“Hero of the Five Points” is a rollicking short adventure set in 1853 in the world of the League of Seven fantasy series for middle-grade readers by acclaimed author Alan Gratz. Grab your aether pistol and your favorite stovepipe hat and join Dalton Dent as he tracks down the foul creature known as Mose. If you want more of the League of Seven, you can check out this website.
This novelette was acquired and edited for Tor.com by senior editor Susan Chang.
There were a hundred stories told in the streets of Five Points about the giant gangster Mose. That he was eight feet tall and six feet wide; that his stovepipe hat was actually an upside-down smokestack torn from a Cheyenne locomotive; that his fists were the size of Cherokee hams, his feet so large it took the leather of two whole cows for him to be shod. When Mose was thirsty, it was said, it took a wagonload of beer to sate him, and in the summer months he carried a fifty-gallon keg of ale on his belt instead of a canteen. For sport, Mose would climb to the top of the seven-story-tall Emartha Machine Man Building and blow airships off course. He could dive off at the Battery and come up at the beach on Staten Island, a trip that in 1853 took the submarine ferries a full twenty-five minutes; to get from Mannahatta to Breucklen, he simply jumped over the East River.
Mose had the strength of ten men, it was believed, which he put to the greatest and most fearsome use in the battles between the Bowery Boys and their rival gangs in the Five Points. While his compatriots carried brickbats and knives and the occasional raygun into battle, Mose preferred an airship tether, which he wielded like the club of Heracles. Once, when the Dead Rabbits raided the Bowery to wreck the Boys’ headquarters, Mose beat them away single-handed. He chased them all the way back to their lairs around Paradise Square, bringing down two tenements with his fists, legend had it, before his rage abated.
It was the real Mose that Dalton Dent had been sent to find. And, if the legends were true, to kill.
Dalton stood in a narrow Five Points alley between a pub and a greengrocer’s, watching the Dead Rabbits fight the Bowery Boys with fists and bricks and knives. The Bowery Boys were a gang of young Mohawk men who believed the descendants of the roughly two million “Yankees” left in the Americas after the Darkness fell should be clubbed with brickbats and dumped in the choppy waters of the Hudson River, and they were happy to start with the Dead Rabbits. The Rabbits were all Yankees, both black and white, and just as happy to return the Bowery Boys’ bricks and punches with equal disdain. It had been more than eighty years since all contact was lost with Europe and the Yankees had joined what would become the United Nations of America, but here in the dismal, impoverished streets of New Rome’s slums, old hatreds found new life.
“Do you see him, Master Dalton?” Mr. Rivets asked. The Dent family’s Tik Tok valet stood behind Dalton, watching the fray.
“No,” Dalton said with disappointment. This was his first solo mission for the Septemberist Society, and he’d been hoping for some real action. “I begin to think this Mose character is nothing but a big, ugly gangster whose tales are taller than he is.”
The fighting in the street was vicious and uncontrolled. The battle between the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys had been raging for more than an hour, Dalton noted, and there had not been the first sign of the city’s infamous copper alloy Tik Tok policemen, the machine men they called Coppers. There was, however, another young man about Dalton’s age watching the skirmish from the shadows across the street.
“There, that Yankee across the way,” Dalton said. “Do you see him?”
The man looked as out of place as Dalton felt. He was clean-shaven, with neatly cut and combed hair as black as his suit, which he accentuated with a silver watch chain and a stout, silver-tipped cane. In short, he had money—which immediately separated him from the actual denizens of the Five Points and the Bowery. He seemed to be there to watch the battle between the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys, but his eyes had a queer, distant look to them, as though he was looking right through the tenements of Paradise Square, out across the Hudson and into Hackensack territory and beyond. Dalton found the man wholly unsettling.
“Not the kind of gentleman usually to be found walking the streets of New Rome’s most violent neighborhood,” Mr. Rivets said.
“Not the kind of gentleman to make it out alive either,” Dalton said. As he spoke, one of the Dead Rabbits noticed the strange man in the black suit and broke away from the fight to attack him. The man in black blinked, his eyes focusing sharply on his assailant, and he raised his cane and pressed it to the Dead Rabbit’s chest. The gangster jerked and lurched, dropping the knife he carried. The man in black pulled his cane away and the Dead Rabbit crumpled to the street like a machine man whose mainspring had snapped.
Dalton saw a flash of crackling blue light at the end of the odd man’s cane, and then it was gone.
“Lektricity!” Dalton said. “And he knows enough about it to wield it as a weapon. We should find out who he is. The Society will want to know.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Rivets. “But I’m afraid we have bigger concerns at present, Master Dalton. Much bigger concerns.”
Mr. Rivets pointed. The mighty Mose had arrived.
Dalton watched in amazement as Mose strode into battle. He was as big as the stories said, if not bigger—easily two feet taller than any of his Bowery Boy mates. He was a hulking monster, his legs too short and his arms too long and all of him rippling with muscles in places no human being had muscles. His clothes, such as they were, were an imitation of Bowery Boy fashion: he wore a white shirt that looked like two bed sheets sewn together, and blue canvas pants rolled up at the ankles and held in place by a pair of thick suspenders that might have begun life as steam engine belts. Besides his clothes and his ape-like shape, the only thing that marked Mose as even remotely human was the relatively tiny human head perched atop his massive shoulders, upon which he wore not a locomotive smokestack but a comically small stovepipe hat, much abused.
Dalton immediately recognized Mose for what he was: a Manglespawn. The monstrous offspring of some poor, wretched human being and a Mangleborn, one of the ancient, unkillable titans the Septemberist Society was sworn to keep subdued.
Mose swung his great muscled arms from side to side as he walked, batting away friend and foe like he was swatting at flies. The brickbats and raygun blasts scattered throughout the mob now focused entirely on Mose, but to little effect. He roared under the hail of bricks and beams, picking up an overturned steam wagon and hurling it into the crowd. It tumbled end over end, taking out Dead Rabbits and Bowery Boys like bowling pins.
“Just the Rabbits, you great goosecap. Just the Dead Rabbits!” cried a rough voice. Dalton found Mose’s handler in the crowd. Where Mose dwarfed other men, other men dwarfed Mose’s handler. Like Mose, he wore an almost comic version of the Bowery Boy uniform. His blue pants, white shirt, blue suspenders, and black stovepipe hat all looked as though they’d come from the children’s department at Macy’s, an illusion shattered by the stub of a cigar he chomped on.
“The lamppost!” the dwarf yelled at Mose. “Use the lamppost, you big addle-cove!”
Mose snorted like a bull, his tiny head turning this way and that as he tried to make sense of what the little man was telling him. With brickbats and hatchets bouncing off him, Mose wrapped his giant arms around a metal lamppost and yanked it up out of the sidewalk, the copper gas pipes inside it hissing as they snapped.
Mose roared again and brought the lamppost down like a hammer, pounding a Dead Rabbit into the cobblestone street.
“Sir?” Mr. Rivets said. “Perhaps it’s time we took action.”
“What? Oh, yes,” Dalton said, snapping out of his reverie. It was easy to be mesmerized by the sight of Mose. Dalton watched as a similarly hypnotized Dead Rabbit was bifurcated by the Manglespawn’s makeshift club.
Dalton pulled out his father’s old aether pistol and activated the aggregator. Not that he thought it would do him much good. But this is what he’d trained for. What he’d been raised to do. He was a Septemberist. He would find a way to stop the Manglespawn or die trying.
Though he really hoped he didn’t die trying.
Dalton pushed through the mob toward the monster. A Bowery Boy appeared in front of him and slashed him with a knife, cutting his arm. Dalton spun away, confused, until he remembered he was wearing the costume of the Dead Rabbits—black pants with a red stripe down the side tucked into tall black boots, red work shirt rolled up at the sleeves, brown leather back brace and suspenders, his mustache curled up at the ends like a handlebar. He raised his aether pistol as the Bowery Boy came at him again and blasted him in the chest.
Across the street, Mose lifted his battered lamppost over the head of Kit Burns, the Dead Rabbits’ leader. Burns had his back turned to the giant. He would never see it coming.
Dalton glanced at the gauge on his raygun. He hadn’t collected enough aether again to stun a regular person, let alone Mose.
“Mr. Rivets! The lamppost!” he cried.
Metal rang on metal as the Tik Tok caught the cast-iron pole. The Dead Rabbits’ leader flinched at the sound, diving to the ground behind Mr. Rivets, and Dalton ran for him.
