Read Aethosphere Chronicles: The Rat Warrens Online

Authors: Jeremiah D. Schmidt

Tags: #coming of age, #betrayal, #juvenile, #gangsters, #uprising, #slums, #distopia, #dubious characters, #elements of the supernatural, #steampunk and retropunk

Aethosphere Chronicles: The Rat Warrens

 

This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the
products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious
manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or
actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Aethosphere Chronicles: Rat
Warrens

By Jeremiah D Schmidt

Copyright © 2015 Jeremiah D
Schmidt

Smashwords Edition

 

All Rights Reserved

 

Cover Illustration Copyright ©
2015 by Jeremiah D Schmidt

Cover Design by Jeremiah D
Schmidt

Map of the Pinprick Slums by
Jeremiah D Schmidt

 

Smashwords Edition, License
Notes

Thank you for downloading this
ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author,
and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or
non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage
your friends to download their own copy from their favorite
authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

 

ISBN: 9781310192074

 

V1.5

Foreword

Greetings, potential reader. I’d like to take this
opportunity to briefly explain to you what you’re about to
read.

 

As the title implies, this story is part of the
Aethosphere Chronicles
, which is a loose
assemblage of interrelated stories written not only to entertain,
but to enrich the storyline of the
Aethosphere
series of books. However, this shouldn’t
dissuade anyone unfamiliar with the main series from giving this
story a read, as it requires no prior knowledge of events or
characters from Aethosphere (or of the other Chronicles for that
matter). It has been crafted to stand on its own.

 

So please, think of this as an opportunity to vet the
series if you’ve never been exposed; or as a chance to enrich the
experience if you have.

 

Enjoy!

Table of Contents

Map of the Pinprick Slum

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Epilogue

Discover

Connect

Map of the Pinprick
Slum

Prologue

Whistling through the rusted shells of ancient
pipework and concrete blocks stained black by centuries of mold,
fresh air breezed in on a tiny wedge of light. The mist and gloom
of the industrial crevasse parted with its passing, revealing a
hole just barely wide enough for the Hierarch boy to squeeze his
way through. He had to reach that light, because only darkness
waited for him back through the Tangle, back where a thousand
rage-filled eyes stared blindly into the surrounding blackness. But
the hidden passage fought his intrusion, or his escape, and sent
ductwork and clustered conduits to bar his way, or steel girders
too low to pass under or too wide to shimmy around. So he found
different routes, or wiggled and pulled his way regardless of the
blockade, sometimes crawling on hands and knees, or sometimes by
simply forcing his small body to twist into shapes not meant for a
person to be twisted in.

Dirty, tired, gasping for air in the stifling
heat, he stretched and grasped for any handhold he could reach, but
finding each slick with slime, or sharp with rust…crawling with
creatures too disgusting to imagine. None of it stopped him
however, though pieces of his patch-work clothing and bits of flesh
tore away. The going would not make it easy, and it grabbed at him
with twisted nails and fractured brackets (one of a hundred such
loose building materials), and all of it forgotten after centuries
of being buried beneath continual upward construction.

And somewhere above it all, his destination;
the sky, the sun, and the light.

Each meter, each centimeter, the light grew
and the breeze turned sweeter. The Gutter Lady had pointed him
true, but then the sky seemed paradoxically ahead and not above as
reason should dictate. But what did reason really matter to a
child—to a rat pup who’d lived in the Rat Warrens most of his life?
Instead he found his heart racing all the more, pounding against
bruised ribs and intoxicating a brain already flushed with
adrenaline.

As he climbed his mind turned to how long it
had been since he’d last seen the sky? Days, months, years? In the
thrill of the moment time meant nothing. The musky tang of metal
and moldering filth continued to wane and the coolness encouraged
him on as it dried away the beads of sweat gathered on his
forehead; caressing them away with a mother’s tender touch. And yet
every twist and turn seemed to have another twist and turn, and
each a little tighter than the last. Frustration mounted. Escape
seemed just beyond his reach and he growled and gnashed his teeth
until his emotions were just as chaotic as the slums he’d left in
turmoil. And then the pipes and the concrete, the ductwork and the
conduits—all of it parted way and the sky opened up to light and
air.

At first the adolescent stumbled in blind
amazement, shielding his eyes against the brilliance and the strong
headwind that tussled the shag of his black hair. And for one
terrifying second he lost perspective on what might be up or down.
But he reached out and caught his balance on the surrounding pipes
and used them to guide his way forward, drawn, not only by the open
space ahead, but by all the light it offered him…

 

 

Chapter
1

Fen Tunk was eight the last time a scamp lost his
thumbs. The news of a man caught scamming the system burned through
the darkness of the Pinprick Slum as intensely as any
lightbringer’s candle, and grew to a Rat Warren-wide event, even
attracting denizens as far off as Gutterway, Slag Town, and
URP.

