Tor.com is pleased to present Alan Gratz’s “Join, or Die” to celebrate the publication of The Dragon Lantern, the second book in Gratz’s alternate history steampunk adventure series, The League of Seven.
Originally published as a limited edition chapbook, “Join, or Die” features Benjamin Franklin, his young assistant Willow Dent, and their indefatigable machine man Mr. Rivets as they battle sea serpents and fish-men in the true story of the Boston Tea Party…
When Willow Dent told the story of the Boston Tea Party—the real Boston Tea Party, with fish-men, submarines, Mohawk warriors, and lektrical sea serpents—she always began with a tea party of three in a hotel room on Hanover Street in Boston’s North End.
“I’m afraid it’s not real tea, of course,” Dr. Franklin said. “It’s Labrador tea. Very bitter. Made from the Rhododendron groenlandicum, I think. Grows in bogs.” He sniffed the brew in his tea cup. “Vile stuff, actually. But do have some.”
Joseph Brant laughed. “I will, thank you.”
Franklin and Brant were quite a pair. Franklin, near seventy, had already founded the first public library and hospital in the Colonies, designed and overseen the installation of the world’s first pneumatic mail service as postmaster of Philadelphia, and invented a compact, efficient wood stove that promised to revolutionize the machine man industry. He had also recently retired from publishing, the profession which had made him rich, to take up a series of lektrical experiments which, so far, had proven more frustrating than enlightening.
Brant on the other hand was barely thirty years old, and just making a name for himself. He was the young, brash war chief of the Mohawk, the easternmost tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy. Where Dr. Franklin was bent and portly, Brant was ramrod straight and muscular, his long, thin nose drawing a straight line from his face to the red feathers woven into the narrow row of hair he wore down the middle of his bare head like all Mohawk men.
Mr. Rivets, Franklin’s Tik Tok valet, brought Brant a steaming cup.
“Your tea, sir,” Mr. Rivets said in his sing-song, music box voice.
“Fantastic! It speaks!” Brant said. “One of the new Mark IIs, I take it?” He studied the tall, brass machine man, from the top of his metal tricorner hat to the bottom of his riveted boots. “Did you go all the way to the Emartha Machine Man factory in Standing Peachtree to buy him?”
“I didn’t buy him at all. He was payment for taking on a new apprentice,” Dr. Franklin said. “Young Miss Dent here. Though what I’m meant to teach her I haven’t the foggiest.”
Willoughby Dent, thirteen years old, sat beside Franklin with a cup of tea in her lap. She wore a blue dress with three-quarter sleeves, a white ribboned bodice, and a white apron tied at the waist. Her dark, clever eyes rolled at Franklin’s pretended modesty.
“There is no subject on which Dr. Franklin does not seek to educate me,” Willow said. “Repeatedly. And often.”
“She has taken a particular interest in my lektrical experiments,” Dr. Franklin said. “Speaking of which—I have something to pass along to you, Brant.” Franklin unfolded a large piece of paper with technical drawings on it and set it on the table between them. “I call it a ‘lightning rod.’ I think your Mohawk builders will find it of great use when climbing those iron skyscrapers you build in Caughnawaga and New Rome—”
Willow stood to see, accidentally spilling her Labrador tea all over Dr. Franklin’s work. Brant leaped back, and Franklin yanked his precious notes away to shake the tea from them.
“Sorry!” Willow said. “I’m so sorry!”
“Miss Dent is incredibly enthusiastic, but also incredibly clumsy,” Franklin said. “I mark this the third time in as many months that she has caused my lektrical research to come to some horrible end. And in this case a bitter end as well.”
Willow mopped at the spill with a tea towel, but Mr. Rivets quickly took over.
“It’s no matter, Dr. Franklin,” Brant said. “This cannot be why you have come all the way to Boston.”
“No, it’s not,” Franklin said. He gave his dripping scientific papers over to Mr. Rivets and nodded for Willow to show something else to Brant. “If you can manage it without ruining them,” he said gently.
Willow set a new stack of papers on the dried table. They were circulars, illustrated and printed by Franklin, with a hand-drawn image of a chopped up snake. Each piece of the snake had initials underneath it—S.C., N.C., V., M., P., N.J., N.Y., and N.A.—that were clearly meant to indicate the various Colonies. Beneath the snake, in large letters, was written JOIN, or DIE.
Brant studied one of the circulars and put it back on the stack. “You mean to unify the Colonies then. And you show me this why? As a warning to the Iroquois Confederacy? A threat?”
“Neither warning nor threat,” Franklin said. “Scientific fact. Walk the streets of any Colonial city, my friend, and what do you see? Poverty. Illness. Starvation. It has been almost three years now since the Darkness fell. Three years since the moon turned blood red in the sky and the seas became impassable. Three long, lean years since any ship survived the passage to or from Angland, Francia, Spain, or anywhere else. The time has come to face facts: we are cut off from the lands of our fathers. We are cast adrift. Only by coming together as a new nation, independent of our Europan roots, can we hope to survive.”
Brant leaned back in his chair. “This won’t be popular with your governors,” he said. “Your homelands gave them their power. They won’t be so quick to give up on them.”
Franklin nodded. “Which will make my next proposition even harder for them to swallow: once unified, I propose we then join the Iroquois Confederacy.”
Willow already knew Franklin’s intentions and agreed with them, but this was news to Brant. He set his tea cup on its saucer with a clatter. “You can’t be serious!” he said.
“I am,” said Franklin. “And once the ‘Yankee tribe’ has joined your ranks, I suggest we recruit even more. The Powhatan. The Wabanaki. The Shawnee. The Pawnee. The Cherokee. The Sioux.”
“The Sioux would never join our or any other alliance!” Brant said.
Franklin waved a hand. “Others would. Dozens more.” Franklin leaned forward excitedly. “The Iroquois tribes have already shown how strength can be achieved through unity. Your confederacy stretches from the Atlantis Ocean to the farthest of the Great Lakes. How much stronger would it be with more tribes? How much better if it stretched from the Atlantis to the Mississippi, from Acadia to Florida? Perhaps one day from one side of the continent to the other?”
“You have grand dreams for an alliance that exists nowhere else but the great Dr. Franklin’s brain,” Brant said.
“Then let us put all that aside for the present,” Franklin said. “What matters most now is that we form an alliance. That the Colonies get access to the food and medicine and raw materials they need to survive.”
“And what do your Colonies offer in return that we do not already have?” Brant asked.
Franklin spread his arms. “Yankee ingenuity.”
Willow rolled her eyes again—there was Franklin’s famous immodesty.
“Yankee ingenuity!” Brant said. “We already have airships. And steamboats. And locomotives. Even your amazing machine man here was designed and manufactured by a Muskogee!”
“And yet the aether musket was and still is a mystery to you,” Franklin said. “Accepting us as a seventh tribe in the confederacy means those aether muskets are no longer pointed at you, but at your enemies.”
Brant narrowed his eyes. “Again, the threat.”
“No, no, my friend. I promise you, I believe a war with the Iroquois or any other nation would be the death of us all. We would not win—but nor would you without great sacrifice. You must agree that a Yankee-Indian war is in no one’s best interest.”
Brant kept his own council on that score.
“But an alliance,” Franklin said. “Think of it, Brant. A . . . A United Nations of America.”
“And who would rule this United Nations, Franklin? You?”
“Good gracious, no,” Franklin said. “I want nothing more than to retire to my home in Philadelphia and tinker with my lektrical experiments. But I did have someone else in mind.”
Franklin looked pointedly at Brant through the tops of his bifocals and smiled. Brant understood at once: Franklin meant him to be this fantastic new alliance’s first chief.
