How I prayed just to get away
To carry me anywhere
He froze in shock for an instant, just enough time for a watch gear to click ahead by one tooth, to release and catch an escapement, and drive a second hand one mark forward around the circle. Owen held up the detonator he had just smashed. “No, it was someone else! I saved everyone!”
But the real Anarchist was long gone.
The Regulators took out long, black nightsticks and stalked toward him; Owen had never noticed them carrying sticks before. The crowd closed in on him, their eyes shining, energized by their worship of the Clockwork Angels and the colorful frenzy of the carnival, as well as the intoxicating fumes in the air.
Everything happened in a flash, although Owen felt enough fear to last him a lifetime. For a fleeting instant, he expected Tomio to arrive with his dashing sword and save him. Or would Tomio Francesca’s brotherbe among the foremost who wanted to tear him limb from limb?
As the mob came at him like predators, he decided against further explanations and dropped the detonator. He ran.
The Regulators shouted after him. Shrill whistles punctuated the square.
Above the growing, angry roar, Owen thought he could hear the Anarchist laughing.
In the confusion, Owen took advantage of the splashes of shadows in the night. Around the square, uniformed Regulators went on the alert, guarding all exits, standing shoulder to shoulder to prevent the fugitive’s escape. Groups of determined Blue Watch elbowed through the crowd as the mob pursued Owen on their own, wanting him punished.
And the Clockwork Angels looked down upon it all, no longer seeming benevolent; they were goddesses of vengeance now.
As people closed in, Owen knew he couldn’t get out to the open streets. He was cornered, trapped against the tall ministry buildings. Above him, strung across the stone façade of the Cathedral of the Timekeepers, was the bright fabric banner commemorating the solsticeand the dangling rope.
Thankful for his practice in the carnival, he seized the rope and scrambled up. Within moments, he had climbed halfway up the side of the building. He looked down at the angry faces of the shouting crowd; they raised their fists, cursed him, and began hurling stones, fruit, anything they could find. Owen ducked as rocks clacked against the stone blocks next to his head, and he continued to pull himself up the rope until he reached the banner, which gave him little protection. From there, he stepped onto a stone windowsill. He dug his fingers into cracks in the blocks, pulled himself along.
He had never entirely mastered his fear of heights, but now his fear of the crowd was much greater. He inched along, his toes wedged into cracks in the stone blocks, holding the fabric banner for balance, until he reached another windowsill. The thick cornerstones on the side of the building let him climb even higher, swinging up like an acrobat until he reached the rooftop. His heart beat furiously, pounding in his temples, and he felt a surge of adrenalin.
From the top of the Cathedral of the Timekeepers, he gazed down on Chronos Square and the crowd that hated him so much, so suddenly. From there, he could see the bright lights of the carnival, the tents, the game booths, the whirling rides, the high wire and trapezeand the tiny figure of Francesca looking up at him.
He stared at her across the open distance, sure that he could see her face, imagining that her eyes met his. He saw her mouth but could not hear her words, if she said anything at all.
Turning his back, he fled across the rooftop like a footpad in the night, slid down sloping tin shingles to a gutter, and inched his way along until he reached the far corner of the buildingand a dead end. This cathedral was connected to another rooftop by a set of newsgraph cables: thick, insulated black cords that appeared even more dangerous than the high wire Francesca walked. The shadowy street below looked like a deep, endless canyon.
Bells rang out like dissonant gongs from the Watchmaker’s clocktower, calling the city to arms. He could imagine the Angels themselves pointing accusatory hands in his direction. Owen had never heard such a clamor before. Uniformed Regulators flowed in from the streets and boulevards, the Red Watch, Blue Watch, even the elite Black Watch. All hunting him.
Owen stared at the newsgraph cable and knew that he had to walk it. If he could reach the other building, he could cross the rooftop, find his way inside and down the stairs, then vanish into the streets. It was the only way to escape from Chronos Square. The newsgraph cable looked no wider than a knife edge.
He had seen Francesca do it so many times without even losing her breath. He had done it himself, but had been unsuccessful more often than not, and this time he had no safety net, no one to coach him, only hard paving stones to meet him if he fell. Francesca had gestured to him, beckoning him to walk out to her across the rope, encouraging him, taunting him, until he did exactly as she wanted.
Now he placed his right foot on the flexible tension of the cable, hoping his weight would not uproot it from its anchors.
Behind him, he heard shouts accompanied by the thundering of booted feet. A group of guards must have gotten inside the ministry building and were storming up to the roof. If he didn’t get away now, they would corner him.
Owen placed his left foot in front of his right, stretched out his arms for balancelike angel wings spread out to fly. He refused to look down, refused to think. This was just walking, one step after another. He imagined Francesca smiling at him, urging him along. I would never let myself be trapped like that! He wavered but drove away the distracting thoughts, blinked his burning eyes and focused ahead, focused on nothing.
