Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Wormwood Trade, a sample

Time travel is not possible. The experiments failed. No one could travel back in time and prevent untimely deaths.

And yet, Fletcher Kane's fiancee, who died during the French invasion of London, a battle called Blacknight, is returned to him through unexpected means. Cecily claims to have no memory of her death; she only remembers being out, shopping with her sister, when she was kidnapped, a few days before she supposedly was killed. Still nineteen years old, she is bound for delivery to her father, nearly six years later. Can she adapt to a new time? Can she melt the fortress of ice that Kane built around his heart after her own death?

Captain M. Fletcher Kane strode across the gondola of the captured pirate airship. The dead littered the gondola, most brought down by the guns of his own officers and crew. Those were easier to look at then the cannon crew who'd been brought down by their own malfunctioning Armstrong-Schrag. The smell of charred flesh and bone clung to the air. The clean-squad from HRM Remorseless were already soaking down the bodies. The failed Armstrong-Schrag was pushed over the side – fire on an airship was not a matter to take lightly.

“They fought well,” Fletcher said to his second, a whippet thin woman with long black hair pulled up into a severe bun.

“Indeed, Captain,” Damia nodded. “Nearly to the last man. The Knoxx-Finley proclamation is turning the war in the air into suicide missions. There's no hope. If we capture them, they will all die; what then is the point of surrender?”


“We took two prisoners; more by accident than anything else. Doc's seeing to them, but they may well live.”

“Tell Doc to stop treating them. There's no point. When they're conscious, offer them mercy for whatever information they can give us.”

“You want me to just toss them over the side, Captain?” Damia's cool, ceramic face betrayed no emotions, but Fletcher knew her well enough to see that she was troubled.

“They'll be tortured and hung in London as soon as we get them there. There's no point to feeding them in the meanwhile. It's a mercy, Damia. No one deserves to be in the care of Duke Catterbury's men, no matter what crime they've committed.”

“It's barbaric,” Damia said.

“I don't disagree. We don't have to like the law, we have only to follow it. Watch what ears your words fall on, First.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, let's see what they were so desperate to protect.”

The pirate airship had led them on a merry chase, from south of Portsmouth to nearly Le Havre before Fletcher's pilot had finally out-maneuvered them. “They'd have gotten away clean in another two miles.” Damia jiggled the lock on the cargo hold a few times, then shrugged. “Ears, Captain.” She shot the lock, spraying bits of iron and wood in all directions.

“Finding the key is too much trouble?” Fletcher twisted his mouth up into a clever mockery of his old smile. Sardonic amusement was the most he could actually manage, these three years past. They said the captain often takes on the qualities of his ship; perhaps it was more that the ship called to the captain. Fletcher hadn't always been carved from stone. He once knew what it was to smile, to laugh, to love. Before the war. Before she had been torn from him during Blacknight.

“I'm in a hurry. And I don't like searching bodies. Feels too much like looting.”

Fletcher pushed the door in. Beyond were several crates, each stamped with the letters “WwT” and followed by a six digit code. They were pale pine, some still bleeding pitch, all the same size.

"Blimey,” Damia said. “They look like coffins.”

True enough. Each pine box laid near to six feet long, three feet wide. They weren't stacked and each was securely strapped to the floor with wide, canvas belts bolted down.

“Find me a crowbar.”

“Of course, sir,” Damia swallowed. “But sir, if there are dead -”

“Let's open the box before we inventory the contents?”

The crate contained a brass box, similarly casket-sized, with a read-out dial chest-high on a man. The dial flicked over, counting down in slow, measured increments. A packet of papers was tucked to the left of the brass container. “Deliver; Lord Pemberton, 19 Victoria Terrance, Calcutta, West Bengal, India. PiF.”

Fletcher went cold, colder than he had ever been. Lord Pemberton was to have been his father-in-law. That was near six years ago, and Fletcher had not seen the man since shortly after the funeral of Pemberton's daughter, Cecily. Pemberton had taken a government position in the West Indies, to get away from the memories, he'd said.

“Open this up, right now.” His voice was quiet and yet Damia moved with jerky swiftness, as if terrified.

The dial on the bronze casket clicked down again. Damia struggled, then found the catches on either side. A hiss of steel gray smoke escaped, smelling of anise and sulfide. Fletcher waved the smoke aside, shoving the top of the casket over.

Inside, the woman-child opened her eyes. Brilliant blue, flecked with gold, just like he remembered. Those eyes had closed six summers ago, countless months and moons, never to open again, and yet...

“Mark? Darling?” Cecily sat up in the coffin, coughing. “What are you doing here? What's going on? Who were those men? Where am I?”

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