Rebel Mechanics - Shanna Swendson

New York City



If I’d let myself think about what might lie ahead for me, I’d have been terrified. So, instead of thinking, I lost myself in the book I’d bought at the train station newsstand—the kind of pulp novel I’d have had to hide behind a copy of The Odyssey if I’d still been at home in New Haven. Now, though, I could read what I wanted without my father having any say in the matter. My life had improved in that way, at least.

Although the motion of the train made it difficult to keep the paperback book steady, I defiantly held it with the lurid cover clearly visible as I read about a daring gang of bandits terrorizing stagecoaches. I was so engrossed in the story that when I heard a sharp noise and raised voices, I initially mistook it for my imagination bringing the story to life. Then I looked up to see a group of masked, gun-wielding men rushing through the connecting doorway at the front of the car. A thrill shot through me. I had told myself my life would be more exciting beginning today, but I hadn’t really believed it. I picked up my bag and dropped the book in it so I wouldn’t miss a thing.

“Seal the door!” the tallest bandit ordered, and one of the masked men turned to throw the latch. He held his hands over it, and I thought for a moment that I saw a shimmer beneath them. A shiver went down my spine, making me gasp. Could that have been magic? No, I decided, only the magister class could use magic, and that class held most of the property in the British Empire and controlled the magical power that ran all industry, even here in the American colonies. Magisters shouldn’t need to rob trains. When I looked again, the shimmer was gone. I must have imagined it.

While the man who’d sealed the door stood lookout, the tall bandit who’d shouted the order strode up the aisle, heading toward the rear of the car where I sat. Abruptly, he stopped and raised his pistol at a man sitting three rows ahead of me. “I’ll take that,” he said in a soft but firm voice as he grabbed a slim black leather case the man held in his lap. The man clung to his case, and it looked for a moment as though he might put up a fight, but the bandit cocked his pistol with his thumb and held it closer to the man’s face. The man released his hold on the bag. The bandit gave him a disconcertingly polite nod as he lowered the gun and took the case. He then continued up the aisle, seemingly unaffected by the swaying motion of the train as it slowed to round a bend.

He stopped directly in front of my seat, and I gripped the handles of my bag as my heart beat wildly. The bandit stood so close to me I could see his eyes through the slits in his mask. They were an icy, pale blue, hard and cold, with little flecks of gray around the pupil and a band of darker blue around the outer edge of the iris. I had never met a killer, but based on every novel I’d read, that was how I imagined a killer’s eyes would look.

When the bandit stepped toward me, I reacted instinctively. I rose to my feet, swung my bag at him, and then felt the shock go up to my elbows when I connected with his head. He staggered backward, and I felt light-headed as my breath came in shallow gasps. I shrank away, fearing retribution.

Instead of being angered by my assault, he smiled wryly and holstered his gun. The smile made his eyes look much less icy and hard. With a slight bow, he said, “My apologies, miss. I did not intend to alarm you.”

“They’re coming!” the lookout called from the front of the car. “Hurry!”

My bandit glanced over his shoulder to see the railroad guards attempting to open the locked door, then returned his attention to me. “And now, if you will excuse me, I need to make use of your seat to reach that hatch.” I followed his eyes upward to see a hatch in the car’s ceiling, directly above me. The bandit put the case he’d taken on the seat near me, stepped onto the seat, placed his hands against the