Countless times he had seen Francesca stroll along the wire as easily as he walked a street. He told himself he could do it. He swayed, gingerly lifted his right foot, and swung it in front of his left. Another step, and he was halfway across, although the gap still looked like an infinite gulf. His vision was fuzzed with black, his concentration as channeled as the view through a natural scientist’s magnifying tube. Each step brought him nearer to the other side. Another step and another.
He was walking on air. He was absolutely terrified.
He collapsed onto the other rooftop, surprised that he had crossed the entire distance. He huddled on the solid tin shingles, breathing heavily.
A door burst open on the dark cathedral rooftop behind him, and Regulators marched out, searching for him. They shouted when they caught sight of him on the opposite building.
Owen heaved himself to his feet and continued his headlong flight, although he still felt dizzy, and his knees were weak.
The clocktower bells continued to clang an alarm. All across the city, newsgraphs rattled out a notice for his capture and arrest. Someone would already be sketching his likeness based on eyewitness descriptions.
The Regulators would probably round up the carnies to interview them about him. Would any of his friendsformer friends?believe he was secretly the Anarchist? Tomio had known the real D’Angelo Misterioso, but even if the carnies insisted Owen was innocent, would anyone believe mere carnies? Owen swallowed hard, wondering what Francesca would say about him. “A foolish boy, but I never believed he was dangerous!”
With two sharp kicks, he broke open a rooftop door, pelted down the stairs, and burst out onto the street. He ran in a random direction, down one street, turning a corner and heading away from the square. He ducked through an alley and emerged onto a wide road. He wanted to go home but knew he couldn’tOwen didn’t even remember what home was. He couldn’t rejoin the carnival or go back to Barrel Arbor. There would no longer be any routine life of picking apples in a peaceful orchard. There’d be no simple cottage, no evenings in the Tick Tock Tavern, no bland and unchallenging Lavinia at his side.
He had longed for adventure. Sometimes the Angels punish us by answering our prayers.
He had to get away, to go anywhere. His running feet carried him down to the river and the docks. Alarms rang from other clocktowers in the city, but this late at night, people so comfortable with their unwavering schedules would take a while to understand the reason for the disruption.
He made his way to the docks at the wide mouth of the Winding Pinion River. Several cargo barges were tied up at the piers, and the bustle of dockworkers loading cargo under bright coldfire lights reminded Owen of the happy day he had spent among them.
More important, though, he saw a cargo steamer ready to push off into the night. White vapors coughed out of the cylindrical smokestacks, backlit by glowing docklights. The ship’s boilers had been pumped up to high pressure, and the cargo steamer’s air horn blatted even louder than the gongs on the Watchmaker’s clocktower.
Dockworkers were removing cables as thick as Owen’s leg from dock stanchions, ready to cast off. He stared for a moment at the great ship’s beautiful lines, the hull designed to glide like a spearpoint through the Western Sea, taking everyone aboard to exotic lands. He began to run.
All but the last gangplank had been removed, and he charged toward it, using his final reserves of energy. His lungs burned and his heart pounded. “Wait! I need to get aboard.” No one could see him in the long dock shadows made by the garish coldfire lights. “Wait!”
He had dreamed of riding cargo steamers to Atlantis, of setting foot on the distant lands mentioned in his mother’s book. Poseidon, Atlantis, the Seven Cities of Gold, and places not even named. He didn’t know where this vessel was bound, but he knew he could not stay in Crown City. Alarm bells continued ringing from clocktowers.
Where would he rather be? He made up his mindanywhere but here.
The dockworkers looked at him in surprise as he ran up the gangplank, flushed, holding his porkpie cap to his head. One burly man paused while working at an enormous knot next to the gangplank, and Owen recognized him as the one who had introduced him to pineapples. The burly man’s brow furrowed, then smoothed open with realization. “Ah, I know you!” He called up to the steamer in a thunderous voice. “Hold up, you got one more to come aboard!”
The steamer crew came out and gathered at the rail to see the cause of the commotion. Owen ran up the gangplank before he had time to thinkconfidence, Golson would have reminded him. The crew didn’t know who he was, and he didn’t have a story not yet.
After all that had happened, he could not believe this was what he deserved. He thought of the Watchmaker’s supposed plan and decided he no longer believed that all this was for the best.
But he knew that they believed it. And that was his story. . . .
As he burst onto the deck and the steamer’s engines heated up to full power, the workers detached the gangplank and threw off the final docking ropes. The vessel drifted into the channel and steamed away into the night.
Heaving enormous breaths, Owen presented himself to the curious captain. Unable to bring himself to tell an outright lie, he chose his words carefully, “I’ve come from Chronos Square and the Clockwork Angels.” He sucked in a deep breath, swallowed hard. “I’m supposed to be here.”
The captain gave a brusque, accepting nod. That was all Owen needed to say.