Authors: K. T. Hunter
Tags: #mars, #spies, #aliens, #steampunk, #h g wells, #scientific romance, #women and technology, #space adventure female hero, #women and science
20 Million Leagues Over the Sea
K. T. Hunter
Book One of
Published by Twin Cedars Enterprises at
Copyright 2015 K. T. Hunter
ISBN 978-0-9888635-5-2 (Smashwords E-Book)
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20 Million Leagues Over the Sea
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.
Wells, H. G.
War of the Worlds
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the
. Paris: Hetzel, 1870.
The Mysterious Island
Tennyson, Alfred. "The Lady of Shalott". 1832.
Cover by The Cover Collection
Email: [email protected]
"Have no fear, Miss Llewellyn," the captain
said. "I've done this before."
He touched a heavily gloved finger to the
corner of his sharp green eyes, as if to tip an imaginary hat. He
lowered it quickly to allow the white-coated technician to continue
strapping him into the seat next to her.
Gemma Llewellyn had schooled her posture as
much as she could to conceal her nervousness, but there was so much
of it that she supposed her face was as pale as the technician's
suit. That was fine. After all, a total lack of fear would draw too
much attention. She hoped she seemed just nervous enough without
tipping over into real hysteria.
"The Terran Industrial Alliance has seen to
it that we are as well-trained as possible for space travel," he
continued. "In fact, most of the crewmembers have experienced at
least a half-dozen launches via the rail-gun system by this point.
We've launched continuously for several years without a major
"Bloody hell, I suppose the crash into Mount
Cook last spring was only a
incident, then," growled a
voice in the row behind them. "I suppose one must be at least a
midshipman before having one's grey matter smeared across a
mountainside is considered a major incident, eh?"
Gemma quirked an eyebrow at that. She had not
heard a whisper about such a crash, from either the newspapers or
the creeping vines of gossip that wound their way through halls of
"There is a lady present, Doctor Pugh!"
The captain tried to turn in his padded seat
to emphasize his point, but he was too tightly strapped in to do
much more than wriggle. His tall, lean frame was well ensconced in
the padded chair. Gemma thought he looked quite young to be a
captain; he appeared to be not much older than her own
four-and-twenty years. With his angular cheekbones, short chestnut
hair, and pencil-thin mustache, he could blend in with any group of
young university fellows.
"Lady, my arse, Christophe," the voice
replied with a snort. "A lady would be home tending to her
knitting, not strutting about in a pressure suit. Sophie the
Steamfitter, indeed!" He snorted again and fell silent.
Gemma looked down as her own attendant
snugged up her straps. She pretended to focus on that young lady's
tightly snooded hair. Mrs. Brightman had taught her that it was
usually best to allow men their quibbling and not bother to argue
against such statements. It was a waste of one's breath. The suit
was a bit odd, but she supposed it would be just as awkward on
anyone that had not already spent a great deal of time in orbit.
She wondered what the Rational Dress Society would make of it.
"They ought to save that rot for the bloody
tentacle-heads," her attendant whispered as she pulled back and
offered Gemma a sympathetic look. "The charging coils for the rails
should be close to full power now, Miss. They just loaded your
trunk in the boot, too, so that ought to make this easier. Been up
to the station twice meself. It's not so bad. Don't worry, love.
You'll be on your way shortly."
She gestured for Gemma to lean forward, and
another worker maneuvered the copper-clad helmet over her head.
When they were done, Gemma nodded at the young woman as much as the
helmet would allow. It wasn't the rail-gun that worried her.
"Kindly restrict your remarks to the weather,
Pugh," the man next to her said. His voice took on a muffled
quality as his own helmet locked into place. "And that's Captain
Moreau to you."
Gemma felt a slight coolness from the sudden
rush of air blowing into the helmet. She flashed the attendant an
understanding smile. The woman's exasperated face would be the last
she would see on Earth until their return...in over two years, if
things went as planned. Gemma had thought that they would be
surrounded by reporters shouting questions, especially since this
was the last tender to the ship; but it was just the three of them
and a few technicians. It was strange to have so little attention
paid to an event that the entire world had anticipated for more
than two decades. But it wasn't the mission's visibility that
worried her, either.
As preparations continued around her, Gemma
pondered Dr. Pugh. Since she had been a (quite literally)
last-minute addition to this venture, this was her first encounter
with members of the crew. She had spent the last few days just
getting to the launch site in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; it
had been a long journey by airship and steamer from Britain.
Striking workers at some of the ports had caused more than one
diversion. Gemma had wondered how Nellie Bly would have managed if
she had met the same obstacles on her famous trek around the globe
before the days of the Airship Network.
Then it had been two days of very intense
orientation on the Launch Coil and the ship itself. This would not
have been possible before the Invasion, Mrs. Brightman had told
her, as they had based the ship's design on plans found in the
Martian cylinders and adapted the design to accommodate humans.
Except for the three of them, the crew and
the Scientific Cohort were already on board. Since the TIA had
built the ship in orbit -- it would not fly within an atmosphere --
very few people had seen more of it than drawings and schematics.