Brant shook his head. “They would never agree to it. Any of them. Beginning with your Yankee governors.”
“I will see to the governors,” Franklin said. “I have a meeting with the governor of the Massachusetts Colony this very morning. You are the one who must convince the chiefs among the First Nations.”
Brant shook his head again, but Willow could tell he was thinking about it.
There was a knock at the door, and Mr. Rivets showed a young maid into the room. She was not of the hotel, but from the home of Mrs. Sarah Lowell Cabot, a wealthy dowager of Boston society. The maid was bundled up against the cold, but refused to take the time to shed her wraps and warm herself by the fire.
“Dr. Franklin, you must come at once!” she begged. “It’s the Dowager Cabot, sir, she’s taken ill!”
“My dear girl,” said Franklin, “I don’t see how I can help. I’m not that kind of doctor, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, but Dr. Franklin, this is no matter for a surgeon. The Dowager Cabot, sir, she’s turning into a fish!”
* * *
The sky that hung over Boston that morning was low and gray, like a reflection of the cobblestone streets. Snow swirled in the air outside their carriage, disappearing into the charcoal smoke from the steam horse. Willow watched out the window as people wearing more rags than clothes hurried by, their heads down against the biting wind. On the corner, a man with his head wrapped in bandages wore a sandwich board that said RAYGUNS at the READY, LADS! BLAST the INDIANS before they SCALP the YANKEES!
“So he won’t be voting for unification with the Iroquois then,” Willow said.
“Madness,” Franklin said. “Madness to call for war when we can barely feed and clothe ourselves. Madness to think we could beat the Iroquois, or any other nation, rayguns or no. There never was a good war, or a bad peace.”
The carriage deposited Franklin, Willow, and Mr. Rivets at a stately red brick building on Hull Street wedged in among similar stately red brick buildings, and an Emartha Mark I Machine Man named Mr. Chimes met them at the door. Mr. Chimes bore them silently into the study, where he announced their arrival with a ring of internal bells.
A middle-aged Yankee man with a square jaw, broad forehead, and stringy black hair came round from behind a writing desk to greet them.
“Dr. Franklin! Thank you so much for coming,” the man said.
“Mr. Cabot, I take it?” Dr. Franklin said.
“Joseph Cabot Lodge, actually. The Dowager Cabot is my mother-in-law. She’s the one who’s . . . sickly.”
She wasn’t the only one, Willow thought. Joseph Cabot Lodge pulled at his cravat and dabbed at his clammy brow with a sweat-stained handkerchief. He was sallow and shaky, and smelled vaguely of mackerel.
Lodge led them upstairs, where the mackerel smell became even more pronounced. Willow had to bury her nose in her elbow as they came into the old woman’s room. It was worse than low tide on Long Wharf.
The Dowager Cabot was buried in blankets up to her neck, but her face was enough to make Willow gasp. She was even paler than her son-in-law—slate gray, like the clouds outside—with faint, dark, wiggly streaks along her cheeks and neck, as though someone had tried to give her stripes with finger paints. Her skin was clammier too. She was shiny, like she was covered with a thin film of sweat. Willow was tempted to reach out and touch her, just to see, but the Dowager Cabot’s eyes made Willow keep her distance. They were inhumanly round and bulged like a cartoon drawing of someone seeing a ghost, and the iris and pupil were one great black dot. But there was something else too, something Willow couldn’t put her finger on. It was as though the old woman was staring at all of them at once—and none of them.
Dr. Franklin bent forward to examine the Dowager Cabot, checking her pulse and feeling her face and head.
“Her hair is gone,” he noted. “Did you shave her?”
“No,” Lodge said. “It fell out, over the course of just a few days.”
“She’s cold,” Franklin said. Lodge sent Mr. Chimes for a fresh pot of tea while Dr. Franklin slid a thermometer under the Dowager Cabot’s tongue. It was easy to do: she breathed through her gaping mouth, gurgling like she was drowning.
“Fish and visitors smell after three days,” Franklin said just loud enough for Willow to hear him. “And here in Mrs. Cabot, we have both. Have you noted that she does not blink?”
Of course! That was what had bothered Willow so much about the old woman’s stare. It was the stare of a dead woman.
Or a live fish.
Lodge dabbed at his sweating forehead. “Can you do anything for her, Dr. Franklin?”
Franklin read the temperature on the thermometer. “Sixty-three degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “Which I dare say is the temperature of the room. The Dowager Cabot has become ectothermic.”
“Er, what does that mean?” Lodge asked.
Franklin didn’t answer, but Willow knew what it meant: the old woman had somehow become cold-blooded.
“Is . . . Is it good?” Lodge asked.
“No,” said Franklin. “It’s impossible.”
Willow watched Dr. Franklin turning the problem over in his head. She’d seen him do this many times before in his lektrical laboratory, arms crossed, forefinger and thumb rubbing together while the gears in his mind whirred and spun, trying to make sense of whatever conundrum plagued him. The mental leaps he made always astounded her. Would he figure this puzzle out too?
Franklin was lost to the world until Mr. Chimes set a porcelain tea service on the bedside table. Franklin blinked and turned, as though he’d forgotten where he was.
“Is that . . . is that tea I smell?” he said. Franklin hurried to the tea service and lifted the tea pot’s lid to sniff inside. Willow didn’t understand what the fuss was about. Franklin drank tea just like everyone else, but usually preferred wine, no matter what the hour. She’d never seen him so excited about a pot of tea.
“Good gracious—it is, isn’t it? This is tea!”
Joseph Cabot Lodge looked away uncomfortably and coughed into his handkerchief. Franklin turned to Willow. “Tea!”
Willow shrugged. What was the big deal?
“You don’t understand. This isn’t that foul Labrador stuff, or raspberry tea, or root tea. It’s honest-to-goodness Camellia sinensis—Cathay tea! No one’s seen a leaf of real tea for almost two years. Where on earth did you get it?” Franklin asked.
Lodge coughed again. “I—I really couldn’t say.”
Franklin poured some of the tea into a test tube from his bag, adding to it an unmarked chemical he’d brought with him. He shook the test tube and watched the brown tea turn yellowish-orange.
“Is . . . is there something wrong with the tea?” Lodge asked.
“Yes,” Franklin said. He frowned. “But I’m not sure what. This bears further investigation.” Franklin took another sample and put it in his bag before checking his pocket watch. “We have to go. I’m sorry. We have an important meeting with the governor. I’ll try to come back when I have more answers.”
“But—but what do we do in the meantime?” Lodge asked.
The Dowager Cabot lay in her bed, gasping for air like a fish on the dock.
“Well, I should think she would like an aquarium most of all,” Franklin said. “But a warm bath will do.” He stopped at the door. “Oh. And no more tea.”
* * *
The Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Thomas Hutchinson, was a small, thin man with a big nose and pouty lips. Unlike the people Willow had seen on the streets, Hutchinson’s brown coat and embroidered vest looked fresh from the tailors, and he had not given up on wearing a curly white wig over his own hair, as was fashionable in Angland. Or had been the last time anyone had heard from Angland. Most everyone else had given up wearing the things.
Hutchinson stood at the window of his office, hands clasped behind his back, watching snow slowly cover the brown grass of the courtyard outside. He raised a hand without turning around.
“Before you launch into one of your damnable platitudes, Dr. Franklin, the answer is no,” he said.
“Ah, good,” said Franklin, “for I was about to ask if you agree that we are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. It comes easily then?”
Hutchinson plucked a handbill from his desk and thrust it at where Dr. Franklin sat. Willow recognized it at once: it was one of their JOIN, or DIE posters.
“Unification is out of the question,” Hutchinson said. “The King gave separate and distinct provincial charters to each of the colonies, and separate and distinct we shall remain.”
