Lady Marguerite Vadnay and her trusty automaton, Outil, have settled into life in New France rather well. Marguerite is the top of her class at flight school and her future as an aerpilot is nearly secure. She has everything she wants—except a commission on the pirate hunting dirigible The Renegade. Using every card in her aristocratic arsenal, Marguerite wiggles her way onto the finest warship France has to offer. But as usual, Marguerite’s plans endanger the lives of those she holds dear—only this time no one else is going to save them. As she and Outil set off on a rescue mission they may not return from, Marguerite finally realizes it’s time to reorder her cogs. This steampunk adventure is littered with facts from The Golden Age of Piracy and follows (not too closely) some of the lives and adventures of the brave men and women who sailed the seas as privateers, pirates, and soldiers.
About the Author
Leigh Statham has had many jobs including being a waitress, a math teacher, a nurse, an art director, and a thirty-foot inflatable pig and mule wrangler. She was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho, but found her heart in New York City. She is the author of The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl. She lives in North Carolina.
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The Perilous Journey of the Much-Too Spontaneous Girl
By Leigh Statham
Month9BooksCopyright © 2016 Leigh Statham
All rights reserved.
Lady Marguerite Vadnay strapped herself into the tiny compartment and slipped her goggles over her eyes. A glass hood lowered over her upper body while she sat snug in the cockpit of the single-man aership. The wind blew enough to rock the small cabin back and forth as her envelope filled beside her, eventually leaving the ground completely, its seams tight with helium.
Her hair was pulled into a neat bun, and her flight suit was no longer a man's hand-me-down. It was custom made from the finest industrial cloth she could get her hands on in Montreal, complete with lots of pockets. Lady Vadnay loved pockets. Little brass buttons stamped with her monogram ran from her chin all the way to her trousers. She had fully embraced her life as a woman of New France and soon-to-be aership pilot.
Plenty of men flew the tiny contraptions. It was the aercraft of choice in New France, perfect for charting high-mountain passes and performing night raids on neighboring New England. France was far ahead of any country in the world when it came to avionics — unless, of course, you counted the pirate nations of the seas, which Marguerite did not. All of their technology was stolen, mostly from France.
It had been a long road getting to this point. Only six months earlier she was being abused by her high-priced governess, Pomphart, back in mainland France. Her father was a wealthy Lord, determined on marrying her off to anything that crawled around with a decent title and bank account, and her friends were either boring or deserting her for adulthood.
Marguerite quickly took matters into her own hands. She'd volunteered to be a Daughter of the King and sailed away without her father's knowledge. All she wanted was to start a new life with her childhood friend Claude and have some adventures; unfortunately, the adventures were more than she'd bargained for. Friends were lost, and new ones made. She was lucky to be alive and studying at His Royal Majesty's Flight Academy for Resilient Young Women after the harrowing trip.
"Tighten the lift lever, pull in on the altinometer. We're going to remove the anchors now!" Her professor yelled at her over the sound of the roaring single-motor engine. It sputtered and spit steam. The solar panels had been fully charged the day before and the fuel tanks filled with fresh water that morning. There was nothing left to do but fly.
"Ready?" the professor called to Marguerite. The ground crew, consisting mostly of her classmates from the flight academy, scurried to finish their assignments. Marguerite nodded, and the assembly went to work loosening ropes, moving sandbags, and generally getting out of the way.
Marguerite adjusted her goggles out of sheer nervousness. Claude had made her a new pair, with even better dark vision and a scoping feature on the right eye. They fit her face perfectly, but she didn't even need them today. She had a glass dome to protect her from the elements. Still, she loved having them on, and she couldn't help but think that they brought her good luck. Her first pair had saved her life not too long ago.
This was her inaugural solo flight for His Majesty, Louis XIV. If all went well, she'd spend the rest of her life an independent woman doing what she loved — flying. If not, she was going to have to do a lot of backpedaling with a lot of people, Jacques Laviolette, being person of interest number one. She spotted him walking up to the edge of the group of onlookers. She'd hoped he would come today. She'd mentioned the event offhandedly the night before while they shared dinner with her automaton, Outil, but she wasn't sure he'd understood how important this day was or if he could get away from his own duties at the school.
Jacques — handsome, brave, and annoying Jacques. He was an entirely different issue. But there was no time to think about that now.
The professor gave the signal. She tore her goggle-tinted gaze away from Laviolette's tall, dark-haired frame. Lifting one hand, she gave the sign for all go, pushed the buttons and pulled the lever. The launching mechanism shot her little ship into the air like a Chinese rocket. She had never traveled this fast before in her life. It felt like invisible arms were shoving her back into the seat with tremendous force, until she reached her cruising altitude, and the balloon took over as the thrust let off.
Marguerite glanced up from her controls and caught her breath. Her new home city of Montreal lay beneath her in all its splendor. The river wound like a loose ribbon through the brick and wood dwellings. She could see her school almost immediately, its roof littered with experimental equipment for weather and aviation. The chapel caught her eye next, its soaring crucifix and brightly colored windows winking in the perfect morning sun.