Mose grunted in frustration and pressed harder. Mr. Rivets pushed back, his clockworks groaning. For a long moment the two stood frozen while Dalton knelt to help Kit Burns to his feet.
“Don’t push, you dumb galoot,” the dwarf yelled at Mose. “Pull! Pull!”
Mose yanked the lamppost back like a fishing rod, and Mr. Rivets went flying over his shoulder down Little Water Street. Dalton Dent and Kit Burns stood staring at the sight of the thousand-pound machine man sailing through the air like a dirigible, but not for long. Mose was already bringing the lamppost back down on their heads.
Dalton raised his aether pistol to shoot Mose, knowing as he did that it was hopeless. Inspiration struck just before the lamppost did, and Dalton fired the raygun between the legs of the monster at the still-hissing gas pipes where Mose had pulled the lamppost out of the sidewalk. The raygun’s beam touched off the gas, and a massive explosion knocked both gangs off their feet, shattering the windows of buildings all around Paradise Square. Mose, closest to the blast, went crashing through the wall of a tenement house and disappeared.
The ringing in Dalton’s ears as he staggered to his feet became the shrill whistle of New Rome’s Coppers, and the gangs scattered. Dalton spun in the street, addled from the explosion, until hands grabbed him and dragged him away with the fleeing Rabbits.
Dalton stumbled down rickety wooden steps and spilled out into a low-ceilinged, subterranean beer hall with dozens of Dead Rabbits fresh from the fight. The room was windowless and smoky, and smelled of spilled beer and piss. Still dazed, Dalton pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to cover his mouth and nose. As his other senses returned, he saw the room was filled with row after row of long wooden tables and benches, upon which the Dead Rabbits heaved their injured to dress their wounds and ply them with whiskey. Beside the purple and white flag of the United Nations above the bar was a portrait of Yankee chief Benjamin Franklin, but not, Dalton noticed, a portrait of the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, who’d co-founded the United Nations with Franklin all those years ago. This was Sportsman’s Hall, Kit Burns’ three-level liquor store, saloon, and subterranean amphitheater, where pugilists, dogs, and rats fought on a nightly basis—sometimes all at once.
A pretty Yankee barmaid in a frayed and faded blue dress brought beers and bandages to a table beside Dalton, and their eyes met briefly. He smiled almost instinctively, the recently graduated university ladykiller in him rising to the surface.
Dalton felt a knife point in his side, and the smile dropped from his face.
“Who’re you, then?” a gruff voice asked at his ear.
The pretty barmaid hurried away. Dalton reached a hand for the raygun in his pocket, but the knife jabbed him again.
“I said who’re you?” The man leaning over his shoulder had the foulest breath Dalton had ever smelled.
“Dalton Dent,” he said, trying to sound more confident than he was.
“Well, I ain’t never heard of you,” the man said.
“Ask Kit Burns,” Dalton said. “He knows me.” He didn’t, really, but Dalton had saved the man’s life, and Burns knew it. That ought to be enough to establish his credibility and earn a place in the gang, Dalton thought. At least long enough to take care of Mose.
Or so he hoped.
“We’ll do that then,” the man said. He guided Dalton across the room, his knife still in Dalton’s side, to where Kit Burns sat at the bar. “This one says you got him down close, Kit,”
Burns eyed Dalton appraisingly, and Dalton did the same to the Dead Rabbits’ chief. Burns was cut from the same cloth as the rest his gang—always-dirty, dock-strong, hungry-thin—but this one had a ratty gold brocade vest on over his shirt and suspenders and a red feather in the band of his stovepipe hat. Kit Burns had pretensions.
“I’m Dalton Dent, from Philadelphia.” That much was true, but the rest of his cover story was not. “I steal Tik Toks.”
“What, an’ put ’em in your bungs?” Kit Burns said. He got a hearty laugh from the rest of the Rabbits, but Dalton had no idea what a “bung” was.
“Your pocket,” Burns said, seeing his confusion. The Five Points gangs had a rich, complicated slang, Dalton knew, and if he was going to survive here he’d need to pick up on it quickly.
“No. I reprogram their talent cards and disable the safeties so they’ll do anything I tell them. Including kill a man, if I want,” Dalton said.
That made the Rabbits get quiet. Tik Toks were expensive—airship expensive—and being able to steal one by reprogramming it was a skill no one else in all of the Five Points was likely to have.
“I don’t see you with no bolt bucket now,” Burns said, his voice hard.
“I had one. You saw him. We saved your life from that giant.”
Kit Burns studied him a moment longer, then made his decree. “I never seen this Sam before in my life. Ease the cove, give him his consolation, and take his trunker for a swim. That means rob you, kill you, and dump your body in the Hudson River,” Burns explained helpfully. A roar of approval went up from the Dead Rabbits, and Jack and two other men dragged Dalton toward the door.
“Wait! No!” Dalton cried.
“Be a shame to kill him, Kit Burns, after everything you did to save him,” a woman said over the din. The men stopped dragging Dalton to the door, and the rest of the Rabbits got quiet. The woman who stepped out into the silence she’d created was like a thing from a nightmare. She was as tall and strong as any man in the bar and had more of a beard than some. Her hair was filthy and knotted like a rat’s nest, and she wore a man’s red work shirt, black suspenders, and a ripped old skirt over a pair of hobnailed black boots. Her fingers ended in long brass claws as fierce as any animal’s, and her teeth were sharpened to points. Dalton almost took her for a Manglespawn.
“But that’s not what—” Dalton started to argue.
“Deeked it with my own two day-lights, I did,” the woman said. “That great beast Mose was dead set on that boy there, ready to quash him, when Kit Burns shifted the boy and klemmed his nicker in the old poger’s side!” She mimicked jabbing a knife into Mose, a wild look in her eyes. “The picaroon dragged him along, Kit’s frumper carving a great claret gash across his gam. Would have taken his whole leg off if the Coppers hadn’t come and bounced him with a raycannon.”
“But that wasn’t—” Dalton began to say.
“Can’t believe you’d go to all that trouble just to hoist the cull and stifle him now,” the woman told Burns.
Kit Burns was thinking it over. The woman’s story, hard as it was for Dalton to follow, had certainly puffed him up. Burns hitched his thumbs in the armholes of his vest and nodded magnanimously. “The dancer can linger,” Burns said. “His bolt bucket too, if it shows its brass knob. Least I can do after saving his life. You smack the Black Joke and promise to be a Dead Rabbit ’til you croak, dancer?”
Dalton was bewildered. Why did Burns keep calling him a dancer, and what was this Black Joke he was supposed to smack?
“You swear allegiance to the gang, archduke?” the ugly woman asked him.
“Y-yes,” Dalton said.
The Rabbits cheered as lustily as they had when he’d been condemned to die, that decree apparently rescinded and already forgotten. A Dead Rabbit put a mug of beer in his hand and plunked him down at a table, and Dalton was officially a member of the gang.
The after-riot party and medical triage hit full swing when a fiddle player and a surgeon were fetched. Dalton was just about to go searching for Mr. Rivets, fearing him lying broken in an alley somewhere in the Five Points, street urchins disassembling him for scrap metal, when the machine man ticked in through the back door.
“Mr. Rivets!” Dalton called, and the machine man joined him where he sat. “Mr. Rivets, what happened to you? Are you all right?”
“I am dented, but undaunted, Master Dent,” said Mr. Rivets. “I believe that is the first time I have ever flown without my Airship Pilot talent card in. It is not an experience I am eager to repeat. I am glad however that you survived the fracas, and that our plan to infiltrate the Dead Rabbits gang has apparently been successful.”
“No thanks to us,” Dalton said. “It was all her.”
The nightmarish woman who’d spoken for him crossed the room to sit at Dalton’s table. Dalton pulled away from her in disgust and fright as she bared her razor-sharp teeth at him.
“Thirty days hath September,” she said.
Dalton was stunned. He gave the second half of the Society’s secret pass phrase automatically: “Seven heroes we remember. You’re—you’re a Septemberist?”
The woman signaled the barkeep for an ale. “Name’s Hellcat Maggie,” she told Dalton. “And you’re welcome.”
“Yes, thanks. I—” Dalton began, but she cut him off again.
“What in Hades did you think you were doing, showing up Kit Burns like that?”
“Showing him up?” Dalton said. “We saved his life!”
“Which amounts to the same thing here in the Five Points. You made him look like a whiffler in front of his gang. You can’t never do that, not and expect to live. Kit Burns is one brickbat away from being knocked off his precious hill, and he knows it. Every gang chief knows it.”
