Heart of Iron

Free Heart of Iron by Ekaterina Sedia

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Authors: Ekaterina Sedia
Tags: sf_history
to commit. I then stared at Jack.
    “Mr. Bartram here claims to have some information,” the officer said. “And since Her Majesty’s interests and ours happen to coincide, Mr. Bartram and his colleagues have been quite helpful in our recent investigations of the Asiatic menace with which, I hear, you are involved.”
    “Not at all,” I protested.
    He shuffled a few papers on his desk, and pulled out a single sheet. I recognized the page from my notebook; I think I blanched, because the gendarme gave me a humorless smile. “We have a report,” he said, “that one Wong Jun was arrested, while in company of two compatriots and a lady, reportedly of European appearance. With your letter, I am forced to conclude you were that lady — a lady who resisted arrest, interfered with the performance of police duties, and escaped lawful custody.”
    “Wong Jun is a classmate of mine,” I protested. “And I am not blind — I know how many Chinese students have disappeared.”
    “And yet, you’ve inquired only after the one in our custody.” The man seemed to enjoy the effect of his words. “Not anyone else. You know why you are dealing with this special branch of the police and not others, correct?”
    “Military crimes,” I said, sullen. “Which I did not commit.”
    “And yet, you’ve consorted with spies.”
    “They are not spies,” I said, starting to lose patience. “You have no proof that any of them is involved in anything untoward, just as you have no proof that I was in any way connected with illegal activities.”
    “Do you have proof that you weren’t?” he asked. “Where were you on Saturday September twenty-fourth?”
    I sought feverishly for an answer — Olga? Anastasia? Both would swear they were with me the entire day; unfortunately, there were likely others who saw the two of them return to the dormitories without me.
    Jack spoke. “The lady was with me,” he said. “After she separated from her maid and a friend, she went for a walk with me. Not entirely proper, perhaps, but quite legal.”
    The officer’s eyes lit with understanding and a sly smile curled the corners of his mouth under his mouth under his mustache. “I see,” he said.
    I nodded, speechless. I wasn’t sure whether to feel grateful Jack would lie for me, suspicious because he was probably more eager to conceal his role in the event than mine, or furious because he never told me that he represented the interests of the British crown in addition to being a student. It did explain his taciturn demeanor when he was asked about his homeland though. I finally settled on seething resentment, softened a little by regret.
    I declined Jack Bartram’s offer of walking me home, and asked for someone to be sent to fetch Anastasia. She arrived soon after the paperwork was finished and I was let go with no greater punishment than admonition to be careful about writing letters to the emperor’s brother, and about who I chose as friends. I had decided to take the latter to heart, and frowned all the way home. Anastasia prattled about how worried she had been ever since Larisa and Olga told her about my sudden detainment, and how she was “this close” to sending a messenger to Trubetskoye.
    I brooded all the way home and long after Anastasia made tea and supper and retired to bed. I thought it silly to be angry with Jack — if he was indeed in St. Petersburg to somehow work with Prince Nicholas and help him spy on the Chinese, then his help with Lee Bo’s and Chiang Tse’s escape made no sense. Nor did it make sense for him to help me, to lie for me in direct violation of what the policeman claimed was his mission. On the other hand, if the gendarme was deceived, then Jack was carrying forged papers, and his interests diverged quite greatly from those of both empires.
sounded even more dangerous than having Chinese friends and resisting arrest.
    I finally slept, only because my philosophy exam was the next day and I had

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