Her heart filled like a mini aership envelope, happiness threatening to burst it open. Marguerite sighed audibly, realizing that she'd held her breath during the entire launch. She eased her controls to the right, and the thrusters kicked in, propelling her forward and to the right.
This was amazing.
"Yes!" she cried out to the endless blue sky in front of her.
The controls felt so right in her hands. She began to execute more maneuvers. The tiny ship felt like an extension of her own body. She dove to the left, steered it back up, turned tight to the right, centripetally swinging her own compartment in the opposite direction.
She laughed. What a thrill! Months of study and hard work, tiny rooms, and terrible food — this was completely worth it.
A flock of birds flew past her, swirling around, welcoming her. They dove and skimmed the surface of the St. Lawrence River, then swooped back up along the edge of a brick building.
"That looks like fun," she said to herself.
Laying on the controls, she took the little ship in a steep dive toward the aerstrip. Her heart floated in her chest, her breath caught in her throat, and she giggled with delight as the ship responded to her demand and swooped back up. It leveled off like the birds, just in time for the envelope to catch on a breeze and drag Marguerite, ship and all, into the windsock tower.
The birds continued on without her, the sudden lurch throwing her forward and forcing her to close her eyes. When she opened them again, it was just in time to see the metal trusses of the tower approaching at top speed.
Before she could call for help, Marguerite was whipped around the tower, her envelope caught in the trusses. She banged into one pylon and then another; the glass around her shattering and tearing at her exposed cheeks and nose. She cried out and braced herself for impact with the ground, her giggles from the moment before turned to cries for help.
This could be it, she thought. How appropriate that I work so hard and then die in my first solo flight. Poetic even.
She braced herself for death, but a final jerk left her shaken yet alive. Unfortunately, she dangled several feet above the ground from her own rigging, tangled beneath the windsock. She opened her eyes, realized her precarious situation, and groaned. She could still fall and be hurt, but her broken pride was worse than death at this point.
"Marguerite!" Jacques was the first on the scene. "Are you alright, my dear? Quick! Someone get a ladder. Call the medic! Move!" He barked orders like the Air Captain he was born to be. Marguerite cursed herself and pounded her fist on the altinometer. The little dial spun around and fell off its clasp, landing in the bottom of the circular compartment, completely useless.
"Yes, I'm fine," she called back. Then more quietly to herself, "Just feeling like a complete idiot."
"Lady Vadnay," her professor called up, "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you failed your first flight test. Very glad you survived, however. Very glad!"
"Wonderful." She laid her head back against the seat. "Just wonderful."CHAPTER 2
After much finagling, and procurement of a very tall ladder, Marguerite was freed from the trap of her own making.
"Are you sure you're not hurt?" Jacques asked as he examined the scratches on her face, his hands on either side of her head.
"Yes. Yes. I'm fine." She swatted his hands away. "My body is in perfect working order. My spirit, however, is crushed beyond repair."
Jacques eyes twinkled. "I'm sure the ship feels the same way. He looked up at the envelope and battered cockpit still dangling from the windsock tower and covered his mouth with the back of his hand, failing to stop his laughter.
"I'm sure you find this hysterical, but I just set myself back by at least six months or more," Marguerite said.
"They will give you another test flight before then. Everyone crashes — eventually." He laughed again. "I'm going to climb up there and try to help them cut the poor beast down. Wait for me?"
Marguerite didn't answer. She'd had enough of the field and his chuckling. As soon as he mounted the grey metal ladder, she gathered what was left of her pride and walked back to her dormitory.
The next day she sat at attention on the edge of her wooden chair, furiously scribbling notes as her teacher lectured on the mechanics of the next generation of aership thruster systems. Something sharp pricked her ear. Annoyed, she reached up to rub it, without breaking her concentration on the lecture.
"With improved aerodynamics and lighter construction materials, we should be able to see improvements in speed and process efficiency." The professor, old and balding with a long white beard and a moth-eaten uniform, poked at a diagram on a chalkboard as he walked through the final information the young women needed to know for their exams the following week.
Another prick, this time to her neck.
Marguerite rubbed it again and heard giggles behind her. Annoyed, she glared behind her at the pack of simpering girls having a laugh at her expense. She looked at the ground. Two pieces of paper lay folded in the shape of stars with sharply creased corners jutting from each edge.
"Here." The girl next to her bent over, scooped them up, and handed them to her. "You dropped these." She barely hid a chortle as she turned back to the other girls, then pretended to listen to the lecture.
"Fortunately for us, France has a leading edge on mechanics and steam engineering. Our solar harnessing powers are unmatched, and our Royal Corps of Engineers is unparalleled in the world. The best that other countries can do is hope to steal our technology, then pick it apart, trying to reproduce it." He chuckled at his own joke. "Why, we even have engineers from other countries denouncing their birth homes and swearing allegiance to the King just for the chance to go to our schools — schools such as this, ladies." He flashed a wide, squinty smile around the room then turned back to the chalkboard. "Where was I?"
