Dreadnought Page 69

“How much farther are we going?”

Lucy said, “Not much. We’re going down into Chinatown, because that’s where the only decent doctor is for a hundred miles. And yes,” she snapped before anyone could contradict her, in case they’d been planning on it, “I’d count Tacoma in that, too. Anyway, we don’t have much farther.”

Seattle was a great rabbit warren of a city, there under the earth. In some places it looked almost normal: Mercy walked wide-​eyed past rows of apartments and rooms filled with cargo, all of them perfectly ordinary except for the lack of windows and the persistent use of false lights and candles stashed in every corner. The whole underground smelled damp and mossy, like a hole dug in a yard, since that’s what it was.

They passed curious men and no other women, which Mercy noticed right away. But all the other residents nodded, dipped their hats, and offered friendly greetings. When Mercy looked perplexed at this, Lucy explained that everyone knew who Mercy was, and why she was coming. Mercy didn’t know how to feel about this, but she tried to be polite back, even as she was ushered along. Always down stairs and up steps with rails, or no rails, and down corridors with floors of polished marble or no floors at all—just damp earth like a root cellar.

She found herself imagining what it looked like, up there in the city itself. She occupied her thoughts with speculation about the roving dead who she’d been warned roamed the streets, and considered that they very likely looked much like the afflicted Mexicans who’d nearly brought down two trains in the Utah pass. And just about the time she was out of things to wonder about, she became aware that all the men she was passing were Chinamen like Fang, and they also wore their hair in ponytails or braids shaved back away from their foreheads. They regarded her with curiosity but no malice, and they did not speak to her, though some of them hailed Lucy with a few quick words that she didn’t understand.

Finally. Inevitably.

They arrived at a door at the very moment an aged Chinaman was exiting from it, trailed by gruff swearwords and a general air of aggravation in the room beyond. “And I don’t need that goddamn potion. It tastes like shit, and I’m just not going to drink it anymore!”

The old man rolled his eyes, making Mercy think that everyone everywhere who had ever had a grouchy patient must make that same face. He said something to Lucy, who nodded.

The one-​armed woman lowered her voice and said, “Don’t judge him too harsh. He’s lived hard, and nearly died to save the lives of strangers. And you were the only thing he wanted, when we would’ve done anything to make him happy. So I want you to know that I’m glad you came, and even impressed that you came. Because not every daughter would’ve done it, and I think it speaks well of you. Briar, honey?”


“It’s time for us to go.”

Mercy wanted to argue with them, to demand that they accompany her, to accuse them bitterly of leaving her just when she needed them most.

But she didn’t.

And they didn’t stay.

They slipped away, and back, these two women whom she’d known for not even a day. One old enough to be her mother; one an older sister, or a young aunt. Her only connection to anything above, and her only way out if she refused to step through that cracked-​open door.

She put a hand on it. Took a deep breath of air that smelled and tasted stale, and faintly like sulfur. Pushed the door an inch, then stalled. Recovered her willpower. Pushed it far enough to admit her.

She stepped into the doorway of a room with all the fixtures of a hotel. A basin stood against a far wall; a dresser with a mirror squatted beside it. The walls themselves had been painted with cheerful stripes in a bright red that was almost orange, and a deep blue that was almost purple. These were illuminated by a pair of gas lanterns on the end tables on either side of the bed.

On this bed was a man half-​propped up against a mountain of pillows, and looking quite peevish about it.

He lounged there with one leg braced up and reinforced in a cast composed of wood stays and canvas. Around his torso was a similar set of stays, nearly corsetlike, and Mercy understood at a glance that some of those ribs had been broken, and that his chest had been carefully immobilized to keep the pointed bits of bone from doing damage to his lungs or other organs. She took all this in and admired it, even approving of the partial hat he wore over an otherwise shaven and naked head. She understood that this, too, was a bandage, and that some head wound must’ve rendered the covering a requirement.

It was easier for her to see him that way, as a patient.

She’d dealt with many patients on many beds, and there were a handful of types, but no real mysteries to any of them. She could look him up and down and gather that he’d survived some hideous trauma, and even glean the nature of if she looked closely enough: A badly broken leg; compound fracture, no doubt. An assortment of broken ribs. A head wound that must’ve gone down to the bone and might even have splintered the hard bits beneath the skin. The telltale pockmarks and seams that showed where stitches had been removed, and where a cut or a puncture had conclusively agreed to remain closed.

But it was harder to look at the man and know she hadn’t seen him in so very long. It was tough to see that battered face with the flattened nose (broken long ago, she could tell, as easily as if he wore a sign) and the broad cheekbones that she’d inherited, giving her the same wide face that looked almost square in the right light. And it was a struggle to meet his eyes, which were watching her back from underneath fluffy eyebrows shot through with the first threads of silver. One had a scar that cut across it, healed years ago, by the look of it.

She took all this in, and she stood in the doorway without knowing what to say, or how to move, or if she should take up the chair that his physician had used to examine him, there beside the bed.

He took her in, too, and did not say anything either, did not seem to know if he should invite her inside or ask her to leave. His stubbly face was turned on the pillow, pressing against it so he could get a look at her. He cleared his throat with a wet, weak sound that probably wasn’t the noise he’d meant to make.

Finally, he said, “Nita?” Both syllables cracked against his uncertainty.

She clutched the door’s latch and stood in its frame as if it were a magical space that would protect her from whatever happened next. But she replied: “Daddy?”

Source: www_Novel22_Net