“What king?” Franklin asked. “It is nigh on three years since we last heard from our king, or any other. For all we know there’s a King George the Fourth now.”
“Don’t be blasphemous,” Hutchinson said.
“Damn it, Thomas, look about you,” Franklin said. “We are dying, all of us, while you governors wait and hope for rescue from across the seas. Rescue that is not coming. He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”
“Yes, yes, yes. I’ve read Poor Richard’s Almanac, Dr. Franklin.”
“Then you know that you may delay, but time will not,” Franklin said, quoting himself again, as he often did. “We must act, and we must act quickly. United we stand, divided we fall.”
“Another of your famous quips?” Hutchinson asked.
“Not mine, no. John Dickinson’s. But I agree with it desperately. Governor, it is time to face facts: for whatever reason, we have been abandoned.”
“But we have not been abandoned,” Hutchinson said, a smug grin on his pouty lips. “In fact, a ship has arrived this week from Angland.”
For the first time since Willow had been apprenticed to Dr. Franklin, he was speechless.
“I—but—what?” he stammered. “A ship? Here, in Boston? After all these years? Over the impassable Atlantis Ocean?”
“The 90-ton brig Dartmouth. Straight from Southampton.”
Franklin was clearly astonished. He leaned forward anxiously. “What news from Angland then? Where have they been? What Darkness befell them? Why has the moon turned red? How did they navigate the seas where no other ship has survived?”
Hutchinson’s smile faded. “Yes, well, we’re still not sure about all that. The captain wasn’t in much condition to tell us.”
“What of his crew then?”
“There was no other crew.”
Franklin settled back into his chair, slumping over his rotund belly. “So. Let me understand. A lone ship, three years late, crewed by a single man who is unable to explain anything about the strange changes to our physical world, or the disappearance of the Europan powers. And this is your evidence that we have not been abandoned?”
Hutchinson scowled. “It is the first of many,” he argued. “It is the restoration of contact. Of trade. Franklin, the thing is packed to the weather deck with tea. Real tea!”
Dr. Franklin perked up again. “Is that so? Real tea, you say?” He and Willow shared a glance.
“It’s under quarantine now, at anchor out in the harbor,” Hutchinson told them. “Just a precautionary measure until we get one or two things straightened out.”
“Not so good a quarantine as you might think,” Franklin muttered.
A Mark II Machine Man by the name of Mr. Bezel brought them tea on a sterling silver tea service. The aroma was unmistakable, now that Franklin had pointed it out to Willow in the Dowager Cabot’s rooms. For the second time that day, they were being served real Cathay tea—tea which hadn’t been seen in Boston for more than two years.
“Or perhaps you do know how poor your quarantine is,” Franklin said.
“The perquisites of the office,” Hutchinson said. “But there’s plenty enough to share. Soon I will have the pleasure of announcing to the Colonies that Angland has not abandoned us after all, and as proof the Dartmouth’s cargo will be unloaded and sold, and once again there will be real Cathay tea in every teapot in Boston.”
Mr. Bezel began pouring tea.
“I think Miss Dent and I will pass,” Franklin said. “And I suggest you do to, Governor.”
Hutchinson laughed. “Nonsense! Have a cup. My treat.” He took a sip from a steaming silver cup, closed his eyes, and sighed.
Despite Dr. Franklin’s protestations, Mr. Bezel poured cups for them too. As he tipped the silver teapot, Willow caught sight of an odd mark on the bottom. She lunged for the teapot and turned it over, spilling tea all over the table and the floor.
“Great Zeus, girl!” Hutchinson cried. “I said you could have a cup! There was no call for all that. Now look what you’ve done—that tea was worth a small fortune!”
“I’m so dreadfully sorry, Your Excellency,” Willow said. Which of course she wasn’t. She’d gotten what she wanted before Mr. Bezel had taken the teapot away: a glimpse of the silvermaker’s mark.
“I do apologize,” Franklin said, though he actually looked amused. “I’m afraid my apprentice has become incredibly clumsy of late. I just don’t know what to do with her.”
“You can take her with you when you leave,” Hutchinson said. All his pretense at sharing a happy cup of tea with Dr. Franklin and Franklin’s young apprentice was gone. He wadded up the JOIN, or DIE handbill and threw it into the fire. “And no more of this seditious nonsense, or Poor Richard will be writing his next almanac from the Boston Gaol.”
Dr. Franklin stood, with effort. His gout was worse in the winter. “Thank you for the tea, governor,” he said. “And for your sake, I hope the gods save the King.”
* * *
“All mankind is divided into three classes, Miss Dent,” Franklin said as they crunched through the snow. “Those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move. Governor Hutchinson is among the former. He will not be moved, no matter what the evidence is before him. He stands against unification because he fears Angland’s ire should they return one day and find us independent. But he is a fool to worry about the opinions of a nation that for all intents and purposes has disappeared from the face of the earth.”
“Except for the Dartmouth,” Willow said.
“Yes. Except for the Dartmouth, with its 90 tons of tea. Tea that is undoubtedly the cause of the Dowager Cabot’s strange affliction. It was a piece of quick thinking for you to overturn that teapot, though I fear protecting Governor Hutchinson’s health will do nothing to further our cause.”
Willow hadn’t upended the teapot in an effort to protect the governor or anyone else, but she didn’t disabuse Dr. Franklin of the idea.
“Shall I call a steam carriage, sir?” Mr. Rivets asked.
“No. We’re close enough to where I want to go,” Franklin said.
“Which is where?” Willow asked.
Dr. Franklin nodded. “If you’ll forgive the pun, there is something fishy about that ship. We need to find out if the Dowager Cabot’s tea came from that ship, and if that ship really did come from Angland.”
“But Hutchinson said it was under quarantine in Boston Harbor.”
“We don’t need to board it, Miss Dent. If you want to know anything about a ship, you talk to its captain. And if you want to find a captain when he is not aboard his ship, you go to the tavern very nearest the docks.”
Boston’s docks, once the bustling hub of New Angland’s commerce and industry, had been all but abandoned in the few years since the Darkness had fallen. When the seas became impassable all shipping had ceased, and when all shipping had ceased the fish markets, hotels, warehouses, and counting houses had shut down. The only people to remain were those too loyal to the sea or too poor to leave.
Franklin gave a few shillings to a begging child not much younger than Willow, and gave his beaver skin hat to another.
“We cannot stay our present course,” Franklin said. “We must come together with the Indians. Restore communication. Travel. Trade. We must look within for help, not without.”
“‘The gods help those who help themselves,’” Willow said, quoting Franklin’s almanac.
Dr. Franklin smiled. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Willow took a JOIN, or DIE handbill from her satchel and tacked it to a wooden wall.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Willoughby,” Mr. Rivets said, “but Governor Hutchinson expressly forbade the posting of handbills calling for unification, under penalty of imprisonment.”
Willow looked to Dr. Franklin.
“I think you can fit another over there,” he told her.
* * *
The Bunch-of-Grapes tavern stood at the head of Long Wharf, once the first destination for every sailor with a few shillings in his pocket. Two brass clusters of grapes, the tavern’s only sign, hung over the door.
Inside was dark and smoky, and smelled of beer, vomit, and tobacco smoke. A few people sat at the tavern’s rickety old wooden tables, each alone and bent forlornly over a glass or mug. It was a dismal, dreary place.
Dr. Franklin left Willow by the door with Mr. Rivets while he went to speak to the barmaid. Willow spent her time studying the scrimshaw and harpoons hung on the walls of the old whaler’s haunt.
The barmaid giggled loudly at some witticism of Dr. Franklin’s, and he returned to Willow with a tankard of wine for himself and a mug of hot apple cider for her.
