I took notes in a notebook I had borrowed while I watched people come and go from the local jail.
We were a twenty minute walk from the Academy center and I could hear the noise the students were generating. Smoke was rising from one point, and the riot was in full swing. Only a few thousand students, all in all, but they weren’t happy.
The people I’d gathered for this particular task looked restless. They wanted and expected to be out there, working alongside the rioters.
These were the delinquents, along with Rudy and Possum. I’d given Rudy the task of finding Possum’s friend and told him to meet up with me later, and he’d ended up bringing her with. The friend hadn’t been found, and she had decided to stick around.
I wasn’t sure I agreed with her being a part of this, but I could only do so much at one time.
A carriage pulled up. Two security officers strongarmed someone who looked like they’d taken a combat drug. They weren’t the first, and they wouldn’t be the last. Combat drugs were cost effective for a small Academy like this one.
I made a note, circled the description and drawing of the guard driving the carriage, and drew lines connecting it to other mentions. I drew a cross-hatch and made a line connect it to the cheek of his drawn face.
Looking around, I saw Rudy standing close by. I moved his arm, checked his watch, and then went back to my notebook to add a note about the time. Two o’clock shadow.
Rudy, looking over my shoulder, commented, “When I first saw you taking notes, I thought it was a good thing. Then I looked and I saw what you were actually doing, and I lost all of the confidence I’d gained in you and then some.”
I looked down at my notebook. There were drawn faces with key features for distinguishing the guards, with nicknames attached. Text was organized into blocks, and shapes, symbols such as circles, diamonds and triangles served as shorthand. Lines connected ideas, with some thinner, some thicker or reinforced, and some unintentionally sketchy. More shorthand shapes surrounded or were drawn to intersect different parts of what I’d laid out. It was a very crowded page.
I turned the page over, tilting my head to look at the image on the backside. Lines extended to the edge of the page and wrapped around to refer to text and the sketched out image of the jail itself.
“It’s not that bad,” I said. “My memory is a weak point, and sometimes when I’m juggling something bigger I’ll do this so I don’t need to devote as much brainspace to doing what I’m doing. A representation of my thinking.”
“You have very disorganized thinking,” Rudy commented.
“It’s actually very organized,” I said. “Look, see, this shape-”
“Upside-down ‘L’ shape?”
“A gun, come on,” I said, annoyed. “See the trigger?”
“It’s very sketchy, so it’s hard to tell.”
“It’s sketchy because I’m not sure if the gun exists. But the way the scowling man carries himself and wears his jacket, I’m reasonably sure, so it gets a mention. So there’s a gun, and it’s drawn with a line connecting it to the block of text about his behavior. He’s aggressive. We’ve seen him three times. Always the first one to the carriage, right? He’s like a stitched fresh from the wire, despite the scruff on his cheeks suggesting he got up early this morning. And the line passes through this text-”
“Which makes the text hard to read, I have to say.”
“Exactly! On purpose! Because that’s text about his buddy, and I put the text there in advance so I could sort of cross it out if I wanted to, which I suspected I might do. Now look how it also touches the down-triangle.”
Rudy screwed his eyes into a fierce squint.
“Okay, so the down triangle is weakness. Just like up triangles are strengths and diamonds are resources and so on. All very logical when you think about it.”
Rudy stared at it, his eye searching the page. I turned the page to show him how it connected to the back.
“Nah,” he decided.
“Yah!” I countered, emulating his tone. “Now look, here’s the neat part. Draw a curve, imagine a line, a course of action that touches on all these shapes in a row. Down triangle, down triangle, down triangle, down triangle… all of it clustered around things that relate to this side of the building. See where I’m going with this?”
“This is how we break them. The up arrows, their advantages, like gun, like this carriage tends to have a lot of uniforms, they flow this way. It crosses here-”
“I think,” Rudy interrupted me, “That the longer you try to explain it to me, the less I”ll understand it or believe in you.”
I frowned at him.
“I think,” he said, very firmly, as if he wanted to soften the blow.
“I need you to concede that it’s actually a brilliant piece of work. Then I’ll leave you alone,” I said.
“Hmm,” he said. “I’ll give you the benefit of a doubt.”
