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Felicity stepped out of her carriage and into the ruin of a small forest at the foothills of a mountain. She saw the airship, huge and hulking and in many pieces scattered in the trail it made when it hit the ground. Thank heaven it was not a passenger ship, she thought with feeling.
The grey metal part of the ship that had been the cargo area had separated from the rigid hydrogen balloon before the first of the explosions. The worst of the burning mass was a little further on, and they had passed it on their way here. It was amazing to think that most of the crew had survived the accident, parachuting out when it became clear that the ship was on a collision course for the ground and there was nothing to be done, and when the first of the explosions had started.
She did not know what she intended to find out here. Investigators from the local government and detectives hired by Hely Industries had already picked the bones clean. There were plans underway to remove the pieces and take them to her warehouses in Moorgate Hollow, but it would be some time before this came to pass. She hiked up her skirts to protect them from the mud and picked her way carefully through debris, some of it still smoking even a week later, following her driver, who led her toward the piece of airship that had been the cargo area.
She found a man already standing there beside the grey metal cargo compartment, looking up into the sky and shading his eyes from the sun. She recognized Dominic Bentley and said, “You ought to have mentioned Jon was sending you out here. You could have ridden in comfort in my carriage.”
Dominic turned and pointed to a gaping hole in the side of the cargo compartment. “Look at that. That wasn’t a tree or an explosion. The inside is jumbled about but not burned, and a tree isn’t going to tear through metal quite like that, and anyway-”
Felicity saw what he saw. The way the hole gaped outwards, the metal bent and ripped toward them. “It happened from the inside.”
“Or something pulling at it from the outside.”
Jon, she thought suddenly, though she kept the look from her face. Jon could’ve… But Dominic wouldn’t know. Jon wouldn’t have told him. She smiled blithely and said, “That’s not possible.”
Dominic smiled back at her, and then gestured to a ripped hunk of metal lying a few yards away, and showed her the holes in the metal, the way the metal between the holes pulled out as if something had punched through it and yanked.
Jon, she thought again, now with satisfaction. Jon has is.
Dominic frowned down at the marks and said, “Do you know what could have done this? You said it was a war machine. Do you have competitors? Someone trying to steal your technology.”
“Only my father could have created something that did this,” Felicity said with confidence. “He did create something that could have done this.” She looked for a flicker of recognition in Dominic’s eyes but saw nothing. Either he was a better liar than Jon, or Jon hadn’t admitted to taking the machine.
Dominic tilted his head thoughtfully, and said, “James Morgan would probably be helpful in this situation.”
Felicity narrowed her eyes. “How so?”
“Well, his father is a powerful man, and likely very aware of the sorts of people who could make such machines. You are probably on a government list somewhere.” Dominic smiled at her. “And anyone else who can do what you do.”
“You give them far too much credit.”
“It isn’t the government I give credit to. I give it to Geoffrey Morgan. I don’t think there’s enough credit in the world for him.”
“James is not on good terms with his father.”
“He was living with him when you two had your row. Has that changed?”
“With respect, I disagree,” said a new voice.
Felicity and Dominic turned at once to look at two newcomers. One, a young man in a dark blue work suit with an unruly mass of dark curls, knelt down beside the torn hunk of metal and added, “I think I could do it.”
His companion, a woman who looked very much like him except that her dark curls were carefully pulled back and half-tucked under a cap, said, “It’s a matter of achieving the necessary force, really.”
Dominic tilted his head. “Miss Hely, allow me to introduce Leon Rosen and his sister Bonnie Rosen. They were out here before I got here. They’re doing a final sweep before the pieces of the ship are hauled away.”
Bonnie climbed into the cargo compartment and Leon called after her, “Be careful. It looks like a swift wind would knock it over.”
“Looks like they picked it clean,” she said, holding up a lantern as she looked inside. “You can mark it on the list.”
Leon did so, making a mark on his clipboard, and then he pointed to the holes in the metal. “Look the way it curves out. It looks like… like when you grab a blanket with one fist and haul it up. It’s like a hand dug into the side of the compartment like it was a blanket and pulled.”
Felicity frowned in disbelief. “And you’re saying you could make that? Create an articulated hand that could-”
Dominic cut her off. “Wasn’t metal. It was flesh.” He was down close to it now. “Must’ve rained. Most of it was washed clean but there’s… there’s definitely blood here.”
“Goodness,” Leon said, and then he added, “Help me flip it over.”
The two men wrestled with the big hunk of metal until they had it flipped, and then she saw it too. There was more blood on the underside of it, where the weather had not quite been able to reach. It was dry and dark, but it had to be blood.
Jon, you absolute liar, she thought. He had to have her machine. And he had to know a lot more about what was going on than he had said.
“I don’t think I could make something like that,” Leon said.
Dominic stared at it, and then he stared up at Felicity. And then she did see it, only briefly, and only for a moment. She saw doubt. After a moment, he said, “I want to take this back. Do you think you could lend me your carriage?”
Felicity smiled and said, “If you agree to answer a few of my questions.”
Dominic nodded. “Of course. You’re the client.”
Out of Shadows will be going on hiatus until January 2016, but all the Sundays won't be without posts. There will be some random things, and some holiday stuff. Stay tuned.