Perilous Artifacts: Priority Lift
Laughing at Harry’s absurd annoyance was impossible given the stiff tailoring of her bodice. But Olive smirked as Pieter accompanied her out the door and around an oil stain on the street. With practiced ease, he handed her into the steamer.
Too busy securing his share of the honeycomb to notice, Harry slammed the boot and jiggled the latch, then settled himself in the driver’s seat. In order to reach Carew House, the official residence of the Lady Governor of Glasburyton, he took Lower Crankshaft Lane north to Steamshaft Thirty-Nine and turned right on Bellows Avenue. The sound of the fans drowned the steamer’s normal quota of noise while the wind from the shaft prompted Olive to hang onto her hat.
“Mother will be horrifically cross,” Pieter fretted as they found themselves idling behind a large truck that hissed and grumbled with every rotation of its wheels. “Perilous artifacts…flying …in my near future.” The truck braked loudly, drowning his words.
“Sorry, sir. Can’t be helped,” Harry grumbled, mashing levers to drop the steamer into a lower gear. “Unless…”
“Are you willing to pay for a priority lift?”
“Oh, er—” Pieter snapped open his pocket watch, glanced at it, and groaned. “Yes, head for the Southside Lift. We’re out of time.”
Olive arched an eyebrow, but decided that now wasn’t the time to begin the discussion she fully intended to have with Pieter.
Harry turned across the on-coming traffic into a large alcove and brought the steamer to a shuddering halt before a set of massive doors ten feet wide and twelve feet high.
An attendant in a copper-trimmed blue uniform and cap stepped forward from behind a chest-high slag brick wall and held out a hand. “Middle weight steamer, three passengers—that’ll be five and thirty, my man.” He looked expectantly from Harry to Olive.
But Harry tipped his hat at the attendant and jerked his chin at Pieter. “Pious, pay up.”
Pieter reached forward and dropped a tenner into the attendant’s hand.
“Level Three, and we’re a priority lift. Do keep the change,” he added gruffly.
The attendant gave them a dubious look, but–pocketing the tenner, he stepped back behind the wall and worked his controls. The lift doors slid open with a few hesitations and jerks, revealing a platform large enough to take anywhere from four of Harry’s steamer to two trucks or a giant Recycler. Posts around the perimeter held aloft lanterns that barely lit the cavernous space. Affixed to the walls, notices painted in bold black letters on rusting yellow scrap warned the unwary to stay inside the chains slung between the posts.
Harry drove the steamer in and around in a shallow U to face the doors.
“Pull it right up to the door,” Pieter ordered.
Harry complied, but that brought the attendant toward them, waving them back. “Back it up,” he called. “Leave room for more.”
“As I said, this is a priority lift—governor’s business,” Pieter said crisply. “Send us up now.” Under his breath he added, “Or face Mother’s wrath.”
“Yessir.” The attendant nodded sharply and returned to the controls. Almost immediately, the lift doors closed, jerking and grinding a little in a way that gave Olive an impression of inadequate maintenance.
In the dimness above, bells rang out, once, twice, three times. A muffled hiss reached her ears as the lift groaned into action. Rising in small lurches and hesitations past level after level, it finally shuddered to a stop. A single bell rang out.
The doors on Level Three slid open with much greater precision than the doors had at the bottom of the shaft.
For the next installment (available Tuesdays), read Perilous Artifacts: Tell me what you know, where Olive discovers what all the fuss and hurry is really about.
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