“We have come to the right place,” Franklin told her. “A man claiming to be Captain Obed Marsh of the Dartmouth, recently of Southampton, Angland, took a room here at the tavern earlier this week, where he has spent every moment of his time in the happy embrace of wine and, shall we say, women of easy virtue. My new friend Henrietta has given me his room number, and tells me the good captain has not left his room all week.”
Dr. Franklin sent a wink at the giggling barmaid. When they had finished their drinks, Dr. Franklin, Willow, and Mr. Rivets climbed the stairs to Captain Marsh’s room.
Dr. Franklin knocked loudly and called Captain Marsh’s name, but there was no answer. He put his hand to the door knob and paused.
“What you are about to see may be shocking, Miss Dent,” Franklin said. “A man who has been long at sea and is now on terra firma with money in his pocket tends to be . . . more indulgent than most. You may wish to avert your eyes.”
Willow did not avert her eyes as Dr. Franklin opened the door. As promised, the room looked as though it had seen a solid week of partying. Chairs were overturned, empty bottles congregated in the corners, and women’s petticoats hung from the gas chandelier. But there was no Captain Marsh.
Willow put her nose in her elbow again. “Ugh! It smells like mackerel in here!”
“Yes,” Dr. Franklin said. “Just like in Mrs. Cabot’s rooms.”
Something thunked and sloshed in the next room, and Franklin and Willow froze. There was someone in the bathroom.
“Captain Marsh?” Franklin called through the closed door. “Captain Marsh, I am Dr. Benjamin Franklin. I’ve come to ask you about the Dartmouth, and your fantastic voyage across the Atlantis.”
“Captain Marsh?” Franklin called again.
Dr. Franklin peeked inside. Whatever it was he saw made him stagger back, a look of terror on his face. “I don’t—it can’t—” he stammered.
Willow kicked the door open.
“No! Don’t! You shouldn’t—” Dr. Franklin tried to tell her, but it was too late. Willow had seen Captain Obed Marsh. Or what she took to be Captain Obed Marsh. It was hard to tell.
Staring back at them from the bath tub with its big, round eyes and gaping mouth was a fish-man.
* * *
The fish-man sloshed in the half-full bath tub, his webbed feet and arms dangling from the sides. He was gray-skinned, with dark black squiggles like Willow had seen on the Dowager Cabot. But where the dowager still looked more like a woman than a fish, Captain Marsh was more fish than man. His wide, lipless mouth stretched from ear to ear, and a dorsal fin ran from the back of his head down under the collar of the black pea coat he still wore.
“Aggle glaggle,” he burbled, as though he were trying to speak.
Willow pushed Franklin back into the room and slammed the bathroom door shut. “We have to get out of here! Now!” she told Franklin, but he stood staring at the door, still seeing the thing in the bathtub and unable to process it.
Crish! Crash! A webbed hand smashed through the bathroom door, splintering it. Captain Marsh’s hideous fish-face appeared in the hole he’d punched. “Glaggle. Blubble,” he burbled.
“It’s not—it’s not possible,” Franklin whispered.
Crunch. Captain Marsh stepped through the closed door, ripping the two-inch hardwood to pieces like it was paper. Willow grabbed an overturned chair and held it legs out, keeping the fish-man at bay.
“The harpoon!” Willow cried. “Downstairs! In the tavern! Get it!”
Willow heard the tinkle of empty bottles and shot a quick look over her shoulder. Dr. Franklin had backed into a corner of the room, scared witless. He was going to be useless in stopping Captain Marsh.
Willow jabbed at the fish-man with the chair as she ran through the room’s meager inventory, searching for some kind of weapon to use. She could break a bottle, use that as a kind of blade, but that would mean getting in close. The bed, the mattress, the petticoats, all useless. Dr. Franklin’s cane might do for a poker in a pinch.
Marsh slurched closer to Dr. Franklin, and Willow broke the chair over the fish-man’s head in desperation—crunch!
“Glurgggg!” Marsh roared. He spun and backhanded her, knocking Willow across the room. She thudded to a stop against the door frame, her right arm pounding and her back bruised and sore. Worse, the fish-man didn’t appear injured at all. He turned and slurched toward Dr. Franklin, still frozen in the corner. Marsh would be on Franklin in moments, and there was nothing Willow could do to stop him.
“A harpoon from the tavern downstairs as requested, miss.”
It was Mr. Rivets! The machine man stood in the doorway behind her, holding one of the harpoons that had been on display in the bar. Willow hopped up and snatched the weapon from him. There wasn’t even time to run across the room and spear Marsh with it. Willow reared back, took aim, and hurled the harpoon.
Schlunk! The harpoon buried in Captain Marsh’s side, and he gurgled a scream. The fish-man spun in panic, burbling and thrashing in rage, and crashed through the big casement windows. Willow followed in time to watch him fall into the cold gray harbor below.
“I am sorry I was unable to help further in the fight against the former Captain Marsh,” Mr. Rivets said. “My Protector card is back in our rooms on Hanover Street.” The Mark IIs used replaceable talent cards, and Mr. Rivets currently had his Explorer card in.
“You did great, Mr. Rivets,” Willow told him. “You’re the best.” She shivered in the window, but whether it was the cold blast of December air off the harbor or what she had just sent into its depths that made her shake, she couldn’t say. Mr. Rivets draped her with a blanket from the bed and pulled her away from the window.
“Dr. Franklin, are you injured?” Mr. Rivets asked.
Franklin still stood in the corner, his eyes almost as big around as the fish-man’s.
“Dr. Franklin? Are you all right?” Willow asked.
Franklin slowly came back to his senses. “I—yes. Thank you both. I’m all right. Physically, at least. Mentally, I fear I may never quite recover from what I have just seen. Is it . . . is it dead?”
“Maybe,” Willow said. “It was just a Manglespawn. They can be killed.”
“Just a . . . what did you call it?” Franklin asked.
“Manglespawn. Part human, part Mangleborn,” Willow explained.
“In this case in particular,” Mr. Rivets said, “an Ikthyo sapiens.”
Dr. Franklin looked between the two of them like he didn’t know who they were. And in some ways, thought Willow, he was right.
“Come downstairs,” Willow told him. “I think we’d better explain.”
* * *
“It’s no accident I was placed with you as an apprentice,” Willow said once Franklin had downed an entire tankard of wine and called for another.
“Yes. To learn the printing trade,” Dr. Franklin said.
“No,” Willow said. “So I could keep an eye on you. My parents and my brothers and sisters and I are all members of the Septemberist Society, a secret organization dedicated to fighting things like that fish-man.”
“That’s preposterous,” Franklin said. “There are no other things in the world like that fish-man.” He looked between Willow and Mr. Rivets again. “Are there?”
“Lots more,” Willow said. “The big ones, the ones you can’t kill, that have been around for as long as there’ve been people, maybe even longer, they’re called Mangleborn. I’ve never seen one. Almost nobody has. They mostly sleep, underground or deep in the ocean.”
Dr. Franklin took a very long, very deep drink from his tankard of wine and dragged his sleeve across his mouth.
“Why me?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” Willow asked.
“You said you became my apprentice to keep an eye on me. Why?”
“Because the Mangleborn feed on lektricity,” Willow said. “That’s what wakes them up. That’s why Rome fell. And Atlantis before them. And Lemuria before them. They discovered lektricity and covered the world with it, and the Mangleborn woke up. Each time, a team of seven heroes defeated them and put the Mangleborn back to sleep in prisons, but civilization got destroyed in the process. It kept happening over and over again, until the Septemberist Society came along. Part of our mission is to watch the Mangleborn, and stop their Manglespawn. The other part is making sure the world never rediscovers lektricity.”
