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Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor, 2011
Series: Clockwork Century: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Steampunk
Alternate History (SF)
Avg Member Rating:
(29 reads / 15 ratings)


The air pirate Andan Cly is going straight. Well, straighter. Although he's happy to run alcohol guns wherever the money's good, he doesn't think the world needs more sap, or its increasingly ugly side-effects. But becoming legit is easier said than done, and Cly's first legal gig-a supply run for the Seattle Underground-will be paid for by sap money.

New Orleans is not Cly's first pick for a shopping run. He loved the Big Easy once, back when he also loved a beautiful mixed-race prostitute named Josephine Early-but that was a decade ago, and he hasn't looked back since. Jo's still thinking about him, though, or so he learns when he gets a telegram about a peculiar piloting job. It's a chance to complete two lucrative jobs at once, one he can't refuse. He sends his old paramour a note and heads for New Orleans, with no idea of what he's in for-or what she wants him to fly.

But he won't be flying. Not exactly. Hidden at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain lurks an astonishing war machine, an immense submersible called the Ganymede. This prototype could end the war, if only anyone had the faintest idea of how to operate it.... If only they could sneak it past the Southern forces at the mouth of the Mississippi River... If only it hadn't killed most of the men who'd ever set foot inside it.



"Croggon Hainey sends his regards, but he isn't up for hire," Josephine Early declared grimly as she crumpled the telegram in her fist. She flicked the wad of paper into the tiny round wastebin beside her desk and took a deep breath that came out in a hard sigh. "So we'll have to find another pilot, goddammit."

"Ma'am, the airyard's full of pilots," her assistant, Marylin Quantrill, replied.

She leaned back in her seat and tapped her fingers on the chair's armrest. "Not pilots like him."

"Hainey ... he's a colored fellow, isn't he? One of the Macon Madmen?"

"Yes, and he's the best flier I know. But I can't blame him for turning us down. It's asking a lot, for him to come so far south while he's still wanted--and we don't have the money to pay him what he's worth, much less compensate him for the extra danger."

Marylin nodded, disappointed but understanding. "It didn't hurt to ask."

"No. And if it were me, I wouldn't take the job either." Josephine ceased her tapping and shifted her weight, further wedging her voluminous blue dress into the narrow confines of the worn mahogany chair's rigid arms. "But I sure was hoping he'd say yes. He's perfect for the job, and perfect doesn't come along every day. We won't find anyone half so perfect hanging about the airyard, I can tell you that much. We need a man with excellent flying skillsand absolutely no loyalty to the Republic or the Confederacy. And that, my dear, will be the trouble."

"Is there anyone else we could ask, anyone farther afield?"

"No one springs to mind," Josephine murmured.

Marylin pressed on. "It might not matter, anyway. It could be Rucker Little is right, and a pilot won't have any better luck than a seaman."

"It'd be hard for anyone, anywhere, to fail so spectacularly as that last batch of sailors."

"Not all of them drowned."

"Four out of five isn't anything to crow about."

"I suppose not, ma'am." Marylin lowered her eyes and fiddled with her gloves. She didn't often wear gloves, given the heat and damp of the delta, but the elbow-length silk pair with tiny pearl buttons had been a gift from a customer, and he'd requested specifically that she wear them tonight. Her hair was done up in a twisted set of plaits and set with an ostrich feather. The yellow dress she wore cost only half what the gloves did, but they complemented each other all the same.

Josephine vowed, "I'll find someone else, and I'll show Mr. Mumler that I'm right. They're going about that machine all wrong, I just know it. All I need is a pilot to prove it."

"But you have to admit," the younger woman carefully ventured, "it sounds strange, wanting an airman for a ... for whatever it is, there in the lake."

"Sometimes a strangely shaped problem requires a strangely shaped solution, dear. So here's what we'll do for now: Tomorrow afternoon, you take one of the other girls--Hazel or Ruthie, maybe--and you go down to the airyard and keep your eyes open."

"Open for what?"

"Anyone who isn't Southern or Texian. Look for foreigners who stand out from the usual crowd--ignore the English and the islanders, we don't want them. We want people who don't care aboutthe war, and who aren't taking sides. Tradesmen, merchants, or pirates."

"I don't know about pirates, ma'am. They scare me, I don't mind saying."

Josephine said, "Hainey's a pirate, and I'd trust him enough to employ him. Pirates come in different sorts like everybody else, and I'll settle for one if I have to. But don't worry. I wouldn't ask you to go down to the bay or barter with the Lafittes. If our situation turns out to call for a pirate, I'll go get one myself."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"Let's consider Barataria a last resort. We aren't up to needing last resorts. Not yet. The craft is barely in working order, and Chester says it'll be a few days before it's dried out enough to try again. When it works, and when we have someone who can consistently operate it without drowning everyone inside it, then we'll move it. We have to get it to the Gulf, and we'll have to do it right the first time. We won't get a second chance."

