The Right Hand
Downtown Byndal was a beehive of activity at midday of the Summer Solstice Sale. Shoppers crowded the displays outside each store under the shadowy Olde Galleria and atop bright Aberatsa Court above. Every shopkeep set up tables upon the walkways outside their front doors for the annual tradition. All of Byndal filled the upper and lower streets to hunt for bargains.
The tradition extended to Byndal’s pickpockets and shoplifters, who found the holiday a perfect bonanza for stealing coin-purses and small wares unnoticed.
The Summer Solstice Sale of my fifteenth summer was of particular interest to me, as I was on the precipice of completing a fantastic invention. The only part I still required was on display outside of the Brassworks Emporium.
My mates were wary when I first told them I wanted the new, expensive gear, which was kept under lock and key within the store’s barred front window display. My best and perhaps only hope of ‘acquiring’ the gear was the Solstice Sale.
To my surprise and dismay the bloody shopkeep was not so completely distracted as I expected. With the sudden din of carefully-timed firecrackers set at the opposite end of his stand, I was sure the man would turn away long enough for me to slip the heavy contraption from his display under the folds of my disguise.
As it turned out, no sooner had I hefted the bulk under my ‘borrowed’ cleric robes than the shopkeep swung back around to spot me at the end of his table – his pride and joy missing and I hugging a giant bulge under my robes as if suddenly pregnant.
We wove through the crowds, coursing the slipstream of posh Silks strolling south along the boardwalk. The shopkeep’s cries faded in the noise of hundreds of voices and the construction work further ahead.
“Stop those urchins!” the surprisingly watchful store clerk called frantically.
No one dared try. Dandy chaps and frilly maids flinched or froze as my fellow pilferers and I swooped past them, narrowly skimming down the flagstone promenade.
It would have been difficult to expect anyone to tackle a person shrouded in the cloak and hood of a holy cleric. We only stood out because we ran at break-neck speed while real clerics always paced with funereal languidness. My hands hastily secured my prize in the leather harness pinching my bosom and hips under the robes, then my arms were free.
Icy panic almost made me falter as we passed behind a towering figure of bronze and leather. The security officer was berating children by a candy store display, his wire-controlled metal chassis raising him a half-meter over the heads of the tallest shoppers.
We were half a block further when his shrill whistle blew. Rhythmic vibrations shook the flagstones underfoot. The officer had discerned that while the shopkeep was bellowing from the north his quarry had passed him heading south. The sound matching the vibrations of his heavy footfalls came last, nearly lost beneath shouts of panic as the man pushed the wealthy shoppers of Aberatsa Court out of his way.
The construction work ahead drowned out most of the calamity as our pursuer raised the cry, whistle piercing the sky again and again like missiles in flight.
An octo-crane was working at full speed on the new lofts being built along the east side of Aberatsa Court. Below, my favorite bakery – Byndal Bread – had been bought out and demolished to make a stronger foundation for the University students’ new residences. The octo-crane was well into the fourth story of the building, its eight arms consecutively moving metal beams and granite blocks into position for the labourers to cement and weld.
The astounding power of the construction machine was not steam, as it used to be. The new engine that gave the enormous builder its relentless strength was the very same design as the gear I had harnessed within my borrowed cleric robes.
Coming under the shadows of the octo-crane’s arms, we reached an overpass bridging a cross street five meters below.
Now to find out if my gadgets are worth the copper I made them with.
In unison, Tuck, Hog and I crouched and snapped off the locks on our boot heels. Thick, squat springs eagerly uncoiled, jolting us up a few centimeters. With deliberate steps we carefully bobbed toward the edge of the overpass beside the octo-crane.
The massive construction device filled the whole street below, its treads threatening to overtake the walkways at either side. Rocket-trucks laden with beams and blocks formed a queue behind it at the nearest intersection, surrendering their loads to the long, tall arms one at a time.
We had to jump onto a steel beam or granite block as it swung over Aberatsa Court – five meters over our heads.
I had hoped for more time to judge the crane’s speed and timing, but a roar of fury made me turn around to see our pursuer drawing near.
It was Constable Griffon – bane of pickpockets along the Court, guard-dog of the Silks – his face beet red between salt-and-pepper mutton chops. He burst through the last throngs of pedestrians admiring the crane and staring at the three unusual monks on spring-heeled boots.
His piston-powered legs would bring him to us in seconds. I saw a granite block swinging close and screamed “Now!”
We crouched; throwing our weight against our heels, then flew, springing out of reach as Griffon’s claw-arms tore at thin air where we stood a moment before.
The granite block swung directly under our feet just as our ascent slowed to a stop. I could not have measured the bouncing power or timing more perfectly if I had tried.
I looked back to smile down on Griffon as the crane carried us up and away. He sneered and roared as his piston-powered chassis augmented a running jump, carrying him onto the metal beam hanging from the next crane coming up behind ours.
My elation plummeted as if fallen to the street far below. Tuck let out a curse and Hog whined something inarticulate, panting for breath through the cleric’s shroud over his face.
I spun a full circle in search of salvation and espied a tiny shape standing out against the clouds to the west; I had to squint through my veil to see it. The world abruptly swung sideways as the crane carrying our granite block stopped.
The engineer operating the octo-crane had seen the wild pursuit leaping onto her machine and she had detached the cranes from their power source, sending the hoisted blocks and beams swinging at the ends of their cords as all eight arms came to a halt.
Our granite platform swung at the end of its rope pendulum, momentum throwing it to a steep angle. Tuck clutched the edge of rock, Hog’s arms wrapped around the older boy’s waist. I grabbed one of the thick hemp cords that hung from the crane high above.
We watched in helpless apprehension as Griffon braced himself on the steel beam a few meters below and behind us, his armored claw-arms gingerly closed around ropes, piston-powered leg-mounts crouching for a predatory pounce.
I tore my eyes off the copper to see our savior soaring nearer, the tiny silhouette in the sky doubling in size, but not fast enough.
As the block reached the base of its pendulum swing, Griffon lunged at us, his chassis augmenting his strength.
The copper stretched both arms, clenching fists; the wires embedded in each knuckle and fingertip pulled taut, clamping down the pointed metal claws extending half a meter beyond his hands. Catching two ropes, Griffon hung over the edge of the granite, struggling to pull his heavily-armored legs up the side.
The extraordinary weight of the bronze exoskeleton tilted the slab of stone, jutting Tuck’s end toward the sky, forcing me to dangle from the ropes opposite Griffon’s.
Our ride was zooming closer, the make-shift airship thrumming on a pedal-powered propeller, long, narrow wings picking up the draft from chimneys below.
“Go! Make a second pass for me!” I shouted to the boys.
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