She could see Dr. Franklin was beginning to understand. “My experiments! My lektrical experiments! Every time I thought I was close to some breakthrough, something always happened! The strings of my kites snapping during storms. My Leiden jars cracked. My generators, my capacitors, my batteries! That—that was you? And the tea! You destroyed my lightning rod blueprints just this morning!”
Willow grimaced. “I’m sorry. I hated to see you so hurt by your failures, but I couldn’t let you learn anything new about lektricity. It’s important!”
“Good heavens, child. Why not just tell me?”
“Would you have believed it?” Willow asked.
What little color left in Dr. Franklin’s face drained away. “No. No, I wouldn’t have. And I still can’t. And you, Mr. Rivets, you seem to know an awful lot about all this. Are you a spy for this Septemberist Society too?”
“I’m afraid I couldn’t say, sir,” Mr. Rivets said, which was machine man speak for “My programming won’t allow me to lie, but I’ve been ordered not to say anything.”
“I need another drink,” Dr. Franklin said.
“No, not now,” Willow told him. “We have to get in touch with Boston’s Septemberists. If the tea on that ship is turning people into fish monsters, we have to take care of it before Hutchinson lifts the quarantine.”
“Good heavens,” Franklin said. “Yes. Yes, of course. You’re right. You say there are other Septemberists in Boston?”
“There’s at least one,” Willow said.
“I don’t know,” Willow said. “But I should be able to find them. I just need to figure out who made Governor Hutchinson’s tea service.”
* * *
The sign for PAUL REVERE & SON, SILVERSMITHS bore the same logo that had caught Willow’s eye on the bottom of Governor Hutchinson’s silver teapot: a pyramid eye surrounded by a seven-pointed star.
The symbol of the Septemberist Society.
It took some doing, but Willow finally convinced one of the apprentices that she needed to speak to Mr. Revere himself, in private, by saying it was the famous Dr. Benjamin Franklin who wanted to see him. Franklin, uncharacteristically, hadn’t said a word since they’d left the Bunch-of-Grapes tavern at Long Wharf. He seemed ready and willing to defer to Willow completely and absolutely as far as fish-men went.
“Dr. Franklin!” Paul Revere said, shaking his hand. “What an honor! Come to my office, please.”
Revere was a short, stout, middle-aged man, with dark hair, a wide face, and thick, calloused hands. He wore a simple white shirt with puffy sleeves, and a simple blue vest, in the Colonial fashion.
“What can I do for the great Dr. Franklin?” Revere asked. “Are you looking to have some custom scientific equipment built?”
“Thirty days hath September,” Willow said.
Revere looked taken aback, but he quickly recovered. “Seven heroes we remember,” he responded. It was the secret passphrase of the Septemberist Society.
Willow quickly filled Revere in. When she was finished, the silversmith sat at his desk and shook his head. “After all this time, a ship—but a ship full of danger. I’m . . . I’m astounded.”
“No more so than I,” Dr. Franklin said, speaking up at last.
“Yes, I can imagine,” Revere said. “I’m dreadful sorry you were dragged into this, Dr. Franklin, particularly at your age.”
“Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late,” Franklin said. “So all this Mangleborn business is true then?”
“I’m sorry to say that it is,” Revere said. “We’ve had a fair bit of work to do here in Massachusetts over the years too. There was a big job of it in Salem a hundred years ago, so I gather.”
“The witch trials?” Dr. Franklin said. “But that was mass hysteria, surely.”
“Not to read the Septemberists’ accounts of it,” Revere said darkly. “But we have business of our own. We’ve got to get to the Dartmouth and toss this tea overboard.”
“We’ll need help. Hutchinson said there’s 90 tons of the stuff.”
“I still have some Sons of Liberty contacts I can call in,” Revere said.
Revere smiled and nodded. “Fighting for the self-same cause you were, Dr. Franklin—independence from Angland. Until the Darkness fell in ’70 and gave us something else to worry about.”
“Indeed,” said Franklin. “Love your secret societies, do you?”
“I love liberty,” Revere said seriously.
Franklin nodded appreciatively.
“We still need a way to get to the ship,” Willow said. “It’s under quarantine, at anchor in Boston harbor. An airship?”
Franklin shook his head. “Not with the Dartmouth under the protection of the raycannons at Castle William. They would see us, even under cover of night, and think us pirates. We would be blasted from the sky.”
“Then how?” Willow asked. “A longboat would capsize on the waves.”
“Well,” said Revere. “I suppose there’s always the submarine.”
Franklin perked up. “The submarine?”
* * *
Paul Revere’s submarine was hidden in a textile warehouse on Battery Wharf. He pulled the painter’s cloth that covered it off with something of a flourish, made all the more dramatic by the clouds of dust that poofed and swirled around him. The submersible was perhaps fifty feet long and shaped like a fish, with five tiny glass portholes at its nose and a propellor like an airship at the back. It was made of polished cherry wood and brass, and had fins running along its sides, belly, and back. Dr. Franklin ran his hand down it in delight.
“It’s marvelous!” he said. “An amazing feat of engineering!”
“We were building it to fight British ships,” Revere said. “To attack their blockade of Boston Harbor.”
“Were?” Willow asked.
“We never finished it,” Revere said. “We thought it was going to come to war, and then the Darkness fell, and it didn’t matter any more. The rough seas took care of the blockade, and everything else. No point in finishing it.”
“Yes,” Franklin said. “Yes—this will be perfect!”
“If it were finished it would be,” Revere said. “But that will take days. Weeks. Hutchinson will release the Dartmouth’s tea long before then.”
“Then we shall have to step up our production schedule,” Franklin said. “And I know just the people to help.”
The Sons of Liberty who heeded Revere’s call were hard at work trying to pick up where they had left off on the submarine almost three years ago when Franklin returned with his promised help: Joseph Brant and a handful of Mohawk engineers.
All work on the submarine stopped, and the Yankees stared at the Mohawks. A wrench clattered to the ground in the silence, but nobody moved.
“We don’t need the help of any redskin,” someone on top of the submarine said.
“Very good,” Joseph Brant said coldly. “Then we will take our leave.”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Dr. Franklin cried, hurrying out between the two parties. “We do need their help. We cannot finish the submersible on our own in time to prevent Governor Hutchinson from releasing that tea. These Mohawk are among the New World’s finest metal workers—dare I say, among the world’s finest. For as far as we know, we are all that is left of the world.”
Franklin’s cold reminder that the Yankees were alone and defenseless chilled the Sons of Liberty and buoyed the Mohawk engineers.
“It is clear how we can help you, Dr. Franklin,” Brant said. “But I still fail to see how this helps us.”
“I have told you already of the horrors we saw, young Miss Dent and I, and of the menace it represents should the Dartmouth’s cargo be released to Boston. A menace that will not be contained to New Angland. Many Yankees and Indians will die, either through hideous transformation, or at the hands of one of these monsters.”
Franklin circled the room now, his audience transfixed.
“Hutchinson told me today this ship was the first of many to come to us from Europa, and I laughed, for I truly believe the land of my father’s father is lost to us. But I put it to you now: what if he is right?”
Willow had never thought of it that way. She had always worried that ships from Angland and Francia and Spain wouldn’t return, not worried that they would. From the frowns on their faces, she could see many of the Mohawk and the Yankees were thinking the same thing.
“Europa has fallen,” Franklin said. “Darkness has fallen. I know not how, or why. Some of the tribes call it the end of the Fourth World. Others call it the beginning of the Ghost Dance. But what we can all agree on is that something bad, something evil, has happened elsewhere in the world. If it comes for us next—if this ship is but a harbinger of more darkness to come—it may swallow us all, the way it has swallowed the Old World. But I tell you that we are stronger if we stand together. Only together—Yankees and Iroquois, Powhatan and Shawnee, Cherokee and Muskogee—can we beat the Darkness back from our shores.”
