Excerpt from Dawn’s Early Light – Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

Posted: March 12, 2014 in excerpt, steampunk
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dawns early light

Many people loved the beach, and Sophia del Morte was most assuredly not among them. Her profession had taken her to many unpleasant places before, and this barren wasteland of waves, wind, and dunes was merely another. She understood the Maestro’s reasons for choosing this site, but why couldn’t his ideal location have been within reasonable distance of a pleasant hotel or perhaps a vineyard? Sophia sighed, turned, and spat out more sand that had worked its way into her mouth, and resolved to forebear it, and most certainly not whisper any complaint. She had only made that mistake once.

The compass in her hand chimed. She pushed her dark lenses up the bridge of her nose and looked around her, a slow smile spreading across her face. Yes, this barren stretch would be ideal. Her smile faded however when her eyes followed the coastline to where she would make ready the Maestro’s arrival.

She was not alone.

Two men in their rolled up shirtsleeves were working feverishly on some sort of contraption. It was a round cigar-shaped object about as tall as Sophia herself, and held in a cradle made of iron. She was curious by nature; and perhaps if she’d been on any other case she would have endeavoured to find out what they were up to, but the fact was they were stymying her plans.

This would not be born.

So engrossed in their work were these two gents that they never noticed Sophia’s approach, even though she was making no particular effort to be quiet. Standing only a few feet behind

them, she tilted her head as she considered their invention in more detail. Strapped to the outside of the cylinder were a number of wires and tubes that, Sophia hazarded, contained

various fluids, gasses, or both. Not a large amount, but they were held in some sort of array that would mix them together. From the base, a small amount of steam was slowly seeping

 free, only to vanish into the Carolina breeze.

Or perhaps it wasn’t steam at all, because it looked thicker, and heavier than the surrounding air. In fact, the dense mist seemed to fall from the apparatus. Now, Sophia was completely mesmerised by the device.

One of the men, the one with less hair, had some small hatch open. “Do you think the thrust calculations are closer this time?” he asked while fiddling around with the invention’s inner workings.

The other, the possessor of a fairly decent handlebar moustache, after passing him various tools, returned his own attention to various pressure gauges along the contraption’s

hull. “They better be. We don’t have enough fuel to try again until next month,” he replied, and then gave a guffaw. “Unless we get a few more repair jobs from the Detweilers.”

The balding one returned the chuckle. “The Dangerous Detweilers of Dayton. Their mishaps alone could fund three launches.”

True to form of socially inept schlockworkers, neither of them were going to notice her anytime soon—a situation Sophia was not accustomed to. There was simply nothing for it, but to state the obvious. “A very interesting-looking contraption,” she 0N said with what she had been told was her most disarming smile.

The men spun around as if she had already stuck a knife in their backs. She must have made quite an appearance because their mouths literally dropped open. Now, she held their undivided attention. Perhaps they were not used to a woman carrying a rifle, or perhaps they just had very ugly women in this part of the world. She would not have been surprised. The number of American men on the Continent seemed to indicate to her that their women were not worth staying home for.

“Our apologies, ma’am,” the moustached one began, “we didn’t notice you.”

“And that’s saying something,” the balding one added, his smile unexpectedly alluring.

Charming as the bald one was, she opened her pocket watch and was reminded of what little time she had remaining. It had to be now. Sophia waved her hand at the device. “Intriguing as your experiment here is, gentlemen, you must give this area of shore to me. Now.”

The two men wiped their hands on their pants and straightened, seeming to work together as one machine. Their once separate demeanours—the balding one being a touch flirtatious, the moustached man actually blushing ever so slightly— slipped away before her eyes, replaced with hard, stern looks.

How precious.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the balding one said, “but I believe we were here first. If you were looking for some peace and quiet, Kitty Hawk offers plenty of spots to choose from other than this one.”

“But this is the spot I desire,” Sophia replied, her fingers splaying slowly around the shoulder strap of her Lee-Metford- Tesla.

Sophia could almost hear their outrage warring with their good manners. Then, after standing in this awkward silence, the balding one spoke again. “Look, you’re just going to have to wait. We have a launch to tend to, barring any catastrophic failures.”

Flicking into sight like a serpent’s tongue, a concealed blade sliced through the tight space between the men. A loud clang ran through the air, immediately followed by the angry hiss of half a dozen slashed lines coiled around the device. The men leapt back, yelping in horror as various fluids, many of them either catching fire on contact with one another or creating more of the heavier-than-air mist, spewed in every direction.

“You mean, like that?” Sophia asked. When she brought up her throwing arm a second time, another blade appeared, catching the sun as she slowly turned it in her hand.

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Pip_Tee_byJRBPhoto by J.R. Blackwell

New Zealand born fantasy writer and podcaster Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the author of the Books of the Order and the Shifted World series. She is also the co-author, with her husband Tee Morris, of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. Her awards include an Airship, a Parsec, and a Sir Julius Vogel. Morris is the author of Morevi: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana and the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. In addition to his work as a fantasist, he is also a social media pioneer and the author of Podcasting for Dummies and All a Twitter.

Pip’s website: www.pjballantine.com
Pip’s Twitter: philippajane

Tee’s website: http://teemorris.com/

Tee’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/TeeMonster

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheMinistryOfPeculiarOccurrences


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