Charlotte Blackburn—Beautiful, intelligent, a gifted tinkerer—lives in a cloistered world of wealth and privilege beneath the Electric Tesla Dome that shields survivors of The Great Calamity. But when her father is abducted, and a strange sickness starts transforming men into vicious monsters, she discovers that technology is no protection at all. Ashton Wells has a dire mission: Secure Colonel Blackburn and deliver his research to The Order of the Sword and Scroll. But the plan goes awry, and he is left with nothing but the colonel’s daughter who has a target on her back and is willing stop at nothing to rescue her father—including handing over to the enemy the only means to stop the monstrous plague. Branded as traitors, Ashton and Charlotte brave the treacherous floating sky ports of Outer City to hunt down the elusive inventor who is the only person able to activate the strange device that harbors the secret to their salvation. With the government closing in, a rebellion brewing in the streets, and terrifying Tremblers attacking the innocent, the two must work together to stop their fragile world from crumbling once more into destruction.
About the Author
Raquel Byrnes writes across several genres including YA Steampunk, Fantasy, and Gothic Mystery. Known for edge of your seat stories with complex characters and heart pounding thrills, she is always looking for another adventure in which to partake. When she's not writing she can be seen geeking out over sci-fi movies, reading anything she can get her hands on, and having arguments about the television series Firefly in coffee shops. She lives in Southern California.
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A surge from the Tesla Dome's grid covering the city sent the incandescents inside the steam carriage flaring bright. The sparks rattled my already frayed nerves and I shifted in my ball gown frowning at the tingle of residual charge. Tiny arcs hissed softly from the window frame to the clasp on my bracelet. Struggling to slip the mechanized opera glasses into the silk drawstring pouch on my lap, I sighed with frustration. They still wouldn't fit.
"Stop fussing or you'll wrinkle your ruffles to oblivion, Charlotte," my Aunt Sadie said from across the carriage.
"I can barely breathe," I muttered, picking at the gum ribbon lining my bodice. Electric resistant properties aside, it added to my constriction. I smoothed a palm down the aluminum chainmail bodice as I shifted for deeper breath.
"Well, you look like a dream," she said and smiled. Tucking a graying lock back into her severe bun, she nodded with approval. "You needn't worry about catching any less than your fair share of attention at the Unity Ball tonight."
"That is exactly what worries me," I whispered to myself. Not looking forward to the dancing and the bog of social niceties, I couldn't anticipate the ball less if I tried.
She pointed with her lady's fan. "Where is your mother's bracelet? You always wear that, Charlotte."
My hand went to the silver and diamond one I wore in its place and my throat ached with the loss of the precious keepsake, one of the few I had of her. "It's gone," I said softly.
"Honestly, you must stop losing your things. You're not a child any longer." Aunt Sadie clicked her tongue, nodding to the mechanized opera glasses in my lap. "And please put that contraption away before someone sees it."
"I'm afraid that might not be possible." The glasses, bulky with my newly added tinkerings, refused to slip into the satchel. "I don't know why they don't fit. I measured them after I added the knobs and extra lenses."
"Charlotte, dear," Aunt Sadie said in her even but put-out tone. "Why can't you use the ones I gave you?"
"These are the ones you gave me. I improved them."
"You did not!" She looked at me aghast; hurt flitting across her usually controlled features. "I know your father indulges your tinkering, but a proper gentleman would view labor of any kind, for a lady, as vulgar."
"I'll put them away," I murmured. A sliver of guilt bore through me as I tucked them into a hidden pocket I'd sewn into the folds of my gown. Perhaps altering a gift was not the best way to show appreciation. "I'm sorry. I really do love them."
"You fidget when you're worried." Aunt Sadie's expression softened. "What's bothering you, Charlotte? Surely it's not your father again."
"His behavior lately has been so strange and now this unexpected trip. I haven't seen him like this for a long time." All at once the worries of the past few days came flooding back, and I looked out the windows of the carriage trying to blink back tears. Unfinished construction areas butted up against newly restored buildings. Our world was still wrought with damage.
"You know how he gets when he's working, dear. He forgets to eat, to keep his meetings, spends all day in that lab of his —"
"It's different this time." Throat aching, I struggled to find the right words. "This trip was so sudden. Why would he run out in the middle of the night? And where did he go without even an aether missive? I checked his room. He packed for a long journey with his health tinctures and oil for the gear works in his leg. I've check with his colleagues and friends. No one has seen him. I don't even think he's in New York at all. To leave like that, with no explanation ..."
"He's ventured outside the protection of the Tesla Dome before, Charlotte. Why, you know your father, the Great Colonel Blackburn, and his stories. You hung on every word as a child, listening to his adventures in the jungles and deserts. A simple trip outside the dome is no cause for concern for a man like him." Aunt Sadie's smile tried to be reassuring, but didn't quite reach her eyes.
"But that was all before." Worry growing, it crowded out my breath.
"Listen, dear. People want to move forward, have moved forward. It's all been made right."
Stomach churning with anger, old anger that never quite burned out, I struggled to contain my voice. "Been made right?"