“Okay,” I said. I paused. “Tell me it’s really quite sophisticated.”
“That might be stretching the truth.”
“Lie to me if you have to. I just want to hear it.”
“It’s not a lie either,” he said. “But fine. It’s really quite sophisticated.”
I glanced at my delinquents, then turned a few pages in the notebook, looking over my notes for them. A list of faces, names, nicknames, and some names underlined where I’d remembered them long enough to write them down. Rudy was one.
“Why does someone as smart of you need a cheat sheet for the people working under him?”
“Like I said, my memory isn’t great,” I said. I glanced at the delinquent king and the top rooftop girl, then checked the sheet.
“I have down triangles around my head.”
“Yep,” I said. I moved my hand so my thumb blocked the associated text. “You have up triangles too.”
“You don’t need to block the words. I can’t read your handwriting,” Rudy said.
I snapped my head around to look at him. “Hey. Just struck me, how’s our Possum doing?”
“Why don’t you check on her?” I asked.
“If you want me to go away, I’ll go away,” Rudy said.
“No, no,” I said, lying. “But why don’t you go check on her? Help her keep watch. I don’t want her to be alone for any long stretches.”
“Arright,” Rudy said.
“Glad to have you with,” I said, as he walked away. “Really. Thanks.”
His reply was unintelligible.
I looked down at the notebook, then made a note by Rudy’s face.
Honest. Calls me on my shit.
I spent longer than I would have liked to admit when it came to deciding what kind of triangle to draw. I ended up drawing two overlapping ones.
The delinquent king was Neck. He made a pair with Bea, the top rooftop girl. They were, by the whisperings I’d caught and a number of observations I’d made, a troublesome pair when put together, and hard to put apart. From the moment that we’d gotten this show on the road, they’d been a pair. Old colleagues, friend rather than fancy, and each one prone to making the other behave badly.
Bea was the top girl because the others were scared of her when she was alone. She was far scarier when paired with Neck. She had been over the top angry long before this whole thing unfolded, I suspected, and Neck was fuel on the fire. She validated him and I suspected she knew him better than anyone and she remained fond of him, which had to matter a lot to him, when he was an odd sort.
When just about anyone he knew talked to him, they used a different nickname, with only Neck really coming up more than once or twice. Neck, Cake, Ethel, Nook, Nookie, and one I hadn’t quite heard straight that might have been ‘Vamp’ or Van or Vam. The ‘Neck’ nick was more to do with the slang for kiss than for being a thick-necked Bruno. He was as skinny as I was, just as well dressed, but he was also tall and good looking.
I’d seen some of his type in Tynewear. Unusual and he carried a knife to defend his unusualness.
Which was enough said.
“Neck,” I said. “Bea. How would you like to set some fires today?”
Bea smiled in response, eyes glittering.
“Or throw a can of gas and place it exactly where we need it?”
“My throwing arm is better than his,” Bea said.
“My girl is a chronic liar,” Neck said, putting an arm around Bea’s shoulders, closer to a headlock than a gesture of affection, pulling her off balance. “I’ll do the throwing.”
“I was on a sports team, once upon a time,” Bea said, hand on Neck’s chest.
They could only easily and comfortably do the one-arm headlock and hug and the hand on the chest because there was no attraction between them.
“Once upon a time,” Neck ruminated on the words. “I hate to break it to you, Bea knees, but you’re the furthest thing from a fairy tale princess, and I’m still better at throwing.”
“If you mess this up, I’ll never let you live this down,” she threatened him.
I retrieved the last of my gas canisters, a mason jar and a bottle, and handed them over.
“The jar goes at the base of that window there. Throw it hard enough that it breaks. Hold on to the bottle. If they come in with horses, hm..”
I paused, looking over my notes. I held the book so others couldn’t see it.
“What about the horses?” Neck asked.
“Okay, hold on to it for the second batch of horses. I need you to go find a carriage with a stitched horse. Pay the owner…”
I trailed off, grabbing my wallet, and I handed over a wad of bills.
