They were quick to oblige. I walked out of the Church of the Algorithm with most of my possessions. The pistol was gone, along with my boots. My shirt had been cut off me, but they had been careful with my pants. They were nice pants. Probably some eye-wise Wright saw some quality he could sell, later on. My jacket was intact, too. And, surprisingly, I still had the Cog Marcus had pressed into my hand moments before he died, tucked into the inner pocket of my jacket, the lining still cold and damp from the river. Thank the Celestes.

“He didn’t seem like someone on his way to die,” I said. I held the thing Marcus had given me in the palm of my hand. The slightest movement of my arm set off its internal machinations, spinning gears and flexing cogs in the central complex. I turned it slowly under the light on Emily’s desk. “He just seemed like someone who was on his way somewhere. Like he knew where he was going.”

She shrugged. She wasn’t really paying attention to me yet, not at this stage of the conversation. This is how it was with us. She was bent over a ledger, marking deliveries and balancing columns. Her fingers were inky. She had her hair up in a bun, but strands had fallen out, and her face was framed in a wispy nimbus of gold, reflected light from the incandescent on her desk. She looked pretty.

“Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t want to stick around to get burned up like everyone else.” She glanced up. “Maybe he just wanted a quick end. Maybe he was just anxious to join the Fehn.”

I shuddered. The river folk, the Fehn, were little more than animated corpses, possessed by some sort of flat worm that haunted the deep currents of the Reine. They talked like the people they had been before they died, but they were something else completely.

“I heard the Fehn are helping out with the recovery,” I said. “The Council’s gathering the Glory up, going to use the parts to make some kind of memorial.”

“Fitting,” she said. “Something to remember it by, I suppose. You have to do that sort of thing, when an airship crashes and kills everyone on board.”

“Not everyone,” I said. She sighed.

“Everyone who hasn’t had half their body replaced with foetal metal, everyone with flesh and blood hearts and eyes that don’t look like dirty dishes.” She set down her pen. “Regular people.”

“You’re just jealous,” I said. “You wish you had eyes like mine. Anything’s better than those mud bogs.” I nodded toward her deep brown eyes, eyes that were wet and warm and sparkled in the light. She smiled and looked down.

“Jacob Burn, the most charming man to ever survive two zepliner crashes, one of which he caused. Why, you must have to drive the ladies away with a stick.”

I smiled. “You know I carry a gun.”

She snorted. “Jacob, Jacob. Why are you here again? Not to show me souvenirs, no.” She closed her ledger and packed away the ink kit. She did things like that very precisely, very neatly. Her whole apartment was like that. The plaster walls were clean, the dark wooden floor never hinted at dust. Once her desk was clear, she opened a different drawer and set three things on the desk. Two of them were envelopes, and the third was an inlaid wooden box, about the size of a short book.

“We need you to meet a man.”


She nodded. “This one comes from Valentine. You’re okay with that?”

“Sure. He knows I do good work, and he pays well.” I try to balance my obligations in the underworld, but Valentine was my main employer. I owed him a lot.

“A Corpsman. Register Prescott, of the City Rampant. Give him this.” She pushed the first envelope a little closer. It was cheap butcher’s paper, hand-folded over something thick. I picked it up. Felt like river clay, dense and cold in my hand.

“It’s cassiopia, right? Pure.”

She shrugged. “It’s an envelope. You give it to Prescott.”

I nodded and put it into my coat pocket.

“The name’s familiar, but I’ll have to do a little research. Most of my contacts are Academy. Pilots and Mates, not the desk crew.”

“Won’t be necessary. There’s a formal dinner being held, to honor the Corps. One of those political things. It’s being thrown by the Family Tomb at their estate on the Heights. Many Corpsmen will be there, including Prescott.”

“It’s not a good place to make a deal. Too many curious eyes at a party like that, too many officials. I can make contact there, but the deal will have to happen somewhere else.”

“It will have to happen there. Prescott has insisted. Doesn’t trust us, I suppose.”

I shrugged.

“I’ll need an invitation.”

She pushed the second envelope towards me. “There will be a ceremony, in remembrance of the Glory of Day. Naturally, as the sole survivor, you’re expected.”

“Naturally.” I took the envelope. “Anything else?”

She presented the wooden box, turning it so I could see the clasp that opened it and slid it in front of me. “The party is being hosted by the Councilor-in-Standing for the Family Tomb. You know her? Angela Tomb?”

“I know her.”

“Her family has been making… let’s call them overtures in force. I’d like you to deliver that. Discreetly.”

She opened the box, and a quiet song tinkled out. A music box.

“Is this going to get me in trouble with the Lady Tomb?”

Emily smiled and shrugged. “I hear you carry a gun.”

She put the box into a leather folder and handed it to me. It fit nicely in the outer pocket of my coat.

When I looked up, Emily was holding the cog-wheel. She was weighing it in her hands, shifting it slightly to watch the inner gears spin and cycle.

I hadn’t thought much about the thing when Marcus handed it to me on the Glory. Other things on my mind at the time. I assumed it was some memento, something he wanted to get back to family in Veridon. Second looks made it clear that it was no sentimental bauble.

“Marcus had this?” she asked.

“Yeah. Wanted me to get it back to the city. Gave it to me, then went on about how he had killed the captain, wrecked the ship.”

“It looks like a Church thing.”

I shrugged. The Church of the Algorithm was a strange group. That being said, they were the dominant religious organization in the city. Veridon was blessed with many mysteries, but the most profitable mysteries were the strange vessels that floated down the river at regular intervals. No one knew where they came from, or who sent them. They contained random collections of cog, half-built machines and enigmatic autonomic artwork. The Church of the Algorithm was built on the belief that these vessels were messages from a hidden God far upriver. They lived their lives trying to reassemble the machines, to reveal the nature of their deity. They worshipped a hidden pattern. We owed them a lot, sadly. Their divinations led to many of the technological discoveries that kept Veridon the dominant power on this edge of the world.

“Maybe,” I said. “I’d rather not go to them. They’ll saint me.”

“I doubt that. No one’s going to mistake you for a holy prophet.”

“Stranger things have happened. Besides, this came from downriver. Their god is upriver, right?”

“So maybe the devil sent this?”

“Then the devil can have it back. I just want to know why Marcus had it.”

“He gave it to you and told you to take it to the city?”

“He did. Hell if I know why.”

“Hm. I have to ask, Jacob. Why’d you shoot Marcus?”

I shrugged. The details weren’t important, but I felt like I’d done him a favor. I had offered finality, a clear judgment on his actions and a clean end. Lots of my fellow passengers lingered on for days before they passed. My friendship with Marcus had bought him something easier, even if he was responsible for the disaster to begin with.

“I wonder,” she said. She set the device on the table. “Why did he do that? Give it to you, for one thing, but

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