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Authors: Richard Ellis Preston Jr.

Tags: #Science Fiction

Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War

BOOK: Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Text copyright © 2013 Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by 47North
PO Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140

ISBN-13: 9781477807682
ISBN-10: 1477807683
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013935320

For my parents, Richard and Janet, with love.

CONTENTS

PART ONE: THE PHOENIX AND THE IRON CROSS

I THE MOUNTAINS OF TEHACHAPI

II SHIPWRECK

III SKELETONS WITHOUT HEADS

IV SABERTOOTH

V THE BLACK ANGEL COMES

VI THE BLACK ANGEL FALLS

VII WHITEOUT

VIII THE CAVE

IX FIRE AND THE LITTLE PINK SCAR

X THE APPRENTICE SURGEON

XI THE CHAMBER OF NUMBERS

XII THE ISLAND IN THE STREAM

XIII THE GOOD LIEUTENANT

XIV NIGHT WATCH

XV DELIRIUM

XVI THE BLACK CARRIAGE

XVII THE IMMORTALITY EQUATION

XVIII THE MAGNESIUM FLARE

XIX RESCUED, FOR NOW

XX THE TALE OF THE BAROMETER

XXI BLOODFREEZER

XXII AXES

XXIII IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST

XXIV THE KRAKEN

XXV TENTACLES

XXVI SKIES OF GLASS

XXVII THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF ICE

XXVIII FORMULAE

XXIX OLD FRIENDS

XXX NEW FRIENDS

PART TWO: COUNCILS OF LOVE AND WAR

XXXI THE DEVIL’S PUNCHBOWL

XXXII UNDER THE DEVIL’S CHAIR

XXXIII HORATIO CRANKSHAFT

XXXIV PINYON HALL

XXXV VALKYRIE SMELT

XXXVI TINSKINS AND AMBASSADORS

XXXVII THE GRAND ALLIANCE

XXXVIII WHISPERS IN THE CORRIDOR

XXXIX THE MARTIAN IN THE IRON LUNG

XL TYRO AND THE IMPERIAL RAID

XLI HOLLY CHURCHILL

XLII YOUNG MEN, SQUARE-RIGGED

XLIII THE SEASONAL

XLIV PECCADILLOES AND PETTICOATS

XLV THE APPRENTICE NAVIGATOR

XLVI SWEETHEARTING

XLVII THE WARRIOR AND THE WALTZ

XLVIII DISTURBING NEWS

XLIX A MARTIAN NEVER LIES

L LADY ANDROMEDA’S CARRIAGE

LI CAPTAIN ROMULUS BUCKLE AND HIS ZEPPELIN

LII A PICKELHAUBE AND TEA

LIII FUNERAL PYRES AT DAWN

LIV NEW BERLIN

LV AMBASSADOR BISMARCK

LVI THE RAILWAY STATION

LVII THE ENVOY

LVIII LEOPOLD GOETHE

LIX ULTIMATUM

LX BY THE CLAIM OF THE CRIMSON BLOOD

LXI MERCY FOR THE WICKED

LXII AIRSHIP ON FIRE

LXIII MESSAGE FROM A DEAD MAN

PART THREE: THE BATTLE OF MUSCOVY

LXIV THE CAPTAIN’S TABLE

LXV RUN OUT THE GUNS

LXVI AN ACT OF WAR

LXVII THE BOW CHASER

LXVIII HARD A’STARBOARD!

LXIX ASTERN THE
CZARINA

LXX THE CHRYSALIS

LXXI COLLISION COURSE

LXXII BROADSIDES

LXXIII BOARDING PARTY

LXXIV GRAPPLING HOOKS

LXXV THE
BELLEROPHON

LXXVI SCUTTLED

LXXVII SHACKLED TO A DEAD MAN

LXXVIII WHAT THE NAVIGATOR SAW

LXXIX THE BOYAR AND THE CLOUD COSSACKS

LXXX THE BURNING GALLOWS

LXXXI THE MELTING POT

LXXXII THE PENNY DREADFUL

LXXXIII THE GRAVEDIGGER

LXXXIV TO ATLANTIS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

THE MOUNTAINS OF TEHACHAPI

C
APTAIN
R
OMULUS
B
UCKLE WAS A
zeppelineer, and zeppelineers, with their instinctive affinity for air machines, never felt entirely at home on the steaming back of a horse, especially a horse scrambling up a precarious path cut into the icebound face of a mountain. Buckle grumbled curses, uncomfortable and random, into the mothball-musky wolf fur of his parka hood. Ice particles pricked inside his nose. Through the tunnel of his hood, the trail appeared to jerk back and forth as the horse clambered upward. Now and again a snap of freezing air punched in and stung the still-feeling edges of the otherwise numb skin on his cheeks and nose.

