Captain-turned-criminal Jacob Burn is the unlikely survivor of two zeppelin crashes. The first destroyed his career as a pilot, disgracing his nobleman father and ending his life of privilege. But the second threatens to destroy Burn’s whole world—Veridon, an ancient terraced city reborn through The Church of the Algorithm’s recent advances in mechanics, technology, and cog-work.
Moments before the Glory of Day wrecked, a former underworld associate of Burn’s handed him an unusual and complicated cog for safekeeping. But the artifact-cog quickly draws Burn unwanted attention—too much of it, from too many of Veridon’s most powerful factions, casting doubt on even his closest allies.
A far more dangerous and unpredictable enemy has also joined the manhunt, carving a bloody trail across the city, while Burn’s frantic search for answers only leads to more questions. At the heart of it all, the mysterious cog, which hides a secret potent enough to shake Veridon to its very core, and recast Burn’s entire existence.
“From the first chapter Akers keeps the octane on high and never lets off the gas . . . Heart of Veridon had me enrapt with the pulp style story and characters until the last page.” —The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review
“An enjoyable novel, absorbing reading with plenty of color and action . . . The setting is the real star . . . A very promising debut.” —Fantasy Magazine
About the Author
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I was on the Glory of Day when she fell out of the sky. I rode the flames and shattered gears down into the cold, dark Reine, survived because I was only half-alive to begin with. Two times I've been dragged out of the wreckage of a zepliner, two times I've walked away. This time I was just a passenger. The first time I was captain, Pilot, and only survivor. The sky doesn't like me much.
I boarded in Havreach, paid for a day cabin one way and sat quietly until dinner. No luggage because I'd been in town on business, having a talk with one of Valentine's wayward contacts, a guy trying to do a little business behind our backs. It was supposed to be a day trip that had stretched into an overnight when the guy tried hiding clever and earned himself some extra attention and convincing. Make sure he didn't hide next time I came looking for him, make double-sure there's no next time. So it had been a long day and I was still in yesterday's clothes, my eyes were tired and my hands hurt. So I got sloppy, okay. So I wasn't paying attention like I should.
Dinner was an affair on a trip like this, especially the night before Veridon, the last night of the cruise. There were two kinds of travelers on the zep. First are the daytrippers, like me. Took some other ship downfalls just to see the water, or for a little adventure on the plains. Not that Havreach was really adventure-land, but the shopkeeps made a good business of it. Havreach was just new enough that you could feel the wild outside, the untamed spaces prowling the edges of the streetplan. There were parts of Veridon like that too, but different. Not that Veridon was old. Just the danger was different up there, more personal. Less marketable.
Other than the daytrippers, there were the long haul folks. People who boarded in Veridon and stayed on until there weren't any more stops, until the Glory was just drifting over pure wilderness, the towns getting smaller and smaller until they just disappeared into the winding river and forested banks, or the wild, wind-stitched grassplains of the Arbarra Rare. An expensive trip, and as dangerous as anything that came with a luxury suite and cloth napkins.
There's a third kind of passenger, I suppose. Those coming in. Tickets purchased one way, for the return voyage only, people getting on in Red Simmons or little BonnerWell. Them you could pick out at dinner. They looked uncomfortable with the cloth napkins, and hadn't exactly brought formal attire through the bush. It was one of them, caused our trouble. Guy I knew. Marcus Something. Couldn't remember his name, at the time.
I saw him circulating during the appetizers. The dining room was cleared and the glass doors that led to the observation deck had been folded back and tucked away. One whole wall of the room was open to the night sky. The air was cool, the stars bright white and clear. A quartet played quietly in one corner, just masking the busy kitchen. I took a glass of white wine from a passing waiter and walked out onto the deck. A right civilized night, the kind that reminded me of home and family. Easy to forget trouble on a night like this. I went to stand by the railing. The water below was a shattered field of light, the moon on tiny waves far under us.