“…And then wait. When they pull up with a horse and carriage, that’s when we start. You throw the jar, I’ll do my thing, and then we wait. When we’re reasonably sure they’ve mustered their forces, you take the carriage you bought, and you get that horse riding straight for the carriage they parked out front. Are you with me so far? Collision course.”
“Doable. We just set it going and hop off?”
“Yep. Set it on fire at some point before it arrives. It’ll be more dramatic. Then scram, get that head start. If they come after you with another carriage and horses, throw down the bottle. It’ll muck them up.”
“Got it,” Bea said.
“I need some bodies stationed on rooftops. Pick out your capable people, get them to figure out which ones they can access. Spread them out. The rooftops need to be ones where they can actually climb up, yeah, but also where they can hide until later or where they can easily un-access. It kind of defeats the purpose of a jail breakout if half of us end up getting caught and imprisoned. You get caught here, the odds aren’t good… not that they’re liable to keep anyone or everyone either way. I don’t think they can afford to, with the hit they’re about to take.”
“You want the rooftop girls on the rooftops?” Bea asked, with a smile.
I blinked. “I didn’t even make the connection. Yes. Absolutely. Three major hand signs, like this, this, and this. For danger, caution, and clear.”
“I’ll pass it on,” Bea said.
“Excellent. We’ll make rebels out of you yet.”
Neck said, “We’re already rebels. But if you make us rebellion and don’t make us regret it, then that’s perfect.”
“Perfect,” I said. “I told you where to meet when all is said and done, if anyone gets split up, or when you’ve burned one horse carriage and smoked any pursuers?”
“This would be the third time you’ve asked,” Bea said. “We got it.”
“Good,” I said. I looked around. “Get to it. I’ll see you there.”
Rudy and Possum were together, approaching.
“A task for you, Rudy,” I said. “I need you to go to this address. Check the coast is clear, that you can go there without any fuss. We’re going to start gravitating in that direction over time. If there are any problems, then, hm…”
Rudy waited patiently.
I got my bag, rummaged in it, and got chalk.
“Big, bold, white letters on an easy to see surface. Write ‘I love rabbits.'”
“Rabbits?” Possum asked.
“Absolutely. Then just hang out around there. The rabbit will find you. Tell him what’s going on, and he’ll let everyone important know, myself included.”
Rudy gave me a long, critical look.
“The rabbit is real,” I said. “I promise.”
“Okay,” he said.
“But don’t call him a rabbit. I mean, he’s clearly a rabbit, but don’t call him a rabbit.”
Rudy returned to the long, critical look.
I avoided the look by turning my attention to Possum. “How are you managing?”
“I’m a little overwhelmed,” she said. Then she amended it to, “Really overwhelmed.”
“Don’t be,” I said. “I won’t promise I won’t put you in the line of fire, because every time I say that, I do the opposite. So just rest assured I have no plans to put anyone in danger that doesn’t want to be in danger.”
“Plans,” Rudy said.
I glanced at him, then back to Possum. “I’ll have you know that I showed my plans to Rudy, and he said they were downright sophisticated.”
“I did,” Rudy said, with zero enthusiasm.
“Want to be on watch?” I asked her. “Or I can send you somewhere further away.”
“Can I go with him?” Possum asked.
I looked at her, then at Rudy.
Was there a line extending between them? Was it sketchy or bold or both?
“I want to see the rabbit you’re talking about,” she said. “Who gets very easily offended. I’m imagining something adorable.”
I thought of Pierre. Adorable wasn’t what came to mind. The head that looked like a badly taxidermied rabbit head, expression that of a rabbit mid-stroke, eyes bugging out, the sheer height of him, and how it all made him an eerie figure…
“He’s a good friend and an excellent messenger…” I said, trailing off. I tried to think of a way to put it politely. Pierre was a friend, but he was a queer one, and I didn’t like to talk poorly of friends, in case it got around to them. Especially when it came to dealing with more sensitive recruits, who would hear me say something negative about one person and then imagine me saying things about them behind their backs.
So, how to say that Pierre was a bit disconcerting, without calling him disconcerting? How did I outright reject the notion that he was ‘cute’?
“Sylvester,” Bea said.
“Hm?” I asked.
“I gave the instructions to the girls. They’re going to the rooftops now. Neck is looking for the carriage.”
