We interrupt our usual blog for a joyous announcement: The Impossible Cube, by BVC’s own Steven Harper, has arrived in bookstores and is available for print and electronic sale!
The Impossible Cube is the second book in Steven’s Clockwork Empire series, but if you missed The Doomsday Vault, don’t worry–you can still snag a copy. Also, Cube is written so you can read it even if you didn’t pick up the previous volume (though Steven really hopes you will).
In an age where fantastic inventions of steam and brass have elevated Britain and China into mighty empires, Alice Michaels faces a future of technological terrors…
Once, Gavin Ennock sailed the skies on airships and enchanted listeners with his fiddle music. Now, the clockwork plague consumes his intellect, enabling him to conceive and construct scientific wonders—while driving him quite mad. Distressed by her beloved’s unfortunate condition, Alice Michaels sought a cure rumored to be inside the Doomsday Vault—and brought the wrath of the British Empire down on them.
Declared enemies of the Crown, Alice and Gavin have little choice but to flee to China in search of a cure. Accompanying them is Dr. Clef, a mad genius driven to find the greatest and most destructive force the world has ever seen: The Impossible Cube. If Dr. Clef gets his hands on it, the entire universe will face extinction.
And Gavin holds the key to its recreation…
Since you took the trouble to drop by, have an excerpt:
Gavin Ennock snapped awake. His temples pounded, his feet ached, and his arms flopped uselessly above his head. Far above him lay green grass strewn with twigs. It took him several moments to understand he was hanging upside-down by his ankles. At least he wasn’t naked this time.
“Hello?” he called.
Below him, nothing moved. He shifted in confusion, and the iron shackles around his ankles clinked like little ghosts. How the hell—? The last thing he remembered was walking back to the inn from a much-needed trip to the bathhouse and someone had called his name. Now he was hanging head-down amid a bunch of trees. Most were little more than saplings, but a few were full-sized. Gavin didn’t know trees, but these certainly didn’t seem . . . normal. Their branches twisted as if with arthritis, and the leaves looked papery. Two or three bloomed with bright blue flowers, and bees bumbled among them.
The forest itself was contained within a domed greenhouse, three or four stories tall. Gavin’s head hung fully two of those stories above the ground. Glass walls broken into geometric designs magnified and heated angry summer sunlight. The whole place smelled green. Water trickled somewhere, and humidity made the air heavy. Breathing felt almost the same as drinking.
Poison ivy vines of fear took root and grew in Gavin’s stomach. “Hey!” Blood throbbed in his head, and his voice shook more than a little. “Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?”
From around one of the trees limped a man. His back was twisted, and his sparse brown hair clumped unevenly against his skull. This and his scarred, gnarled hands gave the initial impression that he was old, but Gavin quickly realized he was barely older than Gavin himself, who wasn’t yet twenty. The man was a clockworker, and the plague had left him with physical and mental scars both.
“Shit,” Gavin muttered.
“Is he awake?” The man had a French accent. “Yes, he is awake.”
“I’m an agent of the Third Ward,” Gavin called down to him, lying. “When I don’t report in, they’ll send a team to see what happened to me. You don’t want that. Let me go, and—”
The twisted man threw a lever Gavin hadn’t noticed before, and Gavin dropped. The ground rushed up at him. His stomach lurched, and Gavin yelled. At the last moment, the twisted man threw the lever again and Gavin jerked to a stop five feet above the ground. His ankles burned with pain, and the headache sloshed hot lead inside his skull.
“I think he has no idea who I am.” The twisted clockworker pressed a scarred hand to Gavin’s upturned cheek in a strangely tender caress. The gesture created an odd convergence of opposites. Gavin’s captor stood firmly on the ground. His body was twisted and warped as his trees, his face was scarred beneath greasy, sparse hair, and he wore a filthy robe that looked like it had once belonged to a monk. Muddy hazel eyes peered at his captive. Gavin had even features, white-blond hair, and blue eyes. His black shirt and trousers contrasted sharply with his fair skin and hair, and his fingers were straight and strong.
