Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine

Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine

Anthony Francis

February 2017 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-760-1


 
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From an Epic Award winning author comes a sprawling tale of brass buttons, ray guns, and two-fisted adventure!

In an alternate empire filled with mechanical men, women scientists, and fantastic contraptions powered by steam, a high ranking officer in the Victoriana Defense League betrays his country when he steals an airship and awakens an alien weapon that will soon hatch into a walking factory of death.

Commander Jeremiah Willstone and her team must race through time in a desperate bid to stop the traitor's plan to use the alien weapon to overthrow the world's social order. With time running out, Jeremiah may have to sacrifice everything she is to save everyone she loves.

"Addictive, sassy, sexy, funny, intense, brilliant." -Bitten By Books, on Frost Moon

Epic Award winner Anthony Francis writes the Dakota Frost, Skindancer series and the Jeremiah Willstone series while working on robots for "the Search Engine Which Starts with a 'G'."

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Excerpt

1. The Mystery in the Crystal Hangar

Maddox Cove, Newfoundland

2:21am November 4, 1908

THE VAST CRYSTAL HANGAR of the Newfoundland Airship Conserva­tory glittered in the distance like a bar of faery gold. Mist cloaked it like a shroud, and around it, the abandoned buildings of Sir John Jeffries’ Airship City lay scattered over the valleys of Maddox’s Cove like skulls, their windows gouged black as eye sockets and their roofs fissured and trepanned by a quarter century of disuse—but the glass walls of the hangar still glit­tered, and its interior glowed with warm gas light.

"Abandoned in the 1880s, my arse,” Lieutenant Patrick Harbinger said, flat on his stomach on the chilly edge of the ridge, spying through the trees the mammoth hangar and reconstructed mansion over a kilometer distant. "That base is active. Looks like the Commander was right.”

"When is she not, sir?” asked the youngest of Patrick’s Rangers, a Maori recruit who blew into her shivering free hand as she peered with her farlenses. "But is our missing airship at port? Yon crystal hangar’s big enough for the Zeppelin-Rogers 101, but my lenses aren’t penetrating.”

"Nor mine,” Patrick said, flicking the polarizer of his spectracle down, the powerful lens cutting through distance and vapor alike, revealing in crys­tal detail the smooth, sloped walls of the glass hangar and the spiky scaffold­ing holding together the aging Queen Anne Revival mansion attached to it— but inside those windows was nothing but fog. "Too much condensa­tion—”

Blue light flared within the glass hangar, near the end pointing away from them. Patrick adjusted his spectracles, catching a quick glimpse of flicker­ing lightning behind fogged panes, a lightshow which soon curdled into a lump of darkness lurking at the far end of the hangar.

"They’re... testing the weapon,” Patrick muttered.

"Sir?” the Maori asked. "Ah! Yon darkness near the far end, could be the ZR-101’s nose.”

"I see that too,” said one of Patrick’s older Rangers, a seasoned Egyptian peering through custom farlenses crafted by her personal artisans. She grimaced, pocketing her farlenses, her hands trembling in the cold. "I’ll wa­ger they had to wedge the ZR-101 end to end to get it to fit—”

"Enough of those warm-weather gloves,” chided their Canadian Ranger, as his Egyptian counterpart slipped her hands into her pockets. The Canadian wore a light Expeditionary tailcoat that made Patrick shiver just looking at it. "You’ll never harden your hands by hiding them—”

"Be that as it may,” Patrick said, adjusting his spectracles towards the fore­ground, "keep your hands warm and your weapons ready, however you have to. Unless air support comes through, or the Commander finds the sea approach, it looks like we’re in for a pitched battle by land.”

For, beyond the brutal cold—which, Patrick freely admitted, neither his African heritage nor his college years spent in the warmer latitudes of the Confederacy had prepared him for—their foes had done everything in their power to make this historic building a hard target.

With his spectracles, he inspected the fortification ringed round thecom­plex: a quick-hedge, a vicious latticework of tumbled brasslite spikes de­signed to repel Foreigners. Behind it, dark forms patrolled, taller and thin­ner than any man or woman... and shining with glints of copper.

