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Parnell Stoker and the Silver Train

Short story By: ParnellStoker
Science fiction



In the isolated steampunk city of Terne, Parnell Stoker's sister Molly goes missing after receiving a letter from the Conductor of the Silver Train. Molly is not the first to go missing after receiving the Conductor's letter. Can Parnell find his sister?

--Not yet finished.


Submitted:Nov 29, 2011    Reads: 15    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


Prologue - The Boiler Room

A loud puff of steam from the boiler shook Parnell Stoker from his dreams. His chair, balanced on two legs, threatened to topple backwards as he slowly returned to the waking world. Waving his arms, he managed to shift the chair into a more stable position beside the work bench.

"Have you checked that gauge yet, Parnell?!" a piercing voice shouted from above him. Blinking several times, he looked up to see Quinlan McDowell, his boss, leaning over the railing of the boiler room's second floor. "You were supposed to check it ten minutes ago and report the temperature. But I see you're too busy lolly-gagging to do your job! I won't have that boiler blow up because of your incompetence!"

"I'm going. I'm going," Parnell said. He yawned and stretched in his chair, the nickel gears on his shirt clinking together. The gleam of the nickel was a constant reminder of his status as a blue collar laborer. Another loud squeal of steam startled him, and he leaped from his chair to inspect the boilers.

"Put on your goggles!" Quinlan said, banging his combination pliers against the railing. "And your gloves. Safety first, remember? We're not going to have another accident like last month."

Parnell rolled his eyes and returned to the work bench to tug on his leather gloves. As a boiler engineer, he was lax on the safety precautions. When Quinlan was not paying attention, Parnell would let his goggles hang around his neck. They cut too much into his skull to be comfortably worn all the time.

With his nickel goggles in place, Parnell headed to the back of the room where the iron boiler was. Most of the city's boiler rooms contained four or even five boilers, but this boiler room was the city's smallest, meant only to power the Department of Energy Building itself. According to Parnell's mother, he should consider himself lucky to work in such a prestigious building.

He ducked beneath a few copper pipes that connect the boiler to the generator in another room in the building. Some pipes connected the boiler to the furnace, others led to the generator in the next room, but Parnell did not know the purpose of most of the pipes. His main concern was care and maintenance for the boiler.

As he approached the boiler, steam hissed from several pipes and from a few cracks in the boiler's exterior metal. Cracks were never a good sign. These cracks should have been repaired after last month's almost explosion when the boiler's water had become too overheated and flashed into steam. Too much steam had caused the boiler to expand and crack. Parnell's predecessor, an old man of sixty-some-odd years, had almost died due to the third degree burns from the steam.

The temperature gauge's needle wavered between the yellow and red zones.

"It's going into the red!" Parnell yelled as he ran back to where he could see Quinlan. "What should I do?"

"Get a wrench! Check the valves. Make sure everything's open that should be. I'll check my readings up here. Maybe I can pinpoint the problem." Quinlan hurried out of view into the cubicle at the back of the second floor.

Parnell grabbed an open-end wrench from the work bench. He inspected the grooving of the boiler and the pipes where steam was escaping. He tightened any loose nuts he could find, but the temperature gauge's needle did not change for the better. It was on a path to boiler explosion.

"Check the water injectors!" Parnell could barely hear Quinlan's voice over the hissing steam.

Parnell moved around the boiler, avoiding overhead pipes, to get a look at the water injectors. They were supposed to keep the boiler continuously replenished with water to keep the boiler from heating too quickly. This boiler had two water injectors as a safety measure.

"One's broken!" He yelled. The injector was cracked down the middle, releasing steam and a steady stream of water. Without the influx of cold water from both injectors, the boiler would explode in a matter of moments. "I need your help!"

"Forget about it," Quinlan said. Parnell nearly hit his head on a pipe at the sound of Quinlan's voice. The hisses of escaping steam masked Quinlan's approach. "I checked the water levels. They're far too low. You need to shut off the low-water cutoff valve. I have to alert the administrative officer."

Parnell nodded and watched Quinlan disappear into a cloud of steam. The steam around the boiler was becoming hotter. Parnell yelped when another puff hissed through a crack in the boiler's grooving and caught his arm. Gritting his teeth, he ignored the pain and navigated his way around the steam to the low-water cutoff valve. Parnell's wrench fit perfectly around the valve, and he turned steadily. When the valve would not turn any more, he retreated to the safety of the work bench.

