• Togas – a flash story

    Korina’s smile widened as she watched steam rise from the spring, spinning delicate bronze levers in the upper reaches of her device. Below, hot water spun wheels that powered the looms. The cave was filled with the clatter of moving parts, the wondrous sound of the first automated manufactuary in all the city states of Greece, and therefore surely in the whole civilised world. A wonder to match the colossus recently raised at Rhodes. All her work.

    Outside, priests were shouting like a band of petulant children, as they had done since she arrived weeks before. If this spring had truly been the divine oracle they claimed, surely it would have warned them that the people of Athens, dazzled by her work, would grant it to her to power her machine.

    Oracle indeed.

    At the end of the cave, freshly woven togas were tumbling off the machine and into the donkey cart that would carry them to market. Stamatia, her assistant, was picking samples out at random to try them on.

    “This one itches,” Stamatia said with a frown, casting the cloth aside. “And this one…”

    She squirmed and struggled as the toga shrank around her. Hastily, Korina unfastened the garment and set her free.

    “I’m sure the rest are fine,” Korina said, nudging the strangely shrivelled toga with her toe.

    Of course, there was no need to keep testing, these were just flukes. But out of curiosity, she picked up another toga and tried it on.

    No sooner had she fastened it into place than she felt a great weight bearing her down. It was as if the cloth were made of lead. She tore it off with trembling hands and donned another. When she tried to walk, she tripped over her own feet, as she had not done since she was an infant.

    “The curse of the oracle!” Stamatia said. “The priests warned us that if we meddled then the gods-”

    “Gods can be appeased,” Korina said. “Keep the machine running. I will be back.”

    #

    The biggest bull Korina had ever seen lay roasting in the heart of a blazing bonfire. The smell was mouth-watering, but no human tongue would taste that flesh. It was an offering, one whose grandeur warmed her soul. Even the priests had been grudgingly impressed, though they still shouted whenever she came near.

    That should be more than enough to appease the gods.

    She strode into the cave and grabbed the next toga to come off the line. It stung like ice on her fingertips. Her skin went numb when she put it on.

    “That wasn’t enough?” she shouted to the heavens.

    Stamatia backed off, watching her with trepidation.

    “Fine.” Korina picked up an armful of the precious togas. “I’ll offer them something that really matters to me.”

    She stormed out to the fire and flung the togas in, bellowing a prayer to all the gods as she did so. The precious clothes, proof that her machine worked, blazed into flames. She strode back inside, grabbed another armful, and burned them too.

    “Try the next one off the line,” she said to Stamatia as she snatched up the last of the togas. “Surely this will be enough.”

    As fire consumed her creations, Korina heard a yelp from inside the cave. Stamatia ran out, flames flying from the toga in which she was wrapped, and jumped into a nearby stream.

    Korina’s scream was born as much frustration as alarm.

    #

    Once the physician had arrived and tended to Stamatia, Korina went back into the cave. She laid a hand on the gleaming bronze of her machine. A thing of such wonder and intricacy. Years of work in design, testing, and production. Her proudest creation.

    She picked up a hammer and raised it, ready to strike.

    “Is this the only way to lift the curse?” she whispered, her voice cracking at the thought.

    A toga fell from the machine into the donkey cart. Korina took a moment to enjoy her achievement one last time. Such a tragedy to destroy it, but she was no priest, able to win back the favour of angry gods. She was an inventor and a businesswoman.

    She needed to start thinking like one.

    #

    A queue stretched away from Korina’s stall at the marketplace in Athens. She could barely keep up with demand. She laughed to herself as she looked up at the sign:

    “A peace offering to your enemy. A present for a relative you hate. A merry joke upon your impish friend. Cursed togas – the perfect gift for every occasion.”

    * * *

     

    During the steampunk panel at this year’s FantasyCon, we talked about other eras we’d like to see get the treatment steampunk gives to Victorian Europe. One suggestion was ancient Greece, with its inventors and early machines. This story got a little away from the tone I imagined then, but hey, it’s a start.

    And if you’d like to read more experiments in short stories, why not sign up to my mailing list and get one straight to your inbox every Friday?


  • People Are the Worst – Charlotte Bond’s Monstrous

    Reading Charlotte Bond’s Monstrous, I finally pinned down why humans are the scariest thing in horror.