"Sir, I must confess I’m uncomfortable, and not from the damn near po­lar chill,” the Maori said, tightening the belt on her heavy-weather Expedition­ary tailcoat. "Yon building there. It stands—we stand—on for­eign soil—”

"Oi!” snapped their Canadian, flipping back his own fargoggles. "Watch your language, there are humans inside those walls. Nearest inhu­man territory I know of is Iceland, a thousand kilometers northeast, so if this is a Foreign shore either I or our navigators are far off the mark—”

"I’m sure the Ranger meant sovereign, not Foreign,” Patrick said calmly, "but point taken: the walls of our world have been breached, and if we don’t stand together, we’ll all fall separately. No human being is a Foreigner, even if they fly a different flag—”

"But they do fly a different flag, sir—and I’ll wager there was a time the Newfoundland Airship Conservatory raised it with pride every day,” the Maori pressed. "With respect, sir, couldn’t assaulting a military airship hangar of a sovereign power be considered an act of war?”

"Couldn’t receiving a stolen military airship of a sovereign power also be con­sidered an act of war?” the Canadian snapped back. "The Liberated Territories of Victoriana can’t just afford to let its best airship fall into the hands of Newfoundland—”

"Especially not for free, since we planned to sell it to them,” Patrick said, giving back a wry nod to his man’s surprised glance. "If their airships engage one of our airships, even a stolen one, it’s an international incident. But if we retrieve it”—and he let his voice go all stuffy and Peer­age—"simply a self-policing action, Mister Ambassador, shall we sweep it under this rug?”

His men and women laughed, and Patrick smiled tightly. Both his Canadian and his Maori were right: global diplomacy must have been much easier when it had been called foreign policy—and when the word Foreigner still meant human.

The Canadian shook his head. "Still, I can’t shake the feeling it’s danger­ous, having our most important airship routes, the backbone of the empire, controlled by another power—”

"The point of the Liberated Territories is that we are not an empire,” Patrick said, redirecting the conversation. "We incorporate only territories that want to join—Ranger! Hang back, we’re already too far forward.”

"Sorry, sir,” the Maori said; she’d stepped slightly up the ridge, and from behind the cover of a tree was scoping out the valley, even as she drew her blaster and checked its gas canister. "But if we’re in for a land assault, I recommend that we try the approach near yon—”

But whatever strategic point of advantage the Maori Ranger had spied, she never got to mention, for rising over the ridge, moving smoothly with silent metal strides, loomed a tall, bulbous-headed form with glowing eyes—and crackling electric tongs at the end of its long copper arm.

"Bollocks!” the Maori cried, stumbling back, swinging her blaster up as the metal man bore down on her. "Mechanicals! Mechanicals—”

But the Mechanical was faster, two crackling fingers lancing out with a stun­ning jolt to her heart. The Maori flew backwards, blaster spinning out of her hand as Harbinger unslung his blunderblast and discharged a round of aetheric lightning square on the machine’s chest.

Staggered, the spindly copper man fell to its knees, green crackling fox­fire rippling over it, arms waving blindly as the aetheric discharge scrambled its Analogue vision tubes. But unlike a human, who could be felled to uncon­sciousness with a single shot, a Mechanical had a clockwork controller to fall back on—and as the first metal soldier struggled to rise, a second one stomped up the path, electric tongs crackling—and the transmitter on its helmet flickering to life.

"Don’t let it send the alarm!” the Egyptian said, blasting their new foe’s an­tenna.

"Capital shot,” Patrick said, sharply but quietly, unloading another aetheric discharge from his blunderblast’s bell into the flailing Mechanical’s chest, even as a third clockwork soldier crested the ridge. "But keep your voice down! Does us no good to stop the alarm if you are the alarm—”

The three Rangers left standing fell back as the metal monsters ad­vanced. Thermionic weapons performed admirably against living humans, physical structures, even wood—but against these well-shielded, well-grounded copper soldiers, the aetheric blasts were barely a hindrance.

Only the strict rules governing these devices saved the humans from a swift death.

