Category Archives: Fiction

Stories I’ve posted here.

Story Sale! (and brief writing update)

Hey, friends! I’m here to announce that my story “Lord of the Cul-de-sac” (which originally featured in Galaxy’s Edge last year) has just been sold to Digital Fiction’s Hic Sunt Dracones anthology. It’s been a little while since my last short fiction sale (back in the fall, I think it was) so this is especially welcome news. I’ll keep you all updated on when it publishes.

On that note, my short story “The Masochist’s Assistant” is set to be published in the July/August issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’m especially excited about that one, as I think it is some of my finest work to date and is going to be in a major market like F&SF. For you Tyvian fans, it is a story also set in Alandar (Tyvian’s world) though, as usual with my short fiction, a different corner of it.

And on that note, some of you might be wondering a few things about this here blog:

Thing the First: Why haven’t you been posting as much, Habershaw?
Thing the Second: Is there ever going to be any more Saga of the Redeemed?

Well, the answer to those two things is related. I’ve been working feverishly on a few novel projects for the last 6-8 months or so which has cut into my blog-time. As of this writing, ink has fallen on contracts of various descriptions, but I have not, as yet, been given leave to openly discuss said contracts. When I do, you folks will be the first to know. Suffice to say I am very excited about them, very grateful to have the excellent agent that I do, and am almost certain when I say we haven’t seen the last of that scoundrel, Tyvian Reldamar.

Now then, back to outlining!

The Union of Stars: The Thraad

And now it comes time to discuss our own species – the Thraad. If it has taken long for me to reach this topic, it is not without reason. We Thraad understand that to know oneself, you must first understand others. If this seems counter-intuitive, give it time. You are young yet.

Physiology

Thraador

We are an evolutionary descendant of gastropods, though we are a significantly more complex organism than most common snails or slugs. We have a functioning circulatory system, for instance, and a six-chambered heart. Over the aeons, we have lost the ability to grow thick shells (artificial shells are worn instead, as clothing). Our locomotion is still by means of our single, muscular foot and made easier by the secretion of waste slime to reduce friction. We have two eyes on muscular stalks that can rotate and can even look in two directions at once without distress. Beneath our chins are four tentacles we use for the manipulation of objects, both fine and coarse. We are omnivorous and are hatched from eggs.

By the standards of other species in the Union, we are foul-smelling, slow, and ugly. But they know well enough not to underestimate us. Our home planet, Thraador, is very large by the standards of the Union and we evolved in an environment of extreme gravitational forces. Though we usually stand no more than 150 cm from foot to shell, we are the tallest and largest creatures on our world, which is flat, wet, and hot. Bipeds and quadrapeds never evolved on our world, as standing upright requires too much strength and affords too few advantages. When a fall of a few meters is fatal, walking on two or even four feet is risky. We Thraad are steady on our foot – we seldom falter and we never fall (remember this always, as it speaks not just to our physiology, but to our culture and heritage as well). Furthermore, thanks to the intense environment of our home, we are extremely strong by the standards of the other species. Though slow, we are unstoppable. Though ugly, we have wisdom.

Culture

We Thraad are a more unified people than most. Long ago we cast off petty nationalistic rivalries or affiliations of House or Cartel. Introspective by nature, we seek consensus in all things. Perhaps thanks to the harsh environment of our homeworld, we are disinclined to take action unless absolutely needed and not until it has been deeply considered. We are not flighty or given to impulse.

Our government is decentralized and simplistic: a council of elders of no specific size meets to decide things and, should the deliberations be wise, the people follow. This sounds chaotic to other species, but they do not understand our temperament. Wisdom is wisdom, no matter who speaks it. If the elders are wise, and history shows that they are, then they will speak well and we would do well to take their counsel. We are not a species of rebels or petty criminals. In the rare instance that one of our number is committed to folly, they are simply ostracized and cast out of the community. It is that simple.