The newspapers (also owned by the TIA) were rife with headlines
that proclaimed the imminent and permanent defeat of the
Dr. Pugh, whom she had never met, was the
lead scientist for the expedition. She had only seen one photograph
of him in the newspapers, standing next to his mentor, the
celebrated naturalist Professor Aronnax, when he was much younger.
She had no idea what he looked like now, and it would be several
hours before she could look him in the face.
So, here was her superior, and he was
insulting her even before their formal introduction. Mrs. Brightman
approve. Behind the veil of the helmet, Gemma
allowed her face to melt from the ladylike mask that it normally
wore into a scowl. In about five hours, she would have to speak to
him, ready or not. She wasn't looking forward to it.
One thing at a time
, Mrs. Brightman
Instead of worrying over the eventual
confrontation ahead, she focused on the slight reflection of her
own face in the back of the faceplate -- wide brown eyes framed
with long lashes above cheeks dusted with freckles on a
The speaker in her helmet clicked on, and
Captain Moreau's voice continued as if there had been no
interruption. The tinny scratching of the transmission could not
conceal his enthusiasm. He sounded as if he were back in London
rather than right next to her.
"Just remember your emergency procedures,
Miss Llewellyn. Most likely, they will not be necessary, but I do
find that having something to focus upon does make things easier.
Do not worry! I will ensure your safety."
Dr. Pugh's voice clicked in on the speaker
next to her other ear. "Pretentious little prick," he said.
"Endangering the lives of people who have no business flying about
in space. Get him to tell you about the shakedown cruise to the
moon someday. I'm not sure why we need a geologist on this trip,
Dr. Pugh had finally mentioned the worrisome
bit: the first TIA voyage to the moon. One heard many rumors about
that maiden voyage, but who knew which bits were true?
"But they insisted," he went on. "Oh, right,
we've got to learn what we can while we're there, they said. Can't
waste an opportunity to advance our knowledge of natural
philosophy, they said. Poppycock! This is a ship of
a tea party! They are sending scientists to Mars to find better
ways to kill Martians, not to convene symposia on the substrata of
the Tharsis Bulge--"
The captain's voice pushed Dr. Pugh's to the
background. "Never mind Dr. Pugh. He's married to his work. He's
been a leading light in natural philosophy since before the
Invasion. Many people born in that generation are pretty set in
their ways. Not like us, Miss. No, we that came of age after the
Invasion have a fresher view of the universe. I, for one, am glad
that we have some ladies aboard."
They went on in that vein as the technicians
checked their harnesses one last time and then backed away. The top
of the capsule lowered down upon them, and she felt a thump as it
locked into place. Panels flickered to life and banished the
temporary darkness. There were no portholes, so she could not see
the great plantation of Tesla Chargers -- an odd hybrid of
electrical coils and flywheel storage -- that surrounded the launch
site. She had seen them from the airship as she had arrived here.
They had been charging even then, preparing for a crew launch, and
they had been a startling sight. She could imagine the tongues of
lightning licking the sides of the towers, ready to hurl her away
from the sheltering lap of Earth. The orientation instructor had
told her that the launch system used so much power that it required
its own generators; otherwise, each launch would have drained the
surrounding towns of the very power that they had received in
return for hosting the facility in the first place.
Even through her helmet, she could hear the
whoosh of cabin pressurization. She had reviewed all of these
procedures the day before, in a simulation engine, but this felt
far rougher. However, it was hard to think on the wonder of it all
with two people having two different one-sided conversations with
her at the same time. Mrs. Brightman's school had taught Gemma a
great many things, but it had not prepared her for this.
"Perhaps you might lob some quartz at them,"
Pugh groused. "Just give us a chance to coat it with some influenza
first. Now wouldn't that be a useful weapon?"
"Pugh means well," the captain said into her
other ear. "Etiquette simply isn't his strong suit."
"What are you supposed to do for the forty
days it'll take to get there?" the scientist continued. "They don't
even have Martian rock samples for you to study yet. We're the
Mercifully, a third voice joined the chorus:
"Good afternoon, lady and gents, your attention please. This is
your launch director. Welcome to the last tender to the TIAS
Thunder Child's Fury
on this, the 23rd of August, nineteen
hundred and twenty-four. The capsule is now sealed, pressured, and
ready for flight. The weather is optimal. Estimated travel time to
Shackleton Station is six hours from launch. For the moment, sit
back, relax, and continue breathing in the oxygen so we can get all
that nitrogen out of your systems."
"Yes, young lady, you'll want to do that,"
Dr. Pugh said. "I've had a touch of the bends before. Definitely
something you want to avoid."
The launch director broke in again. "We are
sealing the outer door of the tube. Commencing vacuum shake test in
thirty seconds, mark."
At least they are getting the worst part
over at the start
, Gemma thought. A hard jolt rattled her
teeth, harder than it had during the brief training. The wrenching
and rolling was harder and more bone jarring than she remembered,
but it did not last long.
"Air returning to the chamber. Prepare for
lift, ten seconds," the launch director said.