"We've righted what we could. The mighty Tesla saved our major cities." She nodded out the window to the sky above. "His protective grid domes keep the ash and poison vapor at bay. We've thrived, Charlotte, during the decade since the quakes."
"It was Tesla's device that ruined our world, Aunt Sadie. How can you call him mighty? He and his team —"
"Stop," Aunt Sadie snapped.
"But I don't understand ..." A steam cart carrying barrels passed by the window, the engine rattling loudly. I chewed my inner cheek, waiting for it to pass.
Aunt Sadie leaned forward, whispering though she and I were the only ones in the carriage. "You know that terrible device was stolen from him, it was taken from his lab in the dead of night."
"Who could have defeated Tesla's security devices?" I scoffed. "He was famous for them. He bragged they were impregnable. Stolen ... indeed!"
"He was not to blame." Aunt Sadie sat back stiffly, clearly annoyed with me ... again. "Everybody knows this."
"Why doesn't anyone seem to remember that Tesla made the device in the first place?" I shook my head, knowing I should let it go, but couldn't.
It could never be made right. Ten years ago, when the Earth nearly shook itself to pieces, I remember peering through the shattered glass of my mother's hospital room windows with overwhelming dread and confusion, not knowing what to do. Buried volcanic chains erupted along the Dakota Territory setting off the Sleeping Giant in the heart of the region. Ash. Fire. Blood.
Fissures split the ground below as molten fire spilled out into the streets claiming and burning everything in their path. Acrid ash and vapor billowed from the cracks, choking everyone. I still woke up covered in sweat some nights. Flailing in the dark for the packed bag I kept under the bed just in case the quakes started again.
"Why must you do this?" Aunt Sadie murmured. "Why must you look for blame?"
"Because there is blame to be had."
Perhaps it was true that Tesla had not set his device upon the world, but he had dreamt it. He'd taken something from his fevered and dark nightmares and unleashed it on the whole Northern Hemisphere by bringing it to life in his workshop. That it went unexpectedly, calamitously, awry was just as much his fault as the government that had used it.
"We're supposed to forget he broke the world because he saved portions of it under his precious Tesla Domes?" I asked. "And why has he disappeared? No one has heard of him in years."
"Charlotte," Aunt Sadie warned. "You are not to speak of this anymore. Especially tonight, in polite society. I won't have it."
"Father agrees with me," I sniffed. Whenever I thought about the quakes, I was seven years old again, and losing not only my mother to sickness, but my whole world in a trembling, nightmarish cataclysm. I couldn't find one place that was like it was before she died. I could not visit the meadows and woods she so loved. They didn't exist anymore. Not outside the solariums and museums. Wiping at my cheeks, I took in a ragged breath. "It's not right. It won't ever be again."
Aunt Sadie sighed heavily, her brows knit over a concerned gaze. "Let's not argue over this again, Charlotte. Tesla saved our world, there is no denying that. We've rebuilt our cities, beautifully. Why, New York is still the most elegant place in the world." She gestured out at St. Patrick's Cathedral as we passed.
I let my gaze rest on its spires reconstructed with steel in the image of the old felled towers. "In here, yes," I said quietly. "But outside, beyond the Tesla Domes, is wasteland rife with danger. My father is not a young officer on adventures anymore, Aunt Sadie. He should not be out there."
"You don't know that he is, dear."
"I know he is. I checked for his breathing gear. It is missing."
She shifted in her seat, adjusting her gloves. "Well, we're almost to Rothfair's home. Calm yourself, or it will show in your complexion."
I nodded, feeling guilty for my outburst. I shouldn't be vexing my aunt so. She looked forward to this night all year. The dress, my hair, everything was the result of her careful planning to ensure I made a favorable impression on possible suitors. Taking in a breath, I willed myself to set aside my concern for my father and old heartaches, and tried for a smile.
Aunt Sadie squeezed my hand, pleased.
Peering out the window, I let the gentle sway of the steam engine sooth me as we chugged along and joined the queue of wagons. Burnt orange spires knifed through the clouds near the horizon, their flaming light poking through the layer of smoke that constantly hovered at the tips of the buildings. The noxious vapor seething just outside the grid dome dimmed the sunlight and it seemed only the rise and set of the sun remained the same as before the quakes.
On the street, dingy workers scurried to the trolleys heading toward the electro-rail stations taking them outside the city's grid to factories and mines which powered our world. They ran around the clock, their arriving engines swaying street lamps on their hinges every four hours without fail. A young man, he could not be more than thirteen, sprinted to get to the stop before missing his ride. Dark dust flared in puffs as he ran, his breathing mask gripped in his hand. He jumped aboard and collapsed into a fit of ragged coughs for his trouble.
The workers surged around a lone figure standing on the walk. A man, tall and half cast in the shadow of a post, stared at our line of carriages waiting to get into Rothfair's estate. His gaze leapt from window to window, scrutinizing the occupants. The handle of a tracer gun peeked out from beneath his dark coat.
I sank deeper into my seat as the carriage hovered to a stop, but the overhead incandescents illuminated the tufted interior just as an attendant opened our door. Framed in the bright window, I caught his gaze and he started across the road toward us.