This, of course, has its disadvantages. Though scientifically curious and always willing to learn, our society changes slowly and our capacity to react to calamity is limited. This makes other species think of us as harmless “armchair academics.” But our anger is no less bright than others. Our weapons, though perhaps not as flashy as those of the Dryth, are no less deadly. History is filled with the plague-ridden corpses of those who underestimated us.

We do not maintain distinct family units, even though we are a sexually reproducing species. Eggs are hatched centrally in any given community. The care of young ones is the equal responsibility of all – hence my speaking to you now. It may be that some of you are my biological children, but we Thraad make no distinctions between such things. If you are young and a Thraad, you are my offspring, to be treated the same as any other. If female, you will one day make periodic visits to the hatchery to lay. If male, you will make periodic visits to fertilize. That is all.

There is a sense among us, I feel, that we are cheated by our nature. Some of us look out from our flat world to gaze with envy upon the doings of the other Great Races – the romance of the Lhassa, the passion of the Dryth, and so on. But, in the end, all Thraad return to Thraador. After some years adventuring in the light gravity of the outside world, we long to return to our swampy homes. We are sensible like that.

History

Thraad civilization began some 16,000 sidereal years in the past. There is too much to know to sum up in this precis, but suffice to say that we took our time developing our cultures, our technologies, and our knowledge. There were wars, yes, but they were primarily waged by proxy: animals and plants and microbes we had trained or engineered to pursue our interests in one way or another. We are, of course, famed for being the masters of what is called “ecological warfare.” It is a slow way to defeat one’s enemies, yes, but quite effective in the long run.

We sought the stars, as all species do in time, but not because of the damage we had done to our environment (like the Lhassa) or because of our desire for conquest (the Dryth). Rather, we left our planet to learn. To explore. The history of our species is one of slow, gradual exploration – the meticulous building of a body of knowledge. We are a curious people.

Of course, our steps into the stars were not without problems. We warred with other species and lost. We discovered that our technologies and our habits were too slow to compete with the likes of the Dryth and Lhassa and Lorca. By luck, we “met” Skennite, and found in it a kindred spirit. The period of our history known as “the Hastening” began – we discovered the secrets of slipdrive, we expanded our influence. When again war came, we were ready. Our biological and chemical weapons were terrifyingly effective, our well-planned strategies invincible. We made the galaxy tremble. Of course, we are not a warrior people in the manner of the Dryth and we are not so numerous or prolific as the Lhassa, and we in time lost again. But we had secured ourselves a place as one of the Great Races, a privilege we continue to enjoy.

We joined the Union gladly, happy to escape the endless wars that ravaged the stars. Now our role is as diplomats, scientists, and merchants, not warriors. We are happier this way. Let the Lhassa and the Dryth and the others struggle in violence and pain for their pieces of the universe. We Thraad shall stand by, patiently, for the opportunity to squeeze ourselves into somewhere essential, just as we always have.

The Writer’s Cycle

ACT 1: THE IDEA

Writer: Wait…wait a minute. What’s this here? Why…why it’s a little idea!

Idea: (tiny voice) Water me, and I shall grow!

Writer: LET IT BE DONE!

(weeks of obsessive scribbling in notebooks pass)

Writer: THIS WILL BE THE GREATEST OF BOOKS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACT 2: THE DRAFT

Writer: There…outline finished.

Idea: That doesn’t really look like me.

Writer: It does if you tilt your head a little and squint.

Idea: Ummmm…

Writer: Let’s just start writing this thing and bring it to life. Then you’ll see.

(months later)

Draft: HELLO! I AM DRAFT!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idea: That looks nothing like me.

Writer: NO SHIT.

Idea: This is a violation of your promise to make me beautiful.

Writer: IT’S A PROCESS, DICK!

ACT 3: REVISION

Writer: Maybe if we hacked off its arms….

Idea: My arms are my best feature.

Writer: Okay, well, then I guess you’ll have to be purple.

Idea: Gross.

Writer: WORK WITH ME, IDEA!

Idea: I will not compromise my integrity.

Writer (brings out chainsaw): Get on the table.

Idea: But…I…

Writer: DO IT!

A BRIEF INTERLUDE

New Idea: Hi there! I’m a new Idea!

