Authors: Joel Ross
S THE TROOPERS THUNDERED
down the stairway toward us, the shutters behind the curtain flung open, slamming against the wall with a solid
“Come!” a voice whispered from inside the dark window. “Quickly now!”
“Bea, go!” Hazel boosted her through the opening. “Now you, Loretta! Inside! Chess, move!”
The minute Loretta disappeared, I dove headfirst through the window and landed with her elbow in my gut. She squirmed away, and Swedish fell on me like a bear.
I yelped and the roof-troopers sounded loud and close in the courtyard.
“There!” one yelled. “She's climbing in that window.”
“Get her!” another yelled. “Grab her!”
The shutters slammed closed. They must've been three inches thick, and the room turned black as iron bolts slid shut, locking the soldiers out in the courtyard along withâ
“No!” I gasped. “Hazel's still out there! Open it up!”
“I'm here,” her voice said in the darkness.
I almost sobbed in relief. “Oh, thank the peaks.”
“Save your thanks,” said a rough whisper in the darkness. “And follow me.”
As soldiers hammered on the other side of the shutters, a hooded lantern sprang to life in the gloom. A dingy light hovered in the air, and I caught a glimpse of a cloaked man.
“This whole thing stinks like a trap,” Swedish muttered.
“What stinks,” I said, shoving him off me, “is your armpit in my face.”
“At least we're not dead,” Hazel said. “Follow the light. Stay together.”
The glow drifted from the room, and we trailed after the cloaked man along a mazelike hallway. When we heard the soldiers smash through the shutters behind us, Bea squeaked in the darkness and Loretta swore.
The man didn't react. He just led us through a sliding panel, then whispered, “Watch your step.”
The sound of the soldiers faded as we followed a
stairway downward. A moist draft washed over us, and the lantern painted the rough-hewn stairs with a sickly light. We headed into a dirt-walled corridor, and the sound of dripping water echoed all around.
“Where are we?” Hazel asked, sounding as lost as I felt.
“In the mines,” the voice whispered. “They won't find us here.”
“How do you know?”
“This section was condemned as unsafe years ago.”
“Oh, good,” I muttered, glancing at the ceiling. “I feel much better now.”
Swedish snorted. “Yeah, I always wanted to die in a cave-in.”
“Holy goalie!” Bea blurted. “Are we
“Yes,” the cloaked man whispered.
With a whoop, Bea started jumping up and down, stomping on the floor. “It's dirt! I never thought there was this much dirt in the whole world! Look at all thisâ”
I grabbed her arm. “Would you
“It's been condemned as unsafe!”
She peered down the dark hallway. “What does âcondemned' mean?”
“That it'll fall on our heads if you keep hopping around.”
“It is pretty cool, though,” I admitted. “I've never been underground before.”
“Underground smells like camel butt,” Loretta muttered.
“Shhh,” the cloaked man said.
We climbed the uneven stone stairs in the gloom. Silence fell around us, except for the scuffing of our footsteps and the drips of water echoing through the stairwell.
Finally Hazel said, “Who are you?”
The cloaked figure stopped on a landing. “My name is Turning.”
“Why did you help us?”
“Cover your eyes.” He fiddled with a rusted gearwork mechanism on the wall. “We're stepping into the light.”
A door opened and sunlight poured into the dark stairway. I squinted as I followed Loretta into a cluttered room. Not an ordinary room: more like a laboratory.
Cabinets lined the walls, and a workbench divided the room, littered with half-built instruments and strange devices. Rows of tools were sorted in racks, and a clockwork machine as big as Swedish hunched in one corner, half covered with a cloth. Charts filled a bookcase, and round windows, shining with bright sunlight, overlooked the lower slope and the slum.
Bea gasped, gazing at a huge scope tilted toward one window. “Look at that spyglass!”
“It's a telescope,” Turning told her in his chilly whisper.
He lowered his hood, and I saw his face: tired eyes, a crooked nose, and a braided beard. Cloudy-white gems glinted in his earrings, the color of Fog.
“I never thought I'd see you so close,” he said, surveying us. Then he frowned at Loretta. “And
“We weren't exactly expecting
either,” she said.