The clockworker cocked his head, as if hearing a voice—or voices. “Then maybe he should look around and try to remember who I am. Maybe he should.”
Gavin considered socking the clockworker, but discarded the idea—bad leverage, and even if he managed to knock the other man unconscious, he would still be trapped in the shackles. His earlier fear gnawed at him again, mingling with the pain.
Now that he was lower, he could see nearby a large stone worktable littered with wicked-looking gardening tools, a large control panel bristling with levers, dials, and lights, and, incongruously, a brass and glass pistol. A power cable trailed from the stock and ended in a large battery pack.
“Listen,” Gavin said with growing desperation, “I can help you. I can—”
The man turned Gavin, forcing him to look at the trees. “I don’t know if he remembers. Maybe he will if I point out that the forest is old but the greenhouse is new. What do you all think?”
“What are you talking about?” It was useless to argue with clockworkers—the disease that stoked their brains also lubricated their grip on reality—but Gavin couldn’t help himself. “You aren’t making—”
One of the trees moved. It actually leaned down and in, as if to get a closer look at Gavin. The blue blossoms shifted, and a glint of brass caught the light. Long wires and strips of metal ran up the bark. Gavin’s breath caught in his throat. For a moment, time flipped backward, and he was fleeing through a blur of leaves and branches that were actively trying to kill him. A tall, bearded clockworker in an opera cloak rode one of the walking trees, steering it by yanking levers and pressing pedals. His partner Simon shouted something as Gavin spun and fired the electric rifle attached to the battery pack on his back.
“L’Arbor Magnifique,” Gavin whispered. “This is his forest. But the greenhouse wasn’t here before, and you aren’t him.”
“I heard him mention my father L’Arbor Magnifique,” the clockworker said. “But I don’t believe he asked my name.” He paused again. “Yes, that was indeed was rude of him. He should know my name is Antoine.”
Gavin’s mouth went dry. Fantastic. What were the odds of two clockworkers showing up in the same family, or that Gavin would run into both of them in one lifetime? The shackles continued to bite into his ankles with iron teeth.
“Look, Antoine, your father is alive and well,” Gavin said, hoping he was telling the truth. “In London. We gave him a huge laboratory and he invents great . . . uh, inventions all day long. I can take you to him, if you want.”
Antoine spun Gavin back around and slugged him high in the stomach. The air burst from Gavin’s lungs. Pain sank into him, and he couldn’t speak.
“Ah,” Antoine said. “Do you think I hurt him? I do.” Another pause, with a glance at the trees. “No, it was not as painful as watching him kidnap my father.” He turned his back to Gavin and gestured at one of the towering trees. “That is true. My father only taught me to work with plants. I will teach myself how to work with meat. Slowly.”
An object flashed past Gavin face and landed soundlessly on the grass where Antoine couldn’t see. It was a perfect saucer of glass, perhaps two feet in diameter. Startled, Gavin looked up toward the faraway ceiling in time to see a brass cat, claws extended, leap through a new hole in the roof. The cat fell straight down and crashed into some bushes a few feet away. Antoine spun.
“What was that?”
It took Gavin a moment to realize Antoine was talking to him and not the trees. “It was my stomach growling,” he gasped through the pain. “Don’t you feed your prisoners?”
A string of saliva hung from Antoine’s lower lip. “Yes. I feed them to my forest.”
The leaves on the lower bushes parted, and the brass cat slipped under the worktable, out of Antoine’s field of view. It gave Gavin a phosphorescent green stare from the shadows. A ray of hope touched Gavin.
“Your father is a genius, Antoine,” he said earnestly. “A true artist. Queen Victoria herself said so.”
The trees whispered among themselves, and a storm crossed Antoine’s face. “You are right! He should never mention that horrible woman’s name, not when her Third Ward agents took my father away from me!”
“Simon and I captured a tree with him, remember? The tree turned out to be really useful,” Gavin continued, a little too loudly. The pain from the punch was fading a little, but his ankles still burned. “It helped us track down a clockworker who hurt a lot of people.”