"It’s deciding to run,” the Canadian said, pointing at the fallen Mechani­cal, struggling to rise, intact head rotating left and right in a calibra­tion motion, even as its two compatriots, their antennae destroyed, corralled the humans with outstretched, sparkling tongs. "I’ve got a shot—gaah!”

But leaning in to destroy the antenna had put him too close to the sec­ond Mechanical, which lanced out and nailed him on his gun arm with the electric tongs. He spun aside with a sharp cry, gun flying as he went tum­bling—and the standing Mechanicals lunged for their prey.

The fallen Mechanical rose—then was suddenly pulled off balance by a sharp jerk on its metal collar from a pale hand. A slim figure in a grey heat cloak effortlessly guided the stumbling Mechanical into a sapling—then, when the metal man reached back for its foe, the figure slid the pole of a tonfa club beneath its upraised shoulder blades, pinning it to the tree. While the machine struggled vainly, one pale hand snapped its antenna off—and the other pulled back the hood of the cloak to reveal the golden curls and night-vision goggles of Commander Jeremiah Willstone.

"Care for an assist, gentlemen and gentlewomen?” Jeremiah asked, stab­bing the antenna into one Mechanical’s neck, then ducking as the other Mechanical whirled in the direction of her voice. Jeremiah darted fluidly aside, blinding it with a fold of her heat cloak and driving the Mechanical’s lunging tongs into the ribs of its fellow—the short she’d created in its neck frying both its central motor and vision tubes in twin clouds of black oil and sparks. "Looks like you could use it—”

"Much obliged, Commander,” Patrick said, tipping his bowler, with a slightly embarrassed air. "Sorry we’re past your recommended perimeter, ma’am, but there was too much brush on that ridge to scan the site. We’re lucky you like to run a final recce—”

"I’m lucky you’re scouting our assault,” Jeremiah said, locking the joint of the remaining Mechanical’s arm, leading it blind and stumbling around her in a forced whirl until its head smashed into a tree. Harbinger’s team was fifty meters past her cordon, but she could immediately see why. "I can al­ways count on you to find the best vantage point, and that’s how I found you—”

"Thank you, ma’am,” Patrick said, ramming the butt of his blunderblast into the spinal joint of the Mechanical, which flopped out, deactivated. "But a land assault may be dicey, the Conservatory appears to be quite well guarded—do you need help, ma’am?”

"Thanks, but I believe I have it,” Jeremiah said, flashing Patrick a quick grin as she carefully slipped behind the pinioned Mechanical, still flailing against the sapling. Before it could break free, she reached beneath its head, felt, pressed, then popped its head off with a smooth motion. As the Mechani­cal sagged, she flipped its head over and lifted her goggles, inspect­ing the spinal socket joint. "Haven’t seen this make since Academy... whit­tled in 1882! Near as old as I am—”

"Older, surely,” Harbinger said.

"Flatterer,” Jeremiah said, giving him a wink. She peered past the joint into the casing. "Still, quite well maintained, a brand new dynamo—and, I note with relief, still fully compliant with the Mechanical Protocols. Our foes remain civil. Capital.”

"Thank heaven for small favors,” Patrick said, sighting up the path. "Looks like the end of reinforcements. Civilized or no, they’re husbanding their funds well—three well-kept sentries are a far better defense than one brand new one, shined and ready for its outnumbering.”

"My thoughts exactly,” Jeremiah said, stepping towards the Canadian, who’d fallen on his arse by a tree. She knelt to check his pulse, just as Patrick knelt by the Maori to do the same, and she gave Patrick a warm smile. "Such a pleasure to be working with you again, Lieutenant.”

"You as well, Commander,” Patrick replied.

"I wish I could say the same, ma’am; can’t feel anything but pins and nee­dles,” the Canadian said, cradling his injured arm gingerly with his oppo­site hand. "Sorry, ma’am, you always did recommend Rangers cultivate skill with their non-dominant hands—”

"Simply a precaution; ambidexterity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Jeremiah said, touching his throat. He winced, and her fingers tingled; he’d ab­sorbed far more aetheric charge than at first she’d thought—but she hated to see her soldiers blame themselves for their injuries. "No need to bruise yourself, Ranger; the enemy will do that for you.”