Most of the folks, eating delicate little things and sipping wine and murmuring, were dressed to the nines. Top hats and vest coats, ladies in fur, waiters in white coats. Marcus stood out like a lump of mud on marble, standing nervously by the far door. He was barrel-wide and a full head taller than anyone else here, his beard brushing the careful hairpiles of the luxury suite ladies. His coat was brown and dirty, and there were two feet of empty space all around him, while the rest of the deck was shoulder to cuff.
I was about to go talk to him, try to figure out where I knew him from, if he was one of Valentine's boys or someone from one of the other interests, when one of the passengers stepped in front of me.
"We'll be there after dinner then?" he asked. He was a short man, round in the shoulders and hands. A trim crescent of mustache clasped his lip.
"Sorry, I'm not crew," I said, and tipped my glass at one of the gray-tunicked mates standing along the rail. "Not clean enough, probably."
The man blinked and then chuckled. "Oh, oh, sorry. Sorry, it's just your eyes. You know."
I knew. My eyes, the implants, part of what made me a Pilot back before I wasn't a Pilot anymore. Not many visual signs of who's had that particular operation. Just the eyes, the dull gray irises like pewter rubbed clean of its shine. I still had the eyes.
"Common mistake. Now, if you'll excuse me."
"Hm. So, uh." He plucked my sleeve. "You've made this trip before, though. Of course you have."
I turned away, put my elbows on the railing and leaned forward. We'd been over water all day, ever since we'd left Havreach, and the Cusp Sea stretched out below us as far as I could see. The Breaking Wall was a gentle roar, still out of sight on the other side of the zep. The Glory was approaching the falls at an angle, keeping it out of sight until the last moment. The captain liked a bit of the drama, it seemed.
"Yeah, sure. Is there something you're getting at?"
"Sorry, no. It's just ... I noticed you when you got on, earlier. Not many people got on and I saw ... well, your eyes made me think you were maybe a Pilot. And I haven't had a chance to talk to our own Pilot, haven't even seen him since we boarded in Veridon some months ago. I thought you might ..." he trailed off, flushing.
"Have some stories?"
"Well. Yes. Some stories."
I sat quietly for a minute, smelled the air and let the breeze flow over my face. Flying wasn't like this, not from the inside. I shivered and drained my glass.
"Yes, mister. I've made this trip before." I flipped the wineglass out into the air, watched it sparkle as it fell far, far down. "But I've got no stories. Okay?"
He went away, eventually. People usually do, if you're quiet enough and don't look at them. I waited until I was sure, then turned back to look for Marcus. Nothing but pressed tuxedos and fur scarves, far as I could see. Marcus had moved on.
"Excuse me folks, pardon me," someone said over the mixed conversation and wine. "If I could, please, have your attention. A moment of your attention."
I turned. There was a tiny platform, clamped onto the side of the observation deck and slightly elevated. An OverMate stood there, holding up his hands like a maestro. He laughed as someone dropped a glass. People quietened, the chamber music stopped. He smiled.
"Thank you, thank you. Just a moment of your time before dinner." He kept smiling while the last of the conversation died. "The captain and I would like to thank you for joining us on this trip, especially those of you who have been on board since the start. Quite a trip." His voice changed, shifting into the deep bass of a storyteller. "We've seen the winter flower of Empress, the song trees of the Jangalla. The massive grassplains of the Guarana, their mad fires and the smoke that carries them into the next life. We've followed the Lower Reine from the foot of Veridon, winding through the heart of a wilderness few of you dared believe existed. Yes," he smiled at those nearest him, including them in his story. "Yes, quite a trip. Our road has been long, and now we return."
He produced a wine glass and held it up in a grand toast, sweeping his arm out to sea. The Glory tacked hard. Passengers murmured and shuffled to keep their feet. A woman giggled. He continued, his voice rising with every word until by the end he was booming, like a benediction, like a war cry. "With weary hearts and heads uplifted, we return, to hearth and home, to our families, our friends, we return to the Shining City above the world. We return to Veridon."