Turning's laugh sounded like his whisper, scratchy and thin. “I suppose not, butâ”
“You never thought you'd see us this
?” Hazel asked, frowning. “So you've seen us from afar?”
“Indeed I have,” he said. “Through the telescope.”
“He's been watching us.” Swedish turned to me. “I
you someone was watching us.”
“Yeah, wellâ” I couldn't think of a snappy reply. “You were right.”
“Ha!” he crowed. “I knew it!”
“Oh, Mr. Turning, can I look in the telescope?” Bea pleaded. “Please? Pretty please?”
“Of course,” he said.
She scampered across the room, greeted the telescope politely, then peeked through. “Ooh, everything looks so close! There's a waterwheel. Oh, there's the airfield with that mayfly! That is
a purple thopper!”
“Why have you been watching us?” Hazel asked Turning, her voice sharp. “How did you find us? Was that old lady in the courtyard expecting us?”
“We monitor the roof-troopers,” Turning said. “We saw them chasing you.”
I felt a chill of worry as I scanned the room. Who
this guy, with his secret passages and hidden laboratory?
“You monitor them?” Hazel asked. “Why?”
“For our own safety.”
Hazel's eyes narrowed. “Who
“Look!” Bea squealed. “The slum's so close I could touch it.”
“He's a foghead.” I pointed to a charcoal sketch on an easel. “That's too freaky for anyone else.”
“Whatâ” Loretta made a face. “What is it?”
The drawing looked like an evil thopper with legs instead of wings, and a spiny shell of shattered bricks. I said, “A ticktock, I bet.”
“Only in my imagination,” Turning said with a slight smile. “I've never seen one. Nobody has. Not in a hundred years.”
“So it's true?” Hazel asked Turning. “You're a foghead?”
“I suppose I am,” Turning said, his scratchy voice calm. “Though that's not what we call ourselves. We are the Subassembly, and I'm a leaderâa âcog.' My full name is Cog Turning.”
So he wasn't just a foghead, he was a foghead
? And he'd brought us to his hidden lair, with illegal books and creepy drawings? We needed a coyote to take us to
Port Oro, and instead we got a mist-sniffing fog-freak. A sick sense of dread uncoiled inside me like a driftshark: we needed to get out of there. We needed to sell the diamond and get away from the Rooftop before everything fell apart.
ORETTA'S HAND DRIFTED TOWARD
her knife, and Swedish stepped closer to Hazel. The room thickened with suspicion, everyone clenched and edgy. Well, everyone except Bea, who kept looking into the telescope, completely oblivious.
“Don't be afraid,” Turning said, his voice calm. “I'm a friend.”
Swedish scowled. “That's what
always say. You fogheads are the ones who started spreading rumors about Chess.”
“I'm sorry about that,” Turning said. “However, if the Assemblers you met in the junkyard hadn't foolishly spread those rumors, I never would've found Ekaterina. And I couldn't have saved you just now.”
you save us?” Hazel asked. “How do you know Mrs. E? What do you want from us?”
“There's the market!” Bea called from the window. “Oooh! That's the watering hole.
“I'll answer all your questions,” Turning said, stroking his braided beard. “But would you like to eat first? I have cucumbers and chorizo stew.”
Despite my fear, my mouth watered. I'd never even seen a whole cucumber, only the peels.
“You have meat?” Swedish asked.
“We're not hungry,” Hazel lied. “Answer our questions.”
“I'll do more than that,” Turning said. “I'll help you reach Port Oro.”
A chill silence fell. How did he know we were trying to reach Port Oro?
“Port Oro?” Hazel's eyes narrowed. “What makes you think we're trying to get to Port Oro? I don't know what game you're playing, butâ”
He lifted his gnarled hand. “I've known Ekaterina for a very long time.”
“You're her friend!” Hazel shook her head in surprise. “Her mysterious friend.”
“No way,” Swedish muttered. “This foghead?”
Turning arched a bushy eyebrow. “I'd offer you honey bread, but I'm fresh out.”
you!” I said. Nobody else would know about the honey bread.