    I know that “people are the real horror” isn’t an original insight. It’s the central theme of The Walking Dead, and if it’s on big-budget TV then you know it’s not a new idea. But sometimes it’s hard to work out why something works.

    Monstrous is all about this. The teenage protagonist Jenny is dragged off to join a commune by her mum. There’s something dangerous lurking in the woods around them, but the real unpleasantness comes from the people. It works incredibly well. One particular act of brutality (vagueness to avoid spoilers, go read the book), had me frozen with tension. It was just so awful and so real.

    And that was when it hit me. In horror, the monsters can be more extreme, but the humans are more believable. What they do to each other has a sense of reality. That makes it scarier because it could actually happen.

    Worst of all, we can imagine acting like that human more easily than we can imagine acting like the monster. Recognising a potential for darkness within ourselves is the perhaps the most terrifying thing of all.

    Monstrous is about how humans are the real monsters. If you want to explore that particular brand of horror, I heartily recommend reading it. Just don’t expect to sleep well afterwards.


  • Old Odd Ends – a steampunk story

    The quaking of the ground shook Dirk’s whole body. His stomach lurched and his legs trembled as he fought to stay upright. Chunks of rock tumbled from the ceiling of the cave, battering at his head and shoulders.

    “We’ve got to smash those machines,” he said.

    He snatched up an axe handle from beside one of the fanatics he had knocked out and hefted the length of wood, testing its weight and balance. Then, with wobbling steps, he approached the nearest of the two medieval machines that were shaking the cave. Its hammers and levers jerked back and forth with frantic energy, driven by an enormous paddle wheel of ancient wood.

    “These are unique artefacts,” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms said. “We can’t destroy them!”

    “They’re gonna shake the whole city down,” Dirk bellowed above the clatter of machinery and falling rocks.

    “Then disable them,” Blaze-Simms said. “Please!”

    Dirk knew that more lives than theirs were at stake. But he’d never have gotten into events like this if he wasn’t fascinated by the wonders of the world. It would be amazing to show people these devices, hidden for centuries beneath the streets of York.

    Instead of striking one of the paddle wheels, he strode out into the stream, icy water soaking him to the waist, and thrust the axe handle through the sturdy oak spokes. Bracing himself, he tried to hold the wheel back, to stop the machine while Blaze-Simms found a way to turn it off.

    The machine barely registered his presence. The wheel kept turning, swinging the axe handle around. It smashed into his face. Pain lanced through his jaw as was thrown from his feet.

    Dirk fell back into the icy water. Currents churned around him. The paddle wheel caught his leg and dragged him deeper, grinding him against the floor. He was caught between the machine and solid rock, paddles battering his back, breath squeezed from his body. He flailed around, desperately trying to pull himself clear, but the currents dragged him back down.

    He could feel his mind fading as the oxygen ran out. In desperation, he grabbed hold of one of the moving paddles. Clinging on with all his might, he let it drag him around, scraping him against the rock and then the rest of the machine, until at last he emerged, gasping and bleeding, into the air.

    Flinging himself to one side, he landed heavily on dry ground.

    “I say, are you alright?” Blaze-Simms asked. He stood by what looked to be the machine’s controls, a broken lever in his hand. “I’m afraid that woodworm got to this part. Rather stopped me switching it off.”

    “That’s it,” Dirk growled as he forced himself to his feet. “To Hell with posterity.”

    He picked up a rock and charged at the machine, letting out all his pain and frustration in a mighty roar. He smashed at the controls with the rock. Smashed at the gears. Smashed at the axle, the paddles, the spokes. When a solid length of wood broke free, two long iron nails protruding from his end, he seized hold of that and used it to keep on smashing.

    At last, the paddle wheel was reduced to a broken wreck, the gears scattered across the ground. The machine stopped turning.

    Up the cave, the other device was still going, still shaking the floor and walls. Dirk raised his improvised club and charged straight at it, like he was back on the battlefields of the Civil War and it was the Confederate lines. He wasn’t just fighting for him, he was fighting for all the other people this thing threatened. For Blaze-Simms. For the inhabitants of the city above their heads. For the poor, deluded fanatics who had set this machine in motion and were now about to be crushed by its work.