“You’d think he’d be grateful,” Dalton said.
Hellcat Maggie slammed her brass claws into the wooden table, making Dalton jump. “Getting saved by some fancy-jack from Philadelphia doesn’t help his reputation as a hackum. There’s no honor here, no matter what they make you swear. Only ego.”
Dalton didn’t know what a “fancy-jack from Philadelphia” was, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.
“Well, I’m one of the gang now,” he told her.
Maggie huffed. The pretty barmaid Dalton had seen when he’d entered brought Maggie her ale. Dalton tried to give the barmaid another of his patented smiles, but this time she kept her eyes on the floor. Hellcat Maggie caught him trying to chat-up the girl and scowled at him.
“Why am I a dancer? And what’s this ‘black joke’ I swore my undying loyalty to?” Dalton asked when the barmaid was gone.
“A dancer’s a shooting star. A fellow what don’t stay in one place too long. You moved from Philadelphia still a young man. You’re a dancer. The Black Joke is the Dead Rabbits’ fire engine. All the gangs have one. Love their fire engines more’n their girls, they do,” Maggie said.
If they all look like you I can imagine why, Dalton thought.
“So, what’dya think?” Maggie asked.
“About the fire engine?”
“No, you muttonhead. About the monster!”
“Oh! Marvelous,” Dalton said. “Absolutely marvelous. A Manglespawn, to be sure. Not a product of the original Mangleborn/human pairing, I’d say. It looks too human for that. What do you think, Mr. Rivets?”
“I concur, Master Dalton,” the machine man said. “Fourth generation Manglespawn. Perhaps fifth. A descendant of the Mangleborn whom Iroquois mythology calls Tawiscara, and whom the Greeks and Romans called Prometheus.”
“The fire-breathing Mangleborn? The one Heracles set loose when he lost his mind? You think he’s chained to the bedrock underneath New Rome?” Dalton said excitedly. “That’s an interesting theory, Mr. Rivets. If that’s true, we might—”
Hellcat Maggie hissed at him. “I didn’t send in that report to the Society so they’d send me some bookworm and his walking ’cyclopedia. I want to know how to quash it!”
“Well, it will take time to study it first,” Dalton said.
Maggie slammed her empty mug down with a thump. “If you don’t have any answers, I can take care of Mose meself.”
“Oh, really?” said Dalton “I didn’t see you or anyone else taking care of him today. Who was it who kept him from killing everyone? Oh, wait, that’s right. It was me.”
Hellcat Maggie growled, but she didn’t argue with him.
“Who was the little man giving him orders?” Dalton asked.
“Mohawk dwarf named Tihkoosue.” Hellcat Maggie spat on the floor. “Just a dog eating scraps off the Bowery Boys’ floor until Mose came along.”
“Any idea why Mose listens to him?”
“’Cause he’s stupid?”
“Or when Mose will return?”
“When he feels like it?” Maggie shrugged. “Next big rumpus, I guess. He doesn’t always come out. Fights, then disappears for a while. Lays low.”
“That Hellcat Maggie’s nothing but a dilapidated, bandy-legged bint,” someone across the room said, loud enough that no one in the bar could fail to hear it, least of all Maggie.
Maggie knocked her mug to the floor, shattering it as she stood. “Come and say that to my mazzard, you maggot-arsed jackanapes!”
Hellcat Maggie and another Yankee woman wearing a man’s pants and galluses threw themselves at each other, and within moments there was a circle of cheering, jeering Dead Rabbits around them, and Dalton and Mr. Rivets were alone.
“I’ll just wait here then, shall I?” Dalton said to the empty seat across from him.
“Ms. Maggie’s information, though abridged, does give us something to go on,” Mr. Rivets said. “Does the monster’s absences mean it requires extended periods of rest and recuperation? A kind of hibernation?”
Dalton’s eyes fell on the pretty barmaid across the room. While everyone else was occupied with the fight between Hellcat Maggie and her attacker, the barmaid stuffed a sack full of bread and cheese stolen from behind the bar. She gave the mob a quick glance to make sure no one had seen her, then disappeared out the back door.
“Or perhaps instead of generous amounts of sleep,” Dalton said, “Mose requires someone to bring him copious amounts of food.”
The pretty barmaid carried her sack of food through the back alleys of the Five Points, which were even more wretched than its main arteries. Dalton was tempted to pull his handkerchief from his pocket and cover his mouth and nose again against the stench, but he knew that would give him away as an outsider. In places the alleys were shoe-top deep in steaming filth and mud, and drunkards and madmen haunted the back doors to tenements little more inviting than the streets.
Dalton and Mr. Rivets hid behind a stack of empty barrels as the barmaid stopped at an open manhole cover and looked around to see if she was being followed. Something rustled in the barrels—man or beast, Dalton didn’t know, and didn’t want to know—but he held his ground until the barmaid slipped down a ladder into the hole.
“Looks like I’ll have to go it alone from here,” Dalton told Mr. Rivets, and the machine man agreed to meet him back at the Dead Rabbits’ headquarters in Sportsman’s Hall.
Dalton gripped his father’s raygun tightly, made sure the aggregator was full, and descended into darkness. The ladder led down into a dank, moss-covered stone tunnel with a trickle of water running down the middle. Just ahead, Dalton could see lantern light moving away from him. He hurried to stay close.
The tunnels were narrow and old—a relic of the Roman city that had been there hundreds of years before. Now the brass tubes of New Rome’s pneumatic post ran through them, but old Roman numerals still marked the corners, and broken glass domes appeared every few yards along the walls. Lektric lights, Dalton guessed. He’d seen evidence of such things before in other ruins, but didn’t understand how they worked. That was the province of the Septemberist Society’s tinkers—and they understood lektricity only so far as to know what to sabotage when they saw somebody developing it.
Dalton moved as quickly as he dared through the dark tunnel, more than once putting his foot down on something that squeaked in protest. The light up ahead waned. He turned a corner, and suddenly he was in complete and utter darkness. There was no hint of the barmaid’s lantern from any direction.
“Damnation,” Dalton whispered. He spun in the darkness, trying to see more than two feet in front of him. When he stopped, he realized he’d turned himself around so much he didn’t even know which way he’d come in. Not that he could remember all the turns he’d taken to get there. He cursed himself for being a fool.
The tunnel suddenly flooded with light, and Dalton threw his arm up to shield his eyes. Someone wrenched the raygun from his hand and stepped back, the person’s feet splashing in the thin water.
“What’s your chant?” a young woman’s voice asked him.
“Your name, noddle. Who are you?”
“Who are you?” Dalton asked, the light still too bright to do more than squint.
“I’m the girl who has your raygun pointed at you,” she said. “Now what’s your story?”
“My name is Dalton Dent.” Dalton could only blink, and still had to shield his eyes with his arm. He couldn’t see who he was talking to. “How did you know I was here?”
The girl laughed. “You make more ruckus than your bolt bucket. Why were you following me?”
So it was the barmaid. Even better. Dalton had been trained to track and kill all manner of monsters, but a girl of twenty had bested him without a fight. It was a red-letter day for the Society’s newest solo agent.
“Why were you following me?” the girl asked again.
“I saw you stealing food back at Sportsman’s Hall. I thought—I thought perhaps you were taking it to Mose.”
“The Bowery Boys’ monster? Are you playing the Mad Tom? Is that really what you thought?”
“Well . . . yes.”
“Come on,” the girl said. “I’ll show you who the kitchen physic is for.”
The stars in Dalton’s eyes cleared as the barmaid carried the lantern away from him. Dalton followed the girl down another tunnel until they came out into a larger, more open chamber where multiple tunnels converged. Here, under the smoky glow of torches set into the broken glass domes of the Romans’ lektric lights, lived perhaps two dozen children. At the sight of the barmaid they leapt up from their straw pallets and crawled out from inside their overturned barrels to rush her, their grubby hands grabbing for the sack she carried. None of them was over the age of ten. They were doleful things, gaunt and grimy and hollow-looking, a few of them Yankees but more of them First Nations. Apparently the girl didn’t hold to the Dead Rabbits’ prejudices against the other tribes.
“Share,” the barmaid said as the children pulled the sack from her hands. “Share. I mean it. I have a raygun now.” She brandished Dalton’s raygun, more to embarrass him than to impress the children, Dalton thought, for though they showed dutiful awe they really only had eyes for the food.
“Are they all orphans?” Dalton asked.
