Welcome to our Steampunk Revelry!
Today we celebrate the release of Clockwork Scoundrels, E. W. Pierce’s first entry in the episodic series.
It started because I needed more scoundrels in my life.
Han Solo’s been gone since 1983. It’s been 10 years since Malcolm Reynolds last manned the helm of Serenity. In their stead, I’ve contented myself characters like Sawyer from Lost, Loki from the Marvel movies, and Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, characters with the wit and self-serving ideals of a true scoundrel. But the venue was all kinds of wrong.
Turns out what I was really missing was a scoundrel captain, someone both suavely in charge and on the verge of having everything come apart in a spectacular display of ineptitude. I wanted someone that straddled the edge of right and wrong, not because he’s bad per se, but because he plays life by a different sort of rules.
Meet Captain Melanie Locke. She commands the Misty Morning, a beat-up old airship barely clinging to sky. Mel and her crew survive by taking jobs on the wrong side of the legal fence. Not because they like that seek out that kind of work, you understand. It’s just the only kind that they can find.
What draws me to steampunk is the way it blends together fantasy and sci-fi, and then applies this grimy veneer of faux history. Steampunk feels as though it came from our own history, where steam-power remained at the apex of technology. Steampunk is airships and goggles, automaton robots and nifty clockwork devices, white smoke and black grease.
In steampunk, anything is possible.
Blurb: Melanie Locke, the captain of a run-down airship, has never been short on luck, hers is just always bad or worse. Yet even by such lofty standards, business has been especially bleak of late. So when a stranger offers her a lot of money to fly him to a remote part of the country, it appears to be a long overdue boon. But the stranger carries a secret, one that some very powerful people are anxious to get back. Caught in the middle, Mel must chart a path through the maelstrom or risk losing the skies forever.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
Chapter One: The Cogs of Commerce
Probably it was stupid, coming back. After all, last time they’d nearly ended up in prison.
Captain Melanie Locke stood at the airship’s prow, one scuffed boot up on the rail, faded leather duster billowing about her legs, as the Misty Morning coasted into the sky docks of Waldron’s Gate, capital city of Alterra. The ancient ship casually slipped into an empty berth well-separated from the rest and there hunkered in shadows deep enough to hide her worn decks and mask her peeling paint. There was no disguising the trio of mast poles though, an unsightly remnant of another, earlier, age of flight. Jagged and warped, and bleached white with age, they rose from the deck like the ribcage of a beached leviathan.
The ship’s current means of propulsion, an ornery steam engine housed in the ship’s bowels, gave a final cough of thick gray smoke and then fell into a kind of rumbling slumber. They’d keep the engine warm and ready, just in case.
Mel tied off a green ribbon and then lowered the gangplank. The ribbon was the traditional sign that a ship was accepting commissions. Today was the end of the season, the single biggest day for commerce as merchants hastily booked passage before winter closed the docks. Which meant that some merchants couldn’t be picky when hiring a crew. Today was finally a chance at some legitimate work for Mel and hers.
The ribbon hung limp, looking sad somehow, scarcely bothering to stir in the faint breeze. As she waited for the day to begin, Mel wondered if that wasn’t some kind of omen.
The sky docks were alive with traffic: porters disembarking ramps, pulling hand carts stacked with crates and iron-banded barrels; richly-attired merchants waiting to talk to their captain of choice; clusters of girls in colorful dresses giggling whenever one of the broad-shouldered sailors of the skies passed by. An enterprising young man was doing brisk commerce out of a food trolley at the boardwalk’s head, and occasionally the strains of music could be heard. Even amid all the bustle and commotion, there was a tangible atmosphere of celebration and cheer.
The Misty Morning sat apart from it all, an obvious outcast to the celebration. The crew busied themselves elsewhere, leaving the deck to Mel. She leaned on the rail, fuming.
Word of her expired license must’ve reached Waldron’s Gate. All the choice contracts would go elsewhere. She might get a deal moving low-value bulk if she was patient, but it was an uneven proposition. Only the most desperate merchant would try an unlicensed ship and risk seizure and penalty, and so far, the day had been short on desperate merchants.
Slow, cautious footsteps approached from behind. She knew without looking that it was Taul Kemmel, first mate and ship’s tally-master. None other risked approaching her on commerce days. “Taul,” she said in greeting.
“Sir.” Taul had been a Parliament Guard in the long ago and retained some habits from those days. At least he’d dropped that saluting nonsense.
“Not much in the way of commerce, is there?”
“Winter comin’, is all.”
He cleared his throat.
Mel sighed. “How much this time?”
A long inhalation.
That bad? Doubt took root in the space between his breaths. Would today be the day they realized she didn’t know what she was doing? That she put on a brave face and pretended at confidence for their benefit?
“Five … ” Where was she going to come up with that kind of coin? They’d been down to necessities—parts and food—for some time. She didn’t need to be tally-master to know that five hundred was drastically more than they had.
Further up the dock, the cogs of commerce spun on, oblivious. Anger blossomed, burning away the more complicated feelings. She spun on Taul. “What’s Kile done to my ship this time?” Chief Wrench Kile Filmore was forever complaining about something corroding or rusting. It was his responsibility to keep the ship flying, but Mel thought he often asked for things they didn’t really need.
Taul was substantially taller than Mel but somehow her anger always seemed to put them on an even level. “Maintenance, is all. Drive shaft’s corroded, rudders need balancing, the rear uplifters have maybe forty miles left on them.”
“Forty miles will get us to Rust Bucket.”
Rust Bucket was the airship graveyard, a vast brown field full of broken hulks left to rust in the sun. The graveyard didn’t exist on any map, allowing Alterra’s citizens to persist under the false notion that creations from the Ministry of Manifestation lasted forever. Perhaps that was true for things that spent their life close to the ground, but the sky was another type of reality. Hostile winds, a chill deeper than the harshest winter, water in its many, deadly forms—all conspired against a ship’s natural lifespan. Even the wealthiest captains, the type who’d scrap a perfectly good ship and order a new one built, had probably put into Rust Bucket for emergency repairs a time or two.
Parts could be had at Rust Bucket, but even second-hand scrap cost money. And she didn’t have the coin for replacement parts. Yet.
“Guess it’s time to venture landside and rustle up some commerce.”
“Is that wise, sir?”
Mel gave him a reassuring grin. “I’m sure they’ve forgotten all about that little misunderstanding.”
Get Clockwork Scoundrels at Amazon – only $0.99!
Clockwork Scoundrels is a serial. It’s like reading episodes of your favorite TV show. New episodes release every 3-4 weeks. Each episode is somewhat standalone but also builds upon the episodes that came before.
The second episode comes out next week (Aug 20th)!
Raised on a steady diet of Star Wars, cowboy movies with his great-grandfather, and lots of pretend, E.W. Pierce developed an early interest in the making of make-believe. He discovered the fantasy genre via the Dragonlance novels, and shortly thereafter, was introduced to the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. His world was never the same.
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