Another glance at the trees. “Ah, yes. I miss Number Eight, too. What? No, I have definitely improved your design since then. Look at yourselves. I can make you blossom and create seedlings that grow their own metal frameworks, if only you have enough minerals in your roots. The entire forest will walk at my command! I only need more money. Money to buy more metal for my hungry trees.”
Through the hole in the roof flew a small whirligig, its propeller twirling madly to keep it aloft. It trailed a rope. The whirligig zipped down to a support beam close to the ground and grabbed it with six spidery limbs, leaving the slanted rope behind it. Two of the trees creaked and leaned sideways, as if they were searching for something. Antoine, sensitive to their moods, started to turn. The unnatural position of his arms started new pains in Gavin’s shoulders. The aches made Gavin’s concentration waver, and he had to force himself to speak up and divert Antoine’s attention.
“Where are you going to get money?” he said. “You live in a forest.”
Distracted, Antoine turned his attention back to Gavin. “He doesn’t know that I will collect a reward for capturing him, yes, I will. But will I play with him first? Also, yes.”
Gavin froze. “What reward? What are you talking about?”
“Is it a large reward? Enormous!” Antoine began to pace. The cat watched him intently, and when Antoine’s twisted back was turned, it bolted out from under the table and took a flying leap onto Gavin’s back. His claws sank into Gavin’s skin, and Gavin sucked in a sharp breath at the pricks and stabs of eighteen claws.
“Ow! Click!” Gavin gasped.
Antoine glanced sharply at him, but the cat was hidden from view behind Gavin’s body. “Click?”
“I said I’m sick,” Gavin managed. “Who could be offering a reward for me? I’ve only been in France a few days.”
“That would be Lieutenant Susan Phipps.”
Gavin’s blood chilled. “No,” he whispered.
“Ah. Did you see the way I frightened my new subject?” A pause, and his expression turned churlish. “But I should be allowed to play before I turn him over to Lieutenant Phipps. Just a little. Just enough.”
“What about Alice?” Gavin couldn’t help blurting. “Is there a reward for her, too?”
“Would I like to double the reward?” Click the cat climbed higher just as Antoine snaked out a hand and pulled Gavin closer by his hair, which gave Gavin an excuse to yelp in pain. “Where is your little baroness?”
At that moment, a woman in a brown explorer’s shirt, trousers, and gloves slid through the hole in the roof and down the slanted rope. Her hair was tucked under a pith helmet, and her belt sported a glass cutlass. Her expression was tight, like a dirigible that might explode. Alice Michaels. Oh God. Gavin’s chest constricted and he felt a mixture of love and alarm, devotion and dread. He was so glad to see her he wanted to go limp with relief even as he was terrified the clockworker would capture her as well.
“We split up,” Gavin gasped, too aware of the cat on his back. What the hell was the damned thing doing? “Right after we left England. The Third Ward was chasing us and we decided it would be safer. You’ll never find her.”
“Do I believe him? No, I do not. Do I think his Alice is somewhere nearby? Yes, I—”
“Mon seigneur!” boomed one of the trees. “Mon seigneur! Rocailleux!”
Everything happened at once. Antoine snatched up the brass pistol from the worktable. Click scrambled up Gavin’s legs to his ankles and extended a claw into the shackles. Alice whipped the glass cutlass free with one hand and sliced the rope below her. Clinging to the top piece like a liana vine, she swung downward. With a clack, Gavin’s shackles came open and he dropped to the ground, barely managing to tuck and roll so he wouldn’t hit his head. Antoine fired the pistol at Alice. Yellow lightning snapped from the barrel. Thunder smashed through the greenhouse. An anguished shout tore itself from Gavin’s throat. The bolt missed its target, and four windows shattered. Alice landed several yards away from the circle of trees, stumbled, regained her feet in waist-high shrubbery. Click dropped to the ground in front of Gavin. Antoine took aim at Alice again.
–Steven Harper Piziks
The Doomsday Vault and The Impossible Cube are available at bookstores everywhere.
The Silent Empire collection now available at Book View Cafe!
Full selection available at http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Browse-by-Author#StevenHarperPiziks