Franklin’s words lingered for long moments in the cold, dark warehouse, and then the Mohawk engineers took up their tools and climbed into the scaffolding around the submarine, and the Yankees made room for them.
Dr. Franklin slumped, his old man’s energy expended, and Joseph Brant and Paul Revere were there to hold him up.
“Well said, Dr. Franklin,” Revere told him.
“That is what I do:” Franklin said, “I say things well. Now it is up to all of you to do what you do well, and make this submersible operational by tomorrow.”
Brant looked at the submarine skeptically. “Does this infernal contraption have a name?”
Revere nodded. “We were thinking about calling it America.”
* * *
Though hastily finished, the America was seaworthy by the following night. There was room for only ten of them inside: Dr. Franklin, Willow, Mr. Rivets, Joseph Brant, Paul Revere, two more Sons of Liberty, and three more Mohawks. Dr. Franklin sat beside Revere at the controls of the submarine, while the rest of them squatted on two cramped, short benches on either side of the cigar-shaped craft, huddled against the sharply curved sides. The Yankees and Mohawks had become such good friends in the long hours working together to finish the submarine that they had swapped headgear. The Mohawks now wore tricorner hats, and the Yankees wore feathers in their hair. Even Mr. Rivets had a feather.
They all carried tomahawks. They had many, many boxes of tea to destroy.
“How smoothly she handles!” Franklin marveled. “What an admirable mode of navigation!”
Willow didn’t think the submarine was particularly smooth or admirable. The ship rocked nauseatingly, the steam engine at the rear thundered loud enough to wake all of Boston, and she was sure they would all suffocate or drown. Or both. The Mohawks seemed to be having the worst time of it. One of them held his mouth like he was about to throw up, and Joseph Brant looked positively green.
But smooth was relative, and Willow knew what Dr. Franklin meant. When the Darkness had fallen, the Atlantis Ocean had become impassable. The waves had risen, the waters had churned, the wind had become unpredictable and aggressive. No sailing ship, large or small, could survive on it for long. But here, underneath the roiling surface, they had crossed almost the entire harbor in safety.
“This is how we shall reestablish intracoastal commerce!” Franklin cried. “Sea travel need not be lost to us! I daresay with a little effort we could begin to fish again too, hunting the creatures here in their element. I must tell the community leaders in Boston, New Rome, Philadelphia, Charles Town . . .”
“Worry about that later,” Revere said. It was taking all his energy and all his attention to pilot the craft. “We’re here.”
Willow looked out one of the tiny portholes. Barnacle-covered wood bobbed in the water just beyond their hull. The America thumped and screeched as Revere brought her up alongside, and Willow winced, waiting for the sound of Castle William’s cannons. Surely they had to have heard or seen them.
“Make fast the moorings,” Revere said. He stayed at the controls of the submarine, trying to hold it in position, as some of the men clambered out the hatch at the top of the ship. Soon the thumping and grating settled into a slow, steady bumping, and the America was attached to the Dartmouth like a remora to a sperm whale.
“Any alarm from Castle William?” Brant asked.
One of the mooring crew shook his head. “All quiet.”
“Which we should be,” Franklin whispered. There were nods all round, and they filed up through the hatch.
It was dark outside, but the bright red moon and low cloud cover made the sky glow crimson. The Dartmouth sat low in the water, a small, two-masted sailing ship with yellow-painted sides. Her sails had been taken in, and the creaking rigging looked like black spider webs against the red sky.
“How does she not capsize?” one of the Sons of Liberty asked when they were all aboard. Willow hadn’t thought about that, but it was good question. Boston Harbor was less choppy than the open sea, but since the Darkness fell no ship could even sit at anchor in it without being tossed about. Yet the Dartmouth sat almost completely still in the water.
“It is yet another mystery of this impossible ship,” Franklin said. “But not one we have time to investigate. We must begin immediately. We have much work to do, and stealthily.”
Every man, woman, girl, and Tik-Tok among them looked south at the dark silhouette of Castle William, sitting high atop Castle Island, its raycannons pointed in their direction. No one needed to say what they were all thinking: should they be discovered, Castle William could blast them out of the water.
Revere signaled the raiders, and they followed him down a short ladder to the gun deck, which was filled not with guns but with tea crates. They were small wooden boxes about twenty inches in height and depth, each emblazoned with the heart-shaped mark of the East India Company. The whole party stood staring at them in the lantern light until Paul Revere stepped up and cracked one open with his tomahawk. Brown tea leaves spilled out onto the deck.
“All that precious tea, gone to waste,” said one of the Sons of Liberty.
“I assure you, it is not precious at all, but exceeding dangerous,” said Franklin. “There is something in this tea that would make monsters of us all. Each crate-full must be tossed into the harbor, but opened first so that its contents well and properly drown. There can be nothing recovered from our adventure here tonight.”
Joseph Brant nodded and swung his tomahawk.
Choonk. The deck rocked beneath their feet as Brant’s hatchet smashed open another crate. Brant staggered as he tried to steady himself.
“What in the name of Hiawatha?” he said.
Choonk. The ship rocked again, and Willow had to grab hold of a hammock to keep from falling over.
“Castle William?” one of the Sons of Liberty asked. “Are they firing on us?”
“If they were firing on us, we’d be dead,” someone else said.
Choonk. Shoonk. They all staggered again as the floor tilted.
“No,” Franklin said. “It’s something on board the ship. Something moving below.”
The raiders shared frightened looks—what could possibly be down in the Dartmouth’s hold?
“Captain Marsh?” Franklin asked Willow.
Willow shrugged. It could be.
Two of the Mohawks led the way down to the orlop deck, and then down the stairs into the hold. Willow held her breath, jumping at every little creak and thump and moan of the ship. Why hadn’t they thought to bring any aether muskets?
Something splashed, and they all froze.
“It’s filled with water,” one of the Mohawks said. He held his lantern low. The stairs to the hold descended into black water. Watertight tea chests crowded the top of it as far as they could see.
Slush. Something thrashed in the water beyond their lantern light. Choonk. It thumped against the hull of the ship, and they were thrown again. One of the Sons of Liberty toppled into the water with a scream and disappeared with a splash.
“Bradlee!” Revere cried.
A Mohawk woman and another of the Sons of Liberty jumped in after him, sinking up to their shoulders. Bradlee came up near them, spluttering, and they grabbed him.
“I’m all right,” he said, coughing. “I’m—”
Bradlee’s head jerked back underwater, like something had yanked him down. He slipped from the grasp of his friends, and they searched the dark water with their hands, trying to find him again.
The Mohawk woman jumped back.
“I felt something. Something against my leg,” she said. “Something big.”
Franklin took a shaky step back up the stairs, his eyes still fixed on the surface of the water. “Marsh,” he whispered.
But it wasn’t Marsh. The black water exploded, and the head of a giant sea serpent rose above them out of the tea chests, Bradlee’s lifeless legs sticking out of its mouth. It gulped down the rest of Bradlee and hissed at them, its round black eyes flashing in the lantern light, and everyone was screaming, crying out, trying to get away. The Mohawk woman and the Son of Liberty in the water lurched desperately for the stairs, but the sea serpent began to glow bluish-green in the darkness of the hold, and lightning crackled across its skin.
Blue tendrils of lightning shot through the water, and the Mohawk woman and the Son of Liberty jerked and screamed. Brant moved to grab them and pull them out, but Dr. Franklin pulled him back.