Glory of Day swept around, wooden spars groaning, and came broadside to the Breaking Wall. The waterfall was enormous, miles wide and just as tall. With the zepliner out of the way, the waterfall's crash roared over us in misty waves. And high atop, almost lost in the starry sky, the lights of Veridon.
It was a pretty show, and the Mate was beaming proudly at his delivery. The crowd applauded, toasts were lifted. Someone started to sing quietly. The captain must have had one of the deck voxorators open, to time the maneuver. I went inside.
The dining room was empty, save a couple stragglers, groups of men in whispered conversation. The quartet had started again, picking carefully through a piece from Teromi's Sun Cycle. Stripped down to fit in the quartet's range, and a lot was lost in the process. Marcus was nowhere to be seen.
I had it now. Between my departure from the Academy and my employment with Valentine, I had gone through a rough period. Violent. The kind of trouble I had never gotten into as a youth, the kind of things the son of a Councilor couldn't get away with. Marcus had been part of that social circle, someone who existed at the periphery of bar fights and brothels, a face and a name and not much more. What was he doing on a fine zep like Glory?
Our storyteller, the OverMate, squeezed out of the press of bodies on the observation deck, shaking hands and clapping backs, laughing as he went. Once clear of the crowd he shot his cuffs and got a drink from one of the waiters. He saw me looking at him and nodded.
"Pretty good, huh?" he asked. I nodded. "We do that every time. Business guys love it, all the glory of Veridon stuff." He drank some of his wine, still smiling. "Your first time downfalls?"
I shook my head. "I've been."
"Oh." He squinted, looking at my eyes. "Oh, sure. Maybe your next flight, give that a try. What's your zep?"
"Still in the Academy, eh? They let you boys out sometimes?"
I took a glass of wine, drank it all, put the empty glass back on the tray before the waiter had a chance to glide away.
"Good night," I said, and turned to go. Beneath my feet the floor bucked, and the zepliner began to rise. We had started our ascent to Veridon.
I was at the door to the passenger corridors when the voxorator clacked open. The captain's voice was a dead metallic croak, like the taste of blood in your mouth.
"All crew, report to lastrites stations. Alert to lastrites." The voice cut out, and the hood to the vox fluttered, like a fish gasping for breath. There was a silence, except for the quiet tinkle of glass from the observation deck. Glory of Day lurched, moaning under sudden unseen stress, then jumped up. The quartet scattered, their instruments clattering to the floor in an atonal cacophony. There were a couple of screams on the observation deck, some of them startled, some of them desperate. Glass broke in a long succession of pops. The rate of our ascent doubled, then doubled again. I heard gunfire.
The OverMate was white-faced, on one knee. The thin glass of wine in his hand snapped in his fingers, blood leaking from his knuckle. I went over and shook him.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Higgins. OverMate Higgins, First Rank." His voice was a ghost, just automatic reflex on a tide of panic.
"Get your legs, Mate. You've been called to lastrites."
Higgins stood. The passengers were boiling back into the dining room, fleeing the danger of the open deck as we rose faster and faster. Some of them were cut up pretty bad. The ship was groaning under the strain of the sudden ascent.
"Why are we going up?" Higgins whispered, his voice not yet his own. "If we're going to lastrites ... crashing ... should we be ..."
"Lost control, maybe," I snapped. I looked around at the crowd of passengers, at the couple of confused looking crewmen who had dropped their wine trays. The floor was rocking back and forth. I grabbed Higgins by both shoulders and looked into his eyes. "Listen. Gather what crew you can and get those doors secured. Then try to calm these folks down."
"Yes, yes. I can do that. I can ..." the man seemed to settle, his eyes focusing tightly. There were more screams from the passenger cabins aft and the service corridors above. "What the hell is going on?"
"Security to the Primary Chamber. Get to manual control all sections, all hands to lastrites." The voxorator again, the captain's voice a dull echo in the pipes. While the captain could talk anywhere on the ship through the vox, Corps practice was to only speak in the presence of crew, away from the passengers. Most people found the dull groan of the voxed voice disturbing, like something out of nightmares. That the captain was doing a general broadcast was worrying.
