Saturday, March 13, 2021
I’m here again with the steampunk riverboat, my chuckaboos!
From the very beginning of this river cruise, the Mate, Blue John Boulton was not doing well emotionally, and that’s an understatement. He wanted a sabbatical, but couldn’t find time to get away. While it may have been obvious to us, Émeraude didn’t realize the extent of his condition. She was horrified when he finally cracked, stole Victor’s rocket, and went up into the sooty cloud. While we hope for his safe return, for all we know, he perished.
Without further ado…
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 66 — Build
Neither here nor there, the Delta Pearl floated on an unknown river. What I had taken for sunlight coming through the etched glass doors of the Chandelier Deck was… Well, I could only describe it as brightness. It was light, but it wasn’t sunlight.
There was no time to mourn the loss of the clockwork creatures. Victor, Randall, and Garnet worked throughout that day, building a new the telectroscope. My young inventor did double duty, frequently going to the main deck to check the progress of Sid, Coral, and some of the porters as they tried to build another rocket.
“Why are you building another rocket?” I asked.
“What if Blue John is unable to get down without assistance?” Victor replied. “Someone might need to go up and help him.”
“And how will that person get back down?” I demanded with a smirk, thinking I had stumped him.
Victor pointed to the shelf under the workbench. There were all sorts of ropes and grappling hooks. He struggled to lift something that resembled a thicker, heavier sort of crossbow. It was designed to shoot the ropes and hooks.
Victor wasn’t a large man, but he wasn’t a weakling either. I wondered what good the gadget would be if no one could lift it to take proper aim. Not to mention, at what would it be aimed? All I had seen was the sooty cloud.
The Captain walked past us. The big emerald in his all-seeing eye pin held an otherworldly glow. I had only seen it do that a few times.
“That can’t be a good omen,” I whispered.
Cecil Perlog had every deckhand and porter inspecting each inch of the riverboat, to makes sure she was sound. The Delta Pearl could heal herself to a degree, but she had been through extremes.
Opal and Jet worked furiously in the library, trying to figure out precisely where we were and how we could get back to where we belonged.
The dealer was off being even more mysterious than usual. Something in his manner frightened me. Jaspe never showed much emotion, but ever since he mentioned Malachite being the one who had created the clockwork creatures, the Dealer had been cold. He seemed to have turned in upon himself. I wondered what he was thinking. What might he be planning? Would he take the next rocket in a foolhardy attempt to rescue the Mate?
Randall Needleman, in his weakened state, fell asleep at the worktable where he assisted Victor. The Chief Porter and Eliza helped him back to the couple’s suite. The entrepreneur protested, but he was outnumbered.
When they left, Victor gave me a conspiratorial look. He cleared his throat and adjusted his spectacles. Just when I thought he had overcome his shyness, it had returned. I lifted my eyebrows, inviting him to speak.
“Émeraude, I think the telectroscope is ready,” Victor began awkwardly. “But I’d like to test it in private, in case it doesn’t work. The soot in that cloud might be enough to hinder the device. Is there a place outside, on one of the decks where we could take it? A place where there could be a little shelter, given how uncertain the weather is, yet still have as little as possible between us and the cloud?”
“There’s a storage compartment about the size of a kitchen pantry, up on the Hurricane Deck. It’s built against the side of the pilot house. It’s big enough for us and the machine. The Captain is busy with inspections, so he won’t be up there,” I suggested.
We hurried to the topmost deck of the huge riverboat. In minutes the device produced a crackling noise, and snowy blur filled its screen. Gradually, it came into focus, showing four glittering cabochon eyes. The eyes backed up, and I saw my clockwork spider. She tapped one leg impatiently.
The purple spider crouched as if ready to pounce. She had seen a change in the telectroscope. Amethyst emanated a series of clicks as she gazed intently at the device. She was excited. Then she skittered out of view.
Something large and dark moved to the spot where Amethyst had been, blocking the view completely. As it shifted away, I realized the shape was a man. He moved awkwardly. I thought he must be injured.
He stumbled to a nearby desk, which held a large book. It reminded me of my reception station.
A shadow fell across the man. Onyx alighted on the book. The man turned his head to face the telectroscope.
“Blue John!” I exclaimed, although he didn’t seem to hear me.
“The sound must not be turned on at their end,” Victor muttered in a frustrated voice.
The clockwork owl used his beak to pick up a fountain pen. He plopped it onto the desk in front of the Mate. Blue John grimaced. One arm hung immobile at his side. He took up the pen with his right hand and made a few strokes. Then he frowned and threw down the pen.
“Oh… he’s lefthanded,” I murmured. “He must have meant to write a note.”
“Surely he could have scratched out something,” Victor commented.
“No. Blue has terrible penmanship as it is. If he wrote something with his opposite hand, we’d never be able to read it,” I explained.
The Mate jerked his head toward the direction from which he came. He must have heard something. He held the injured arm close to his chest as he stepped out of the narrow area we could view.
Onyx moved to watch Blue John leave. Small shadows flickered near the owl. They were accompanied by an assortment of clicks and whirs, as well as a deep grinding sound that sounded for all the world like a growl.
“If Malachite created the clockworks, do you suppose there are others there?” Victor muttered.
“And what kind might they be. That grinding noise sounded like something large,” I replied, sharing an uneasy glance with my young inventor.
The owl turned his brass head 180 degrees when Amethyst jumped onto the desk beside him. She did what Eliza had called a “one spider collie shangle and tried to pick up the paper on which Blue gave up writing. Onyx used his beak to hold up the paper.
Amethyst pounced toward the telectroscope. I thought she collided with it, but she managed to turn on the sound. Onyx fluttered closer, still holding the paper. I couldn’t make out Blue’s attempt to write with his wrong hand.
“T… U? No, is that an O? Tone? Is that what it says?” Victor tried to read the single word on the paper. “Didn’t Opal say that the Mate is best at singing with the harmonic tones?” Victor said.
“The Delta Pearl responds best to Blue John, when the singing is done,” I started. “But he must have known he only had a moment because of who or whatever caused him to run. Why tell us something we already know?”
“So, t-U-ne then? Is it tune?” Victor asked.
Amethyst clicked at the owl and then started tapping one leg in a way that reminded me of a metronome.
To my astonishment, Onyx bobbed his head up and down a few times in rhythm to the spider’s tapping. Then he began to whistle a familiar tune.
“Is that…?” Victor began in a befuddled voice, and I nodded.
“I’m only a bird in a gilded cage,” I sang.
End Chapter 66
Blue John is back… or sort of anyway. I’m not sure if that tells us anything… except that he’s injured. How badly, we don’t know. Dash my wig if that dratted song isn’t back too. Hmmm.
Dead of Winter
My new Amazon serial is in its third monthly installment. This series will run for about a year. I’ve been giving free serials here for many years. Now I also have this serial of novelettes at Amazon (and Kobo). This lets you have a nice-sized visit with the detailed world I created, and they cost less than a magazine. Join the journeys and explore this fantasy world where you’ll find oppression and those how oppose it, two determined young women, a mysterious Society, danger, and more.
Journey 3, the Fever Field
Journey 2, Penllyn
Journey 1, Forlorn Peak
Featured Designed & Ready Book Cover
Here is this week’s cover design, available for your story or advertisement. Click here to see my entire portfolio. Pricing information is also included there.
Thanks for visiting. I’d love to hear from you in a comment. Remember — this is not a forum for critique. If you want this serial to continue — remember that this is my sanctuary — so keep it friendly.
Until next time, my chuckaboos!
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
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