“No! No, it’s lektricity! You’ll be killed!” he cried. “Run! We must all of us run!”
Nobody had to be told twice. The mad scramble up the stairs didn’t end on the orlop deck, or the gun deck. No one stopped until they were on the weather deck, clustered around the main-mast at the center of the ship. One of the Mohawks was visibly shaking. Paul Revere threw up over the side. Dr. Franklin staggered to a barrel and half-sat, half-collapsed onto it.
“What—what in the name of Hiawatha was that?” Brant asked, still panting.
“It appeared to be some sort of lektrical sea monster,” Franklin said. He looked to Willow. “One of your Mangleborn?”
“We better hope not,” Willow said. “Or else we won’t be able to kill it.”
* * *
“Kill it?” Brant said. “You can’t think any of us would go back down there.”
“We have to kill it!” Willow said.
“Then let us hang our lanterns in the rigging and have Castle William blow that thing and this entire cursed ship to pieces!” Brant said.
“They won’t do it,” Franklin said. “They won’t shoot, because they already know. ‘A precautionary measure until we get one or two things straightened out.’” Franklin laughed bitterly. “That’s what Hutchinson told us, remember? That thing down there is why they’re not unloading the cargo. Not some ‘quarantine.’ They know, and they haven’t figured out how to kill it yet without damaging the tea.”
“You Yankees and your damned tea,” Brant said.
“It’s more than just tea to Hutchinson,” Franklin said. “It’s a symbol. One meant to convince all of Massachusetts—all of the colonies—that Angland survives and will come for us yet. It is a symbol he will do everything in his power to preserve.”
Choonk. The ship rocked again, and they looked at each other warily. They had to destroy all the tea on the Dartmouth. But how?
“If we go back down there,” Brant said, “that creature will kill us with lightning, just as it did to Kateri and Williams.”
“No,” Dr. Franklin said. “No! I know how to keep us from becoming lektricuted! We must divert the lektricity with a lightning rod! But no—there’s nothing to ground it at sea. A battery! We must construct a battery!”
“Dr. Franklin,” Willow warned.
He waved her concerns away. “I know, I know. Your Septemberist Society would have me forget everything I know about lektricity. But in this case, it may just save our lives! We will need as many barrels as you can find, filled with seawater. A great length of chain, copper, zinc—and Miss Dent, if you could find two harpoons.”
Franklin’s battery gave everyone something to focus on besides their fear, and soon they had constructed one to his specifications on the orlop deck. Seven barrels of seawater stood side by side, connected by a series of short chains.
“And this will catch the lightning somehow?” Revere asked.
“Yes, it should,” Dr. Franklin said. “If only I can find another lektrode.”
They had been unable to find zinc, as Dr. Franklin had wanted, nor any silver or gold or aluminum. And he assured them more copper would be of no help. There was iron aplenty on the ship, but he dismissed it as not useful.
“I have silver by the ingot in my workshop,” Revere said. “If only I had known.”
“Had we known there was a lektric monster to defeat, we should have brought rayguns,” Brant said.
Franklin ignored them. “What we need is a better conductor than iron.” He cast about desperately.
“Would a large quantity of brass suffice, Dr. Franklin?” Mr. Rivets asked.
“It would do better than iron, yes,” Franklin said. “But where in the world am I to find a large quantity of brass aboard the Dartmouth?”
Mr. Rivets’ irony subroutine raised one of his eyebrows. “With all due respect, sir, the answer is as plain as the nose on my face. And the rest of my parts as well.”
“Of course!” Franklin cried. “Mr. Rivets—you’re brass!”
“Just so, sir.”
“You’re brass,” Franklin said, like the word was some kind of slang for ‘wonderful.’ “Brass. That’s brass.” Franklin dunked one of Mr. Rivets hands into a saltwater barrel, and put an iron chain in his other hand. “Now, stand just like that. The lektricity shouldn’t affect your clockworks one bit, although there may be a some minor scoring.”
“Now what do we do?” Brant asked.
“Now, Miss Dent harpoons that thing in the hold.”
“The girl?” Revere said. “Surely one of us should do that.”
“You and Brant and our two Mohawk friends will need to be ready with your tomahawks,” Franklin said. “For you will be doing something far more dangerous: wading into the water to attack the creature. Besides, I’ve learned that my apprentice is a fair hand with a harpoon.”
Willow smiled, even though she was scared. But this is what her parents had trained her for—to fight the Mangleborn and their Manglespawn. She was ready.
“Dagon,” one of the Mohawks said.
Brant frowned. “What’s that, Pannoowau?”
“Dagon. The glorious one’s name is Dagon,” Pannoowau said. There was a faraway look in his eyes. He turned and walked toward the stairs to the hold.
“Grab him!” Franklin cried.
Pannoowau barely struggled as they wrestled him away from the stairs.
“What’s come over him?” Brant asked. “Pannoowau! Pannoo, do you hear me?”
Franklin shone a lantern in Pannoowau’s eyes. The man didn’t blink. “He hears nothing but the call of that monster in the hold. Quick—lash him to the mast. He’ll be no use to us until we kill that thing.”
When they were finished, they were one less for their attack on the sea serpent.
“We must hurry,” Brant said. “Before that thing speaks to another of us.”
“Dagon. Dagon. Dagon,” Pannoowau muttered behind them as they went down the stairs. The hold was dark and cold. The ship rocked gently, bumping the floating tea chests together. There was no sign of Kateri, or Williams.
Franklin stumbled to the bottom of the stairs and picked up a half-chest of tea. He looked to the others, making sure they understood he meant to throw it. Brant, Revere, and Dekanawida raised their hatchets, their breath blowing quick and heavy in the cold air. Willow raised the first of the two harpoons Franklin had attached to the battery’s iron chains.
Chik-chunk. The tea chest clattered in among the rest, and everyone held their breaths. The water rose and fell, then settled back into stillness. Nothing. Willow slumped, her arm at last feeling the weight of the harpoon.
Franklin turned to them. “I suppose we shall have to do something else to—”
Raaaaa! Water and tea chests went flying as the sea serpent burst above water, orange frills unfurling like staysails around its scaly head. It hissed at Franklin, its spiked tongue waggling among its jagged teeth, and lunged for him.
“Franklin!” Brant cried, but Willow had her harpoon raised again, and she let it fly. Shunk! The harpoon speared the Manglespawn through the neck as it descended on Dr. Franklin, and it reared back in pain and roared. The sound was like a hog squealing in horror as it drowned.
Brant and Revere helped Franklin stagger back up the stairs, and Willow readied her second harpoon. She had the thrashing monster in her sights when Dekanawida’s terror overcame him and he ran, tripping on her chain and throwing off her aim. The harpoon crashed harmlessly among the swirling tea chests on the water.
Dagon hissed again, and began to glow blue. It was charging up for another lektrical strike. Willow hauled on the chain, dragging the harpoon back to her. Blue tendrils of lektricity began to jump from the sea serpent to the iron harpoon buried in its side.
“Dent! Hurry!” Franklin cried. “The lektrical charge!”
Willow was hardly taking her time with the chain, but it was heavy, and the harpoon kept snagging on tea chests. She dragged it from the water, still dripping, as the Manglespawn released its lektric charge.
Blue lektricity streamed from the harpoon in Dagon’s side, up the chain, and into Franklin’s battery on the orlop deck. Willow reared back. Took aim. Loosed the harpoon. Blue fingers of lektricity from the battery cascaded down the chain attached to it and—sha-kow!—Willow was blasted back into the hull just as she let it fly.
Shunk! The harpoon plunged into the side of the sea serpent as Willow slumped to the stairs. The last thing she heard before she passed out was the hideous roar of the monster and the lektrical buzz of Franklin’s battery sucking it dry.