    He stumbled on the shaking ground and almost lost his footing on a loose rock. But he kept going, charging straight at the heart of the machine, and slammed into the housing of the paddle wheel.

    Ancient wood, made brittle by time and fragile by woodworm, exploded into flying splinters. The paddle wheel rolled free, landed with a thud on the stream bed, then began to fall. A sound like screaming filled the cavern as the tortured mass of machinery toppled toward Dirk.

    With the last of his energy, he dived away. His bruised shoulder hit the ground and he rolled clear just as the machine crashed down.

    At last, the ground stopped shaking and the cave fell still.

    *

    Dirk sat enjoying a hearty breakfast of tea and kedgeree. It wasn’t what he usually looked for in a meal, but this was the last day of his holiday and he was feeling adventurous.

    A piece of loose plaster fell from the ceiling, landing atop his pile of curried rice and fish.

    “They’re finally putting on that performance of Richard the Third this afternoon,” Blaze-Simms said, looking up from his sketches of the earth-shaking machines. “Would you still like to go?”

    Dirk shook his head.

    “I’ve had enough of digging up medieval things,” he said. “Reckon I’ll just go for a coffee instead.”

    * * *

     

    So ends another adventure for the Epiphany Club. If you enjoyed this, you can find more stories featuring Dirk and Blaze-Simms on my steampunk page, including links to buy e-books, which will help to fund my writing and keep these stories coming. And if you’d like a free steampunk e-book, along with short stories straight to your inbox every Friday, then why not sign up for my mailing list.

    Next week, something else entirely.


  • Stories and Faith in Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun

    From the very first page, Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun sets out its big themes of intertextuality and faith. Before we meet the protagonist, Catherine Helstone, we get an invented quote from a missionary espousing the need to spread the Christian faith in Arcadia. We’re in a story of interwoven texts, one that depicts a collision between two narratives of great power – European fairytales and Christianity. This is a book that dives deep into the playground of stories, and in doing so highlights their role in making faith possible.

    But before I head down the rabbit hole (or up my own arse, depending on how you view these things), let’s start by defining some terms…

    Intertextuality

    Intertextuality is the exploration of the relationship between texts. In books, it usually involves a writer leaning heavily on references to other stories. In the examples I like, recognising the references adds meaning to the story. But there are times when a story becomes virtually meaningless if you don’t know what it’s referring to. Intertextuality can be powerful and exciting, but it can also become a barrier to understanding (I’m looking at you, James Joyce).

    Intertextuality has always been a part of fiction. This video by the Nerdwriter explores its part in modern Hollywood, while Extra Credits’ recent introduction to Frankenstein highlights its role in classic literature.

    Faith

    Faith is a tricky word. It means different things to different people. Here, I’m going to be talking about religious faith – a powerful belief in a particular view of reality and the moral teachings that arise from it, a belief that does not need to be grounded in evidence, but is more often rooted in the believer’s emotions and instincts about the world.

    Blurring the Lines

    Under the Pendulum Sun is rich with intertextual references. Each chapter starts with a quote from a book, letter, pamphlet, or diary that exists within its world. Its style is a reference to 19th-century fiction, including the gothic fears fostered by the likes of Mary Shelley and the more grounded stories of social and emotional struggle written by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters.

    The references to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre are particularly obvious, from Catherine’s encounter in the countryside with the master of her new home to the lost and damaged woman roaming the corridors of their house. It’s a nice example of intertextuality as bonus content. Having recently read Jane Eyre, I got a thrill from reading that the woman’s eyes darted with fire and from a description of the lights of the house seen from the countryside. But those parallels aren’t essential to understanding the story.

    In a story about missionaries trying to spread the Christian faith, the references to the Bible are the most important. From a house named Gethsemane to the sermons and readings of the characters, Christian stories are everywhere. And of course….

    Christianity is Intertextual

    Christianity is based on a mass of interwoven texts. The books of the Bible, which existed separately before they were brought together in a single tome, are full of references to each other. The New Testament parables are stories within a story. If the accounts of his life are to be believed, Jesus was constantly whipping out a good story to make a moral point. It’s impossible to make sense of the Book of Revelation without referring back to preceding stories of the Jewish and early Christian communities. And our interpretations of this are built on two thousand years of people studying these books, a great mass of intertextual scholarship.