Writer (stooping over bloody corpse of old idea) GO. AWAY.

New Idea: Uhhhh…this seems like a bad time.

Writer: (points) GET IN THAT NOTEBOOK, SCUM!

ACT 3: SECOND DRAFT

Writer: (throws switch) There! LIVE LIIIIVE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idea/Draft Hybrid: WE. OBEY.

Writer: (frowning) Nope. Back on the table.

Idea/Draft Hybrid: WE. OBEY.

ACT 4: COMPLETION

Writer: There! All done!

Idea: …

Writer: What? What’s wrong?

Idea: Why am I purple?

Writer: (looks at chainsaw) Hmmmmm…

Idea: No! Purple! Purple’s fine!

 

FIN

 

Time Travel Tales: Now Available from Chappy Fiction!

It’s release day! My friend Zach Chapman has just put together a ripping collection of Time Travel Tales, just in time for the holidays, and it is now available in both paperback and e-book.

But don’t just take my word for it! Consult with your FUTURE SELF who is, right at this moment, emerging from my time machine. Here we go…

(opens door)

Hmmm...you've looked better...

Hmmm…you’ve looked better…

(closes door)

Just some…well…technical difficulties. I’m sure you’ll be fine. That you probably wasn’t even from this timeline. Right.

316892976Anyway, this anthology has tons of treats beyond simply my own humble tale (oh, did I not mention that? I HAVE A STORY HERE! Yes! MEEE! MEEEEEEE!)

Ahem. Also included are such luminary authors as Sean Williams, Robert Silverberg, Martin Shoemaker, Stuart C Baker, SL Huang, David Steffen, and many, many more!

So go and get it! Go! Time is wasting!

Well, unless you have a time machine, in which case you can get it now whenever you like.

A Very Special Offer From Your Local FOUL Affiliate

Dear Duke Lothario,

Le Chat Mauve is so mysterious, this is literally the best idea we have of his appearance. It isn't a very good one.

Le Chat Mauve is so mysterious, this is literally the best idea we have of his appearance. It isn’t a very good one.

If you are receiving this correspondence, it is because you have successfully stolen Degas’s The Bellelli Family from Musee D’Orsay in Paris and have found our note taped to the back of the canvas. Congratulations, monsieur, on your successful heist and be assured that our fence, Madame Noir, shall be by tomorrow at midnight to take possession. This note, however, will be stolen off your person by tomorrow morning by the one and only Chat Mauve. Do not try to stop him; you will only embarrass yourself.

Why have we gone to such lengths? It is to inform you of an unparalleled opportunity developing in the United States of America. As you may have heard, inveterate fool and consummate imbecile Donald Trump has managed to achieve the White House (thanks, in no small part, to our meddling, we assure you – your service fees at work!), and now, friends, our true work begins. A golden age of kleptocracy is about to begin in the US of A, and we would love for you to be part of it!

Let it be known that we are contacting every hustler, grifter, sneak-thief, footpad, brigand, con-man, cat burglar, extortion artist, cutpurse, second-story man, bandit, robber, and pickpocket in our network that, once Trump takes office, we are declaring open-season on any and all American goods, artifacts, or government assets. We are buying military equipment, real-estate, physical assets (e.g. gold), and artifacts. Grab all you can carry – we are absolutely certain that the FBI, NSA, and CIA will be entirely too worried tracking down Hispanic farm workers with unpaid parking tickets to bother stopping you from filching weapons-grade plutonium from a government lab. Their eyes will be so fixated on signing unassuming Muslims up on some fascist database that not a single person will notice if the Washington Monument goes missing. Trump isn’t even living in the White House, so the whole damned place is basically unoccupied except by those glorified rent-a-cops in the Secret Service and, let’s face it, you are just three or four high-end strippers away from having the run of the place!

Imagining what even the silverware will fetch? We know--consult our pricing catalogue.

Imagining what even the silverware will fetch? We know – consult our pricing catalogue.