“Only a few,” the barmaid said. “Their parents don’t want them, won’t feed them, so they take to the streets. Become palmers and sneak-thieves. The gangs’ll take them in one day, give them a purpose, such as it is, but not until they’re old enough to scrap. Until then, only the sweatshops have a use for them.” She took a small girl in her arms and held her while the girl gnawed on a heel of bread. “A straw pallet in a sewer is better than that, any day.”
It was incredible to Dalton that there were still sweatshops that used human labor in the city, but machine men were expensive and human life was cheap. Especially here in the Five Points.
“You take care of them all?” Dalton asked.
“The ones who end up here. I bring them peck when I can. They scavenge and hook the rest.” She sang to the little girl. “Poloma put the kettle on, Poloma put the kettle on, Poloma put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea.”
“That nursery rhyme,” Dalton said, “why did you sing it just now?”
The barmaid frowned and shrugged. “No reason. I often sing it. Why?”
“It’s no matter,” Dalton said.
The barmaid looked about at the children stuffing their faces with bread and cheese. “Where’s Etlelooaat?” she asked the children. None of them answered her. “Harriet, where’s Etlelooaat?”
A grungy little girl pointed into the darkness at the far side of the room.
The barmaid looked as though Mose had just swallowed one of the children. “No! Not another one!”
“What is it?” Dalton asked.
The barmaid put down the girl she carried and stepped away from the children. “Some of them hear voices,” she said. “The weak ones, mostly, though I confess I’ve heard it once or twice too. Whispering to me. Calling me down into the old tunnels, farther below. The voice of evil. But you’ll never believe me.”
Dalton assured her that he did. And he knew just whose call it was they were hearing. Or more precisely, what’s call.
“Once they go down there, they never come back,” the barmaid said. “Well, not this time. I’m going to find him.”
The young woman picked up her lantern to go, but Dalton stopped her. “You can’t,” he told her. “You’re right—there is something evil down there. Something that calls to the weak-minded. The same something that makes the gangs of the Five Points fight incessantly. They’re called the Mangleborn.” She was on the front lines, as it were. She deserved to know. So he told her everything. He told her how the Mangleborn—giant, misshapen monsters that fed on lektricity—had been in the world since before the dawn of man, and how they rose from their slumber every few hundred years to destroy civilization each time humanity covered the world with lektric generators and lektric wires. He told her how a new League of Seven—seven super-powered heroes from all over the world—always arose to put the Mangleborn back down, and how the Septemberist Society had been founded in the wake of the last cataclysm centuries ago to monitor the Mangleborn, kill their Manglespawn, and keep the world from rediscovering lektricity, all in the hope that the titans would never rise again and a new League would never be needed.
To his surprise, the barmaid believed him. To his frustration, she didn’t care.
“I’m going anyway,” she said. “I’m not going to lose another one. Besides: I have a raygun now.”
She headed toward the darkness at the far end of the room, aether pistol pointed at the ceiling.
“Damn it all,” Dalton said, catching up to her, “at least tell me your name if I’m going to march with you to my death.”
“It’s Agatha,” she told him. “Agatha Lowry.”
They found where he lived a half an hour later, deep down inside the tunnels.
Not where Etlelooaat lived. The boy was still nowhere to be found.
This was the room of a giant.
It was like something out of a fairy tale. Or a perversion of one. In one corner was an enormous table cobbled together from shipping pallets and scrap lumber, too high and too broad for a human being to use. Beneath it, in lieu of a chair, was an oaken wine cask a man could have stood inside. In another corner was something like a nest, a round bed of sticks and trash and mildewed blankets with an imprint in it the size of a steam mule.
In the other two corners were bones.
Along most of one wall, iron construction rods had been driven into the hard-packed dirt floor to create small cells. Within these cells were bodies. Bones. The remains of children.
There were four of them. Two were mere skeletons, their bodies and clothes long since decomposed. In another was a skeleton stretched tight with leathery skin, its lips drawn back from its teeth in a horrible smile. A First Nations boy, from the looks of him. In the last was the body of a young Yankee girl with a dirty white dress and a head full of blonde curls, her rotting body still fresh enough to be home to a million crawling things.
None of them had been Agatha’s children, but she wept for them anyhow. Dalton was more interested in the symbols and drawings painted red with blood on the wall behind the children.
“Lemurian, I think,” he said. “Though I’ve only seen a fragment of a single page of it before. I’ve no idea what any of it says.”
“There are no doors,” Agatha said.
“No doors. To the cells. Just bars. They were put here to stay,” she said, her hands on the bars. “To never get out again.”
Dalton moved on to the other set of bones in the corner. This skeleton was not trapped behind iron bars, and whatever it had been, it was monstrous. Its skull was wide and stunted, like a mushroom cap, with a mouth full of too many teeth that were too big around and too flat. The thing’s massive legs bent backwards, not forward, and its hands were more like the toes of an elephant. Its rib cage could have been a grown man’s prison.
“What is this place?” Agatha asked.
Dalton bent down to trace the outline of an enormous footprint in the dirt. “It’s his room,” he whispered. He looked over his shoulder at the doorway, half expecting to see the monster striding through it. “Mose. He lives here.” A chill passed over him, and he fought to control his fear. “Or he did until very recently,” he said, noticing the thin layer of dust that covered every surface. “Perhaps it’s where he grew up. But now he’s gone above ground. Taken in by a gang, like your orphans one day.”
“And this?” she said, looking at the bones in the corner.
“His mother?” Dalton guessed.
Agatha hugged herself. “He captured these children. Kept them like . . . like pets. And then quashed them.”
“All the more proof that he’s a monster,” Dalton said. “A monster I need to find a way to kill. But we have to find your boy first. Let’s go.”
Etlelooaat was in a room just beyond the place where Mose had grown up. He stood at the far end of a large, domed cavern, using a broken piece of brick to chip away methodically and uselessly at a stone door. Around the walls of the room hung seven giant copper cylinders, each attached to a central point in the ceiling by pipes as thick as Dalton’s head.
Agatha ran across the wooden floor to Etlelooaat and took him up in her arms. He was a tiny Algonquin boy in ragged pants and a torn, filthy shirt, his eyes distant and unfocused. Dalton knew that look. The boy was hearing the Call of a Mangleborn.
“His skin, Dalton. Look,” Agatha said. She pulled back his tattered sleeves. All over the boy were symbols and markings like the ones on the wall in Mose’s room. Ancient Lemurian cyphers and ideograms carved into his skin with the sharp edge of a stone. The wounds were still fresh. “Who did this to him?” Agatha asked.
“I suspect he did it to himself,” Dalton told her. The boy was hearing the Call of a Mangleborn, but why had it brought him here, to this strange place? And what were all the copper chambers for? Dalton tapped on one. It was empty. His eyes followed the pipes to the ceiling and saw a switch there, far too high up for anyone to reach without a careful shot from a raygun or a bow and arrow.
“Poloma put the kettle on, Poloma put the kettle on, Poloma put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea,” Agatha sang, trying to soothe the listless boy.
“Great Hera, I know what this place is,” Dalton said. “We have to leave here immediately!”
“What is it? Why?” Agatha asked.
Dalton didn’t answer. He took her arm and hurried her toward the door where they’d come in. Something heavy and machine-like clicked under the wooden floor beneath them. Dalton gave Agatha and Etlelooaat a push just as the trapdoor opened beneath their feet. Agatha and the boy tumbled to the safety of the stone floor just beyond the pit. Dalton fell. His fingers caught the top edge of the wooden floor where it hinged and he slammed painfully against the vertical surface of the trapdoor.
A hundred feet below him churned a copper-sided well of boiling water.
“Dalton!” Agatha screamed. She set Etlelooaat aside and reached to help Dalton, but the boy’s empty eyes turned once again to the door across the pit and he stepped toward the precipice.
“No! Catch him, Agatha!” Dalton cried. His fingers burned as he struggled to keep hold. “He’s still under the Mangleborn’s thrall! He’ll walk right into the trap trying to go to it!”
Agatha caught Etlelooaat before he stepped off into the boiling water. With her other hand she reached down to help Dalton. At long last he crawled up out of the pit and collapsed beside her, panting, while she held tight to Etlelooaat.
“Poloma put the kettle on,” Dalton said. “Dalton Dent, you’re the world’s greatest fool.”
“What do you mean? What is this place?” Agatha asked.
“It’s the first room of a puzzle trap,” Dalton explained. “When the Roman League of Seven trapped the Mangleborn the last time, they built chambers on top of them which are passable only by solving elaborate riddles. The puzzle traps let Septemberists go down to monitor the Mangleborn and their prisons, but keep out all those who would free the monsters to rule the Earth again.”