"Still,” he grimaced, "my active participation in this mission may be at an end.”

"Your pulse is regular; you’re in no immediate danger,” Jeremiah said, gen­tly feeling his arm: it was limp, and she could see he’d picked up post-blast shivers. "Buck up, Ranger, you’re alive and conscious, and you’ll live to fight another day! Can you get to your feet and help carry our compat­riot back to the landing turtle? Yes? Capital. Let’s move.”

The Egyptian and Canadian lifted their unconscious Maori counterpart and slung her arms over their shoulders as Jeremiah and Patrick pulled the Mechanicals off the path and out of sight; thank God the trees had shaded the snow enough so a quick brushing could hide their scuffle. Then Jeremiah had the wounded lead the way back while she and Patrick guarded their retreat.

"The Baron’s using our full playbook,” she muttered, drawing one of herKathodenstrahls. "Quick-hedges, gates reinforced with brasslite tubing, walls reinforced with spun-mesh barbwire—and at an historic building, so we can’t blast it without getting Newfoundland’s boot up our arse!”

"We need to move quickly,” Patrick said. "They may have been testing the weapon.”

"If it’s a weapon,” she said. "Stirred them up like an anthill, it did. Still, I do not, do not, do not like even the ideaof a Foreign weapon falling into the hands of a traitor with an airship—much less one sitting in the hangar of a well-armed and suspiciously tolerant sovereign power that’s the closest strike point to our capitol this side of the Atlantic! We need to move in.”

"Assault crabs are out,” Patrick said, "given that thorough perimeter of cal­trop hedges.”

"Monitored by an equally thorough perimeter of roving Mechanicals, within and without.”

"So no direct assault,” he said. "Hang on, how do you know what’s in­side their perimeter?”

Jeremiah smiled over her shoulder at him. "Now, that would be telling,” she said; truth be told, eluding the eyes of that perimeter had taxed even her abilities. But, as usual, moving with speed had paid off. "Fortunately, I found the actual entrance to the smugglers’ tunnels.”

"Capital,” Patrick said. "It is a pleasure to be working with you again, Commander.”

At a steep, exposed ridge, Jeremiah held her hand up, listening care­fully; then darted forward to a covering position while Harbinger helped the wounded quickly cross the gap. For a moment, she could again see the Conserv­atory, that glowing mountain behind its spiky hedge.

The enemy was there. Her enemy was there: the Baron—the man who’d taught her mistrust. The man who’d sabotaged her dreams. The man who’d nearly got her drummed out of Academy. The man who’d gambled Iceland on one of his mad schemes—and lost it to Foreigners!

Now the madman was trying again! And so close! She hissed, then turned away, drawing calming breaths to compose herself before rejoining her troops. Grudges were a weakness, anger was a short route to error, and revenge was most decidedly unprofessional.

hˆf

But bringing this blackguard to heel would feel so good.

2. The Last Boat out of Iceland

JEREMIAH’S EXPEDITIONARIES regained, without further incident, thelanding zone, that cozy tree-shaded bay they’d first mistaken for the smug­glers’ cove. As they skulked in, two sleek, masked figures rose from the water without a sound, and even Jeremiah was impressed at how cunningly the Frogman and Frogwoman’s patterned black rubber armor blended with the rocks and surf.

Another Frogman rose from the waters like a merman not two meters from her, raising his trident in challenge, and she pumped her fist twice, two fingers raised in the sign for safe return. He pumped his fist as well, passing the signal on—and twin lights glowed beneath the waves.

As if pressed by the light, the water surged forward, heaving in a glisten­ing swell more urgent than the surf, bursting into glittering pearls and white foam as the craggy metal head of the landing turtle broke the surface, gleaming water sluicing unending off the armored cages of its blazing arc headlights, its mouth falling open with a splash, disgorging a Frogman in a cloud of steam.

"Found me a good approach, have you, ma’am?” asked Subcommander Stacey Herbert-Draper, lifting a side of the turtle’s vulcanized rubber pres­sure membrane while Jeremiah lifted the other so her Rangers could help their wounded in. "Or have you better news?”

