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Danger (Dark Light, Volume 3): Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, #12

Danger (Dark Light, Volume 3): Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, #12

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Danger (Dark Light, Volume 3): Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, #12

Length:
264 pages
3 hours
Released:
Apr 23, 2018
ISBN:
9781386149699
Format:
Book

Description

"'It's like being a servant,' he added, seeing that Frank still didn't understand. 'Masters are born masters; servants are born servants.'"

Soon after they were born, they were tattooed with the signs of their ranks: master or servant. Now, in the time between past and future, the youths of the Midcoast nations find themselves in predicaments and even high danger. Unable to flee their troubles, they face a thick, unyielding barrier . . . until the power of friendship breaks through.

This third volume of the award-winning book bundle series Dark Light collects interlinked stories from Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of diverse alternate history series (The Eternal Dungeon, Dungeon Guards, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, Waterman, Young Toughs, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as in a future that never existed, the stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.
 

Volume Contents

"Survival School." Arrested for a crime he doesn't regret, Bat ends up handcuffed to a group of fellow city boys and sent on a long journey into the countryside. He know that he is being transported to a prison for delinquent servant boys, but what form will his imprisonment take?

"Sweeping Day." It's sweeping day again, and her task seems straightforward: clean the dirt in her master's study and leave. But Sally's master is no ordinary master, and Sally's sweeping could be the trigger for war. Finding herself in a dangerous trap, Sally must draw upon the wisdom of her allies in the servants' kitchen before disaster strikes.

"Emancipation." Sling knows that his life's work has already been determined: he is to be a house slave, serving his master's son. But secret meetings in hidden places with his master's son make Sling uncertain of what will happen next. When news arrives of a proclamation that will allow Sling to leave his hated master, Sling faces a difficult choice: whether to flee to safety or to stay and face the dangers of an unknown future.

"Far Enough Away." For two years, since his parents left for the west coast of the continent, Phillip has lived in a mountain home, as far as he can get from society. But when the loss of his beloved companion forces him out of his refuge, he finds that the world is on the cusp of change. And he may be one of the few people left who is able to outrace that change.

"New Day." Kit has reached her apprenticeship birthday and is on a path to inherit power. But what sort of power will she wield?

"Queue." What should a young servant do when his employer may fire him at any moment, his employer's beautiful daughter is absorbed with her high school textbook ("How to be Firm with Servants"), and he's blocked from carrying out a simple task by a snooty cyborg?

"AI." Tripp has two friends in high school: a rebel without a cause, and a girl fighting the social restraints upon her. But only one human being has any real hope of understanding Tripp, and he isn't human at all.

Released:
Apr 23, 2018
ISBN:
9781386149699
Format:
Book

About the author

Honored in the Rainbow Awards, Dusk Peterson writes historical speculative fiction: history-inspired mythic fantasy, alternate history, and retrofuture science fiction. Family affection, friendship, romantic friendship, and romance often occur in the stories. A resident of Maryland, Mx. Peterson lives with an apprentice and several thousand books. Visit duskpeterson.com for e-books and free fiction.


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Danger (Dark Light, Volume 3) - Dusk Peterson

Dark Light

Volume 3

DANGER

Dusk Peterson

Love in Dark Settings Press

Havre de Grace, Maryland

Published in the United States of America. April 2018 edition. Publication history.

Copyright (c) 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 Dusk Peterson (duskpeterson.com). The author’s copyright policies are available at the author’s website. This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

CONTENTS

=== Front matter ===

Maps.

Introduction.

=== Danger ===

Soon after they were born, they were tattooed with the signs of their ranks: master or servant. Now, in the time between past and future, the youths of the Midcoast nations find themselves in predicaments and even high danger. Unable to flee their troubles, they face a thick, unyielding barrier . . . until the power of friendship breaks through.

1910s

Survival School (Young Toughs). How far can trust grow, when you’re in a place you despise?

Sweeping Day (Young Toughs). When she was hired as a maid, no one told her that she’d hold the future of the Dozen Landsteads in her bosom.

1860s and 1870s

Emancipation (Life Prison). Civil war is tearing apart the land. Again.

1950s, 1960s, and the future

Far Enough Away (Young Toughs). He knows he isn’t normal. Now he must save others who have been left behind.

New Day (Young Toughs). Kit has reached her apprenticeship birthday and is on a path to inherit power. But what sort of power will she wield?

Queue (Young Toughs). What should a young servant do when his employer may fire him at any moment, his employer’s beautiful daughter is absorbed with her high school textbook (How to be Firm with Servants), and he’s blocked from carrying out a simple task by a snooty cyborg?

AI (Young Toughs). Tripp has two friends in high school: a rebel without a cause, and a girl fighting the social restraints upon her. But only one human being has any real hope of understanding Tripp, and he isn’t human at all.