Willow woke to the sound of chopping.
It was still night, she knew, because she was on the weather deck of the Dartmouth. Paul Revere and Pannoowau, the latter released from both Dagon’s spell and Franklin’s ropes, were busy cracking open tea chests with their tomahawks and dumping the crates over the side, into the harbor.
Willow got to her feet, still groggy. She remembered the monster screaming. The hot, sharp smell of something like bleach. Lektricity. She looked down at her arm, and in the faint red light of the moon she could see reddish-orange lines on her skin, spreading out like the roots of a plant. She put a hand to them. They didn’t hurt, but her arm was a little numb.
Mr. Rivets ticked up from below, hauling a net full of tea chests. At first she thought she was just seeing him in silhouette. Then Willow realized Mr. Rivets wasn’t brass-colored anymore.
“Mr. Rivets! You’re black!”
“Ah, you’re awake, Miss Willoughby,” Mr. Rivets said. He left the tea chests with Revere and Pannoowau and went to Willow’s side. “Yes, there was, as Dr. Franklin surmised, some minor scoring associated with acting as a conductor in his lektric battery.”
“Some?” Willow said. She rubbed at Mr. Rivets’ metal skin, but the black didn’t come off.
“I can always be refit or upgraded, miss,” Mr. Rivets said. “I am more concerned with your brush with lektricity. Any lingering effects besides your skin and hair?”
“My hair?” Willow pulled her hair around to look at it. “It’s white!” she cried.
“Yes, miss. I’m afraid it has something to do with the blast, or so I’m told.”
“Will it change back?” Willow asked.
“Dr. Franklin is unclear. At least you are otherwise unharmed.”
Well, not entirely unharmed. Willow felt sore all over as she stood, and taking the stairs back down to the hold with Mr. Rivets was more wearying than she liked to admit.
Franklin and Brant were a few steps down into the black water of the hold, dragging floating tea chests to them with harpoons. Willow flinched, worried the sea serpent would rise up over them any moment now, blue lektricity crackling over its body. Then she saw the thing’s head floating on its side in the water, right next to a piece of its tail, and another piece of its body. Chopped up pieces of the serpent bobbed among the remaining tea chests, its orange, viscous blood laying like oil all over the surface of the dark water.
“Miss Dent! You’re awake!” Franklin said when he spied her.
“It looks like your poster,” Willow said.
“Join, or die,” Willow said.
Franklin looked out at the severed pieces of the snake and laughed. “So it does! So it does. United it stood, divided it fell.”
“Revere and I went at it with our tomahawks,” Brant said. “I don’t understand it, but once you stuck it with both of those harpoons, Franklin’s battery swallowed its lightning.”
“Yes, well, perhaps we shouldn’t go into too much detail about the whys and wherefores,” Franklin said. “Or else Miss Dent and her secret society are liable to stick me with a harpoon.”
Willow helped them fish the last of the tea chests out of the hold, and Mr. Rivets hauled them up for Revere and Pannoowau to toss them into the bay. On the orlop deck, Franklin stopped to look at his battery again. Willow crossed her arms unhappily.
“I know, I know,” Franklin said. “You don’t like that I used my knowledge of lektricity to kill that monster. But you must admit, Miss Dent, sometimes it is helpful to fight fire with fire. But I do understand.” Franklin pushed over the barrels one by one, destroying his battery and releasing his charge. “Still, if this proves anything, it’s that we must understand lektricity to better control it.”
“You’ll have to take that up with the Septemberist Society,” Willow told him.
“Oh, I intend to,” said Dr. Franklin. “Right after I join.”
* * *
Willow stood with Dr. Franklin, Joseph Brant, Paul Revere, and Mr. Rivets on the end of Long Wharf as the sun rose orange in the sky over harbor. The America had returned them safely to shore and had been hidden away, and now they watched as a knot of Royal Navy airships hovered over the Dartmouth, their tow ropes fighting desperately to keep it from sinking into the bay.
“What happened? Why’s it sinking?” Willow asked.
“At a guess, I would say that whatever was keeping it from sinking in the rough waters of the Atlantis Ocean isn’t working anymore,” Dr. Franklin said.
“Or living anymore, you might say,” Brant added.
“Energy and persistence conquer all things,” Franklin said, quoting himself again, “although a harpoon may also prove useful.”
“The Dartmouth and its lone passenger will soon be committed to the sea,” Revere said, “and Hutchinson and his redcoats won’t be salvaging any tea from the wreckage. Not after our little tea party.”
An empty wooden tea chest bumped up against the pier, half buried among the clumps of brown tea leaves that littered the water and turned the bay brown.
“Though I saw that thing with my own eyes, I still can hardly credit it,” Brant said.
Franklin turned to Willow. “You have seen other things like this, haven’t you, Miss Dent?”
“Yes,” Willow said, still watching the airships try to save the Dartmouth.
Franklin nodded. “You were the only one of us not to panic. Not in the Bunch-of-Grapes, and not on the Dartmouth.”
“No one should ever have to see such things,” Revere said, looking green again. “Especially not the young.”
“Why does it matter how old I am?” Willow asked.
Franklin laughed. “Why indeed?” He looked at the scored machine man. “And you, Mr. Rivets? I take it you’ve seen such things before?”
“I’m afraid I couldn’t say, sir,” Mr. Rivets said.
“Ah,” Franklin said, understanding that Mr. Rivets had been ordered not to tell him the truth. “And do I take that response to mean that you belong to Miss Dent here after all?”
“Technically, no,” Willow told him. “Your name is on the ownership papers. But he and I are partners. We were sent to watch over you together.”
Franklin laughed again. “The smartest Yankee in the Colonies, and there are still so many secrets of the world unknown to me.”
Out on the harbor, the weight of the sinking Dartmouth pulled the airships lower and lower to the water, until they had to cut their lines or sink with it. The freed airships shot up into the sky, and the drowning ship burbled until it disappeared underwater for good. Willow caught herself breathing a sigh of relief even though the sea serpent was already dead, and saw the others visibly relax as well.
“If creatures like that can rise in the Old World, they can just as easily rise here,” Dr. Franklin said. “We must stand together.”
Brant nodded. “I will convince the Iroquois Confederacy.”
“And I and the Sons of Liberty the colonial governors,” said Revere. “Starting with Hutchinson.”
“You may not have to worry about convincing Governor Hutchinson,” Franklin said. “Not if he keeps drinking the tea he took from the Dartmouth.”
“Then we’ll convince his successor,” Revere said seriously. “Or overthrow them.”
“Join, or die,” Franklin said.
“Join, or die,” Brant said.
“Join, or die,” Revere said.
The three men put their hands together in unity, then parted ways.
Franklin lingered for a moment on the docks with Willow and Mr. Rivets.
“What now, Dr. Franklin?” Willow asked.
“I think that I shall now no longer require your services as my apprentice, Miss Dent,” Franklin said.
Willow was stunned, and hurt. After all they’d gone through together, was he so upset about being spied upon, about having his lektrical experiments foiled, that he never wanted to see her again?
“Oh,” she said. “I see. All right then.”
Dr. Franklin nodded. “Good. I’m glad you agree. It would hardly do for me to be your apprentice, when you were already mine.”
“My apprentice?” Willow said.
Franklin nodded. “And I should like to begin by having you teach me everything you know about the Mangleborn. Today. This very morning, in fact.”
Willow smiled. “Don’t you think we’ve earned a morning off, Dr. Franklin?”
Franklin put an arm around her shoulders and led her away. “As a wise man once said, Miss Dent, never leave till tomorrow that which you can do today.”
Alan Gratz © 2015