    Where faith and intertextuality meet, there you find Christianity. That makes an intertextual story like this one perfect for exploring Christian faith.

    Blurring the Lines

    Intertextual stories blur the lines between one work and another. If you read both Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses, your reading of one will include memories of and reflections on the other. A Star Trek episode involving a holodeck Sherlock Holmes can’t exist without Conan Doyle’s stories, and someone who’s watched that episode may find images of Mr Data interrupting their reading of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The stories start to blend.

    But they don’t just blur the lines between different fictions. Stories can blur the lines in our heads between what’s real and what isn’t. Stories help us to make sense of the world, and in doing so they open us up to believe in what they offer. Mr Benjamin, the fae servant in Under the Pendulum Sun, specifically says that he is looking to find his place in the Christian story. It’s a natural impulse, to want to be part of something that makes sense, and so we want to accept that perspective as real. However true they are or aren’t, religious stories blur the line between the world they present and the one we experience.

    Faith is made possible through something akin to intertextuality.

    Stories Versus Stories

    In that sense, it might seem ironic that the fae in Under the Pendulum Sun are immune to Christianity’s charms. Like many fae in modern fantasy, they are bound by narratives. As Mr Benjamin says, “Fae are nothing but stories”.

    But isn’t this itself a reflection on faith? If we already have a story, like the fae do, then it protects us from the power of other stories. No amount of reasoning will break through to the “true believer”, and neither will an alternative tale. Their faith, for better or for worse, is a story, one that is intensely powerful to them.

    The characters in Ng’s book stumble through story after story. Stories about God, about themselves, even the stories they made up as children and that they now find reflected in the world of Arcadia. Their stories set their moral boundaries, as shown by Catherine’s behaviour, which shifts with the story she believes about herself. Even on the final page, it’s through reference to a story that they find a way to move on.

    This is a story about stories. It’s a story about faith. And it’s a story about how deeply the two are tied.


  • Adrian Tchaikovsky Talks Dogs of War at Waterstones

    Last Wednesday, I was in Leeds for the launch of Adrian Tchaikovsky‘s latest novel, Dogs of War. Leeds Waterstones have a lot of good events for the discerning sf+f fan, and this was no exception. With a reading from the novel followed by an interview conducted by David Tallerman, it was an intriguing introduction to what promises to be a great read.

    I made a bunch of notes on what Adrian said, notes I’ll dig out when I have time to read the book (my to-read pile already includes five other Tchaikovsky books, so it might be a little while). Dogs of War is a story that addresses human rights and the hypocrisy of war, as well as the different approaches that might be taken to artificial intelligence. Based on what I’ve heard so far, it also has one of the most distinctive character voices I’ve ever encountered. The uplifted dog Rex wants to be a good boy and please his human masters, which coming from a carefully engineered killing machine is touching, funny, and tragic. This is military scifi that doesn’t follow the usual path of military scifi.

    But what I most took away from the evening was a love for what Leeds Waterstones are doing for readers. To compete with the likes of Amazon, they’re turning into more than a shop, running events that bring readers together. Just attending this book launch, I stumbled into the tail end of a regular book quiz and got to hear about a Terry Pratchett book club. It made me realise that there’s a community of sf+f fans being brought together by these events, a community I want to get more involved with.

    Reading can seem like an isolated activity, but a love of books can really bring us together.

    Now to go join a book club.


  • Grim-Visaged War – a steampunk story

    Dirk woke up to a throbbing head, rough ground beneath his body, and rope binding his arms and legs. A stone fell from somewhere above, bouncing painfully off his bruised shoulder.

    Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and looked around.

    He was still in the same cave beneath the streets of York. The fanatics who had knocked him out had opened a set of sluice gates on the stream and now the water was running more fiercely through the centre of the cave, driving the ancient machine whose hammers were shaking the place to pieces. At the end of the stream, they had just finished moving aside a set of boards and rocks, revealing another device.

    “This is insane!” Dirk called out, fingers toying with the knots that bound him. “You’re going to get us all killed!”

    The leading cultist, a young woman with the ink-stained hands of an amateur scholar, turned to glare at him.

    “If that is what it takes to protect good King Richard’s memory, then so be it,” she called out above the hammering of machinery.

