She looked barking ridiculous. And that bum rag prince couldn’t have been enjoying it more. He kept watching her with this awed kind of look on his face. The blithering idiot. It’s not like she was anything to look at.
Deryn shifted uncomfortably in the long skirt--the lady boffin had insisted on the one with a big bow on the back and a sharp v-neck--and adjusted the wig on her head. It looked quite convincing, actually, but it didn’t make her despise it less. It was mostly hidden by a feathery hat, every strand arranged by the boffin herself. Deryn had fumed the whole time. Before that, every night after dinner she had been retaught how to act like a lady--she even said “yes” now instead of “aye”--and it reminded her too much of her aunts sometimes to bear. The only thing that had kept her from going completely barking mad had been Alek, who hadn’t joked about it or even brought it up when the went to climb trees once the sun had fallen. They were often late into the night, sitting on the highest branch of the highest trees, watching the stars in the cold night air.
Now she was riding in a carriage pulled by a fabricated beastie, blithering useless nonsense to Dr. Barlow just like a good girl even though she couldn’t breath in her clothes. She had to pat herself on the back a wee bit for learning to drop the curses and walk like a girl. It was not easy. Her mind kept wandering to Alek, who would also be on his way to the mansion by now, under the cover of the trees, Bovril a lookout on his shoulder.
“Mr. Sharp, Aleksandar, you will be pleased to know I have considered your request to disclose recently discussed information,” she had told them three nights before, after dinner had been cleared and all the guests had gone. Dr. Barlow led them to her sitting room, speaking in German so none of the staff would understand. Deryn’s reaction had been a bit delayed, but Alek had nearly jumped out of his seat when she said, “And I will comply.”
She looked around the room, closing the door. “One of the few remaining Clankers, a well known count, Abbott Welker, is here visiting one of my close friends. We think he has another reason to be here. It is rumored he has plans for a great machine to fuel a rebellion and regain respect for the German empire, and intends to acquire funds to build it. I should like to know if this is true and stop it. Alek, you will search his rooms and find the plans.
“Now, Deryn. You’re part is more tricky,”
She had mumbled something along the lines of, “Aye, I’d noticed,” in English.
“He has a son,” Deryn’s eyes widened, “and I’m sure that you can easily pry some information from him.”
“It would be simple enough with a good knife.”
The boffin had shaken her head, “In an unsuspicious manner.”
Deryn forced herself out of the memory, fixing her eyes on Dr. Barlow. “It is wonderful you could join me this evening, Dalia.”
Dalia was her fake name for the night. “Yes, I am quite pleased,” she said, forcing emotion into her voice.
“Lovely that your visit aligned so perfectly with the occasion.” Deryn nodded, not knowing a good answer, “I must ask, dear, do you have a gentlemen back home?”
“No, I haven’t, Aunt Barlow,” she pretended to be disappointed with herself.
The coach driver looked over his shoulder at the two of them. “Then you’re in luck, little lassie, because there is a handsome young fellow goin’ ta be at that party.”
“Is that so?” Deryn feigned surprise--and interest. “Do tell me about him,” she grinned, more out of success than anything else; this was exactly the plan. Get the driver to spare some gossip about the boy, see if he knew anything of use. The working class loved to gossip, the boffin had told her.
“Oh yes, Miss. His pa’s a count from Germany. Got some gold, he does,” He paused a moment, as if wondering if it was rude to mention money to a lady, “And quite a strapping young lad, too. About your age, Miss.”
“I will certainly look for him, Sir. What did you say his name was?”
“Thaddeus. Thaddeus Welker, Miss.” with that, they pulled up to a grand house, and they said their thanks to the cabbie. Deryn itched to thank the beastie, too, but knew it would be unladylike. She took a deep breath and faced the mansion. Barking spiders, she was in for the hardest night of her life.
Alek tripped on a root and swore. He was rewarded by Borvil shushing him in between imitating the sounds around them. He needed to stay focused.
“Mr. Sharp,” the beastie said, somehow knowing exactly what he was thinking. She had seemed out of place, awkward, even, in the dress. If it had been anyone else, she would have looked absolutely stunning--not that she didn’t, it just wasn’t her. He preferred her in the loose fitting trousers, her jacket slung over a chair and just the white button up shirt on.
Crunch. He’d stepped on a dry stick.
Focus, dummkopf! He cursed himself yet again. You can think about her later, now get in and out, fast! He stepped to the edge of the tree line, waiting for the signal that the door was unlocked, and hoping he did, in fact, have the right door. A man stepped out onto the unlit porch, a cigar smoking lazily as it hung from his mouth. He made three quick puffs and slipped back inside, presumably not locking the door behind him. Now Alek had to wait for a count of one-hundred fifty before following the shadows to the mansion and inside. Straightening the standard issue servant’s uniform--it never hurt to be prepared--and brushing off any twigs, he counted.
He crept in, almost easily, and found the servant’s staircase, reaching the third room on the right in no time. It was dark, the moonlight from the windows giving the objects cruel and severe shadows. Where to start? he asked himself, shrugged, and started rifling through the nearest drawers, careful to replace everything as he found it. It was doubtful a man would hide war plans with his socks, but Clankers were sneaky.
His hands frozen in place. Less than a year ago, he had been a Clanker himself. Strange how quickly everything had changed. For the better, he added, very sincerely. Bovril had been sitting silently on the bed until now, not really helping. Now the beastie was making the noise of heavy footsteps, and they were getting louder. Alek frantically snatched it off the bed and looked for a place to hide. There! Heavy drapes hung around the windows, thick enough to conceal him and Bovril easily. He held his breath, waiting for the--
He stood, completely rigid, as the oil lamps in the room flickered to life. His vision was limited to a sliver of light at the end of the curtain. The floorboards made no noise--fabricated wood--so he couldn’t track where whoever was in the room was at. Alek stared at the dark maroon fabric, concentrating on the small rustles and other noises. His heart hammered in his chest, and he fought to keep his breathing low. The loris waited patiently on his shoulder, seemingly unnerved. Long minutes passed with Alek not daring to even wiggle his toes. Finally the lights dimmed and disappeared, and the door snapped closed. He forced himself to count to another one-hundred fifty before stepping slowly out from the draperies. With an internal sigh of relief, he resumed the search, his hands shaking.
“Who are you?” Alek whirled, and saw the gun pointed at his chest.
Teehee! Have fun squirming while you wait to see what happens next!