It was a slow process, but the steam eventually dissipated as the boiler cooled down. Quinlan returned shortly with the administrative officer, Parnell's younger sister, following down the stairs from the second floor. Wrench in hand, Parnell saluted them his success.

"You did it? You shut down the boiler?" Quinlan hurried on to the boiler, not bothering to wait for Parnell's response.

"Mr. McDowell told me the boiler was going to explode," Parnell's sister, Molly, said. She twisted a bronze gear on her jacket between her fingers. The bronze gears showed her status as a white-collar worker. "I was worried you wouldn't make it out in time. I'm sorry I recommended this job for you. I didn't think it would be this dangerous..."

"It's alright," Parnell said. "I'm fine. Everything's under control."

"I'm glad." She smiled. With a deep sigh, she smoothed the imaginary wrinkles from her skirt. "I actually wanted to tell you something. Something exciting."

"Oh? You get promoted?"

"No, better. I got a letter from the Conductor." She smiled again.

Parnell glanced over his shoulder. Quinlan was busy inspecting the damage done to the boiler. Grabbing her gently by the arm, Parnell led Molly further out of Quinlan's view. "Are you crazy? You've seen the articles in the paper."

"The newspaper's wrong. The Silver Train isn't something to be feared. It saves us. It takes us out of this awful city and into paradise. The Conductor says so in his letter."

"Molly, the Silver Train's just a scam to lure you into a bad situation. You could end up seriously hurt or worse, dead. What's so bad about this city that it's worth risking that?"

"I'm tired of being under Mayor Nelthorpe's thumb, having to live my life by his ridiculous laws."

"The laws are there for our own good. There would be food shortages and blackouts and who knows what else without them. Do you want that?" Parnell grabbed Molly by her shoulders and shook her. "Do you want us to be worse off than what's left of the world outside the city?"

"When was the last time anyone even saw the world outside the city? Nobody's allowed past the dome." Molly crossed her arms and stared at the ground. "I should've known you wouldn't understand."

"I just want you to be safe, that's all." Parnell put his arms around her, but she pulled away. She gave him a long look of disappointment, her eyes glistening in the dim light, before she hurried up the stairs and out of the boiler room.

******

Act One - The Funeral

Parnell threw down the newspaper and ran his fingers through his black hair. Molly's obituary finally made the situation feel real to him and not just some absurd fantasy. Molly had disappeared four weeks ago without a trace. The police had given up on the investigation last week, believing her to be lost in the world outside the city's protective dome walls. Parnell's mother had soon after decided to declare Molly dead. Molly's funeral was to be held today.

"I know how much you miss her, Parnell," his mother had said when he confronted her about the funeral, "but she's not coming back. If she made it outside Terne, I'm afraid there's no hope for my baby girl."

With a sigh, Parnell pulled a cigarette from one of his vest pockets and placed it between his lips. He searched through his vest pockets and his trouser pockets for his brass lighter, giving a small triumphant grunt when he found it in the right pocket of his breast coat. He flipped back the lid and struck the flintwheel, creating sparks that ignited the cotton rope within. He lit the tip of his cigarette and closed the lighter's lid, extinguishing the rope.

Parnell took a long puff on his cigarette. He had tried to convince his mother that Molly was still alive. She was still out there somewhere. She had to be. His little sister could not be dead. Parnell exhaled a stream of smoke and shook his head. His mother would rather believe the police's theory that Molly had found a way outside the city and died than to consider the alternative. That maybe Molly had ridden the Silver Train.

Parnell glanced at the Terne Daily Gazette haphazardly spread across his kitchen table. The newspaper had once covered the mysterious disappearances of Terne's citizens almost every other day, the articles citing the Silver Train as the cause. The articles warned readers not to accept any correspondence from a figure known only as the Conductor and to alert the authorities if anyone had. Besides the disappearances and the warnings, though, the articles did not shed much light on the Silver Train. In the Letters to the Editor, many readers hypothesized that the Silver Train was a trick by barbarians outside the city to lure the good citizens of Terne beyond the dome. Parnell rolled his eyes. If there were people outside of Terne, he doubted they were intelligent enough to infiltrate the city and set up this elaborate scam.

The Gazette no longer wrote about the Silver Train, though. Any disappearances now appeared as tiny blurbs stating the person was missing under mysterious circumstances. Today's paper mostly discussed the changes in the Department of Agriculture, new air purification processes, and the City Council's concerns about expected overpopulation in the coming year. Not one mention of the Conductor, the Silver Train, or how they had stolen Molly.