Just to give you a taste of the things we’re looking to purchase off the ambitious villains willing to pull it off, here is an incomplete list:

  • The US Constitution (an easy grab, since we doubt it will be seeing much use)
  • The Declaration of Independence (note: do not look for any secret treasure maps)
  • Lincoln’s Head from the Lincoln Memorial (rest of statue optional)
  • The VA Hospital system (the whole thing–no partial buys)
  • A Commissioned Aircraft Carrier (deliverable to our offices in Arkhangelsk, Russia)
  • Minuteman missiles (for our mad-scientist clients–demand is high, so prices are too!)
  • Trump’s Toupee (careful–it might bite)
  • Mount Vernon and/or Monticello
  • The US Interstate Highway System (suffering from some disrepair, so be delicate)
  • Mount Rushmore (Teddy Roosevelt only)

And on and on and on…

Friend, the possibilities here are literally endless, but act quickly – Trump’s minions are going to be pawning a lot of this stuff off soon, so supplies are more limited than you think!

Good luck, Duke Lothario! Remember: your success is our success!

Sincerely,

Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL)

Vrokthar Is Thankful For Your Weakness and Misery

Wretched Wetlanders, Weakling Half-Men of the Fat South, heed the words of Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, on this, the eve of your pathetic day of thanks.

By the decrees of this loyal ensorcelled word-slate, it has become clear to Vrokthar that soon thou shalt feast. This strikes Vrokthar as redundant, as he cannot think of a time when you miserable cowards do not stuff thy obese faces with innumerable decadent confections. How canst thou tell the difference between a feast and thy regular obnoxious gluttony? But no matter.

Truly, a grand time shall be had by all.

Truly, a grand time shall be had by all.

Vrokthar, too, intends to celebrate this coming day. Yes, a feast of true proportions is being prepared by mine own slaves even as I etch my words into the ether. There shall be wolf liver boiled in blood! Goat brain! Many different confections of the boiled entrails of various venomous beasts! And, of course, a great platter of the finest man-bacon, cured from enemies slain by Vrokthar’s own hand.

And then, when the feasting has complete, Vrokthar and his thanes shall recline in his longhouse and boast and drink until the winter sun has risen again. This, by my count, ought to be four and a half days.

During this time, opportunity for contemplation will unfortunately arise. I realize thou must wonder, in your abject terror, what thoughts graces the unstoppable mind of Vrokthar. Does he contemplate razing your pathetic city to ash? Does he have designs upon your cattle and your children to increase he already vast wealth?

The answer is YES! Vrokthar shall take what he pleases, and what pleases him is vast and uncountable. That, however, is not where this conversation is going, you unspeakable toad-people. Think of others for a change!

No, Vrokthar, in those moments of drunken introspection, shall think instead of those things he is grateful for about your miserable, ill-begotten “culture.”

To begin with, Vrokthar is please you have deigned to crown the Trump as thy king. This makes him a worthy foe, and my armies will take great pleasure in setting fire to his golden tower and dragging him away in my battle sledge, there to serve me as a hairless, mewling slave. That is, of course, assuming his orangeness is not a sign of divine protection, in which case Vrokthar will have him skinned and mounted upon his best shield, so that I might be invincible in battle. It goes without saying that the pelt he wears upon his head will join my trophy case or, if it proves large enough (which is doubtful), I may fashion it into a loincloth for formal occasions.

Also, Vrokthar is inordinately pleased this year that many of your most odious and cacophonous musicians have, at long last, saw fit to die and leave mine ears in peace. This has been a most glorious year in that regard, for all wetlander music is decadent and depraved. All Vrokthar wishes to hear is the laments of his enemies and the wails of his suffering servants, and it is good to see that this is becoming the norm. Lo, but thy wails of grief have coddled Vrokthar in this trying time!

Finally, let it be known that Vrokthar is most grateful that the Chicago Cubs have at last won the World Series, and thereby lifted the century-long enchantment that hath protected the City of Wind from my wrath and the wrath of my ancestors. Truly, a great reaping is at hand! The city of Chicago shall weep beneath my heavy boots, and many skulls shall adorn my wall, complete with their Cubs-related paraphernalia (though any doubles shall be sold on EBay – keep an eye on my auction page).