"We're closest," I said. Glory was a Hestes-class zepliner, similar enough to the trainers I had flown. The Primary Chamber was above us three levels, perched by itself on top of the zepliner's main hull, deep in the anti-ballasts.
Access was from the service corridors, but there was also a direct ladderway from the passenger cabin that doubled as an emergency exit to the open decks. The dining room served as a muster point for the passengers, so the evacuation route started here. "If the captain's guard can't respond, then we're the closest." I grabbed Higgins's arm and hauled him forward. "Come on."
"But the passengers ..."
"If the captain's in danger, if he's in mortal-about-to-die danger, it doesn't matter one holy hell what happens to these passengers. He dies, we all die. Now come on."
The evac ladderway was behind a concealed door, recessed into the woodwork of the dining room. There was a body at the ladder's base, a security ensign, his face and hands bloody. It looked like he'd fallen down the ladder.
"Oh my Gods," Higgins said. He bent over the body, checking for a pulse, "It's Tehr. He's been ... he's dead!"
"Yeah," I said. I leaned over and looked up the ladderway. There was blood spattered on the rungs and the sides of the 'way, enough to see that the guy had been bleeding before he fell. I turned and closed the passageway to the dining hall.
"I'm going to move him," I said, looking around the tiny space at the base of the ladder. There was a readybox just inside the evac door, still locked. I pointed at it. "Open that."
"Because your crew wouldn't let me bring a pistol on board."
OverMate Higgins hesitated, his hand still on the dead ensign's chest. "I should take the weapon, sir. It's my responsibility to see to the captain."
"Sure," I said, motioning to the body at his feet. "And before that it was his responsibility. Think you're up for the job?"
He looked down at the dead man, at the ruin of his face. He closed his eyes and went to open the readybox. I took the ensign by the arms and dragged him clear of the rungs. His chest groaned like a bag of marbles as he slid across the floor. Higgins gave a startled sob, not turning around, his hands shaking as he tumbled the lock on the readybox. Soon as it was open he handed me the service revolver and the cardboard box of extra rounds, then leaned against the metal wall.
"Follow me up." I pocketed the ammo. "Gonna need someone to vouch for me, if I run into security."
"I don't think that's going to happen," he said.
"Yeah. Me neither."
He nodded once, still not looking at the dead man at his feet. I checked to make sure the revolver had been maintained, spun the cycle and sighted the barrel. It was spotless, the grip and cylinder engraved with the city's seal and the Glory of Day crest in shiny brass. Tucking the weapon into my belt, I hopped onto the ladder and began the long climb to the Primary Chamber. Behind me I heard Higgins slowly start the same climb.
The rungs were slick with blood, an awful lot of it. The walls were smeared, too. It was like crawling across the floor of a butcher's shop. Halfway up I stopped at a door. It was unlocked. The ladderway kept going up, I assumed to the Primary.
"This leads to the open deck?" I yelled down to Higgins.
"Yes. This is the main access, though there are other ways, obviously."
"Shouldn't be. Should be secured at all times, until we go to lastrites."
"We're at lastrites," I reminded him. "Maybe someone already opened it?"
He shrugged. "Maybe."
I looked up at the blood-stained walls of the ladderway. The platform for the Primary Chamber was close. Establish control of the ship, I thought, or find out why the door was open, what was beyond it. I couldn't do both. My decision was made for me. There was a vox at the top of the ladder. It clacked open and the captain spoke.
"Impact," he groaned.
There was a tearing scream, metal and wood pushed beyond their limit, and the whole ship tumbled in a slow roll noseward. I banged against the wall, then the ladder, grabbing tight as the ship began to corkscrew upwards. Below me Higgins screamed, his feet becoming entangled in the rungs as he pitched backwards. That was all that kept him from falling, his knees looped over a rung as he hung upside down, blood pouring from his mouth.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Heart of Veridon"
Copyright © 2009 Tim Akers.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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