“Who would free them?”
“Madmen,” Dalton said. “Anyone who hears the Call and follows it.”
“The children,” Agatha said. “You mean, this is where they go? Do you think any of them have made it through?”
“No,” Dalton said. He got to his feet. “That nursery rhyme you’ve been singing to the children, ‘Poloma put the kettle on,’ it’s no coincidence it came to mind. It’s the clue the Roman League left for how to get through these puzzle traps. Most nursery rhymes are clues to some puzzle trap somewhere in the world.” Dalton pointed to the copper cylinders. “I suspect you have to fill those copper drums with water and boil it to make steam. The steam pressure will open the first door to the next puzzle. There’s a spigot there, in the ceiling. Do you see it?”
“But how could you reach it?” Agatha asked.
“With a raygun. Or a good shot from a bow and arrow,” Dalton said. “‘Poloma’ isn’t just a girl’s name; it’s the Choctaw word for ‘bow.’ Poloma put the kettle on. That’s the clue. Turn on the water, set it to boil, the door opens. I’m sure the rest of the stanzas could get you through the other rooms as well, if you could figure them out. But your children, they wouldn’t have known that.”
“You mean they all ended up . . .”
Agatha left off as something clicked again in the floor beneath them and the huge wooden trapdoor ratcheted back up into position, ready to catch the next person who didn’t know how to bypass the traps.
“If the children continue to live in the tunnels, more of them will be lured here,” Dalton told her. “More of them will fall into this trap.”
“I’ll move them,” Agatha said. “I don’t know where. But they won’t stay here another night.”
A boy stuck his head through the door of Sportsman’s Hall and yelled, “Fire! Fire at the Mantotohpa Tannery!”
Half a dozen Dead Rabbits who’d been sitting over mugs of beer jumped to their feet and ran for the door. Agatha hurried over to Dalton and Mr. Rivets.
“The Mantotohpa Tannery’s on the edge of Bowery Boy territory,” Agatha told them. “If they show up there’s bound to be a fight—”
“—and if there’s a fight, Mose might put in an appearance,” Dalton finished. He was already getting up from the table. He’d kept an ear out for the monster for days, ranging as close to Bowery Boy territory as he dared, and occasionally returning to Mose’s old room in the tunnels in his search for him. But the Manglespawn hadn’t put in an appearance since Dalton’s first day in the Five Points. Maybe this was his chance.
“Keep your knob down, noddle!” Agatha called after him.
Dalton raced out into the street, Mr. Rivets at his heels. A dozen boys and young men wearing the red shirts and red-striped pants of the Dead Rabbits ran by, pulling a hand-drawn wagon. The wagon carried a tarnished brass steam engine and water pump that towered like the New Rome skyline, and from the corners and sides of the rickety old thing hung ropes, ladders, sand buckets, and hoses. Besides the brassworks, the entire wagon was painted black, with the words black joke painted in gold along the side. A Dead Rabbit sat in the driver’s seat, doing more hanging on for dear life than driving as he shouted directions to the chasers.
Dalton caught one of the Dead Rabbits as he was running past. “Haven’t you got Tik Tok firemen?”
The Rabbit scoffed. “Maybe up at Astor Place they do, but not down here. The only bolt buckets in the Five Points are yours and the Coppers—when they show.”
Hellcat Maggie appeared behind the boy and glared at Dalton. He knew what the look was meant to tell him: he was giving himself away. Foul, joyless creature, Dalton thought. Regardless, he resolved to keep his mouth shut as he fell in with the Dead Rabbits running to the fire.
The Mantotohpa Tannery was fully ablaze when they arrived. Flames rose from the broken windows of the wooden warehouse and black smoke hung thick in the air. There was but one well for the Dead Rabbits to dip their hoses into, conveniently located right across the street from the conflagration, but it was currently being guarded by the meanest-looking Cherokee Dalton had ever seen. The ruffian was short and squat, with arms as thick as stovepipes bulging out from under his rolled up shirtsleeves. His nose was bent, his chin was scarred, and part of his left ear was missing. Pulled down tight over the top of his black mop of hair was an oversized tan plug hat.
“Looks like the Plug Uglies beat us here,” said one of the Dead Rabbits.
“Yeah, but only one of ’em,” Hellcat Maggie snarled. “Quash him!”
The ugly Plug Uglie stood, revealing the raygun tucked into his waist and the brickbat in his hand. “Just try it, Rabbits!” he said.
The Dead Rabbits fell on him, fists and bricks flying. The Rabbits quickly had the ruffian on the ground, kicking and stomping him, but his reinforcements arrived. Another hand-drawn fire truck, this one all white with the name white ghost painted in black on the side, clattered onto the scene pulled by a score of Plug Uglies, all of whom immediately fell to attacking the Dead Rabbits. The street became a battlefield, Dead Rabbits and Plug Uglies hitting and shooting and clubbing one another, and all the while the Mantotohpa Tannery burned behind them.
Dalton grabbed Hellcat Maggie as she ran past him. “Isn’t anybody going to do anything about the fire?” he asked her over the din.
“Not while a Plug Uglie yet stands!” she shot back at him, pulling away.
Dalton turned to Mr. Rivets in despair. “Help me get the water pump running.” Dalton fired up the steam engine’s boiler while Mr. Rivets connected a hose and dragged it to the well. A Plug Uglie threw a brickbat at Dalton, missed, and tried to climb the Black Joke to get at him. Dalton kicked him in the chest, sending him him back into the roiling mob below. He was beginning to wish he hadn’t let Agatha keep his father’s raygun.
“The hose is in the well, sir,” Mr. Rivets said, returning.
“Good. I’ve got the boiler stoked,” Dalton said. He opened a valve, and the pump arm began to rise and fall. “Soon we can—” Dalton froze atop the Black Joke. Whatever plans he had to put out the fire by himself had just gone up in smoke.
Mose and the Bowery Boys had come out to play.
Mose dropped the Bowery Boys’ red fire engine onto the cobblestone street with a crash and waded into the fight. Dead Rabbits and Plug Uglies went flying, and the two Five Points gangs quickly dropped their fight with each other and stood together against the invaders from the Bowery. Dalton watched, mesmerized all over again, as the giant Manglespawn strode through the mob, thumping and kicking and smashing. Nothing the Dead Rabbits and the Plug Uglies did could stop him. The little dwarf Tihkoosue yelled something at Mose that Dalton couldn’t hear, and the giant picked up the Plug Uglies’ fire engine to throw it.
The mob scattered, but Mose didn’t hurl the fire engine at them. He was suddenly distracted by something at his feet, and he dropped the White Ghost on its end, almost crushing Tihkoosue. Brickbats and raygun blasts hit the giant from all sides, but he didn’t care. He was searching desperately for something on the ground, and nothing else mattered.
“There, Mr. Rivets,” Dalton said. “What’s he doing? What’s he after? Can you see?”
“I’m afraid not, sir,” Mr. Rivets said.
Mose grew more and more panicked until at last he found what he was looking for under the feet of the warring gangsters. He batted aside a dozen men—some of them Bowery Boys—to snatch it up, and Dalton finally caught a glimpse of it.
“It’s a doll,” Dalton said, astounded. It was a small rag doll with a blue dress and yellow yarn for hair. Mose the Manglespawn, bane of the Five Points gangs, had stopped his rampage to pick up his dolly.
Mose petted the doll and slipped it back in his pocket, then crushed a Dead Rabbit’s head in his hands. The monster was back.
Dalton felt the fire hose fill and stiffen in his hands, and the force of the water coming out nearly knocked him from his perch atop the Black Joke.
He turned the hose on the monster instead of the fire. The water blasted Mose in the face, and the giant roared. He batted at the water like it was a living thing he could pound into submission, staggering back under the Black Joke’s steam-powered gush. The dwarf pointed at Dalton and the Bowery Boys charged the fire engine, but the Dead Rabbits and the Plug Uglies rallied to fight them.
“Mr. Rivets! We have to keep pushing him back!” Dalton cried. Mr. Rivets put his clockwork shoulder into it, and the Black Joke creaked after Mose, herding him toward the well. With a gurgled roar Mose took a face full of water, choked, stumbled, and toppled backward into the well.
Dalton switched off the pump, and the gangs stopped fighting. A heavy silence settled on the street as everyone watched the well, half of them hopeful, half of them despairing that Mose had finally been defeated.