“Indeed it is, Chess.” He looked at me intently. “And I'd very much like to see your eye.”
My stomach dropped. Of course he knew about my eyeâit seemed like the entire Subassembly knewâbut I still felt sick and scared, like I was naked in the middle of a crowd.
“What do you want to see his eye for?” Loretta asked. “I heard it's gross.”
Turning smiled faintly but didn't answer her question. “I'd been looking for Ekaterina for a long time. She changed her name thirteen years agoâshe wasn't born âEkaterina,' you knowâand she vanished off the face of the Rooftop.”
“This is so purple!” Bea announced from the telescope, totally unaware of the conversation. “I can see everything. Where's our house?”
“I thought she'd fled into the lower slopes,” Turning continued, “or even Port Oro. Not the junkyard.”
“There's no better hiding place on the Rooftop,” Hazel said.
He nodded again. “When I tracked the rumors down, I finally realized where to look. But she was so sick. IâI hadn't expected that. She didn't even recognize me at first.”
“She told us you're old friends,” Hazel said.
A spark glinted in Turning's tired eyes. “The last time I saw her, years ago, she was standing at the edge of a firestorm in the middle of the night.”
“When she burned Kodoc's house down?” I asked.
“She's a remarkable woman.” He steepled his fingers. “However, since Kodoc learned about the unexpected results of his long-ago experimentâ”
“What experiment?” Loretta blurted. “What're you talking about?”
“A science experiment,” I told her.
“What I'm trying to say,” Turning continued, “is that while Kodoc's been searching for you, I've been arranging passage for you, to Port Oro.”
“No!” Hazel said, her breath catching. “Truly?”
“Oh, look!” Bea suddenly called, from the telescope. “There's our alley! I bet I can find our shack.”
“Truly,” Turning told Hazel. “I sent a carrier pigeon last week and asked the Port to come pick up a package. The mutineers aren't overly fond of the Subassembly, but we still work together. They know that we understand the Fog better than anyone alive. And we find them quite useful.”
“A package?” Swedish asked. “What kind of package?”
“The five of you.” Turning eyed Loretta. “Six, now.”
“Whoa,” Hazel said. “A ship from the Port? For us?”
Turning nodded. “I think my message was lost, but fortunately I found a coyote willing to take you.”
“You didn't!” Hazel said, her eyes dancing. “Get
“This foghead's too nice,” Loretta muttered, scratching
the tattoo on her cheek. “Nobody's this nice without wanting something.”
“If he can heal Mrs. E's fogsickness,” I told her, “I don't care about anything else.”
“Hey, that's Perry!” Bea fiddled with the telescope's focus. “He's tiny, like an ant. I could crush him!”
“Can you really cure Mrs. E?” Hazel asked Turning.
can't, no.” He smiled softly. “But for my friends on Port Oro, many things are possible.”
“That's what she always says.”
“She's right. You'll get to the Port, you'll cure Ekaterina, and you'll escape Kodoc.”
“But why?” Hazel demanded. “Loretta's right. You must want something.”
“What are they doing?” Bea asked the telescope. “That's weird. . . .”
“I want to help my old friend.” Turning tugged at his earring. “And I will do anything to keep Kodoc from getting his hands on Chess.”
Hazel's lips narrowed. “Why is that?”
“Because Chess is the only fog diver who can find the Compass.”
“You want a compass?” Loretta asked. “
can find you a compass.”
“Not a compass,” Turning said. “
Compass. An ancient machine, buried in the Fog, that controls the nanites.”
“Control the what knights?” Loretta had never heard Mrs. E's stories. “The naan knights? You fogheads are even dippier than Iâ”
“It doesn't matter now,” Turning interrupted. “What matters is that I'll send word to the coyote and you'll leave for Port Oro tonight.”
“Tonight?” Hazel's sudden smile brightened the room. “That soon?”
“We're really going!” I said, feeling a tingle of excitement. “After all this timeâ”
“Hazel!” Bea cried at the telescope. “They're ditching our block! They're ditching our shack, and Mrs. E is still inside!”