"Don’t break out the assault crabs just yet, Subcommander,” Jeremiah said, containing her smile; after missing the landing zone and losing their first sortie, it was best not to get cocky over one little victory. "I found air vents—and traced them back to the smugglers’ dock.”

"Capital,” Herbert-Draper said, his eyes gleaming. The reserve the sea­soned Subcommander had shown her was cracking, though he clearly wasn’t comfortable with a Willstone as a Commander yet. "My troops might still catch these blackguards unawares. What about our missing airship?”

"We couldn’t confirm it was there,” Patrick said. "The structure’s lit, but fogged.”

"Blast,” Herbert-Draper said, lowering the membrane. "I’ll call in the abort—”

"You’ll do no such,” Jeremiah said, quiet but firm. "We shall strike di­rectly.”

"Ma’am,” Herbert-Draper said, reaching for her arm, but lowering his voice. "We’re on the shore of one of our allies—and quite possibly, on the shore of a diplomatic incident. Understand, I can’t authorize an assault on Newfoundland without confirming my target!”

Jeremiah smiled tightly. Again "his” target, "his” troops, "his” authoriza­tion, always calling her "ma’am,” never mentioning her rank—intentionally or not, Herbert-Draper was undermining her command. Liberation might be a century on, the VDL might be staffed top to bottom with men and women— but the older hands, she still found resistance that made her work... difficult.

They’d made her a Senior Expeditionary Commander for a rea­son— the highest non-Peerage rank an officer could hold, by definition outrank­ing all other officers on a strikeforce, a post created for her grand­mother, to give that first female Commander the authority to lead a mission very like this one: an armada quickly assembled from every service, staffed by officers of every rank.

But staring into her soldier’s eyes, Jeremiah saw earnestness, not con­tempt: proving she deserved her rank was her issue, not his. She should be glad to have a man like Herbert-Draper serving under her, a true character struck from the submariner’s mold: meticulous but bold, disciplined but quirky—and even more experience fighting Foreign monsters than her.

No, she’d read his file—and wagered the real issue wasn’t her age or gen­der, but his own history: a too-daring raid, in which Herbert-Draper had scuttled a freighter infested with Foreigners not realizing humans were still on board—a mistake which left him demoted, for as progressive as the Victori­ana Defense League was, the one thing it did not do was reward fail­ure.

The man wasn’t trying to undermine her: he was simply gun-shy, and needed reassurance.

"Fear not sir, this is on my head—and trust I won’t put you or your troops at risk without ample cause and a plan for success,” Jeremiah said, giving his arm a firm squeeze, even as she gauged the reaction of their sol­diers to this conflict among commanders. Yes, this would have to be dealt with directly: she needed her men and women focused on believing she could lead them to success, not distracted by mutterings about who’s run­ning the show, or, worse, about the failures of her mother—or uncle. "Put me on the dial, point-to-point, to the other turtles and launches.”

"Aye,” Herbert-Draper said, motioning to his aerograph operator, who be­gan rapping a key, sending, over the thin wires connecting their sea and undersea forces, a Morse signal to bring their spectroscope dials online. "But onlythem, Frogman. Don’t break Hertzian silence—”

"No doubt the Baron could catch any signal we sent through the air,” Jeremiah said, striding before the glass eye of the lens, giving her tailcoat a sharp jerk to straighten it. "This is why I wanted our psychics on the mis­sion,” she muttered, "rather than holed at base—”

"Doubtful air support’s even in range yet,” Herbert-Draper grumbled.

"Fear not, Sublieutenant, Lord Birmingham will have our backs soon enough,” Jeremiah said, though in truth she’d expected him here already. "Don’tlet on that we’re talking only to ground-and-sea, Frogman, we want our troops thinking our force is united from the start.”

The operator nodded, then threw the shunt to CAPTURE. The dial of a spectroscope lit up, its grainy image showing Jeremiah she was still presenta­ble after their first encounter. Right, here we go. She nodded, and the aerograph operator flicked the shunt to TRANSMIT.