Buckle’s goggles had frozen over a while before, leaving him near blind, but the fur lining insulated a good chunk of his face; the hoary lenses transformed the world into a bouncing shimmer. His horse, a coffee-colored brute named Cronos, was experienced on the trails—Cronos knew every cleft and cranny, according to Buckle’s hired guide, Pinter—and Buckle had been told to leave the horse be and let him mountain-goat the treacherous heights the way he knew how to climb them.

Putting his life in the keeping of an aggressive horse he did not know did not please Buckle. But if he wanted to scale the
mountain now, this was the only way he could do it. Dog teams would be useless on this kind of terrain.

“Time to wake up, Captain!” the glassy wobble that was Pinter shouted back over the rump of his horse, five paces ahead. “We’re headin’ over into the soft stretch of the traverse now, you hear? Into the pass. The wind don’t bother to be so cantankerous there. But keep yer musket handy—we’re ramblin’ into sabertooth territory!”

Buckle lifted his chin out of the wolf fur and shouted, “Aye!” He barely trusted the fidgety mountain man—with his gaunt features, uneven head, and half-wild eyes—but Pinter was a reliable guide, and one of the few who might, for a sizable payment, be crazy enough to take him high up the mountain in the Bloodfreezer storm season. It was the possibility of the Bloodfreezers that had kept the
Arabella
, the
Pneumatic Zeppelin
’s two-hundred-foot launch, moored in the town below, not far from the ruins of the old Crankshaft stronghold, and forced Buckle to make his ascent on horseback. Despite the frowns from Chief Navigator Sabrina Serafim and Chief Engineer Max, Buckle had insisted that he make the journey alone. He was not about to risk the launch and the lives of his crew to prove a theory—to pursue an obsession—of his own.

Buckle clamped his stiff fingers around the stock of his blackbang musket—something of a feat in thick gloves—and lifted it out of its sheath, laying the heavy weapon across his lap and flipping the pommel flap over its middle to protect it from the cold. A wrapping of oily rags kept the firing mechanisms from freezing solid—a necessity that also promised some delay if he ever needed to bring the firearm into action quickly.

Buckle grunted. He had three blackbang pistols holstered inside his parka—their wooden butts poked his kidneys as the
horse bounced—and he trusted his own pistols and saber more than a clunky musket in a scrape, in any case.

The horse lunged up the steep path, delivering a whack to Buckle’s spine that made him miss the smooth glide of his airship. The
Pneumatic Zeppelin
was moored in the dockyard of the Devil’s Punchbowl stronghold, fifty miles to the southeast, undergoing repairs to the extensive damages she had suffered rescuing his father, Admiral Balthazar Crankshaft, from the City of the Founders over three weeks before.

Once freed from the clutches of the Founders, Balthazar had been busy: he and the Crankshaft council dispatched messengers to every corner of the land, each carrying an invitation to a secret parley with the purpose of forming an alliance against the Founders. Many clans had responded—Imperials, Alchemists, Tinskins, Brineboilers, and Gallowglasses—promising to send their ambassadors. Suspicions ran deep in the blood between the clans, but if the rumors were true, if the Founders and their Grand Armada were gearing up for a mass invasion, then to stand alone meant annihilation. And they all knew it.

In the meantime, Balthazar had begrudgingly given Buckle leave to take the
Arabella
up to Tehachapi in search of a shipwreck. On the night of the Tehachapi Blitz, more than a year before, Buckle had seen one of the attacking Imperial airships suffer a fatal hit—a Crankshaft cannonball had struck home, causing a multichambered hydrogen explosion that had lit up the sky—and the burning sky vessel, ripped wide open, her engineering gondola obliterated, had yawed wildly to starboard and drifted northeast into the mountains.

Buckle wondered if any of the men aboard the crashed enemy airship had survived; they would be long gone by now, over a year later. But it was not flesh and blood, nor even bones,
that concerned Buckle—he’d be damned happy if each and every one of the attackers had burned alive—but rather the artifacts of the airship itself. The body of the fallen machine would most certainly provide evidence of its owner, the murderer of the Crankshaft clanspeople.

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