=== More fiction by Dusk Peterson ===

Law Links (excerpt). A preview of the first Three Lands volume.

Master and Servant (excerpt). A preview of the first volume in Waterman, a companion series to Young Toughs.

=== Back matter ===

Credits and more e-books by Dusk Peterson.

MAPS

Larger versions of some of these maps are available at:

duskpeterson.com/toughs

Map of the Midcoast nationsMap of the House of Transformation in the Second LandsteadMap of the Capital City of the Queendom of Yclau

o—o—o

o—o—o

o—o—o

=== Introduction ===

The stories in Danger are interlinked tales from Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of diverse alternate history series (The Eternal Dungeon, Dungeon Guards, Life Prison, Commando, Michael’s House, Waterman, Young Toughs, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as in a future that never existed, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.

All of the stories in Danger can be read on their own, without reference to the novels in the cycle.

Readers who are ambitious enough to try to keep track of how the stories relate to each other chronologically may wish to consult the Turn-of-the-Century Toughs timeline at my website, which also lists and links to the other stories currently in the Toughs cycle. The calendar systems of the Toughs world are explained in greater detail on that page.

o—o—o

o—o—o

o—o—o

1910s

=== Survival School (Young Toughs) ===

CHAPTER ONE

As the wagon that had carried them here from the capital made its way back down the tree-lined lane – its motor startling a buggy’s horse as the two vehicles passed each other – Bat turned himself about, assessing his surroundings. They were standing at the curve of the lane, in front of an elegantly proportioned, three-story brick building with shaded porches. The building’s two wings flanked a central tower. If he turned back toward the lane, he could see that within the lane’s curve lay a field of grass where horses grazed. To the left of the curving lane stood a farmhouse and barn and various work-buildings, while around those buildings shone sun-bright fields ripe with spring vegetables. There was also a poultry yard and a pond. To the right . . . Bat could not see past the wildflower meadow and shrubbery, but he could hear a creek singing as it ran over rocks.

Beside him, Joe gave voice to Bat’s thoughts: "This is a prison?"

It’s easy on the eye, ain’t it? Their guide stepped back into view. He was older than the five of them – even older than Slow, who was nineteen. He looked as old as Bat’s father, but Bat, who had worked the boats since he was old enough to cull an oyster, automatically subtracted half that number of years, knowing what weather and hard hours will do to a man.

Their guide continued, Officially, this ain’t a prison. It’s the House of Transformation for Servant Boys – an institution to transform delinquent servant boys into good, law-abiding citizens.

He sounded as though he were quoting someone. Bat eyed him warily. The young man was wearing an ill-fitting grey uniform with a military-looking stripe on his left shoulder. His cap shadowed close-cropped hair, and his buttoned coat held a black cloth badge, with something written in grey letters across it. Bat couldn’t get near enough to see what it was – not that it was likely to be anything he understood.

Their guide talked like a servant . . . but he was acting like a master. First thing he’d done, after he’d helped the boys out of the police wagon where they’d been locked up for hours, was to toss them the keys that the policeman had handed him. The young man had told them they could unlock the handcuffs and anklecuffs that bound them together.

Bat was inclined to like him for that reason alone. It had been weeks since he’d been allowed to do anything that brought him a little closer to freedom.

Now, then. The young man swung around and pointed to the cluster of buildings near the farmhouse. Farmhouse, chicken house, laundry-room, boiler house, blacksmith, carpenter shop, tailor shop, shoe shop. You’ll get to know them all, in time. Chapel clock-bell in the tower has a high chime, like a bird. Fire bell’s over there; it tolls real deep. It gets rung when there’s a fire or other bad emergency. Joe narrowed his eyes at this point, staring at the bell and its rope that stood on a metal frame nearby, where the curve of the lane reached its apex. Bakery, kitchen, and dining hall are in the north wing of the Administration Building. The young man pointed toward the north end of the building, in the direction of the farmhouse.

They all turned round to stare again at the elegant, towering building where they’d been deposited. It was fashioned in the usual tripartite manner of mansions in the Dozen Landsteads: a central building flanked by two wings, connected by hyphen passages. The porch columns were in the ancient style that had been in fashion when the New World was discovered over twenty centuries ago, then again when the Old World was rediscovered, over five centuries ago. There was a ring of rebirth carved atop the central tower; the tower must be where the chapel was located. The idea of eating and worshipping in such a building was amazing.

The idea of doing so while wearing prison uniforms made Bat’s eyes widen.

Their guide continued, The House of Transformation takes in apprentices and journeymen: boys from ages eleven to their twenty-first birthday. You’ll work in the afternoons—

"What is that?" It was Frank, usually the quietest of them when they were around authorities.