Parnell dropped his cigarette when the clock on the far wall began to chime the hour, one brass hammer striking the large gear that formed the clock's face. With a single curse, Parnell grabbed the cigarette from the floor before it could burn a hole in the wood. He rubbed out the cigarette in the ash tray and stood, smoothing the wrinkles from his clothes. It was time to head to the cemetery for Molly's funeral.

Even though he did not believe Molly to be dead, Parnell could not disappoint his mother by not showing up for the funeral. She would hardly excuse his absence even if he told her he was looking for Molly. Actually, his mother would probably hit him with her purse if he told her that.

Grabbing his top hat from the table by the front door, Parnell left his apartment. He hoped he was late enough to miss the funeral procession.

******

Parnell's mother had spared no expense for Molly's funeral. He had to wait outside the Hylan Cemetery for the hearse and two other coaches-one no doubt carrying his mother-to pass. Covered with a blanket of black ostrich feathers, the hearse was a shiny black with glass sides and trimmed with silver and gold decorations. The hearse was an unnecessary touch since these days everyone was cremated, but Parnell's mother was a stout believer in tradition.

Through the glass sides, Parnell could see the urn secured to a pedestal and surrounded by purple hyacinths and rosemary. He briefly wondered just how much his mother had paid since the flowers alone were worth a small fortune and the urn looked made from platinum. No matter how expensive the urn was, though, Molly was not inside it. His mother would be putting an empty urn in the memorial garden. Shaking his head, he followed the second carriage into the cemetery.

Tipping his hat at several familiar faces, Parnell joined the mourning crowd in the memorial garden. He stood by the shelf where his sister's urn would be placed and looked through the crowd for his mother. Mrs. Stoker was by the hearse, the foot attendant helping her out of her carriage. The crowd parted as she made her way to Parnell's side, her long black veil trailing behind her. Parnell gave a small bow, careful not to let the weight of his nickel goggles pull his hat from his head. His mother responded with a curtsy, the tiny, black gears clinking against her crape dress.

Parnell's ears twitched at the clicking sound of a periscopic eye adjusting. He searched the crowd for the owner of the device, and his eyes fell on an unusual man standing at the edge of the mourners. Parnell watches as the lens withdraws into the intricate, copper device where the man's right eye once was. The periscopic eye aside, the man did not look like anyone Parnell would expect at his sister's funeral. The man wore a vest made of brass under a dark blue overcoat. Instead of a black crape band like the one tied around Parnell's hat, the man had bands of wire wrapped around his top hat.

"Parnell, do you have anything you want to say?" Mrs. Stoker asked, jarring him from his inspection of the unusual man. She cradled Molly's urns in both arms.

Parnell shook his head. "No, Mother. You know where I stand on this matter."

Mrs. Stoker's eyebrows twitched slightly, but she kept her expression neutral. Without another word, she turned her back on her son and addressed the gathered crowd.

Parnell let his mother's words flow over him, but he did not pay them much attention. He was busy scanning the mourners for the man with the periscopic eye. The man was nowhere to be found.

******

After Mrs. Stoker placed Molly's urn on its shelf and closed the glass cover, the mourners dispersed. Most of them would reconvene at Mrs. Stoker's house for a rare feast of ham, cider, and pies. Parnell would not be joining them. He had to begin his own investigation into Molly's disappearance.

"Dr. Everard," Parnell called out. "Please, sir, if I could have a moment of your time?"

Dr. Cornelius Everard worked on the upper floors of the Department of Energy building, but Parnell had often heard from his sister that the man would join her and other administrative workers for lunch. Molly had often entertained Parnell with stories of the brilliant research Dr. Everard was conducting to improve the city's means of generating electricity. Dr. Everard did not believe steam to be the most efficient way to meet the city's electrical needs.

"Mr. Stoker," Dr. Everard said, tipping his low topper in greeting. Parnell returned the gesture. "I am truly sorry for your loss, my boy. Molly was always such a treat in conversation."

"Thank you, sir. The police told us you were the last one to see her before she disappeared."

"I am afraid so. I had forgotten some paperwork in my office and was coming back to get it when I passed her in the lobby."

"Did she... seem at all unusual to you?" Parnell fiddled with the nickel gears on his double breasted coat. "Nervous? Scared, maybe?"

"Not that I recall..." Dr. Everard removed his hat and scratched his head. His graying brown hair gleamed in Terne's industrial lighting. "I'm sorry, my boy, but she seemed normal to me. Maybe a bit in a hurry. But normal."

