The river Reine shrugged dark shoulders under a coat of fog. Veridon was behind us, its constellation of lights dim through the mists, the sounds of the harbor muffled through the cold, wet air. I shivered and pulled the worn collar of my coat closer to my neck. I had one hand on the railing, the chill of the iron stinging the tips of my fingers. My other hand was resting on the revolver in my belt. This was a good place to drop a body, and I didn't know the crew. They were over my shoulder, talking quietly among themselves.

My morning had started early, and dark. Gray and I had met my friend Wilson at the docks. Wilson was good with machines, good with coming up with machines that could do very peculiar things. Like let a man travel underwater without drowning. And he had showed up with a crate and a smile. We left Gray on the dock, to tell Crane that the delivery was being made. Wilson and I traveled on, on this damn boat, and its damn whispering crew.

'I don't like all the deals you make, Gray,' I muttered to no one. Beside me, Wilson snorted.

'Yeah, well. You don't get to be picky. You make friends like that, you're going to end up in some bad deals.'

I glanced over at him. He had both hands on the rail, his nose to the breeze like a damn tourist. Wearing a neat vest and coat, pressed and clean. Looking more like a professor than a criminal. Add to that the fact that he was anansi, his hunched shoulders concealing six long, sharply taloned spider limbs that grew like wings from his back, and Wilson made for a very strange sight indeed. I sighed and turned back to the water.

'Maybe not. Doesn't mean he has to take everything that comes along.'

'Doesn't mean that you have to follow wherever he goes.' He glanced at me and smiled. His mouth was full of row after row of tiny, sharp teeth. 'There are better paths for a man like you.'

And that was Wilson. Always agitating to get me back into the kind of trouble I left behind. The kind of trouble that got the only woman I ever loved killed, the kind of trouble that would draw the attention of the Council. I swear, if I didn't know better, I'd think that boy wanted a revolution. Or at least a good blooding of society's higher ranks.

'Leave it alone, Wilson.'

'You can't keep away from it forever. You've got responsibilities, no matter what your father says. Responsibilities to your name, yes. But responsibilities to the city as well.'

'I brought you along to make sure your engine runs. If I wanted a lecture on my responsibilities to my family, I would have brought my father.' I rubbed the cold out of my face and grimaced. 'Maybe just to throw him over the side. Not a bad idea, come to think of it.'

'Jacob, I'm disappointed. You don't contact me for a year, and then you want my help. I was hoping things were looking up.' He looked around the ship and smiled. 'And it turns out all you need is a mechanic. Well. All you want is a mechanic. I can't begin to go into your needs.'

'Gods in hell, Wilson. Leave it alone.'

He held up his hands and sighed.

'Never mind, Jacob. Forget I said anything.' He grimaced and looked out at the river. 'Let's just get your little job done, and get out of each other's hair.'

'This is the place,' the captain said from above. I looked up at the crew tower. I could just make out the rusty corona of the captain's bearded face, leaning out from his window.

'This is it?' I asked. 'How can you tell?'

'It's what you paid for, Mr. Burn. Reliable passage to the Fehn, away from the docks. It's what you paid me to do.'

'Reliable, covert passage, Mr. Hamilton.' I looked over at the crew, suddenly busy with the crate we'd brought along. 'And no trouble getting back.'

The captain cleared his throat and spat out into the fog. 'No trouble, Mr. Burn. You're not a man I want crossing me.'

'Hear that?' Wilson asked, nudging me. 'You've got that reputation to look after. Dangerous man.'

'Yes, well.' There were plenty others who might pay to have me crossed. There was good money in that kind of business. I watched the crew dismantle the box and remove the bulky iron man. Its chest creaked open, spilling hoses and dials onto the deck. 'Not the best reputation to have.'

The old man grunted, then closed his window. Wilson and I went over to the iron man. It was fat and bulbous, the head as wide as the shoulders and made of smooth, thick glass. The crew stepped back nervously, their eyes drifting between me and the cumbersome metal form. I took off my coat.

'You sure about this thing?' I asked.

Wilson nodded happily. Knelt next to the iron suit and started unstrapping the arms and adjusting dials.

'Absolutely. Safe as falling in love with a whore.' He punched me in the arm, glint in his eyes. 'Just as expensive, too.'

'Fine. Let's have this done,' I said, refusing to rise to his jab, then stepped into the iron man's embrace. It closed around me. There was a creaking sound as the thing sealed up, and suddenly the air was forge-hot. The crew gathered behind Wilson's strangely hunched shoulders, looking at me through the thick glass. I waved a heavy arm and they cleared away. Wilson led me to the rail and gave me a little push over the edge. The Reine took me without a sound.

It was like that for a while. Dark and darker, cold and colder. I fell through the water in absolute silence, my breathing swallowed by the tubes and metal of the iron man. I stared at my own face in the glass, reflected by some dim light from the machine's quiet engines.

My eyes looked dead, my hair a rambling mess across my head, my face pale and tired. I had aged ten years in the last two. Business had been bad. Ever since I'd held a pistol to the head of Veridon's top criminal and ended our complicated friendship, things had been bad for me. My contacts stopped talking to me. My regular clients stopped calling by my office. I was reduced to taking jobs from people I didn't trust, jobs I didn't want to do, working with people like Gray, getting myself into situations I wasn't sure I could get out of. Jobs like this one. Situations like this one.

A dead face bumped against the glass, his skin saggy and white, his eyes smooth pale marbles. I startled, banging my head against the suit. He put his hands against the glass, running them down the edge until he found a grip. He watched me with empty eyes. Other hands came out of the darkness and held my back, slipped around my arms. My first instinct was to struggle. I had to fight down the panic and let those riverbloated arms take me. They led me down. There were lights, a wide ring of them fading into the darkness. A door, flat and round, against a wall of barnacled iron. It irised open and we went inside. My guides drifted back out into the cold currents and I was alone in a small chamber. I drifted against the floor. A heavy thud and the water seemed to vibrate around me, then slowly drained away. The suit was heavy on my shoulders, and I struggled free of it. The air here was cold and sterile.

I let the iron man fall away and rummaged in the small leather satchel I had brought with me. My fingers were numb and I realized how cold I was. I fumbled the frictionlamp a couple times, then got it spun up. I stood. The room was full of bodies, standing close to me, closer than I would have believed. Dozens of them. It took me a second to realize that I was in a room of glass windows, looking out at the murky waters of the river Reine. On this side of the glass was my tiny, dry room, and out there, waving slightly in the currents of the river, hordes and hordes of the Fehn.

The Fehn… well. The Fehn freak me out. I had done business with them before, even counted a friend among them. Wright Morgan, though I hadn't seen him in a while. Perhaps he had passed from the ranks of the individual Fehn and joined the shambling choir of those who had lost their personalities and minds to the group consciousness of the Fehn hive. I suppressed a shudder as I surveyed my audience, their eyes loose in their heads, mouths open to the cold water of the river.

'Are we so foul?' a voice asked from behind me. I turned to see one of the Fehn rising from a ladderway in the floor. His clothes were mostly dry, and his eyes still held the spark of sentience. He crossed the floor and held out his hands in supplication. 'Is our presence so awful, Jacob Burn?'

'Well,' I said, glancing at the crowded windows around us. 'It can be a little unnerving. For a man in my position.'

'Mm.' He drew a steel cylinder from his belt and unscrewed it, then took a long drink. Water splashed around his mouth and ran down his cheek. 'A man in your position. As in, a man trapped in a small room, underwater, surrounded by the dead of Veridon.'

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