The fire engine lurched, and Dalton nearly fell on his head. He’d just righted himself when the Black Joke’s metal-rimmed wheels screeched against the cobblestones, dragging sideways toward the well.
Mose was climbing up the fire hose.
“Cut it loose! Cut it loose!” Dalton cried, scrambling for the connection. Mr. Rivets got there first and unhooked the coupling. The hose shot toward the well under Mose’s weight and whipped down inside, removing Mose’s only avenue of escape.
A great cheer went up from the Dead Rabbits and the Plug Uglies. The Bowery Boys knew when they were beaten. It was two-to-one Five Points versus Bowery now, and without their monstrous champion to even the odds the Bowery Boys fled into the alleys and down the sidewalks, pursued by bloodthirsty Rabbits and Uglies. Soon only Dalton, Mr. Rivets, Tihkoosue, and the burning tannery were left. The dwarf still hung over the side of the well yelling pitifully after Mose, his little legs wiggling to keep his balance.
“I guess it’s up to us to take care of the fire then too,” Dalton told Mr. Rivets. “Perhaps we can salvage a hose from one of the other engines.”
The ground shook, and Dalton had to grab hold of the pump not to fall off the Black Joke. Another boom, and the street lamps wobbled. Tihkoosue scurried back toward them, all smiles.
“He’s coming ba-aack,” he sang as he passed the fire truck.
Dalton couldn’t believe it, but the earth rumbled again, harder this time, and the windows in buildings up and down the street shattered. He jumped off the fire engine and ducked behind it as the ground exploded, raining dirt and broken cobblestones all around him. Through the wheels of the Black Joke, Dalton watched as first one and then the other of Mose’s big hands grabbed the edge of the hole. Mose pulled himself up and out, dripping with mud and blood, and roared in anger.
“I believe we are in a great deal of trouble,” said Dalton.
“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Rivets.
Mose snorted and shook his head like an angry bull.
Tihkoosue pointed at Dalton. “There he is. There’s the scrub who pushed you down the well! Get him!”
“Run, Mr. Rivets!” Dalton cried. He’d only made it a few steps before lightning erupted just above his head, blue-white lektricity crackling through the air so close it made all his hair stand on end. Dalton fell down onto the cobblestones, ducking the blast, but the lightning didn’t stop. The lectricity streamed in a constant flow from the tops of four lampposts on opposite sides of the street, creating a huge deadly X six feet above the street.
Caught in the center of the lektrical crosshairs was Mose.
The Manglespawn howled as white-hot lektricity arced into him, burning the shirt off his back and leaving great black scars on his pale brown skin. Mose thrashed and fought to free himself, but the lektricity didn’t let him go. But it didn’t kill him either. In fact just the opposite was true—it seemed to be making everything about him bigger. Bigger and more inhuman. He writhed and lurched as his bones and muscles grew and shifted and mutated.
Mose bellowed in rage and pain.
Tihkoosue ran. Dalton scrabbled back to the sidewalk, out from under the lektrical storm. He knew this wasn’t an accident. Couldn’t be. Something like this had to have been arranged days, weeks in advance. Someone had built a lektrical generator somewhere, connected it to the lampposts, then laid in wait.
It was a trap built just for Mose.
Mr. Rivets helped Dalton to his feet. “Someone else is interested in Mose, it would seem,” he said.
“Yes, but who? And where are they?”
Dalton searched the windows of the nearby buildings, then the rooftops. There. Someone stood on the roof of a building across the street, watching over the side.
“The well-dressed man with the lektric cane!” Dalton said. “Come on.”
Dalton gave the lektrical trap and the howling monster within it a wide berth and dashed into the tenement across the street from the burning tannery. The building was empty, its occupants long since fled. Dalton sprinted up the stairs, leaving Mr. Rivets and his slow, plodding brass feet far behind. Dalton couldn’t wait—the Tik Tok would just have to catch up when he could.
Dalton burst through the door to the roof. The man from the alley stood at the controls of a humming lektric generator. Thick black rubber hoses ran from the machine down the side of the building. At the back of the roof, unseen from the street below, was tethered a small personal airship. As he approached, Dalton could hear the man saying something to himself: “Sing a Song of Sixpence, a pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie.”
“Who are you?” Dalton called.
The man turned like he had always known Dalton was there, a gentle smile on his face and an unfocused look in his eyes. Up close, Dalton could see they were about the same age.
“My name is Thomas Edison,” the young man said.
“You set the fire, didn’t you?” Dalton said. “You set that fire knowing the gangs would fight over it, and the Bowery Boys would bring Mose.”
“They are not complicated animals,” Edison said.
“You have to turn it off, Thomas. The lektrical machine. You’re only making him stronger. He’s got too much Mangleborn blood in him, and the Mangleborn feed on the stuff.”
Edison cocked his head, fascinated. “The Mangleborn? Is that what you call them? You mean the things that sing to me of a lektrical world. A better world. A world of heavier-than-air flight. Of instantaneous communication. Of light. A world where I would be a chieftan if only I would free them from their prisons.”
Dalton closed his eyes. This was bad. Very bad. A man with Edison’s talents who was hearing the Call of the Mangleborn was even more dangerous than Mose.
“Turn it off, Thomas,” Dalton told him again.
“I’m tempted, you know,” Edison said, his eyes elsewhere. “To free them, I mean. But I want to study them first. These . . . Mangleborn, and their offspring. That creature on the street. If I could examine it. Test it. Dissect it. Uncover its secrets. Think of it: A child born not just with the strength of ten men, but fifty—a hundred men!”
“Gods, what kind of monster would that be?” Dalton said.
Edison raised his cane. Lektricity buzzed from the tip of it. “I’m sorry you don’t share my vision of progress.”
Dalton took a step back and bumped into Mr. Rivets. The machine man had finally ticked his way up the stairs and onto the roof. Mr. Rivets reached around Dalton, grabbed Edison’s cane, and snapped it in half.
“You really ought to wait for me in situations such as these, Master Dalton,” Mr. Rivets said.
It was Edison’s turn to back away. “A Tik Tok bodyguard,” he said. “I shall have to get one of those. But one without the safeties, I should think.”
Mr. Rivets’ indignant subroutine raised his chin. “Such an abomination would be a discredit to the service, sir,” he said.
“I don’t think he cares, Mr. Rivets,” Dalton told him. “Come on.”
Dalton raced for the lektric generator, letting Edison escape to his airship. Dalton scanned the machine looking for some way to switch it off, but he knew nothing about the operation of such things.
“If you would allow me, sir?” Mr. Rivets asked.
Dalton backed away, and Mr. Rivets spun one of his heavy brass arms like a windmill, smashing it into the generator. It exploded in a shower of sparks and smoke. Dalton hurried to the edge of the roof. He was just in time to see a hulking, bulging creature ten times more monstrous than Mose had ever been lope off into the shadows of the Five Points’ backstreets. Above them, Edison’s airship turned in the wind and followed it. Across the street, the untended Mantotohpa Tannery collapsed in on itself in a heap of burning timbers.
“Not my best day ever, Mr. Rivets,” Dalton said.
“No, sir,” said Mr. Rivets.
Mose did not make another appearance in the coming days, even in a fight between the Bowery Boys and the Shawnee Roach Guards of the Five Points. The evidence of his escape from the well was impossible to ignore though, and all through the Sixth Ward the gangs whispered rumors about where he had gone, and what he had become. If the legends about Mose had been tall before, they were colossal now. When the treacherous rocks of Hells Gate tore a gash in the side of a submarine bound for Acadia, it was said to have been bitten by Mose, who took it for a passing minnow as he lurked in the harbor. A crumbling tenement on Canal Street had collapsed when Mose tried to sit on it. Mose had set the tannery on fire to light his cigar, which itself was the size of the Emartha Machine Man Building. Such was the gangs’ growing fear of Mose that the Roach Guards had broken and run from their battle with the Boys at the mere cry of his name.
Dalton was shocked to see a handful of Roach Guards at the Sportsman’s Hall when he came in with Mr. Rivets one night. Even more surprising, the Roach Guards were staring warily across the room at another handful of Powhatan belonging to the Chichester gang. The Cherokee of the Plug Uglies and the Muskogee of the Charlestonians glared at each other from either side of a long table, hands on their rayguns, and the Seminoles of the Forty Thieves and the Illini of the Shirt Tails gang watched everyone from the shadows. With the half a dozen or so Yankees of the Dead Rabbits about, they almost had all the founding tribes of the United Nations, Dalton thought wryly. Though by the looks of it, this meeting would end far differently than the one Brant and Franklin had orchestrated so long ago.