The faces of Frogmen, Frogwomen, and Rangers in the hold lit up green as Jeremiah’s image appeared on the spectroscope dial overhanging their benches—then those same soldiers appeared before Jeremiah as the return dial next to her camera snapped on with a little metallic ping. More dials flicked on, dink, dink, dink, each glowing disc showing troupes of men and women from stealth launches, sea turtles and behemoths all across the assault force.

Jeremiah smiled when the four main returns went up—but felt her eyes widen when auxiliary dials lit up around them, five, six, seven, eyes of a spi­der, then more—God! A dozen troupes stared back at her through a constella­tion of dials, comprising the largest force she’d ever commanded, the full force of her new title SeniorExpeditionary Commander hitting home at last.

And this was merely a third of what she’d asked for! She’d never even seen them all at once like this; the assault force had been assembled en route. Still, Jeremiah kept looking straight ahead at the central camera lens, so the men and women on the other end of the links would see her looking them straight in the eyes—and, with some irony, she felt herself adopt the grim, determined smile that had inspired her... when the Baron led his ill-fated troops into Iceland.

"Expeditionaries, ho!” she cried.

"Ho!” the Expeditionaries in the hold shouted back, and the tinny screens responded too.

"This is Commander Willstone,” Jeremiah said, smile growing wry as she calculated the best way to blunt the bad news. "With this assault already an hour past our op order, I’ll wager you’re wondering if you’re back at Acad­emy, led by trainees struggling to find their own behinds!”

Laughter rippled out over the hold, and through the dials, and Jeremiah winked.

"Fear not, we’ve not been searching for our own arses, but for the best way to stick it to the blackguards who stole Her Majesty’s airship,” she said. "We’ve confirmed the enemy has infiltrated this compound, and I person­ally scouted an approach that will let us take them unawares!”

Jeremiah smiled more broadly as her soldiers leaned towards their dials, ea­ger to hear more. She reviewed the new plan of attack, then said, "Recall my words back in Boston: our primary aim is not to recover a stolen airship, but capture the blackguard who stole it—and thwart his plans for its cargo. Our psychics have warned us that it’s of primary importance to nip this in the bud—”

On a tiny spectroscope dial, a Frogwoman raised her hand, and Jeremiah hit its call button. Back when she was in Academy, information had flowed from top to bottom, but after Iceland—especially after Iceland—she wanted her soldiers speaking up. "Question, Frogwoman?”

"What are we nipping, Commander?” called the scratchy voice, voicing a question she knew had to be on the minds of all her men and women— and the answer to which her superiors in the Peerage were keep­ing a secret. "How will we know it? What, precisely, did the Baron steal?”

"Lord Christopherson stole something so dangerous it put a boot up the whole Peerage’s arse,” Jeremiah joked, casting a side nod at one Frog­man who offered his own take on the arses in the Peerage. "But I’d never send a crew in blind—so before we departed, I ran a mission myself to find out! Our target was stolen from the Arsenal of Madness, crated in a box a little more than a meter a side—and shipped through the very smuggling network whose tunnels we shall storm!”

Jeremiah smiled as her men and women leaned forward, ready for ac­tion. She’d dispelled whatever fears they’d had over the first botched land­ing, she’d made them forget the bickering and the soured first sortie, she’d let their concerns be heard—and shown she’d already dealt with them.

Now was the time to seize their spirit and galvanize them to action.

"Gentlemen and gentlewomen of the Victoriana Defense League,” Jere­miah said. "We defend the world—like no-one ever has! You’re the best trained army in the history of humanity, fighting for the best values, and our quarry was one of our own. But now, he’s fled to a haven for the kind of blackguards who want to depose the Queen and restore Parliament!”

That last bit sent defiant mutters spreading through the dials—one could always count on a threat to the Queen to stir her troops. True, Jeremiah hadn’t quite proved that the Baron was backed by Restoration­ists—but if rumor was good enough to motivate her men and women, she’d use it.

