shouted throughout the ship. Usually the engine was too loud for the stokers to hear those orders, so they relied upon the telegraph dial instead. The setting on its face matched the dial on the captain’s bridge, allowing Vashon to order them back or ahead under partial or full steam. Currently, the indicator arrow pointed to
STOP
.

The great steam engine filled most of the room, a hulking beast fabricated from iron and ingenuity. She lay sleeping now, her oiled pistons that drove the propellers at rest, the turbines quiet rather than screaming. Beautiful, but Annika liked her best when she woke and worked.

The scraping from below ceased. Mary climbed up out of the furnace room a moment later, the freckles of her hands and face concealed by a light dusting of coal. A blue paisley scarf covered vibrant red hair, the same shade that Annika remembered her mother’s had been before gray had dulled it. Since her mother had been stolen as a young girl from a Horde crèche in England, however, no relation likely existed between her mother and the third engineer despite that resemblance. Annika had a better chance of being a blood relation to the woman. Only a few years older than Annika, Mary had also been born in Manhattan City; unlike Annika, however, she hadn’t been living alone on the streets and taken by a woman from Iceland.

Mary also spoke English—not the sort that Annika had grown up hearing, or the sort that she’d heard on her visits to England, but she enjoyed speaking with someone without having to first think of every word.

Annika still had to watch everything she said, however, or find that Mary spread it to everyone aboard.

With a damp cotton rag, Mary wiped her face, scrubbed her bare arms. “So you’ve heard about García turning in his papers?”

Annika nodded, moving to the engineer’s station, where the repair dockets and manuals were neatly stacked. García would have left the engine checklist here. He’d been so familiar with the process that he wouldn’t need to use it, but Annika did.

“I’m wagering that his wife didn’t like him going from port to port.” Mary hooked the rag into the waist of her trousers. “She’d rather keep him at home.”

“Perhaps,” Annika said, but thought that Mary was only telling her own truth, not García’s. Annika had never seen evidence that the first engineer took any lovers, but Mary had lain with many other men than her husband. Considering how devoted García had been to his wife, and how the rioting in Castile worried him, Annika thought he’d left because he couldn’t bear to leave her alone any longer.

But Mary wouldn’t have assumed that. People never believed of others what they couldn’t imagine of themselves.

The other woman sniffed, as if disappointed that Annika didn’t have any more to add. “Well, that’s it for him, then. Did you receive word from your sister?”

“No.”

Mary pursed her lips—probably to stop herself from saying, “Of course.”

Annika had to stop her own laugh in response to that expression. She knew what Mary suspected: that Annika wasn’t really looking for her sister, anyway. Mary believed that she was Liberé, a descendant of the Africans who’d fled across the ocean to escape the Horde. According to the other woman, Annika disguised her accent and pretended to hail from Scandinavia so that Captain Vashon wouldn’t discover that an enemy of the French worked in her engine room.

Mary wasn’t completely wrong; her papers were faked. But Annika wasn’t Liberé.

Perhaps she had been, once. Annika didn’t know who her blood parents were. A warm, dim memory of a woman’s soft voice and tight arms made her think that she’d been orphaned rather than abandoned, but she couldn’t be certain. She only knew that at two or three years of age, she’d been found wandering the streets of Manhattan City, hungry and dressed in rags. Now she was one of the Huldrene, the hidden women of Hannasvik. That mattered more to Annika than blood ever could.

She found the checklist at the bottom of the stack. All menial tasks, but they would take her at least forty-five minutes. Do them now or later?

Probably best to do them now. Mary wasn’t supposed to have been on duty, and a little more than two hours still remained until first watch. They both needed to eat—and as acting first, Annika decided who would go now.

“You run up to supper, then.” Her belly rumbled at the same time she spoke, as if to protest the choice she made. “I’ll work through this list while you eat, then we’ll start our rotation at first watch—and we’ll use the same dogged watch schedule as the deck crew so that we’ll both get our suppers in on equal time. Make certain to sleep while you can.”

Dismay filled Mary’s voice. “So we’re just the two of us?”

“Until we return to Port-au-Prince.” Only a month, but they’d be exhausted by the end of it. Four hours on duty, then four hours rest, with only a little variation at the two-hour dog watch. At full steam, they’d be stoking the furnace until they were all but dead on their feet. “I’ll ask the chief if he can find a boy to help shovel.”

“That new Black Irish boy was eyeing a stoker’s apron.”

“Who?”

“Sula, I think they called him. One of James’s boys.”

Ah, one of the children who served the senior aviators and learned the ropes. If he was hoping to secure an engineer’s license later, they might as well bring him down here now. “All right. I’ll
suggest him to the chief, and if we’re lucky, the deck can spare him. Either way, I’ll take the first’s duties, you’ve got the second’s, and we’ll share the third’s.”

Mary was the third now. Expression hopeful, she asked, “Who will have the privy pipes?”

BOOK: Riveted
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