The Madness Project (The Madness Method) (4 page)

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
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“Mr. Zagger, do something!” Samyr screamed.

“Get your hands off me!” I shouted, shoving his arm. 
“Zagger!  That’s an order!”

His eyes met mine, dark and hard.  “Sorry, Your Highness. 
Doesn’t mean a thing right now.”

The plane twisted on the tarmacadam, drifting into a slow
slide as the two aviators and the mechanics raced after it.  I caught my breath
and stopped fighting, because suddenly Griff appeared, hauling himself over the
lip of the cockpit.  For a moment he hung there, motionless, then he tumbled
out onto the wing and finally to the landing strip in an awkward somersault. 

The aviators rushed to pull him up by the armpits, dragging
him away as the plane’s carcass ground to a flaming stop.  Finally Zagger
released me, and we all took off running.

I could hear Griff cursing everything from the devils to the
sky long before we reached him.  When he caught sight of us he managed to
straighten up, his face red and streaked with soot and rain.  One of the
aviators helped him pull off his helmet and goggles, and handed him a
handkerchief to wipe the grime from his cheeks. 

“What the hell happened?” the other aviator asked, ignoring
us entirely. 

“How the devil should I know!” Griff cried, tugging open the
neck of his aviator’s jacket.  A raw cough convulsed him.  “Damn thing isn’t
supposed to explode.”

“So how did it explode?”

“I don’t bloody know!” 

He cursed again and bent over his knees.  Samyr pushed her
way into their circle and threw her arms around him.

“Oh,
stars
, Griff!  Are you all right?”

“Fine,” he said, twitching his head aside.  “Just give me a
moment.”

That broke the spell; the aviators turned to salute me.

“So sorry you had to see this, Your Highness,” the older one
said. 

I recognized him, finally—he’d been the first man to pilot
an aeroplane.  Or rather, he’d been the first to pilot one and survive.  He
commanded the Air Patrol now, as all the multicolored ribbons on the breast of
his black uniform jacket could attest.

“That’s all right, Major Ves,” I said.  “What did you mean,
it wasn’t supposed to explode?”

“Just so.  It’s all a bit technical, but the way the steam
engine is designed, and the fuel we use…this is supposed to be impossible.”

I cocked an eyebrow.  “Apparently not.”

“Something must have mucked up the coils,” Griff said.

He had his arm thrown around Samyr’s shoulders now, but the
terror hadn’t left his eyes.  The way he wouldn’t look at me, I knew he hated
for me to see him so unnerved.  We’d known each other our whole lives but Griff
had the Farro pride, and even our friendship wasn’t a match for that.  So
instead I stared at the corpse of the plane flaming in a heap too close for
comfort, its airscrew still wobbling in an unsteady and slowly faltering spin.

“Are you hurt, Mr. Farro?” Ves asked, gripping Griff’s arm.

“Just a bit topsy,” he said.  “I’ll be fine.  Can’t say the
same thing for the old girl though.”

“Soon as the flames die down, we’ll open her up and see what
she has to tell us,” the younger aviator said.

Griff rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth.

“It’s not your fault,” I said.

“Do you think my father will care about that?”  His voice
hitched a little.  “All he’ll see is that I crashed the bird.” 

He turned and kicked viciously at the ground, fumbling for
pockets until he remembered his breeks didn’t have any.

“Go on home, Mr. Farro.  We’ll get this cleaned up.”

“She’s my—”

Major Ves held up his hand.  “If you ever hope to serve a
day under my command, you’ll take this as your first order.  Go home.  And go
before that damned newshawk gets over here asking for a story.”

We all turned and saw the boxy with his awful camera,
shooting shot after shot of us.  I stepped toward Griff and sent a glare at the
boxy, because I knew the last thing Griff would want was his look of defeat on
the front page of the Herald.  Samyr must have had the same notion because she
grabbed Griff’s arm and dragged him off toward the fence where we’d left the
motorcar and her bicycle.  I turned to follow, but Zagger had fixated on the
hangar with his wary watchdog look.  Long training kept me close behind him.

“Zagger?”

“Something doesn’t seem right.”

I smiled.  “The best pilot in Cavnal just crashed his
aeroplane.  Of course something doesn’t seem right.”