“Good,” I said. “Other groups are in place? Ready to cause a stir?”
“That should be my cue to get going. I don’t want to let things get ahead of me. Do buy the carriage, don’t steal it and pocket the money. I’ll know.”
She gave one pocket of her coat a pat. “There’s a reason I have the money. I know Neck. I’ll do things as instructed. You’ve already stressed how important that is.”
I turned my attention to Rudy and Possum. “Go on. No need to hang around on my account. Be good, be safe. No need to be adventurous.”
Rudy nodded. I watched them go, and saw how he talked with Possum.
That was nice. They were probably talking about me, but that was nice.
I turned my attention to the jail, and looked down at my notebook.
I missed Jessie. Jessie would have been useful here. Timing, layout, it was the key element missing from my notes. I could write things down and I could intuit, but I couldn’t do what Jessie did. I couldn’t even approximate what Jessie did.
Jessie recalled things and was slow to adjust.
I was quick at adjustment, but I didn’t recall.
Let’s do this fast, do it well, and impress the new recruits.
I chose my angle carefully as I approached the station. I crossed the street using a path that would let only barred windows see me. The people on the other side would be the jailed rather than the jailers. I then walked so my arm brushed against the side of the building, casually and calmly, too close to the ground to be easily seen from any of the windows overhead.
Grabbing the edge of a planter, I dragged it ten feet and moved it further from the building. It made noise, but that was a minor thing. It held a shrub, but the cold weather had stripped it of half its leaves. The remainder littered the planter itself.
I did the same for the next planter, then another.
Through the wall and window, I heard the screech of a chair on floor and I ducked back and hugged the wall. I moved on quickly, no doubt while curious eyes scanned the area and tried to figure out what the sound had been.
Delinquents and rooftop girls huddled on rooftops and standing in alleys across the street watched, puzzled.
I circled around to the other side of the building, and I found the side building of the jail where carriages were often parked. There was only space for two carriages and their horses. It was empty, the door to outside open, the door to inside secured.
I’d hoped that some of the horses here would be living ones, and that there would be hay and other things. But the spaces where the horses would stand were unsecured, the floor hayless, and the wall set up with the wires and connectors required to provide a voltaic charge to the systems of a stitched.
I had to climb up a bit to get to a good vantage point to reach the wires. I then started hauling them free of the wall. They were secured into place with wooden pegs, which were nailed to the wall in turn, but the nails and the pegs were designed to bear the weight of the wire, not the weight of an adolescent male pulling in a complete other direction.
The peg popped out of the wall. My weight dropping to the ground helped pull another two down.
From there, I had enough slack to free the remainder of the wire. A bit of twisting, unwinding, pulling, and general abuse got the length of wire free. It thrummed in my hand, sometimes even feeling uncomfortably thrummy, depending on where I touched the wire.
Awkward, awful stopgap technologies.
I went to work, rigging one coil of wire to the door handle, my heart pumping as I worked. I wrapped the insulated part around first, then, working carefully, touching only the insulated parts, I guided the exposed end through to knot it, and into the gap between knob and door fixture.
The other set of wire, I worked to pin against the floor, using tools and other stray items. I made sure that it was sufficiently exposed.
Then I emptied the buckets of chemicals for the stitched onto the floor of the stable, backing away swiftly as the puddle grew.
As the puddle reached the wire on the ground, there was a violent crackle, fizzle, and pop. It continued making all sorts of little violent noises as I backed swiftly away, moving on.
Stepping out, I could see girls on the rooftops here and there. They had arms out, and they were gesturing.
The carriages were coming.
I moved quickly.
The one proper exit that wasn’t through the front door had been booby trapped. Next were the planters. I piled up the leaves I scavenged from piles on the ground, containing them in the planters. The dry fall leaves and the wood made for fine tinder. The near-dead shrubs themselves would burn, hopefully.
The repositioned planters produced smoke, and the smoke blew near and in front of windows. It made for a more dramatic effect.
I moved on. Past the stable, circling around to the back of the building.
I could hear the curses and swears. There were shouts.
The jar had been thrown.
I scaled the wall while the attention of the jail’s staff was on the front of the building and the smoke to the side.