Oh, yes, and of course I am thankful for skulls (and their innumerable uses in home decor and housewares), massive axes, mighty blades, and the howling arctic winds of the vast north, so cold that they might flense the flesh from the weak and give girth and succor to the mighty.

Though, now that I think about it, it is getting unusually warm up here lately, and the ice floes are paltry shadows of their former selves. Do you fools have anything to do with that? What black sorcery have you been devising?

Hmmm…

I may have to come down there. But first, I feast.

Important Notification Re: Your Hero Insurance

Dear Doctor Monstrosity,

This is an important notice regarding your Hero liability coverage in your FOUL Insurance Policy. You must read this document immediately and in its entirety, or our coven of witches currently on retainer will place a hex upon you that will result in you no longer being able to absorb fluid without vomiting, which means a painful and grotesque death by dehydration will await you. Feel free to take notes. Please eat the message when you are done, as that will guard against the curse. As usual, please understand this is meant as a safety measure to ensure your privacy, our privacy, and the privacy of our other customers.

Notification of Policy Change

As of this writing, FOUL will no longer cover the costs of heroic interventions against your operation that are perpetrated by orphans of your former enemies.

Furthermore, any pre-existing coverage offered for orphans created by accident or negligence are likewise null and void.

FOUL will also be increasing premiums by 50% on any liability coverage for heroic acts of revenge stemming from the loss of even ONE parent to your actions.

Finally, FOUL will disallow any further coverage against liability as a result of actions by those persons who believed they were orphans until they discovered you were, in fact, their only surviving parent.

Statistics have shown that those who have left the progeny of their foes to live have a 65% greater chance of being undone by those self-same offspring, even after an intervening period of apparent calm for decades. It seems apparent that the loss of parents is in some way traumatic (we are as surprised as you) and stands to create a kind of manic obsession with revenge which has proven costly. The claims FOUL has been forced to bear as a result of our clients’ own sloppiness has seriously tested our financial security as an organization.

So, some quick do’s and don’ts:

-DO NOT abandon your enemies’ offspring in a wasteland or in the midst of a storm and expect them to perish.

This ends poorly.

This ends poorly.

-DO NOT expect the power of love to crumble before your overwhelming might and grandeur.

Statistics prove that Love Conquers All, and we don't cover it.

Statistics prove that Love Conquers All, and we don’t cover it.

-DO NOT, under any circumstances, sell your victims’ progeny into slavery of any kind.

We know this is an excellent financial opportunity for you, but trust us that it never works out.

We know this is an excellent financial opportunity for you, but trust us that it never works out.

-DO NOT gloat over the child of an enemy or underling or endeavor to teach them any kind of lesson whatsoever.

They have a tendency to remember your face.

They have a tendency to remember your face.

-DO encourage your underlings to bring any and all errant children to you for re-education.

Though try not to electrocute them in front of their parents.

Though try not to electrocute them in front of their parents.

We at FOUL are happy to serve you for any of your evil financial needs and hope to do business with you in the future. Just try not to create orphans anymore.

Read “When It Comes Around” on Perihelion SF!

Hi, folks!

Got another story published and released for public consumption. It’s free, too! Shuffle your internet consciousness over to this month’s Perihelion SF and read “When It Comes Around” – my dark and gritty tale of the hard life of a space pirate. Let me tease you with the first line, if I may:

You ain’t been there ’til you’ve clocked a knife-fight in zero-g.

This voice partially owes this old Battletech: Mercenaries image for inspiration.

This voice partially owes this old Battletech: Mercenaries image for inspiration.

Eh? Ehhhh? Pretty cool, yes?

I’m pretty proud of this one. It *just* missed some of the bigger markets (the narrator’s patois just didn’t do it for some editors), so I’m very glad it found a home. I have been in love with this voice I came up with for some years now (my first publication, “The Spacer and the Cabbages,” used it, as well, and that was about seven years ago now). With any luck, I’ll be able to do more with it in the future. Anyway, I hope you like it.