“That’s not all, though.  What Ves was saying about the
engine… Dr. Alokin told me the same thing about the motorcar.  The steam engine
isn’t supposed to be able to ignite like that.  The flames inside the boiler
are so controlled, and the fuel takes such high heat—”

“Zagger,” I said, waving him off.  “Not interested.”

He turned to face me, hands clenched at his sides—his tell
that he was about to contradict me.

“Your Highness, someone could have sabotaged his plane.”

“Why would anyone do that?” I asked.  “And who’d even have
the opportunity?  It’s probably just what Griff said.  One of the…coils cracked
or something.”

He gave me a rather cross glare and dropped his hand on my
shoulder, propelling me after Samyr and Griff.  When we caught them up, Griff
grinned and gave me a mock bow, as if we’d just met.  As if he hadn’t just
cheated death.

“Your Highness!  Welcome to the aerodrome.”  He noticed
Zagger scowling and asked, “Everything all right, Mr. Zagger?”

“I should be asking you that,” Zagger said.  “All in one
piece?”

“Walking and talking.  Say.”  Griff grabbed my arm and
hauled me a few steps away from Zagger.  “Say, I don’t suppose you could send
Zagger off for a bit, could you?”

“I don’t think he’d stand for that.  Especially not after
all this.”

“Bah.”  He waved a hand.  “I could use a bit of an unwind. 
What do you say?  South Brinmark, you and me, for a little celebration.”

“Celebration?”  I gave him a strange look.  “You just—”

“Survived a deadly crash,” he said, tossing his head.  “And
did a smart job landing that beast, given the circumstances, I’d say.  I wager
even old Ves couldn’t have done it as well as I did.  And besides!”  He smacked
my arm with the back of his hand.  “It’s your birthday tomorrow.  A celebration
is in order, your Rrrrroyal Highness.”

I was about to remind him of tomorrow’s rrrroyal birthday
gala hanging over my head like a bad idea, but he held up his hand before I
could get a word out.

“Gad, that’s not what I mean.  I mean a
celebration

You’re turning seventeen!  You could study law or join the army if you actually
had to get a job.  You could even run for office if you actually had to get
elected!  Isn’t that something to celebrate in a manly fashion?”

I shoved my hands in my trouser pockets, waiting until he
shut up. 

Then I asked, the words poison on my tongue, “South
Brinmark?”

Samyr caught the words and slipped over to join us.  “Did
you say you’re going to South Brinmark?” she asked, wide-eyed.

Griff smirked.  “That’s the idea.”

“Griff!” she gasped, and clapped a hand over her mouth. 

I knew she wanted to seem scandalized, but she only looked
cute and indignant in her schoolgirl mittens and my black cap.  Griff gave her
a roguish grin and elbowed me, hard, in the ribs. 

“Well, Your Highness, what d’you say?”

“It won’t happen.”

Griff flung his hands in the air.  “What?  Why do you say
that?  I’d have thought it would be
your
idea, anyway.  Isn’t that just
the kind of madness you’re always hunting for?  Y’know, I heard of this swell
joint…”

“Farro,” I said, “you know children aren’t allowed in those
sorts of places.”

He turned a few shades redder at that.  He was younger than
me by a mere four months—but what an eternity when I was about to be a man and
he was still a boy.  Even Samyr outranked him, which never failed to annoy him.

“You’re not taking Tarik down ‘round South Brinmark,” Samyr
said, stomping her foot and narrowly missing a puddle.

“Look who’s so upset!”

“He’s the Crown Prince!  He can’t be seen in places like
that.  Besides, he doesn’t even want to go.”

“That’s what you think?” he asked, grinning when he caught
me glaring at him.  “Listen, Tarik, you could slip me in, right?  Come on, you
know you want to.  One little jaunt of fun before you have to start acting
responsible and royal and all of that muckery.”

Escape, yes
, I thought. 
Escape to South
Brinmark?  Never.

“Have you ever even been down there?” Samyr asked him,
wrinkling her nose.

“Sure have, doll.”

“Don’t call me that.  It’s obscene.”

Griff gave her a wink and a lazy grin, and she balled her
hands up in fists.  It wouldn’t have surprised me if she punched him; he
deserved it, and she’d done it before. 

“He means he got driven to the Station once,” I said, before
the bearcat came out of her.  “With his father and three armed guards.”

“There were only two guards,” Griff muttered.

“I would’ve taken three,” Samyr said.  “All the Jixies live
down there.”