"And if that’s not enough of a kick in the teeth,” she cracked, "the Baron got the boot for trying to use the monsters’ technology against them. Every human being who lived on Iceland could tell you that never ends well— or would do, if they weren’t all dead!” She let that bit settle in, then said grimly, "Believe me, I know—I was on the last boat out of Iceland with him, and I can tell you from personal experience he never learns! So the Baron hasn’t just impugned the reputation of the League—our reputations, I remind you—he has a history of putting the whole world at risk. So, gentle­men and gentlewomen, I appreciate your cooperation in bringing him to heel!”

"Ho!” shouted the array of dials, echoed by the men and women of the tur­tle.

"Remember, all of humanity is in this together,” Jeremiah said, voice ring­ing out. "So treat no human being like a Foreign monster. Our enemies may be blackguards and traitors, they may be meddling in Foreign technol­ogy, but their Mechanicals follow the Protocols, so our first assumption is that our foes are civil—and even if they’re not, we are! Make me proud. Pre­vail, Victoriana!”

"Prevail, Victoriana!”

Rangers and Frogmen and Frogwomen sprang to action. Herbert-Draper ordered his turtles to submerge for action, the aerograph opera­tor coordinated with the launches, Patrick gave her a tip of his bowler be­fore briefing the assault force, and Jeremiah smiled—outwardly.

But inwardly, Jeremiah found herself increasingly worried. She’d told the men and women under her command what they needed to know to suc­ceed: that the Baron had been booted from the Victoriana Defense League for fighting fire with fire—trying to turn Foreign technology back against its masters, and failing badly—and might be trying it again.

But she couldn’t help feeling that something far more foul was afoot.

Their real target was a mere crate—a sealed crate, stolen from the Providence Museum of the Insane, known for good reason as the Arsenal of Madness for its cache of Foreign technology. To recover it the VDL was mounting an epic assault, bringing to bear one airship, two leviathans, three turtles, four launches, with an equally epic command, including Patrick, Herbert-Draper, and, if his airship ever arrived, the renowned Lord Birmingham. All were experienced soldiers known for fighting Foreigners, all led by her, a Commander known for repelling more Foreign Incursions than any­one else—her first, back when she was in Academy. In fact, this assault force didn’t look like the military police you’d want to bring a rogue general to heel, but instead like the dream team to counter a full-blown invasion from the stars.

Even then, it wouldn’t be enough. From the start, Jeremiah had warned her masters in the Peerage that this large force was far too small, and now they faced the reality: they had neither the ground forces to quickly over­whelm the Conservatory before their quarry could take to the air, nor the air forces to pincer the ZR-101 before it could get away. More than just her reputa­tion as a newly minted Senior Expeditionary Commander was at stake; the Baron was a real threat to the country, if not indeed to the world. She’d have to apply all her skill and strategy just to prevent the Baron’s es­cape, and if he was cooking up an Incursion

Why, she’d chase him to the ends of the earth personally.

But as dangerous as the possibility was, Jeremiah was savvy enough to real­ize why her masters in the Peerage had been careful not to mention the I-word. If they had, by VDL rules they’d have been obligated to alert Queen Columbia II, and by the North Atlantic Defense Treaty the Queen would have been obligated to warn Newfoundland, and then... well, so much for keeping this quiet. If a stolen airship could lead an international incident, an allegation that a former VDL officer was calling down an invasion of For­eign monsters on sovereign soil could lead to war.

So it was clear why the Peerage was worked up into a tizzy to catch Lord Christopherson as quickly but quietly as possible—especially given dire warnings from their psychics that the VDL simply must stop the arrival of a Messenger of the Baron’s new allies, the mysterious Order of the Burning Scarab. Not much was known about them, other than they were a highly secretive order of highly placed persons whose obsession was studying the life cycle of Foreigners.

Why had Lord Christopherson turned coat? Jeremiah had no idea; in fact, in over nine years as an Expeditionary, fighting the Foreign monsters trying to gain a beachhead on the Earth, she’d never puzzled out why humans be­came so desperate that they turned to the monsters for aid.

But you needn’t have thwarted a Foreign Incursion in Academy to puz­zle this mission out.

hˆf

Their target, that unearthly thing in the crate, wasn’t a Foreign weapon, but a Foreigner itself.


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ISBN: 978-1-61194-6-260

The Skindancer series, Book 3

Our Price: US$16.95

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