There were only a few windows without any bars over them. One was high up. It was locked, but I could handle locks.
I had relied on intuition here, spotting the window and reasoning where it might lead, and intuition had served me well. The office was nice, spacious, and had windows on two sides. The door was heavy and fortified. There were filing cabinets along the wall, and there was a great deal of paperwork across the desk, which had two different lamps on it.
I looted the drawers, found nothing, and moved on, unlocking and opening the door just enough to peer outside, before opening it wide.
With everything going on, the same people who would be staffing the jail would be handling the riot or getting the last few batches of people that had been put into custody. Even with all hands now on deck, the staff being stretched thin and the distraction at the front and side meant that I had a clear path.
I walked through the staff area with no trouble. I checked desks and the coats that were on pegs until I found a keyring. With this many keys, I knew what it was for.
Outside, I heard the crash as the burning carriage collided with the other carriage. I heard running footsteps, and stepped behind a filing cabinet as three men in uniform ran past.
Three men, I made a mental note.
I found the area with the cells.
Half of the occupants wore school uniforms. Rioters. Delinquents.
Some voices raised as they saw me, and I raised a hand, shushing them. Too late.
“Shut up!” a guard called out. He hadn’t left with his friends. “Who’s there!?”
The ones inside were armed with sticks, not guns. I stayed where I was, facing the man.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “Did you get out of your cell?”
I stretched a bit, rolling my shoulders, giving him my darkest stare.
He reached for his belt, and he drew his truncheon.
The student council president and vice president were standing at the bars of their cell, watching. There were two members of the Greenhouse Gang that had been spreading the word, and there were others who looked more like delinquents. Ones we’d had stirring the pot.
They’d done a good job to work against what we were trying to do.
“If I don’t get a good answer out of you, I’m going to have to take measures,” the guard said. He smacked the truncheon into one palm, then, stone faced, stern, he added, “Don’t make me take measures, kid. It’s been a shitty enough day already, I don’t want some kid with the teeth smashed out of his face on my conscience.
There was a progression. Two access points to the building. The disaster happened at the front. The prison’s carriages were parked out front so that prisoners had the shortest possible walk to the front door. The collision, with luck, would make accessing the door hard. Fire had a way of scaring people.
They would realize what was up. That this was a distraction, all arranged. They would pass around the side, possibly running into others, who were investigating the burning shrubs, too far away from the building for the fire to actually set the building itself aflame. The carriage out front might, but there would be enough people out there that they’d probably handle it before it got too bad.
They would reach the side of the building, and they would see the water, the wires, the crackling.
As a trap, it was mild. But in terms of getting the result and effect I wanted…
I spread my arms, dramatic.
“What’s this?” he asked.
I waited, patient.
“Final warning, boyo.”
He took a step toward me, and when I didn’t scare, he took another.
Eight seconds had passed from when I’d raised my arms.
If this went on for too much longer, I was going to look so dumb.
The power went out, the lights dying abruptly, with nary a flicker. Disabling the booby trap and freeing them to enter the building.
“There we go,” I said. I chuckled, loud, mocking, and the prisoners picked up the sound, laughing as well, cheering.
The sound covered my running footsteps as I moved to one side of the man, using darkness and gloom to make myself hard to track.
He wasn’t looking at me. His eye was on the walls of prisoners.
I stuck my elbow out, hand braced at my shoulder, and drove myself full force into his lower stomach. He crashed into the bars of the nearest cell.
Hands reached out and grabbed him, pulling at uniform, seizing his arms.
“Hold him. Keep him safe. We’re going to want to use our hostages carefully. Student council, if you’d take these?”
I threw the keys to the student council’s cell. Then I got another ring of keys from the guard we’d secured.
By the time the three men returned to the cells with the rest of the group with them, half of the cells had emptied and more were in the works.
Standing with only the light from a scant few windows illuminating us, I gave the signal, and it got a response from both sides. The guards ran, and the prisoners charged.
I tucked my notebook in between the waist of my slacks and my side, fixed my jacket to cover it, drew my weapon, and led the exodus from the jail.
A few more recruits, now.
The student council fell in step with me.
Time to check on Jessie and Fray.