“What’s going on?” Dalton asked Agatha as he slipped into a booth.
Agatha set a mug of beer on the table for him. “Meeting of the Five Points gangs,” she whispered. “Kit Burns called the scratch, but it was Maggie give him the notion.”
“Surely this cannot be a good idea,” said Mr. Rivets.
Dalton agreed. He took his beer with him to stand with Hellcat Maggie in the corner.
“You’re to thank for this insanity?” he said.
“Aye,” she growled. “This can’t continue. Mose is a jack-cove. It’s all bob you can’t stubble the old poger, so we’ll quash him ourselves.”
“You must be joking,” Dalton told her. “The Rabbits and Uglies couldn’t even put out a fire together!”
“Because of that slubberdegullion!” Maggie spat.
“The Five Points gangs will be too busy ‘quashing’ each other to bother with Mose, and you know it,” Dalton argued. “Listen, I saw Mose do something strange the other day that might give us an angle on him—”
“You all know why we’re here, and it’s time we jobbed it,” Kit Burns announced, calling the room to order. “I’m proposing a temporary alliance between the Five Points gangs. A truce. Just until we give that jazey Mose his consolation.”
That prompted murmuring among the gangs, and Kit Burns let them hold their powwows.
“Look, even if they agree to this, how will you do it?” Dalton whispered to Maggie. “You’ve tried rayguns and brickbats. I drowned him. Edison lektricuted him. Nothing’s worked. But Mose has this doll, and I was thinking—”
“Kit Burns is right!” Maggie said, launching herself into the larger conversation. “Let’s pig together and quash the cove!”
“That would certainly be a waste,” said a smooth voice from the doorway. Thomas Edison stepped into the room, black suit, silver watch chain, black cane, and all.
A Dead Rabbit slid out of the shadows behind him with a knife.
“Don’t!” Dalton warned, but he was too late. Edison spun and put the tip of his cane to the Dead Rabbit, lektrocuting him. The Rabbit fell writhing to the floor, and the gangsters around Edison stepped back.
Mr. Rivets ticked up behind Dalton. “I see Mr. Edison carries a spare cane,” he said. “Shall I dispense with it too, sir?”
“I mean no trouble,” Edison said, raising his arms in mock surrender. “Quite the opposite. I come with what I think will be a profitable arrangement for all of us concerning the monster.”
“Don’t listen to him! No good will come of anything this man tells you,” Dalton said.
“This is my bar, and my gang,” Kit Burns told Dalton. “I call the shots here. We’ll cheese what the cove has to say. Then we’ll quash him and take all his dots and dibs.”
That got a laugh from the other gangsters. Even Edison smiled.
“It’s your establishment, and your territory, as you say. But instead of killing the beast, I was hoping you might capture it for me instead.”
Kit Burns looked around wide-eyed at the other gangsters. “Oho. You was hoping we would capture it for you, was you? And just why would we do that?”
“Because,” said Edison, “I will pay the person or persons who brings the monster to me alive the sum of ten thousand dollars.”
You could hear a cotter pin drop in the Sportsman’s Hall as Edison stuck a piece of paper to the community board. “I am leaving the address of the pneumatic post office box at which you can contact me, should you manage to subdue the creature. I have also taken out classified advertisements in the New Rome Times and the New Rome Sun. Send word when you have him, and I will come to collect—and to pay.”
Edison left, but hardly anyone paid attention. The gangs all had their heads bent together, discussing the prospect of ten thousand dollars in their pockets. Hellcat Maggie could feel the room slipping away.
“We still ought to mob together!” she told them. “No one gang can do it alone!”
“And who gets the cove’s honey then?” one of the Roach Guards said. “The Dead Rabbits?”
“They probably knew about it already,” a Charlestonian said.
“Was that your game all along?” a Shirt Tail asked. “Use us to do the grabble for you, then get fat on the flash-man’s mint when you turned the monster in?”
“No!” Maggie said. “We need to quash him. He can’t be caught!”
“The Dead Rabbits can catch him, just you see,” Kit Burns told Maggie, and all hope for her plan was lost. She had told Kit Burns what to do in his own bar, with his own gang, and Kit Burns was his own man and made his own decisions, even if they were foolish ones that were going to get him killed.
“Just see if we don’t nab him first!” said a Plug Uglie.
A Cherokee pushed a Muskogee, a Powhatan punched a Shawnee, and Sportsman’s Hall was suddenly a battlefield. Chairs flew. Knives slashed. Rayguns flared. Those who didn’t fight sprinted out the exits to spread the word: catch Mose, earn a cool ten thousand dollars.
“Don’t! Stop!” Dalton cried, trying to be heard above the melee. “Edison’s a madman! He wants the monster to experiment on. To make more monsters! You can’t help him!”
Dalton barely dodged a flying brick. Agatha grabbed him and pulled him beneath a table.
“It’s no use,” she told him. “In an hour, every gang in Five Points will be moving on the Bowery Boys. It’ll be all-out war. New Rome will burn!”
“We have to get to Mose first,” Dalton told her. “If we can kill him, they’ll have nothing to fight over.”
“But how?” Agatha asked. “What are you going to do, drop a building on him?”
“No,” Dalton said. “No—but that does give me an idea. Come on.”
It took far less than an hour for word of Edison’s offer to spread through the Five Points. By the time Dalton had found the right dress and wig for Agatha, open warfare had descended on Paradise Square. The Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies, the Shirt Tails and Forty Thieves, the Chichesters and Charlestonians and Roach Guards, they all met at the crossroads of the Five Points with their arsenals of bricks and knives and hatchets and aether pistols, and the cobblestones ran red with blood. And they weren’t the only ones touched by the madness—from every hovel and tenement, every poorhouse and slum came the wretched masses, for whom the promise of ten thousand dollars was like a golden airship hovering just out of reach, ready to fly them away from the miserable desolation of their lives.
Dalton pulled Agatha by the hand past cutthroats and looters toward the heart of the Five Points.
“Dalton, can this really work?” she asked him. “Do you really think Mose will follow me just because I’m dressed up like his dolly?”
“I wish I knew,” Dalton told her. “The brute has a brain the size of a peanut—which might mean he’ll conflate the two of you and think you’re his doll. Or it might mean he’s so stupid he can’t make the connection. If he does see you as his doll, lead him up to the roof of Nokosi’s Department Store, and we’ll knock him off with the crane they use to unload airships.”
“And if he doesn’t?” Agatha asked.
“Run,” Dalton told her. “Fast. I’m sorry, Agatha, it’s the only way I can think to kill him. But we have to try. If we don’t he’ll kill everyone in the Five Points. Worse, if Edison gets his hands on him—”
“I know, I know,” Agatha said. “I said I’d do it.”
At Skenandoa Street they found Mr. Rivets tossing buckets of water on one of a dozen buildings the mob had set fire to.
“Mr. Rivets! Where are the police? The city’s Tik Tok firemen?” Dalton asked.
“They have erected barricades around the Five Points, sir, and are permitting no one in or out.” Mr. Rivets paused to bat away a hatchet-wielding Shirt Tail, then continued. “They seem to be willing to let the inhabitants of the Five Points slums exterminate themselves and burn all the tenements down.”
“Zeus’s beard,” Dalton said. “There are thousands of innocent people in the Sixth Ward! And do they expect the fires to just politely stop at the edge of the Five Points and burn no farther?”
“It does stretch credulity, sir.”
“Has Mose put in an appearance yet?”
“I believe you’ll find him taking a stroll in Paradise Square, sir.”
Dalton, Agatha, and Mr. Rivets pushed on to the center of the Five Points, where Mose appeared to be taking on the entire Sixth Ward at once. People in the streets attacked him with whatever they had—bricks, bottles, shovels, pitchforks, butcher’s cleavers, hatchets, aether pistols—but Mose batted them all away. He moved through the square like a tornado, smashing and bashing and stomping anything in his path. The lektrical shock had unhinged something in him, Dalton guessed. Broken that small part of him that had been human. He operated now like a terrible machine of war, killing indiscriminately.
The Five Point gangs stood the best chance of tackling Mose together, but they fought separately, sometimes even against each other, all in hopes of winning Edison’s bounty. Mose killed them all. Not at once, but slowly, methodically. Caving in their skulls and stomping out their guts and cleaving them in half as they came at him. Dalton watched as Mose pulled Kit Burns’ arms from their sockets one at a time.
