So, here is a bit of the work I'll be bringing to my class tommorrow, to be critiqued by hip 20-somethings with sharp eyes for grammar and story-arcs and other shit I heard I'm supposed to put in stories.
They are a great, smart bunch. I feel out of my depth frequently, which I suppose, is a good thing. This is my stab at Young Adult (YA) fiction. I'm not sure if it works. I'm trying to combine a China Mieville like world of steampunk with a bit of outrageous asides of Terry Pratchett. Actually, now that I type that out, I'm sure it doesn't work at all, but, come on, the deadline is tommorrow, so this is what I'm handing in. Part of it, anyways.
Secret # 47 Constables always bludgeon thieves younger than 15. Kids are easy to drop, but mainly, if they aren't dealt mild brain trauma, they give one hell of a chase.
Secret #98 Constables hate chases.
They had told Will many secrets; by fires of airship yard refuse, they'd huddle and whisper their stories and Law. Dirty hands and fast fingers and eyes that missed nothing. There were some great ones, as Will remembered. Sly ones, ones that gave you an edge, ones that required grace and speed but made you a ghost.
Many useful ones.
And yet #47 and #98 were the only ones in his head, equally useless and terrifying. They repeated themselves like an apothecary explaining the usage of an explosively effective laxative to an old woman who had all the hearing ability of a half-eaten cucumber. Over and over again, with muted urgency.
Will focussed his apparently useless mind on remembering the best escape route.
Behind him the constable pounded after him, his flintlock bashing passerbys, even the ones not particularly in his way. They muttered quiet oaths. He was a big one, thought Will. A hulking mass of indiscriminate, grossly unbalanced law enforcement. The sort that didn't arrest that many criminals, since most were dead by the time he was done.
Saved on paperwork, so, there's that.
He grinned, if they had a bruiser like that guarding paper he knicked, he must've gotten the right one.
He sprinted down a dead-end alley, and jumped against one wall, then kicked himself from one to the other until he stood, one leg on either wall, looking over the high barrier that blocked the end of the alley.
The shaven ox walking disguised as a constable rounded the corner and stopped.
"Don't even think it."
Will jumped over the end barrier and into the crisp, violent wind of the Slipstream.
Mr. Oansley's voice droned like a drugged beetle trapped in a bottle, a dead, drugged beetle. Will fought to keep his eyes open, or, failing that, ensure his head didn't hit his desk too loudly. It was an epic battle. He was pretty sure he was winning, then he realized he was dreaming about being attentive in Mr. Oansley's class.
Ann woke him with a hard elbow to his side. Such a good lab partner.
She kept here eyes forward, like she had not just done blunt trauma to his ribs and possibly burst his spleen. "Insightful, Will, keep it down." She whispered, which wasn't entirely necessary since their class had 30 foot ceilings. All the better to experiment; less likelihood of setting the entire Academy on fire, anyways.
Mr. Oansley didn't seem to notice them talk. His voice made a wall of white noise, thought Will. It neither rose nor fell nor varied in pacing or inflection. A small coke fired engine might have provided as much instruction. More, even.
"And now class, you may reveal your problem on your workbenches. You have thirty minutes to compl.."
Will's attention drifted from Mr. Oansley. His eyes, bright, he ripped off the heavy linen sheet covering their latest project.
Around him his classmates took chalk to their boards and scribbled furiously.
"You already know what this is too, don't you?" Ann didn't show an ounce of annoyance, she had passed that phase months ago. She had already reached 'tired acceptance'.
"Maybe I haven't impressed upon you how utterly devoted my mother was to making me work on clockworking. Fine motor movements, counterweights and springs and zzzzzzzzzzzzz"
"It stands you in good stead here, I wouldn't complain, Mr. Genius."
"Except that, you know, my childhood was utterly devoid of life ."
"Your mother should have been born with more money, because you whine like a rich kid. Shouldn't you have a salt-of-the-earth, respectable demeanour? Hard working yet with a deep sense of common sense?"
"I used to, but it got beaten out of me by clockworking."
"You two seem to have this entire problem under control," said Mr. Oansley. His drone came ahead of him, like an expeditionary army of boredom.
"Yes sir, it's the mind of an automata, small mammal based, I think." Will gave the weak smile of someone who tried desperately not to be a teacher's favourite.
Mr. Oansley returned a small smile of surprise, as if a baboon had written the first three letters of the alphabet, but in feces, and not quite gotten "B". Even if to his classmates, Will was gifted, he apparently had a long way to go before impressing his teachers. "That's right William. A badger, in point of fact."
Will nodded in a noncommital way, as if that would get the teacher to move on. To Will's relief, he did.
Will dug into his pack and pulled out the sheet of paper.
Ann raised an eyebrow. "Another lost item you've recovered in your nightly excursions?" In a blur she snapped the paper from him. Will started, damn if she didn't have the speed for work much more physical than thaumaturgy.
"What is it? Some clockwork engineer dropped it while rushing to his shift? A wayward sheet fluttering from--" she stopped mid-sentence as she read the characters on the sheet. "Well, this is interesting."
Her brow knitted, then she tapped the sheet excitedly, "It's from the dock. It's a listing isn't it? What's coming in? What's going out?
"Whatever it is, it's no code I've ever seen before. I'd have to run it through an analytical engine, Ms. Janus, my teacher for Advanced Logic Theory, has access to the school Engine." She looked up at him, "you got it from the dock?"
"Well, yeah. It was very lightly guarded, they were practically giving it away."
She smirked at one of his most repeated jokes. He particularly enjoyed making her smile, even if he had to go to the old stand-bys. She had a way of making his insides do a few turns, like a pleasant form of food-poisoning.
She fixed her attention back to the sheet. "It looks like a list, anyways. A lot of these markings are trans-city. We learned about them last term. A pidgin language for docks across high cities."
"Huh." Will tried his best not to glaze over, again. How could anyone be interested in signs and language. You couldn't make an automata go with it, you couldn't power an airship. There was no language involved in making a rider cut the SlipStream better. It was a mystery to him what others found interesting.
"So you think you'll be able to get access to the Engine?"
She smirked, "With a little help."