"In a hurry?"

"Yes. I hate to say it, but she quite literally bumped into me in the lobby and didn't stop to apologize. She's usually such a polite girl." Putting his hat back on, Dr. Everard pulled his pocket watch. He tutted softly and slid the watch back into his pocket. "I'm sorry, Mr. Stoker, but I have a pressing engagement. Again, I offer my deepest condolences for your loss."

"Thank you, sir. I appreciate your concern."

Dr. Everard nodded in farewell, and Parnell gave a slight bow. As Dr. Everard hurried to the cemetery exit, Parnell checked his own pocket watch. It was a quarter to five. Parnell had roughly six hours until curfew began. To protect citizens during necessary urban repairs, the City Council had imposed the curfew three years ago.

"Hey, you're the dead girl's one and the other, right?" a gravelly voice asked.

Parnell turned at the question and came face-to-face with the unusual man with the periscopic eye. Immediately, Parnell felt an impulse to grab his handkerchief and shield his nose from the unpleasant odor. The man's breath reminded Parnell of the expired milk in his ice chest at home.

"She's not dead," Parnell said. He struggled to keep his expression neutral. "But, yes, I am Parnell Stoker. And you are?"

"You can call me Eli," the man said. He grinned at Parnell, the light reflecting off a few copper teeth. Parnell responded with a weak smile. "I know the twist and twirl's not dead. She's not the first one to split the scene, you know?"

"I know." Parnell eyed Eli. The man used entirely too much slang for Parnell's liking. While the rhymes were fairly easy to deduce-"one and the other" for "brother," "twist and twirl" for "girl"-it did not speak highly of Eli's social status that he used such slang. "How do you?"

"I know things the John Hops wish they knew, believe me. They did a pretty lousy job looking into that Molly's disappearance, didn't they? Don't you think that strange? Especially considering the linen draper don't talk about the missing people anymore. And the real reason they're gone."

"You mean the Silver Train?" Parnell said. "I saw the Gazette stopped mentioning it. And the Conductor."

Eli shushed Parnell. "You want to tip off every lemon squeezer in the area? This stuff's hush-hush, you know. But, yeah, that's the reason. It took your dear skin and blister, too."

"Where?" Parnell grabbed Eli by his overcoat. "Tell me!"

"Get a hold of yourself, boy. Nobody knows where."

"I see..." Parnell sighed and released the man.

"But I can help you find the train. You just need to find a little something yourself first."

"What thing?"

"The Family's heard that each of these people got a letter from the Conductor before they go off the map." Eli smoothed the wrinkles from his coat. "We've checked the other people's homes and have come up empty. You need to cross your fingers and hope your Molly left hers behind."

Parnell blinked at the mention of "the Family," Terne's underground crime organization. Before today, he had never seen a member personally, but he had heard from Quinlan that members of the inner circle wore a brass gear somewhere. Parnell did not see anything brass on Eli's clothes. "If you've searched the other houses, why can't you just check Molly's yourself?"

"The blooming John Hops are on to us, boy. They found out we broke into the other places. Now, they're keeping close watch on any of us who might try this time, and they've got that Molly's place under guard. We need you to go and find that twist and twirl's letter. Got it?"

"Yes... I guess so."

"There, you see? That wasn't so hard. You do have a jam tart after all."

Parnell nearly snorted. Of course, he had a heart. This was his sister's fate they were discussing. "Once I find the letter, what do I do?"

"You just head on over to dinky doo on Mercury Lane. Someone'll be there just before curfew." Eli headed towards the exit, attracting the attention of a police officer as he passed the gate.

Parnell shook his head. He was consorting with the Family, the next biggest threat to Terne after the Conductor. And he was certain the police would not appreciate his meddling even if they had officially closed his sister's case. Still, if he was to find Molly, Parnell would have to dirty his clean record. He just hoped that he was not already to late to help his sister.

Act Two - The Letter

A newsboy shouted the headline of the evening paper as he held the paper out for passersby to see. "Extra! Extra! City Council imposes one-child policy! City Council fights next year's expected overpopulation!"

Parnell dodged around the newsboy and entered his sister's apartment building. He checked his pocket watch. Half past five. He still had about five-and-a-half hours until curfew started. Putting his pocket watch away, Parnell began climbing the stairs two at a time.