“Together! We have to mob together!” Hellcat Maggie cried, but no one was listening to her. A Seminole woman of the Forty Thieves jumped her from behind, and they tumbled through the street, gouging and biting at each other while the Five Points burned.
“All right,” Dalton said. “Let’s see if we can get Mose’s attention.”
Agatha grabbed his arm. “Dalton, the children! Look! I moved them out of the tunnels into the Old Brewery on Cross Street, and it’s on fire!”
Agatha ran for the building, and Dalton and Mr. Rivets followed her. The Old Brewery was three stories tall and built like an Iroquois longhouse, stretching out over two city blocks. Its thatch roof was on fire, and flames poured out of an open doorway on the first floor. Children hung out the third floor windows, wailing and coughing and crying out for help.
“Help! Oh, help! Someone help!” Agatha cried out to the warring mob in Paradise Square, but no one listened. She tried to go in herself, but Dalton pulled her back before the flames scorched her.
“Oh, Dalton—it’s my fault!” she said, burying her head in Dalton’s shoulder so she wouldn’t have to watch. “I told them to hide inside and not to come out for anything, and now they’re going to die!”
“Allow me, miss,” Mr. Rivets said. “My brass gears can survive more exposure to the conflagration than your organs can.”
Mr. Rivets marched into the burning building and was swallowed by the flames.
“I’ll find a fire engine,” Dalton said. He turned to run and found himself face to knee with Mose. Dalton froze, wondering what it would feel like when Mose plucked his arms and legs from their sockets, but to his surprise the giant only batted him away and strode toward the door of the Old Brewery.
“Oh no you don’t!” Agatha said. “Mose, you stop right there!”
The hulking giant turned on her, eyes wild, nostrils flaring like the steam valves on a locomotive.
“Please,” Agatha added meekly.
The wild look in Mose’s eyes softened, and he put a hand to the pocket of the ragged, misshapen pants he still wore.
“The doll,” Dalton whispered. “He’s making the connection!”
“You—you leave those children alone,” Agatha said.
Mose swung his head around to look at the children screaming in the windows. His brows furrowed in anger again, and he charged into the burning building, knocking an enormous hole in the wall where the door had been.
“No!” Agatha cried. “No—Dalton, he’ll quash them! He’ll quash them all!”
Tihkoosue, Mose’s tiny companion, came running up to them from Paradise Square. “Did I just see that dromedary run inside a burning building?”
Dalton turned on the dwarf. “He’s going to kill the children!”
“Kill the children?” Tihkoosue said. “Are you cranky?”
Mose burst back through the hole in the wall, startling them all. His skin was charred black and his hair and pants were on fire, and he was hunched over something protectively. He went down on one knee in front of Agatha and opened his massive arms, and five little children spilled out. Three of them were unconscious from the smoke, but otherwise none of them were hurt.
“He—he saved them,” Dalton said.
Agatha bent to tend to the children, tears of relief running down her face.
Mose turned to go back inside.
“Don’t, you big knuckle-dragger!” Tihkoosue cried. “You’ll burn up!” The dwarf wrapped himself around the giant’s leg, but Mose plucked him off like a tick and set him aside before disappearing again into the fire.
Mr. Rivets came out next, carrying a single child in his arms. He handed him off to Agatha, his brass hull ticking. “I’m afraid I’ll have to wait some time before I can go back inside,” he told them, “or else I’ll be too hot to safely carry a child.”
“I’ll fetch some water to cool you down,” Dalton said.
He needn’t have bothered. Before Mr. Rivets was cool enough to go back inside, Mose had brought out two more armloads of children, his naked body burned more and more horribly each time. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, like a golem, he did the same thing over and over again, always without thought or concern for himself.
“That’s the last of the children who were inside,” Mr. Rivets said when Mose deposited his most recent armful, and Agatha did a quick headcount to confirm it.
Mose turned to go back inside the building.
“Hey, you big booby!” Tihkoosue said. “Didn’t ya hear ’em? There’s no more squeakers inside! You don’t have to go!”
“You did good, Mose,” Agatha said gently, like she was talking to a child. She still wore the blue dress and the blond wig, which seemed to soothe the monster. She reached out a hand to touch him, but drew back from the awful red blisters all over his skin. “You did real good. But you mustn’t go back in there again. You’ll die.”
Mose didn’t listen. Or perhaps he was too far gone to understand. Lektrocuted, mutated, and brain-addled, blistered and burnt and scarred, Mose dragged himself slowly, wearily, back into the Old Brewery. Tihkoosue clung to him, weeping and begging him not to go back inside. Mr. Rivets had to pull him off to keep him from being swallowed up with Mose in the firestorm.
They waited in the street for what seemed like an eternity—Dalton, Agatha, Tihkoosue, and the children—but Mose never reappeared. Timbers snapped and cracked, the roof folded, and the Old Brewery fell in on itself in an avalanche of cinders and fire and ash.
Dalton and Agatha held each other, surrounded by the children Mose had saved. Mr. Rivets removed his brass bowler hat. Tihkoosue sat down in the middle of the street and sobbed.
“The big dumb galoot,” he said through his tears. “That Mose was the only friend I ever had.”
There were a hundred stories told in the streets of the Five Points about the giant gangster Mose. That he was fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide; that he walked the streets naked, for an entire bolt of cloth could not clothe him; that he had the strength of a hundred men. Mose had single-handedly cleaned up the gangs of the Five Points and the Bowery, making the Sixth Ward safe again. Mose had tricked an Astor Place dandy out of ten thousand dollars. Mose had saved a beautiful cigar girl from molesters in a back alley. Mose had rescued a hundred babies from a burning hospital, carrying them out in great armfuls a dozen at a time. Mose became a folk hero to the Sixth Ward’s poor and destitute, the star of musicals that played to packed houses at Astor Theater uptown. Mose the Fireman. Mose the Bowery Boy. Mose the Hero of the Five Points.
The truth, Dalton knew, was somewhere between legend and reality.
“Revisionist history,” Dalton told Agatha as they stood arm in arm, waiting with Mr. Rivets for the submarine ferry that would take them across the Hudson to the Palisades Airship Park in Jersey. “The same way humanity can take the true story of a colossal fire-breathing Mangleborn chained to a rock and turn it into a mythical titan who brought the knowledge of fire to mankind. We like to temper our horrors, don’t we? Though we don’t always turn them into the heroes of comic operas.”
“Mose had a good heart,” Agatha pointed out.
Mose single-handedly killed more than 450 people, most of them in hideously alarming ways, Dalton wanted to argue, but he enjoyed the warm sensation standing arm-in-arm with Agatha gave him, and was loath to ruin it. And Mose had, in his stunted, simpleminded way, protected the children of the Five Points. Even the dead children in his lair. He hadn’t kidnapped them, they realized later. The children had gone into the tunnels because they heard the Call of the Mangleborn beneath the city, and Mose had saved them from marching mindlessly to their deaths in the puzzle traps the only way his tiny brain knew how: by putting them behind bars. That too was why he softened at the sight of Agatha at the Old Brewery—it wasn’t that she looked like his doll, but that they both looked like children. It was why he’d taken orders from a dwarf, and run into a burning building again and again and again until he had burned himself to death. Mose had loved children.
Agatha’s arm aside, Dalton was forced to admit that perhaps some monsters could also be heroes.
“And your Septemberist Society? They’ll take care of the orphans?” Agatha asked for the hundredth time that day.
“Our Septemberist Society,” Dalton reminded her, for Agatha, much to his heart’s delight, had decided to leave her home in the Five Points and return to Philadelphia with him and join the Septemberist Society. She wanted to study ancient Atlantean and Mu and Lemurian with him and save the world from monsters. Not that she had any real home to go back to. The fire from the Five Points Riot burned day and night for a week, taking out everything from Canal Street in the north to Broadway in the west to City Hall and the Tombs in the south. Punishment, Dalton considered it, for city officials barricading the Five Points and letting it burn. “And yes, the Society will find homes for them all. They frequently do the same for other children orphaned by Mangleborn or Manglespawn. Perhaps one day they’ll grow up to be Septemberists themselves.”
“And Edison?” Agatha asked.
“I’ve given the Society a complete report on him. They’ll keep an eye on him, you can be sure,” Dalton told her as they stepped aboard the submarine, away from the Five Points and toward their future together. “You needn’t worry, my dear. Edison won’t be raising any Mangleborn or creating any golems with the strength of a hundred men. Not while the Septemberist Society is on the case.”
“Hero of the Five Points” copyright © 2014 by Alan Gratz
Art copyright © 2014 by Red Nose Studio