Marguerite knew she shouldn't, but she couldn't help it. She slowly unfolded the first paper and read the tiny script inside:
Why are you acting like you need to learn this material? Everyone knows your lover will make sure you pass the exams ... Unless you keep crashing.
Marguerite crumpled the scrap in her hand and forced her thoughts back to the lecture. She endured this kind of torment regularly. Jacques Laviolette was an instructor at the school, but not her instructor. And he was most certainly not her lover. He'd captained the ship that brought her to New France. They spent time together; they enjoyed each other's company; and they frequently debated engineering and the latest science out of Paris. He'd made it clear more than once that he intended to marry her, but she had made it clear that she was not going to get married until she was good and ready, and that probably wouldn't be until she was done seeing the world.
The most ridiculous thing about the whole situation was that she kept hoping the notes and comments from the other girls might be friendly at some point. But no, they just got uglier and more cruel.
She wadded the second note without reading it and tried to memorize what the professor said about thermodynamic possibilities. If it weren't for the amazing subjects she was free to learn in this school, she would have left long ago. She certainly wasn't here for the female companionship or the housing. But small, grey, and dingy as it was, at least she was able to secure a room to herself.
The teacher wrapped up his lecture and dismissed his class. Marguerite tucked her papers neatly into a satchel as several girls bumped into her shoulder while filing past.
She sighed and rose as soon as they were gone. Outil peeked around the corner of her classroom, and Marguerite smiled.
"Hello, how was the oiling?" Marguerite asked.
"Lovely, m'lady." Outil nodded and took her bag of textbooks from her. "There is a new machinist who is most cautious with all of my gears. He was admiring Master Claude's handiwork."
"It sounds like you have a little bit of a fancy for this new boy. Was he human?" Marguerite grinned wickedly.
Outil stopped walking. "This theory is illogical in the extreme, m'lady. I was not designed to exhibit feelings other than loyalty, in any form, much less for a human I do not know. And I can't imagine developing a fancy," she repeated the word carefully, "as you call it, on another bot that is also not designed to return feelings."
Marguerite laughed. "I was only teasing. Relax. Where is Jacques? Have you seen him? I never know how to find him now that his teaching duties are completed for the term."
"I believe he is in the chapel, m'lady." Outil moved easily away from the strange conversation of human emotions.
Girl and robot made their way to the school's chapel, the oldest building in the neighborhood, possibly the oldest building in Montreal. Its soaring stone walls were already turning black with age. Inside the mammoth wooden doors, stained glass windows shed rainbow colors on all the pews. A man in a uniform sat with his head down, while an automaton meandered from one candelabrum to another, trimming wicks and mopping up spent wax.
Outil waited at the back of the massive, echoing room while Marguerite moved silently up the aisle. She slipped into the pew next to the man and sat quietly for a few moments until he lifted his head and smiled at her.
"Hello, Lady Vadnay," he whispered.
"Hello, Jacques. What are we praying for?" She was half-sarcastic, half-concerned.
"Nothing really ... I just received some news, trying to digest it and figure out the next steps." He sat back and stared ahead at the pulpit.
"Anything you'd care to include me in?" She slid her hand across the bench toward him.
He swept it up and kissed her knuckles without taking his eyes off the front of the church. He kept her hand at his mouth for a moment longer than was appropriate, and then exhaled and kissed it again. "I have a commission. The ship leaves next week." He smiled, but happiness did not fill his eyes.
"Oh! Where are you going?" Marguerite's heart leapt at the prospect of going with him to finally use all the knowledge and skills she learned.
"To the Atlantic. The corsairs are moving farther and farther from the Barbary Coast. King Louis himself has decreed that we must stop them from attacking our trade routes and drive them back to the Mediterranean. They are also afraid that the British may be aiding them in attacks on our merchants," he spoke quickly. "We will have the finest warships France has ever built, and I will captain one."
"That's wonderful! When will they have our tests sorted out?" Marguerite didn't miss the fact that fulfilling her dream of serving on an aership rested on her ability to pass this test.
"Next week. They should have the students cleared before the ship departs — but, Marguerite, my love, you cannot go." The corners of his mouth turned down, matching his eyes at last.
"What are you talking about? Of course, I can go. I have but to volunteer. We will work together. It will be wonderful!"
He let go of her hand and folded his arms. "Marguerite, you failed the flying exam, and there won't be another opportunity to retake it until after I have departed." She began to protest, but he stopped her. "Do not argue. There is no way around this. Besides, this is not the type of voyage I think you should be on for your first assignment. You've already survived one pirate attack. There is no reason to see the world from a battleship."
Excerpted from The Perilous Journey of the Much-Too Spontaneous Girl by Leigh Statham. Copyright © 2016 Leigh Statham. Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
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