They all turned to look. The buggy that Bat had seen on the lane had stopped near the front of the Administration Building; the driver was helping down a young woman of about thirty. Although not richly dressed, she had a beautiful face and a graceful swing to her hips. Seemingly unconcerned at finding her way blocked by a group of young delinquents, she smiled at their guide, said a soft word to Mordecai – who was gaping up at her – and lifted her skirts in preparation to ascend the stairs to the central tower of the Administration Building.

Eyes down!

The command was so sharp that Bat immediately obeyed, only belatedly realizing that the command had been issued by someone who sounded suspiciously like a fellow servant.

Why? demanded Joe with a scowl, but he had obeyed the order too, Bat noticed in the edge of his vision. So had Frank and Mordecai.

Slow had not. His real name was Harry, but the boys had dubbed him Slow on their long trip from the city, for obvious reasons. He was staring in awe at the vision that had just passed them. He protested, But she’s pretty.

Their guide said nothing; he simply took Slow by the shoulders and turned him around, so that he was facing in the opposite direction. Bewildered, Slow tried to look over his shoulder, but their guide took firm hold of his head to prevent that.

There was the soft sound of a door closing; then their guide said, All right. You can look up.

Bat raised his eyes. The young woman was gone, while the buggy was making its way along the lane, in the direction of the farm. Joe folded his arms and demanded, What the bloody blades was that about?

Their guide gave him a look, saying simply, Try that question again, without the swearing.

Who was she? The awe had not left Frank’s voice.

And why did we have to drop our eyes? Bat asked. He was attempting, with all his might, to keep anger out of his voice.

Because she’s a mastress? suggested Mordecai tentatively.

Super’s rules, said the guide. That’s Mastress Bennington, the farmer’s wife. Superintendent wants us to lower our eyes any time she goes up the steps. Says it’s rude for servant boys to stare at her then.

I don’t see why, complained Joe, scowling. She’s just a farmer’s wife.

Their guide gave Joe another look. Her maiden name was Duncan.

Everyone took that in; then Bat said, Oh.

Their guide nodded. So don’t stare at the Super’s daughter, or you’ll get fifty on the bare back.

Frank dipped his eyes in a sign of obedience. Mordecai said in a small voice, Sir?

For the first time, their guide smiled. Looking down at Mordecai, he said, You don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ Folks call me Trusty.

Bat exchanged looks with Joe. Mordecai said, She spoke to me. Does that mean I have to get fifty whatevers?

Immediately, without need for thought, all the boys glared at their guide – even Slow, who could be quick in times of danger. Ignoring this, Trusty said, No, if staff talks to you, you should reply. And you can ask questions, if it’s about your work or something important.

Who’s staff? asked Frank, his eye on the Administration Building. Bat could guess that he was envisioning dozens of pretty girls inside, all ready to talk to him.

Officers and employees. Trusty started walking forward in the direction of the Administration Building, and they all followed him. Officers are the Super, Teachers, Watchmen, and Department Heads. They give you orders, and they can punish you. Employees are the rest of the staff: Mastress Bennington, who works as secretary for her father; the carpenter; the painter . . . Anyone who works here, but who ain’t training you. They can’t punish you, but you’d best follow their orders—

—because they’re masters, Joe concluded wearily. We’ve known that since our cradle days, right? He held up his wrist. Like the wrists of every person in the Dozen Landsteads, it was tattooed with a rank-mark. The five boys all had the same rank-mark: a black S, showing they were servants.

Trusty, whose own rank-mark was hidden by the overlong sleeves of his uniform, gave an abrupt nod. See you remember. They’ll remind you, otherwise.

Bat, who’d received a few reminders since his arrest, looked again at the grazing field and the farm and the meadow filled with butterflies. It made no sense. This could not possibly be a prison or transformatory or whatever the staff wished to call it. Prisons were for punishment. This . . . this was a holiday in the countryside.

He had no real idea where they were. The police wagon had held no windows. He was somewhere inland, somewhere far enough from the Bay that he couldn’t hear the perpetual whoosh of water that he’d heard every day since he was born.

Somewhere far from home.

Joe was eyeing the lane, as though wondering whether he could safely make a break for it now. As far as Bat could tell, there were no guards in sight, nor any of those dangerous creatures that had been spoken about: Teachers and Watchmen and Department Heads. But Trusty was beckoning them, and Joe had evidently decided that obedience was the safer road, because he joined Bat in hurrying forward.

They travelled far enough along the path alongside the Administration Building to see the door-porch on the south end. Under the porch was a second door leading to some sort of basement. Trusty pointed. That’s the broom manufactory. You’re most of you apprentices, so you’ll start work there. Journeymen mainly work at the farm.

Joe groaned loudly. I’m not a manufactory worker. I’ve been training for months to be a waterman. Now I’m supposed to give all that up to learn how to make brooms?

Broom-making is a useless trade, Bat argued. There can’t be more than a couple of broom manufactories in the Second Landstead – maybe a dozen in the entire Alliance of the Dozen Landsteads. Why should we learn a useless trade here?