    She pulled a lever and the mill wheel on the second machine thudded into place. It started to turn, driving a complex set of machinery that made the ground shake more frantically than ever. Beams like giant battering rams pounded the cave walls, driven by the turning of that wheel.

    “Richard the Third has been dead for hundreds of years!” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms called out. He too was tied up, placed in an alcove near where the cultists stood.

    “And so he cannot defend himself,” the leader replied. “Only we can protect him from these libels.”

    “Those libels are Shakespeare.”

    “They are an outrage.”

    “You really think he’d want this?” Dirk shouted. The ropes were coming loose but he was running out of time. Even if the city above wasn’t being shaken to pieces, this cave looked like it was about to fall in on them. “Destroying the city he loved?”

    “Why else would he make this?” the leader exclaimed. “We are doing his work!”

    Her eyes burned with a fever that told Dirk there would be no reasoning.

    At last the knots came undone. He waited until the cultists’ backs were turned, then, flinging aside the ropes, he leapt to his feet and charged across the cavern.

    The sounds of machinery hid his footfalls. He had almost reached the cultists when one of them turned, saw him, and yelled in alarm.

    Two of them moved to block Dirk’s way, but it was the leader who showed real smarts. She grabbed the bound Blaze-Simms and slammed him against the wall, right next to where a mechanical arm was battering away.

    “Stop,” she said, “or the machine pounds your friend to paste.”

    Dirk skidded to a halt, inches from the nearest cultists. His whole body shook along with the cavern walls. Somewhere above them, he could hear crashing sounds. As the gearwheels turned, rocks and dirt rained down.

    “You keep going, we’ll all die anyway,” he said, trying to master his growing sense of alarm.

    “But if you move, his death will be your fault,” she replied.

    “I say,” Blaze-Simms said, peering over her shoulder at the machine. “What magnificent gearing. But rather primitive.”

    Both Dirk and the woman frowned at him.

    “This ain’t the time, Tim,” Dirk called out.

    “What are you calling primitive?” the leader snapped.

    “That.” As Blaze-Simms spoke, a rock fell from the ceiling in front of him. Held up by the cultists pinning him to the wall, he lashed out with his legs, kicking the rock. It went flying into the gears of the machine.

    Suddenly, the machine stopped. It still trembled with power, but its gearwheels and its punishing arms would not move. At the heart of the mechanisms, Dirk could see gears straining against the stone that blocked them.

    Dirk grabbed the cultists in front of him and smacked their heads together. They slumped to the ground. As the leader turned, Blaze-Simms kicked her, sending her sprawling among the machine’s many arms. Other cultists lashed out at him, but Dirk was in among them now, striking to left and right, knocking heads and sweeping away legs.

    Amid the trembling hammers and rams of the machine, the leader got to her feet.

    “You will never stop us!” she said. “We have endured down the centuries. We cannot be-”

    With a crack, the stone in the gears shattered. Machinery sprang into life. A hammer lashed out and smashed her against the wall.

    The last few cultists stared in horror at the mangled remains of their leader. These clearly weren’t seasoned veterans used to blood and horror. They were simple English obsessives, mild-mannered in everything but their fixation on a long dead king.

    While they were distracted, it was easy to knock them out.

    The crashing had grown louder, the falling rocks more frequent. The mill wheels on the machines spun and churned, turning the flow of water into a maelstrom of destruction.

    “What now?” Dirk asked as he untied Blaze-Simms. “Gum them up with more rocks?”

    A section of ceiling crashed down, almost crushing them. Dirk’s pulse raced. Of all the ways he’d come close to death, this had to be the craziest. That didn’t mean he was ready to die.

    “I don’t know,” Blaze-Simms said, wide-eyed with fear. “But we need to do it fast.”

    * * *

     

    The latest Epiphany Club novella, Sieges and Silverwear, is out now:

    In the face of war and betrayal, adventurer Dirk Dynamo is still looking for the clues that will take him to the lost Great Library of Alexandria. Arriving at an isolated German castle, he finds his life threatened not just by the enemies prowling its corridors but by an army laying siege outside the walls. Surrounded by traitors, monsters and falling artillery shells, can Dirk escape with his life and with the artefacts he needs, or will he be one more casualty of a nation being born in iron and blood?