I hid a flinch in a shiver.  She was right, and I hated that
she was right.  I would never venture down there among them, not if I could
avoid it.  I’d seen people standing in the job lines to trade their time for
money, but there were plenty of Jixies down south-side who bartered themselves
to the highest bidder like some kind of perverse slave trade.  Mercenaries,
assassins, thieves-for-hire.  Everyone knew that if you needed a dirty job done
quietly, you went to South Brinmark.

“Jixies,” Griff echoed, with a mad kind of grin.

She tossed her head.  “And Rivano.”


What
?” I cried, startled.  “What do you know about
him
?”

“Oh, just his name, I swear.  It’s all my father and your
father ever talk about these days.”

I shrugged. Apparently she only knew as much as I did.  Most
high-society people outside the government circle never mentioned Rivano’s name,
if they knew it at all.  And those inside the circle spoke it in undertones,
when unprivileged ears weren’t listening.

“Who’s Rivano?” Griff asked, jostling me.

“Just some self-righteous Jixy claiming to be his god’s
spokesman or something, I don’t know.”

Griff snorted.  “And people listen to him?”

“Apparently.  He’s got a whole cult hidden somewhere in the
city.”

“A cult!” Samyr echoed.  “You mean a cult with sacrifices
and secret codes and the like?”

Griff gave a mock wail and grabbed her around the neck.  She
shoved him, punching him in the arm for good measure.

“What do they want?” she asked, ignoring Griff as he feigned
injury.  “What do they stand for?”

I shrugged.  “Never tried to find out.  I suppose they stand
for Wake and the rights of Jixies or some such nonsense.”

“Wake?” Griff asked.

“He’s…their patron god?  Not really sure.”

Samyr bent her head, fiddling with the clasps on her coat. 
“Do you think they’ve got it right, that business about Wake and the
thayoi
and all that?  We’ve got nothing at all and pretend that we’re fine without it,
but what if they’re right?”

“Don’t say that too loud,” Zagger said, quietly.

“Oh, really,” she laughed, then frowned at him, paling a
little.  “You wouldn’t turn me over to the Committee, would you?”

“Of course he wouldn’t,” I said, glaring at Zagger.  “Or he
can turn me over to them too.”

The Intelligence Committee, my father’s band of political
police and investigators, were the ones responsible for making sure everyone
believed what they were supposed to believe—about the State, about justice and
the law, about society.  I’d dragged Griff into plenty of run-ins with the
ordinary city police, but even I wasn’t stupid enough to cross the IC.

“I think those Jixies are rather smashing, really,” Griff
said.

We all looked at him.

“Anyway,” he said, hasty.  “Most of them can’t even do
anything interesting.  ‘Look at me!  I can whistle two notes at once!’”

“They have power,” I said quietly.  “That frightens people.”

“Says the Crown Prince,” Griff muttered, just loud enough
for me to hear.

I shrugged.  The mages had been ostracized for over a
century now, because the Ministry believed that keeping them on the fringes of
society would render them powerless.  First they’d been barred from the
nobility, then from the high-class jobs.  Then they’d been turned out from the
high streets and pushed into the south streets with the criminal underground. 
And now they were mocked for their poverty and their crimes.

I hated magic as much as anyone, but I’d always wondered why
the mages didn’t just rise up and use their powers to reclaim their rights. 
Some people said it was because they’d made a truce with the State—life in exchange
for cooperation.  To me that seemed little better than slavery, because what
the State considered “life” wasn’t fit for any human, but that was the sort of
dangerous opinion that could get a man brought before the IC, so I kept it to
myself.

“Still.”  Griff’s eyes lit up.  “You know, I once heard of a
Jixy who could light a fire with just his fingers.  Tell me
that
isn’t a
useful skill.”

“Disgusting,” Samyr said.  “It’s not natural.”

Changing my face might be a useful skill too
, I
thought, but I rather agreed with Samyr.  It was disgusting.  Not natural.

So I didn’t comment, and didn’t contradict her.  Instead I
pulled a slim ferrosteel lighter from my pocket and grated the rod across the
rasp.  Samyr jumped at the little tongue of flame that flicked out beneath my
thumb.

“Useful, maybe,” I said.  “But not so impressive.”

“Oh, can I see that?” Samyr breathed, and bit the tip of her
mitten to pull it off.

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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