There were nods from the others. Trusty said nothing for a moment. His gaze travelled past them toward the lane that led to the road that led to the highway that led to the city. Finally he said, If you’d been sent to the Men’s Penitentiary in the capital, what kind of work would you have done there?

Everyone stiffened. Mordecai reached out and took Slow’s hand. Trusty looked them over, long and careful. He said bluntly, Hard labor. If you’d been lucky, you’d have been sent to hammer rocks in the prison yard. At least that way you’d have seen the sky. More likely you’d be working down in the bowels of the dungeon. They say that, every now and then, an old skeleton from the middle centuries is found there – a prisoner who died at his labors, and no one noticed.

Mordecai was biting the nails on his free hand now. Bat reached over and gave him a quick squeeze of the shoulder. Frank said, Brooms. I could get to like brooms.

The tension broken, everyone laughed. Trusty gave a brief smile, so fast gone that it nearly wasn’t there. He said, Broom manufactory to start with. If you show aptitude for other work, you’ll be transferred. You came here from the capital; you’re watermen’s sons, I’m guessing?

They nodded, except for Mordecai, who was staring at the horses. Frank looked around quickly, as though expecting to see a boat-yard. Slow, still following the conversation that had taken place several minutes ago, said, I like animals.

Bat winced, but Trusty merely said, You might be able to work in the stables, then. I’ll talk to the Super.

Let’s go see this manufactory, urged Joe and hurried forward. After a quick look at Trusty – who didn’t seem inclined to stop Joe – Bat followed suit.

All that Trusty said as they went was, Keep your voices low. Super’s bedroom is above the broom manufactory.

Not bothering to respond, Joe and Bat knelt next to one of the basement windows. It had iron bars across it, and the panes were dirty, but there was no problem seeing inside, because several panes of glass were broken. Bat found himself wondering how cold the manufactory got during oyster season. For certainly there couldn’t be any stove inside; the entire place would have gone up in flames.

It was the filthiest manufactory he had ever seen, and he’d been inside many a filthy packing house. Broom-twigs were everywhere, on the tables and on the floors. The only light came from the basement half-windows. In the dim, dark manufactory, boys stood at the tables – there were no chairs – and tied brooms together. A master in an officer’s uniform watched them from the stone wall at the north end of the room.

Nobody spoke. The boys performed their duty in a monotonous, mechanical fashion, as though they had little cogs inside them, controlling their movements.

Can’t talk at work, I guess, whispered Joe.

Bat nodded.

Joe looked over his shoulder. Bat did the same. Trusty was standing a few yards away, quizzing Slow about his past experience with animals, while Mordecai listened silently. Frank hovered halfway between that group and Joe and Bat, clearly wanting to join the searching expedition but uncertain whether he should do so.

Joe said softly, Eleven?

Bat looked back at him. What?

Joe pointed his thumb at Mordecai. That fellow Trusty said boys here have to be at least eleven. That boy’s never eleven. He can’t be more than ten.

Seven, said Bat. He’d been handcuffed to Mordecai on the trip down. They’d spent most of their time talking to each other while the other three boys speculated on what terrible fates awaited them at their new prison.

Seven, said Joe in disgust. What’s a seven-year-old doing here? You have to be apprentice-aged to be charged with a crime.

Dependency, Bat explained.

Joe looked blank for a moment, then said, He’s an orphan?

Bat nodded. His parents died in that ferry accident last month. No family left to take him in, and his parents’ master wouldn’t care for him. Court didn’t know what to do with him, so they sent him here.

You talking about Mordecai? Frank flopped down onto his knees beside them. Why’s he got such a fancy name? And why does he talk like a master?

He’s a domestic. Then, seeing that Frank didn’t understand, Bat elaborated. Masters pick the names of the newborn sons and daughters of their domestic servants. Like Comrade Carruthers’s manservant – I’ve heard he’s called Variel.

Domestics are born to their jobs? Clearly fascinated at this bit of knowledge, Frank sat down in the dust, crossing his legs.

Have to be, inserted Joe. The masters like their domestics to talk all proper. Domestics grow up speaking that way. That’s why you can’t get a job as a domestic, unless you’ve been born that way. It’s like being a servant, he added, seeing that Frank still didn’t understand. Masters are born masters, servants are born servants, and domestic servants are born domestic servants.

It’s not quite that way, said Bat, frowning. Being a domestic isn’t a rank, like being a servant is.

Joe shrugged. Amounts to the same. Domestics have to talk proper, so they learn that from their daddy and mama. I heard my master say that it’s hard to find domestics to hire, ’cause there’s so few of them. Some of the boys and girls born domestic prefer to work in banks or other places where you’re supposed to talk like a master.

Frank sighed. "I guess he’s lost all that now. Mordecai, I mean. He’ll learn to make

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