    The fourth story in the Epiphany Club series, Sieges and Silverware sees Dirk face the consequences of events in Paris and the betrayal he suffered there. No longer just looking for treasure, he must also find a way to mend a broken heart.

    So if today’s story seems like your cup of tea, then check out Sieges and Silverware, available now through Amazon and Smashwords.

    And come back next week for the climax of Dirk’s adventure beneath the streets of York.

     


  • Rewriting

    One of the advantages of combining self-publishing with electronic publishing is that you can go back and improve your books. It’s probably not a good idea in most cases – better to move on and create something new. But there are times when it’s going to be worth it.

    I’ll be doing that soon with Guans and Guano, the first of my Epiphany Club books. I’ve come on a long way since I wrote that first novella, and I could do a lot better. I’ll soon have a whole five-book series out there and responses to the first book will decide whether people read the rest. So at that point, yes, it does seem worth a rewrite.

    So soon I will set to work on a new edition. That’s a strange thought when the book is already published and people have read it. But it’s a think worth doing.

    Here’s hoping I don’t choke on just how much I want to change after all these years!


  • Steampunk – Some Missing Bits

    The release of my latest book, Sieges and Silverware, together with a conversation at FantasyCon, got me thinking about new topics for steampunk. The bits of 19th-century history I haven’t seen mined by the genre, but would like to see. Things I might even get to myself one day. So in no particular order, here are seven things I’d like to see more of in steampunk…

    1. Factory life, not as a passing bit of background but as something central to the story. After all, factories were a huge part of the industrial revolution. I’ve seen this done a bit in Kate Elliot’s fantasy/steampunk work, so there’s at least some out there.
    2. The birth of nationalism, which emerged in its modern form in the 19th century. The reasons people were drawn to it are interesting, as are those early nationalist movements. More Guiseppe Garibaldi please.
    3. Speaking of romantic revolutionaries, how about some steampunk inspired by Latin America, with its struggles for freedom and identity?
    4. Colonialism. It was a huge part of what made the industrial revolution possible, but we usually ignore it in steampunk. There are some tense, complex stories to be told about those dark times.
    5. Back in Europe, there’s the rise of working-class protest movements, like the Chartists and the trade unions. It’s a rich well of drama and unlikely heroes.
    6. Getting wackier, I’d like to see worlds where some of the really weird Victorian science is true. It could be tricky to do without creating something unpleasant, but ideas like phrenology could create very different worlds if carried to their logical conclusion.
    7. Life at sea. International voyages took a very long time. Many of the people taking them were going to create new lives abroad. People stuck together for a voyage like that, on a steampunk ship, could create great drama as cabin fever kicks in.

    Which of those would you be excited to read about? What unusual Victorian possibilities have I missed? Have you already found stories like these out there? Leave a comment, maybe it’ll inspire me to write something new.

    * * *

    And don’t forget, the latest Epiphany Club novella, Sieges and Silverwear, is out now:

    In the face of war and betrayal, adventurer Dirk Dynamo is still looking for the clues that will take him to the lost Great Library of Alexandria. Arriving at an isolated German castle, he finds his life threatened not just by the enemies prowling its corridors but by an army laying siege outside the walls. Surrounded by traitors, monsters and falling artillery shells, can Dirk escape with his life and with the artefacts he needs, or will he be one more casualty of a nation being born in iron and blood?

    The fourth story in the Epiphany Club series, Sieges and Silverware sees Dirk face the consequences of events in Paris and the betrayal he suffered there. No longer just looking for treasure, he must also find a way to mend a broken heart.

    Sieges and Silverware is available now through Amazon and Smashwords.

     


  • A Thing Devised by the Enemy – a steampunk story

    The ground still trembled as Dirk and Blaze-Simms headed deeper into the ground beneath York. The light of their lanterns cast shifting shadows across what was clearly an ancient tunnel, the floor worn smooth by the passing of feet, the nooks and crevices of the walls heavy with dust. Held up by blocks of mismatched stone and pillars of ageing timber, it had the air of a place built in secrecy with the scraps that could be diverted from elsewhere.

    Around a bend, the tunnel opened up, leading into a natural cavern. The air was filled with the sound of clattering gears and rushing water. Through the centre of the cavern ran a fast-flowing stream, on which sat a mill-wheel ten feet across. From its wooden housing emerged a series of levers that were pounding at the nearby walls.