Go! Read! If nothing else, it ought to discourage you from a life of space piracy.

Vrokthar Crushes Your Online Learning Tools!

Behold, wretched wetlanders, it is I, Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, once more compelled to visit my mighty displeasure upon thee and thy incontinent civilization. Oft in the past have I commanded this ensorcelled word-slate to convey my curses to your soft pink ears, but this time is different. Indeed, your fetid customs, while usually merely despicable and foolish in equal measure, have this time done Vrokthar true injury. Such injuries will be answered by your howls of pain. So have I decreed, and so shall it be. But before Vrokthar visits his meteoric wrath upon your flat, sweaty lands, let him first regale you with the story of the fatal errors that hath led thee to this bloody destiny.

As chieftain of a mighty tribe of marauders, it falls to Vrokthar to educate the youth in the art of violence and rapacity. These young ones flock to Vrokthar’s longhouse and squat by the side of his throne of skulls. By the firelight, I speak to them of mighty deeds and teach them the best way to flay a man whilst he lives. Woe betide the foolish boy who does not heed Vrokthar’s weighty musings, for it his he that we practice upon. The screams echo into the night, and we feast and sleep well.

Or so it once was. No more.

BEHOLD VROKTHAR'S MIGHTY PEDAGOGY!

BEHOLD VROKTHAR’S MIGHTY PEDAGOGY!

In our raids, very many of my tribe have wrested magical treasures from the twisted hands of thy wetlander countrymen. These “computors” and “celled phones” have proven their worth to my people many times. No more shall we be forced to wander endlessly the vast tundras of my land in search of prey. No, the oracle GOOGLE now betrays thy settlements to us, and we pillage at will. The many sacrifices we have burned in for the honor of the GOOGLE are great. Their clever logos also bring much amusement to my warriors.

But these gifts have cost my people more dearly than you know. Now my young charges wish to use the spirit world of the INTORNOT to aid in their learning. Indeed, there are surprisingly many learning packages for the young barbarian, purchasable for reasonable fees. We, of course, do not buy – we take – and many educational software companies have perished beneath Vrokthar’s heavy boots. I now command a flexible and versatile platform of interactive lessons meant to occupy my students, meant to free Vrokthar’s precious time for more butchery and razing of wetlander settlements.

But it is not so. Vrokthar is BETRAYED!

The learning software has failed to function. My foolish students cannot manage to log on. The structure of the program is as dense and mysterious as the Labyrinth of Gloom. Vrokthar has not saved himself time at all! Indeed, I am now forced to poke and prod at mine own word-slate to goad the sluggard programs to load. I am forced to prostrate myself before mine sworn enemies, Tech Support, and grovel for aid. Hours have become days, days have become weeks, and my students are as stupid now as when they began. Worst of all is this: the screams that echo into the night are my own, as I curse and flail impotently at the educational software’s inferior User Interface.

I now ask myself: what was ever amiss with my mighty axe and my booming voice? Where did I go wrong? I answer the question thusly: You fools have done this to me. This is thy vengeance – this is how you seek to destroy the mighty Vrokthar, by denying his heirs his weighty wisdom.

It shall not stand.

Beware, mewling wetlander scum! Vrokthar the Skull-feaster hath ferreted out thy cowardly plot, and now he shall unroot thee. He shall strike from the frigid north like a thunderbolt, dashing down your mirrored castles in thy sedate office parks. Then, when you have been dragged a hundred miles on your knees, eating nothing but the flesh of your fallen compatriots, THEN shall you grovel at the foot of Vrokthar for your very lives. And THEN Vrokthar will show mercy to any who can manage to log in to their wretched INTORNOT portal on the first try. Those who succeed shall become my slaves. Those who fail shall learn new ways to scream as they become an educational message for all their ilk, their entrails shipped to their competitors in small FedEx envelopes for months to come.

So sayeth Vrokthar. So it shall be.