He hoped the City Council had not already let Molly's apartment out to rent. Housing around the city was so overcrowded that many people were sleeping in doorways. That is, until the police arrest them for being outside during curfew. But even the jails were getting full at this point. Parnell paused and panted for breath. Why did Molly have to live on the sixth floor? He took a deep breath and resumed the climb.

If it weren't for their mother's influence in Terne's high society, Parnell and his sister would not have been able to have apartments to themselves. The City Council would have forced them to have at least two or three roommates, if not more. With housing as bad as it was, Parnell knew it was only a matter of time now before he'd hear a newsboy shouting about a new food rationing plan. At times like these, Parnell would have passing thoughts of going beyond the dome and looking for food and areas to which Terne could expand. But then he would shake his head and chastise himself for thinking such nonsense. The world outside Terne was a wasteland full of mutated barbarians.

With a mental cry of victory, Parnell reached the sixth floor. He paused again, bending over and grabbing his knees, as he caught his breath. Climbing the stairs would probably not be nearly so difficult if he had not chosen to wear his boiler engineer uniform. He had even brought his protective mask. Parnell reasoned that, if the City Council had rented the room out, he might be able to convince the new tenants to let him in if he said he was here to work on their pipes. Odds were in Terne that they would have at least one broken pipe, if not more.

Now he just needed to find Molly's apartment, number 607. Parnell strode down one hallway and checked the door numbers as he went. He rounded a corner and immediately backpedaled. There were police officers posted outside an apartment. Parnell was willing to bet that was Molly's apartment. It was odd that police would be watching the room. With all of the City Council's speeches and plans about the housing problem, Parnell had expected it to be occupied already.

Maybe Eli was right. Maybe the police did have something to do with the Silver Train. Parnell nodded. That would explain everything. Why they did such a shoddy job looking for Molly. Why they were guarding her apartment now. Perhaps, they had yet to find her letter from the Conductor and were still looking for it? Parnell would have to remember to profusely thank Eli for offering his help. As much as he would hate getting that close to the man's terrible odor.

Parnell chewed his lip. He needed to figure out how to get inside her apartment. He doubted his engineer excuse would trick these officers. So how could he get past them? There was probably another one of them already inside the apartment, looking for the letter. Or not. The apartment could be empty. Either way, it didn't matter to Parnell. He could handle one lone policeman. It was just a matter of getting in there.

A pipe on the ceiling rattled and released a hiss of steam near the officers. One of them jumped back and began examining himself. The man had scars on the side of his face. Judging by his reaction to the steam, Parnell guessed the officer had been burned by hot steam. It was a common injury in Terne, particularly in the poorer sectors of the city where degraded or broken pipes were most often ignored.

The pipe on the ceiling connected to a joint near where Parnell was standing. Pulling his wrench from his tool belt, Parnell looked at the overhead pipe and then at the nervous officer. He hated that he would have to give the man such a scare, but Parnell had to get in that apartment. Parnell slid his mask in place. No matter the cost.

Parnell swung his wrench in a wide arc and hit the pipe with a solid clang. The pipe broke loose from the joint, causing a cloud of hot steam to release into the hallway. Even with his leather uniform and mask on, Parnell could feel the uncomfortable heat. He let out a sigh of relief. Thank goodness he'd brought his uniform. That steam would've badly burned his skin and his face especially.

"Holy shit, Donlan!" the nervous officer cried, pointing at the oncoming cloud of steam. He grabbed the other officer by the collar and forcibly dragged him down the hall and away from the steam.

Under the cover of the steam, Parnell approached the apartment door with a large screwdriver in hand. Before attempting to pry open the door, he tried the doorknob and found it was unlocked. Quickly, he entered and shut the door behind him. Hopefully, the two officers were none the wiser.

Parnell put his tools back in his belt and removed his mask, setting it on a nearby counter. He glanced through doorways, looking for another person, but the apartment was empty. Relieved, the tense muscles in his body relaxed, and Parnell locked the front door. He was honestly glad there wasn't anyone there. He didn't know if he would be able to win in a fight, even if he did have a wrench to throw about.

Molly's apartment looked in disarray. Folders and papers littered the floor. Dirty dishes were piled in the kitchen sink. Several mugs, some empty and some that still had coffee left, decorated Molly's desk. This definitely wasn't the result of policemen searching for clues, but neither could Parnell easily credit the mess to his sister. Molly was the cleanest and most organized person he knew. If she let her home get this messy, something must have truly been bothering her. Parnell wished she would have just talked to him about it. Maybe then she wouldn't be missing.