    “What the hell?” Dirk exclaimed, taking in the bizarre sight.

    Blaze-Simms was already out of the tunnel and heading for the machine, magnifying glass in hand.

    “It looks late medieval,” he called out. “Oh yes, look, it’s been branded with the seal of Richard III.”

    “But why would a king build some wacky machine under the city?” Dirk followed his friend more cautiously. If there was a machine, presumably there were also people running it.

    “I have no idea,” Blaze-Simms said, peering into the workings. “All it seems to do is make the earth shake.”

    “Well observed,” called out a voice.

    A dozen people were approaching from the corners of the cavern. Dirk recognised the grey-haired archivist from the town records building and the history enthusiast he’d met at Micklegate. All of them wore pin badges of a silver crown.

    “Richard III was the finest man ever to govern this city,” the archivist said. “He loved York and its people loved him. He left treasures hidden here, things to protect the city. And he left a group to guard them, in case anything happened to him.”

    The men and women beamed with pride. They had the mad expression of those truly committed to a cause, an expression Dirk normally only saw on the most fervent of cultists.

    “How’s this guarding anyone?” he asked, jerking a thumb toward the machine.

    “His final gift,” the young historian said, her eyes wide with excitement. “In case the city ever fell into the hands of Scots or traitors. A way to bring the whole place down.”

    “An artificial earthquake,” Blaze-Simms said, his voice filled with wonder. “And using such primitive technology. Truly remarkable.”

    “He was a remarkable man,” the archivist said with an edge of anger. “And now they betray him, putting on the play that has slandered him for generations. But the time has come. We will stand for it no longer.”

    “You fired up the machine because they’re playing Richard III?” Dirk stared at them in bewilderment. “Are you insane?”

    “We will not stand for it,” the historian said, her voice ringing with passion. “Will you?”

    Dirk looked across the group. Some of them bore bruises, marking them out as the attackers from the hotel. Many carried clubs or axe handles.

    “You can’t destroy a city because they put on a play,” he said. “That ain’t just wrong, it’s downright absurd.”

    “Then I’m afraid we can’t let you leave,” the archivist said. “Seize them!”

    They surged forward, this band of misguided monarchists. Dirk set his lamp down and raised his fists just before they reached him. Punches flew and clubs swung as they swarmed over him, trying to drag him to the ground. He kicked one guy in the gut, slammed his elbow into another man’s chest, and head-butted a third.

    “Dash it all!” Blaze-Simms exclaimed. He’d managed to take down two of his attackers, but another two had gotten hold of his arms and pressed him up against the casing of the machine.

    Dirk leapt forward to help his friend. As he did so, something collided with the back of his head. He turned, punched, and turned again, then kicked one of the men in his way. A punch hit him in the nose and blood ran free, but he grabbed his attacker by the scruff of the neck and flung him away.

    Now only the young historian stood between him and his captured friend.

    She looked down at her injured comrades and then up at Dirk, blood dripping from his face.

    “My God,” she exclaimed. “What were we thinking?”

    “Can’t say I’ve got an answer,” Dirk said, approaching her. “But let’s get my buddy free and then we can talk this out.”

    “Of course,” she said, taking a step towards him. “Only…”

    Her knee shot up, hitting Dirk in the groin. As he doubled over in pain, she brought her clenched fists down on the back of his head. His face hit the floor and the world faded to black.

    * * *

     

    The latest Epiphany Club novella, Sieges and Silverware, is out today!

    In the face of war and betrayal, adventurer Dirk Dynamo is still looking for the clues that will take him to the lost Great Library of Alexandria. Arriving at an isolated German castle, he finds his life threatened not just by the enemies prowling its corridors but by an army laying siege outside the walls. Surrounded by traitors, monsters and falling artillery shells, can Dirk escape with his life and with the artefacts he needs, or will he be one more casualty of a nation being born in iron and blood?

    The fourth story in the Epiphany Club series, Sieges and Silverware sees Dirk face the consequences of events in Paris and the betrayal he suffered there. No longer just looking for treasure, he must also find a way to mend a broken heart.

    So if today’s story seems like your cup of tea, then check out Sieges and Silverware, available now through Amazon and Smashwords.

    And come back next week to see what happens next in the tunnels under York.