Excerpt: THE GUILD CONSPIRACY by Brooke Johnson

Special treat today! Brooke Johnson is a steampunk author whose first book, THE BRASS GIANT, is a wonderful tale of clockwork, young love, and a hard-nosed female protagonist up to her neck in trouble. The second book in her series, THE GUILD CONSPIRACY just came out yesterday, and Brooke has been so kind as to allow me to post an excerpt of it for you all to read. Check it out!


EXCERPT from Chapter 2 of THE GUILD CONSPIRACY:

THE GUILD CONSPIRACY coverPetra reached the University square and crept toward the student entrance, hiding in the shadow of a nearby steam duct. Tucking her hair into the brim of her hat, she glanced down at her pocket watch, grazing her fingertips over the intricate C that decorated the case—just a few minutes before ten. She peeked out from her hiding place and searched the empty square, but no sign of Rupert.

With a sigh, she pressed her back against the warm metal of the exposed ductwork and waited, listening to the rush of steam hissing through the pipes. The machines of the subcity rattled and whirred beneath the stone street, synchronized gears and linkages ticking a rhythm of mechanical perfection beneath her feet. She inhaled a deep breath, catching the scent of coal and gasoline amidst the humid air billowing through the grates. It smelled of home.

A few minutes later, the lock above the student entrance unlatched, the gears knocking and grating as ratchets shifted the deadbolts. The door creaked inward, and Rupert’s blond head peered out, his face lit by the flickering gas lamps at the bottom of the stairs.

“Petra?” he called, his voice barely above a whisper. “You out here?”

She slipped out from behind the steam duct and met him atop the stairs. Rupert closed the door behind her. He removed his student key from the lock, and heavy gears ratcheted the deadbolts back into place, locking the door with a resounding clunk.

Petra leaned against the smooth brass-plated wall and breathed in the familiar air of the University, the lingering scents of grease and metal polish putting her at ease. The usual bustle of engineers, students, and professors was absent from the dark, empty lobby, the echo of distant machinery lurking in the shadows like haunting ghosts. It had been months since she’d been here after dark—when Emmerich was still here and her only worry was keeping their automaton project secret. It seemed an eternity ago now.

Rupert touched her shoulder. “Come on,” he whispered. “Or we’ll miss it.”

He took her to the lift and used his student key to propel them up to the eighth floor, the whirring belts and pulleys singing as they ascended. The lift slowed to an abrupt stop, and the lights above the gates spilled across the hall, startlingly bright in the quiet darkness of the University.

“So what’s this meeting about?” she asked Rupert.

“You’ll see.”

Their brisk footsteps echoed off the hard floor as Rupert led her down the hall toward the student lounges and recreation room.

As they approached, a muffled cacophony met Petra’s ears—shouts and curses, cheers, a clash of metal on metal, the clear sound of a combustion engine igniting. Petra’s heartbeat quickened, and she pressed her ear to the door, feeling the vibrating hum of a purring engine in the room beyond, the sigh of exhaust, the smell of burnt fuel reaching her nose.

Rupert nudged her aside and keyed into the room, the clash of metal rising to a deafening thunder as he opened the door.

Inside, the billiard table, chess tables, chairs, and sofas had been pushed to the walls, the usual carpets and rugs thrown over the furniture. A spotlight illuminated a few dozen students near the center of the room, surrounding a hulk of moving brass, its shiny surface flashing in the glow of the electric light. The crunch of crumpling metal and subsequent jeers echoed off the walls, and the metal beast reeled out of Petra’s sight.

Leaving Rupert behind, she elbowed her way through the crowd of students and stumbled headlong into the center of the ring. A quick hand caught her by the collar and yanked her back into the crowd just as a metal arm swiped through the air, inches from her nose.

Petra stumbled into the student next to her, gaping in delighted disbelief at the scene before her. Two imposing metal figures stood in the center of the ring—a squat trapezoidal machine and a grotesque humanoid—dripping oil and smelling of exhaust. Jagged trenches cut through the outer shell of the larger machine, exposing a mesh of combustion enginery and electrical wiring inside, while the smaller, wheeled contraption had a stump of shredded linkages and twisted gears where its second arm should have been, its stout body half-crushed and front wheels bent.