"No, ma'am, I don't expect we will," Marylin agreed. Then she changed the subject. "Begging your pardon, ma'am--but do you have the time?"

"The time? Oh, yes." Josephine reached into her front left pocket and retrieved a watch. It was an engineer's design with a glass cutout in the cover, allowing her to see the hour at a glance. "It's ten till eight. Don't worry, your meeting with Mr. Spring has not been compromised--though, knowing him, he's already waiting downstairs."

"I think he rather likes me, ma'am."

"I expect he does. And with that in mind, be careful, Marylin."

"I'm always careful."

"You know what I mean."

She rose from her seat and asked, "Is there anything else?"

"No, darling."

Therefore, with a quick check of her hair in the mirror by thedoor, Marylin Quantrill exited the office on the fourth floor of the building known officially as the Garden Court Boarding House for Ladies, and unofficially as "Miss Early's Place," home of "Miss Early's Girlies."

Josephine did not particularly care for the unofficial designation, but there wasn't much to be done about it now. A name with a rhyme sticks harder than sun-dried tar.

But quietly, bitterly, Josephine saw no logical reason why a woman in her forties should be referred to with the same address as a toddler, purely because she'd never married. Furthermore, she employed no "girlies." She took great pains to see to it that her ladies were precisely that: ladies, well informed and well educated. Her ladies could read and write French as well as English, and some of them spoke Spanish, too; they took instruction on manners, sewing, and cooking. They were young women, yes, but they were not frivolous children, and she hoped that they would have skills to support themselves upon leaving the Garden Court Boarding House.

All the Garden Court ladies were free women of color.

It was Josephine's experience that men liked nothing better than variety, and that no two men shared precisely the same tastes. With that in mind, she'd recruited fourteen women in a spectrum of skin tones, ranging from two very dark Caribbean natives to several lighter mixes like Marylin, who could have nearly passed for white. Josephine herself counted an eighth of her own ancestry from Africa, courtesy of a great-grandmother who'd come to New Orleans aboard a ship called the Adelaide. At thirteen, her grandmother had been bought to serve as a maid, and at fourteen, she'd birthed her first child, Josephine's mother.

And so forth, and so on.

Josephine was tall and lean, with skin like tea stirred with milk. Her forehead was high and her lips were full, and although she looked her age, she wore all forty-two years with grace. It was true that in her maturity she'd slipped from "beautiful" to merely "pretty,"but she anticipated another ten years before sliding down to the dreaded "handsome."

She looked again at the watch, and at the wastebin holding the unfortunate telegram, and she wondered what on earth she was going to do now. Major Alcock was expecting a report on her mission's progress, and Admiral Partridge had made clear that it wasn't safe to keep the airship carrier Valiant too close to the delta for very long. Texas wouldn't tolerate it--they'd chase the big ship back out to sea like a flock of crows harrying an eagle.

She had until the end of May. No longer.

That left not quite four weeks to figure out a number of things which had gone years without having been figured out thus far.

"Ganymede," she said under her breath, "I will find someone to fly you."

All she needed was a pilot willing to risk his life in a machine that had killed seventeen men to date; brave the Mississippi River as it went past Forts Jackson and Saint Philip and all the attending Rebels and Texians therein; and kindly guide it out into the Gulf of Mexico past half a dozen Confederate warships--all the while knowing the thing could explode, suffocate everyone inside, or sink to the ocean bottom at any moment.

Was it really so much to ask?

The Union thought she was out of her mind, and though they wanted the scuttled craft, they couldn't see paying yet another seventeen men to die for it. Therefore, any further salvage efforts must come out of Josephine's own pocket. But her pockets weren't as deep as the major seemed to think, and the cost of hiring a highlevel mercenary for such a mission was well outside her reach.

Even if she knew another pilot half so good as Croggon Hainey, and without any allegiance to the occupying Republicans or the Confederates, a month might not be enough time to fetch him, prepare him, and test him.

She squeezed her watch and popped it open. The gears inside flipped, swayed, and spun.

But on second thought ...

She'd told Marylin she didn't know any other pilots. The lie had slipped off her tongue as if it'd been greased, or as if she'd only forgotten it wasn't true, but there was someone else.

It wasn't worth thinking about. After all, it'd been years since last she saw him--since she even thought about him. Had he gone back West? Had he married, and raised a family? Would he come if she summoned him? For all she knew, he wasn't even alive anymore. Not every man--even a man like Andan Cly--survives a pirate's career.

"He's probably dead," Josephine told herself. "Long gone, I'm sure."

She wasn't sure.

She looked back at the wastebin, and she realized that with one more telegram, she could likely find out.

Croggon Hainey frequented the Northwest corners, didn't he? And Cly had come...

Copyright © 2011 by Cherie Priest


Ganymede - Cherie Priest

- valashain


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