Parnell rifled through desk drawers and cabinets. He looked beneath chairs and among the scattered papers. Nothing looked like a letter from the Conductor. Parnell crossed his arms. It was possible she had taken the letter with her. Parnell shook his head. If that were the case, then why would the police be guarding her door? She didn't have anything else that would lead back to the Silver Train. No, the letter must still be here.

Slapping his forehead, Parnell headed to his sister's bedroom. "Why didn't you look here first, you idiot? Don't you know your sister at all?"

He quickly found a vent at the bottom of the far wall. Taking out his screwdriver, Parnell removed the screws and the vent cover and set them to one side. Sure enough, there was a small, gray envelope. Parnell reached in and pulled out the envelope. There was an indentation in the envelope as if some thicker piece of paper had been shoved inside with the letter.

"'Dear Ms. Stoker,'" Parnell read aloud, "'I would like to invite you on a once-in-a-lifetime trip aboard the Silver Train. I know how tired you are of being trapped in a metal dome full of too many people, too little food, and not enough energy to go around.'"

Parnell stopped reading. Not enough energy? Surely, the city had more than enough boilers to make steam to turn the generators and produce electricity. Terne should have more steam and electricity than its citizens know what to do with. He had never seen any signs of an energy shortage. He returned his attention to the letter.

"'You and I both know Terne is falling apart, from the pipes that wind through the city to the old men that sit in the City Council. I invite you to do as others before you have done and escape to the world outside Terne. To a world where everyone has as much space as they want and more than enough food. To a world full of those things you read about in books. Stars and sunsets and forests. Just take your ticket and head to the crimping shop where the waters cross. Sincerely, the Conductor of the Silver Train.'"

Parnell collapsed against the wall and ran a hand through his hair. Molly had just left without him. Without a word to him. Parnell cursed himself for his words against the Silver Train those many weeks ago. Maybe if he'd held his tongue, she would have shared with him more. He would have been able to watch over her even if he couldn't dissuade her. Well, it was too late now. Parnell tucked the letter into the inner pocket of his uniform. Now he needed to head to Mercury Lane.

******

Parnell felt like slapping himself. He had walked the entire length of Mercury Lane, looking for anything that could possibly relate to "dinky doo." Finally, it had occurred to him that "dinky doo" actually meant "twenty-two" in Eli's abnormal vernacular. He checked his pocket watch. Roughly four hours until curfew. He still had time before he needed to start worrying.

Parnell glanced over his shoulder but saw nothing or nobody unusual. He shook his head. Ever since he'd left Molly's apartment, he couldn't shake the feeling that there were eyes on him. He was probably just paranoid because he was going to meet up with a member of the Family.

After all, nobody could have known he was even at the apartment. Well, nobody except for the Family, that is. Since he couldn't leave through the front door, he had climbed out a window and up onto the roof. From there, he had jumped to the adjacent rooftop and descended their stairs. He hadn't seen anyone during any point of that excursion, so he was probably just imagining the feeling of eyes boring into the back of his head.

The sign identified the building as 22 Mercury Lane. It was a bakery. A little in need of repairs but there was a pleasing aroma in the air. Parnell smiled as he inhaled the scent of baking bread.

"Are you Parnell?" a voice asked. Parnell turned his head and saw a petite woman with curly red locks. She wore pants, which was odd for a woman, and had a pattern of coppery lace and brass gears on her tea jacket. Parnell's eyes latched onto the brass gears. This woman was from the Family.

"Yes..." he managed to say. "I'm Parnell."

"It's about time. I've been waiting for hours for you to get here." She had a pleasant drawl that gave her words an airy feeling. "Not that there's anything wrong with this place, but we have more important things to do than eat bread."

"Yes."

"So..." the woman trailed off expectantly. "Did you find the letter?"

"Oh. Yes, I did find it, actually." He reached into his uniform and tugged it out. "Here you are, Miss...?"

"Call me Key," she said. She grabbed the letter and speedily began to read, her lips mouthing particular words every now and then.

"So, Ms. Key-"

"You don't have to be that formal, Parnell." She didn't raise her eyes from the paper. "It's not like I'm a real lady or anything."

"If you insist." He cleared his throat. "So, Key, do you know where we should go? The letter told my sister to go to 'the crimping shop where the waters cross.' Do you know where that is? Because I've never heard of that kind of shop."

Key met Parnell's gaze, her gray eyes twinkling with excitement. "Yeah, I know where it is. It's underground."

Author's Note: For a different perspective on the story, visithttp://parnellstoker.blogspot.com





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