The bipedal machine lunged, much to the crowd’s delight, and there was a terrible, teeth-grinding crunch as the metal shells crumpled and warped on impact. The biped hammered its fist into the smaller trapezoid, the squat machine’s outer shell buckling under the assault. Yet the contraption held its ground, wheels spinning forward as it pressed against the hulking mass of metal, its remaining arm buried halfway into the biped’s central system, pulling wires and tubes from its body like rubber intestines, oil and hydraulic fluid spilling onto the floor.

With a sputtering whine, the combustion engine rumbled to a halt, the spin of gears slowing to a groan as the mechanical biped powered down. The heavily damaged trapezoid pushed the biped away, and the mutation of combustion enginery and electricity toppled over with a resounding crash.

Silence followed.

And then the room erupted in cheers.

From the far side of the ring, a young man stepped forward and waved the crowd into silence. Petra recognized him by his long, narrow face and shrewd eyes—Vice-Chancellor Lyndon’s son, Yancy. He spread his hands wide.

“Gentlemen! I believe we have our winner!”

The winning engineer stepped forward and swept into a low bow, tucking a metal control box behind his back. Petra noted the thick cord trailing from the brass case, snaking across the oil-slicked floor to the back of the trapezoidal machine. So that was how he controlled it.

She suppressed a smirk. Rudimentary technology.

Rupert squeezed in beside her. “What do you think?”

“It’s brilliant,” she said, her voice nearly lost amidst the cheers and shouts around them. “How long has this been going on?”

“Started about midterm, last semester. You know about the failed automaton project, right? Some of the boys who work in the armory found the remains of it and got the idea to start a mechanical fight ring.”

Petra pressed her mouth shut and nodded. So they had kept it then, the ruined prototype that Emmerich had so expertly smashed through the floor of his workshop—now collecting dust in the armory. The failed automaton project. That was what the rest of them called it, not knowing she had helped design and build it, not knowing what her involvement had cost her.

“Where do they get the parts?” she asked.

“Discards and surplus from the workshops,” said Rupert. “Some of the richer blokes buy parts offshore and have them shipped in. Most of it is scrap, though.”

In the center of the ring, Yancy quieted the crowd with a wave. “That concludes the inaugural competition of our mech fights.” Another boy brought forward a table and handed Yancy a pad of paper and a pencil. “If you wish to participate in the next tournament,” he said, waving the paper over his head, “sign up by the first bell tomorrow and have your mech ready for the first round sometime next month, date to be decided. Entry fee is a pound note—or equivalent—the sum of all entries to be rewarded to our next winner.”

He dropped the paper and pencil onto the table, and a handful of students stepped forward to enter. Petra watched as they scribbled their names, one after the other, knowing she could outmaneuver every single one of them with a machine of her own.

For six long months, she’d been stuck in boring classrooms, listening to dry lectures and permitted to do nothing more than pointless busywork. She missed the feel of a screwdriver in her hand, the smell of grease under her fingernails, the late nights of working with her hands deep inside a machine.

She yearned for it.

Rupert nudged her with his elbow. “Go on then. Sign up.”

Petra considered it, absently twisting the stem of her pocket watch between her thumb and forefinger. She could enter, write her name down and fight in the next tournament, finally have the chance to build something again. Yet . . . she knew they wouldn’t let her. They’d only laugh at her, mock her for thinking she could compete with them, for thinking she was their equal.

She stared at the sign-up sheet, the determination to prove herself burning in her chest.

To hell with them.

She released the breath she’d been holding and stepped forward, heart beating faster. Leaning over the table, she took the pencil into her hand and pressed the point of graphite to the paper, quickly scribbling her name at the bottom of the list of entrants before she second-guessed herself. She belonged here, building machines alongside the best of them.

She’d win the damn tournament, and then they’d see.


THE GUILD CONSPIRACY:

In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?

It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.

Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized … war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.

Release Date: August 9, 2016.

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press kit author photoAbout the Author:

 

BROOKE JOHNSON is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous. You can find her on Twitter @brookenomicon.

 

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