It’d all started when the local rat lord, a
gangster-boss by the name of Trevor Trask, caught wind of some
schlub hawking Iron notes for tokens directly with the locals, and
thus completely bypassing his Bartermen’s Exchange. A practice
specifically forbidden. The economics of it were totally lost on
Fen, making no sense as to why anyone from the slums would trade
out their tokens for notes. Not with a three-to-one rate favoring
the tokens, and no market in the Pinprick for notes anyway. In
light of that, working with a scamp just seemed like throwing your
hard-won money away out of spite…or stupidity.

However, what did make sense was this scamp
skimming profit at the rat lord’s expense. So it was really of no
surprise at all when Boss Trask sent his dangermen and bruisers out
in force to scour the Pinprick in search of the fool. Didn’t take
them long to find him either, not with plenty of loose lips looking
for a handout or two.

“Course they got him…greed makes men blind to
danger,” Art Tunk slurred out drunkenly on the evening the news
rippled through the slum. Fen’s sister Lydia had just finished
asking their father why the scamp didn’t leave the Pinprick after
making bank, and that was about all he had to say on the matter.
From there on out Art resumed sitting bowlegged on a heap of
blankets, staring into the corner of the cramped hovel, where the
last of their bric-a-brac burned to embers atop a pile of bricks
playing at being a hearth.

It was a few days later when Trask finally
had the exposed scamp dragged out for punishment beneath the
Sentinel. The whole slum had taken on a festive atmosphere by then,
and though Fen’s father wouldn’t have normally bothered, he’d heard
tell the Pinprick’s Skylight was free of charge for the duration,
and with bench-rent running two tokens a sixth hour that was a
prospect too good to pass-up.

“As I came around the bend the criers done
announced, ‘Lollygaggers welcomed,’ and the ratties lined up and
down the Scumside rejoiced. The “Old Big River” Drain Line was so
loud—ne’er heard it that loud—nearly brought down the shaft,” Art
had explained to his huddled children in a rare moment of clarity.
What he hadn’t explained at the time though, was how he’d been
passing along the Chimes Way, drinking away what little they’d
managed to scrounge up over the months.

As Lydia told it, since losing his comfy
position at Hanns Company, their father had taken less and less of
an interest in the wellbeing of the family, seeming more concerned
with drinking and muttering at ghosts than anything else. She’d
once said some claimed it was the Miner’s Madness that ailed him;
too much time spent around the atmium crystals buried deep inside
the isle; but most brushed it away as an excuse for weak-willed men
without the backbone for hard work. So down to the Rat Warrens they
descended once the companymen gave them the boot from the workers’
tenements up on the second tier. After that, it was their mother
who fought to support the family, but that could only last so long.
Two, sometimes three shift workdays took its toll, until one night,
before leaving for her shift at the Scullery, she’d snapped and
screamed bloody-murder at Art, calling him an unmotivated lunatic.
She never came home after that, and as proof positive of Art’s
decline, he barely acknowledged her absence at all, and instead
just charged Lydia with picking up the slack, even though she was
only ten at the time.

Fen was but four himself, but he could still
hear the rapid pattering of his mother’s footsteps as she fled
through the pipe, taking her from their hidden nook in the Pillars
to the snarl of the Pipeyards; and from there…who knows. It would
prove to be Fen’s last memory of her.

After she’d gone things only got worse at
home. Art’s attention vanished until the day he simply stopped
breathing and they had to drag him down Skitter Row and pitch him
into the Axillary Drain Line, turning him into floater-food for the
finslugs and snapper eels. But until that day came about, Fen’s
father’s sole occupation was with what he could find in the
Warrens, and for how much he could pawn it to buy his evening
draught of gutter gin. The only exception to the routine came the
day the scamp was set to stand trial (and the Pinprick’s light was
offered up free of charge). Though Art had been an ill-tempered and
mad drunk for as long as Fen could remember, at least he’d had the
decency to take Boss Trask up on his singular act of generosity—for
the sake of his children—even if his motivations might have been
selfish.

Art, like Fen and his sister, hadn’t seen the
light of day in four years, and in order to see anything during the
trial meant arriving at the Node hours beforehand. But when they’d
arrived, it was to bruisers and the sunkeepers keeping an already
anxious throng at bay so the rat lord’s dangermen go about their
preparations. Fen got so antsy waiting that he met the back of his
father’s hand three times before the Pinprick even saw its first
inclination of daybreak, and he might have gotten the boot too had
Lydia not taken her younger brother’s hand and engaged him in a
perpetual game of
Fists for Skies
, which, owing to their
father’s mood, she went ahead and let Fen win more occasions then
her pride might otherwise have liked.

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