Something moved in the corner of my vision tearing my attention from the man. It crashed against the side of the carriage, a disfigured face smeared red across the window. I toppled from my seat as I tried to right myself.
My aunt screamed, her face pulled tight as she gaped at the horrid visage of what could only be a man.
He quaked, arms flailing violently as his body lurched against the carriage again and again. A thwack from his forehead cracked the window and a single tooth slid down the glass in a trail of blood.
I tried to breathe, to move, to do something other than stare horrified.
A pair of security soldiers tackled him, binding the man as his mouth opened with an unheard scream.
Unable to tear my eyes from the scene, I didn't move until my aunt yanked me out of the carriage by my arm.
They threw a blanket over him, dragged him away and down a nearby alley as we stood rooted to our spots.
"Did you see that? W — what was that?" I looked around at the group of people gathered around the front of Rothfair's house.
Tittering whispers and ladies fanning themselves were the only reaction.
"It's all right, miss," one of the soldiers left behind addressed us. His sweat-lined lip pulled into a frown. "Move along."
"Is that man ill?" Aunt Sadie tried to peer around him but he stepped in her line of vision, his gloved hand going to the baton at his side.
"I said, move along. Your carriage will be repaired." He backed us both up with his forward strides, and I scrambled back, the voluminous skirts of my gown tangled around my legs.
"Where are your papers?" He asked, sliding the baton from its holster.
"There is no problem here," Aunt Sadie said as she tugged the crook of my arm toward the home. "We'll be on our way."
"He was bleeding." I stumbled with her, unable to catch my breath.
"Shh, Charlotte," Aunt Sadie pulled toward the home. "Keep walking."
We neared the entrance to the vast home amid the murmurs of others. Passing through the tracer gun sensor, I forced myself to greet the armed attendant.
The Union Security Soldier, sharp in his charcoal-grey uniform, handed back my citizen papers without a word. An embroidered phoenix in silken black thread soared over his heart. More soldiers fanned out on the walk directing the onlookers away. They stalked the streets in small clusters, pushed past commuters, and confronted those who stopped to stare.
Whipping rotors stirred the air and vibrated through me. Security aero craft hovered overhead, the bulbous silhouettes of their blimps dark against the sky. Dirigible pilots trained powerful lamp beams down on the road, the lights sweeping to and fro. Above it all, behind the clouds, nearly touching the stars, the Tesla Dome's protective grid glowed purple against the inky night.
"Come, dear," Aunt Sadie urged, raising her gloved hand and snapping open her lady's fan. The Battenberg lace obstructed my view of the commotion on the street. "Eyes ahead, Charlotte."
"What was wrong with that man?" I gasped.
"Let it go, Charlotte," Aunt Sadie murmured. "We don't want to be seen as having caused any trouble. They said they have taken care of the situation. So be it."
Her tight smile and stiff gait made me hold my tongue. Fevered screams reverberated down the dark road, but I kept walking, wiping my brow with my gloved hand. I remembered the man in the dark coat who'd watched from the walkway. I could not see him anywhere and I wondered. Did he know what that was? Had he tried to stop it?
I concentrated on slowing my heart as we entered the home of Lord and Lady Rothfair.
Meticulously restored after the quakes, it glinted with filigree designs done in precious metals, making the walls sparkle next to the dingy streets and citizens not allowed inside.
The annual Unity Ball signaled the start of the autumn holiday parties, and by the look of the crowd gathered, all of New Society's most respected families were in attendance.
As I entered the awning-covered doors, I took a calming breath before arranging my face into a pleasant smile. Though I'd attended soirees here in the past, the vista upon entering never ceased to amaze me.
The Rothfairs embodied the height of fashion and propriety, and their home reflected this. A large chandelier with incandescents in the shape of candles glowed over an inlaid dance floor. Sweet scents drifted out of vents set in the ceiling, the artificial aroma of candle wax, a nostalgic nod to olden days. Above the fireplace, snaking out from under the marble mantel, brass music tubes pumped out a minuet for the couples to sway and talk to. More filament lights wavered in front of silver sconces casting water-like ripples along the ceiling and the blue curtains.
Mounted on the silk-covered walls, gilt frames held photographs depicting the triumphs of our new government after The Great Calamity. The first raising of our new government's flag, a black phoenix, the symbol of our rise from near destruction, hovered above a map of our thirteen remaining city-states. Another showed our Governors, gathered to draft the Articles of The Peaceful Union, saving our country from the conflict and panic that reigned after the quakes. The last photograph made me pause.
Nikola Tesla stood at the scene of a massive construction. He held plans to the enormous steam works that powered the grid domes hovering over every capital city in the Union. From east to west, the Americas stood riddled with miles-deep chasms that burned perpetually with escaping fumes. Tesla's filtering system was the only thing keeping us from choking to death on the poisonous gas. He'd saved us, and the photographer captured the moment perfectly. The glass faceplate of Tesla's gas mask framed his intense gaze, his attention directed just off camera, as poison vapor swirled at his feet. Mighty Tesla, the brass plate read underneath the portrait.
I took in a shaking breath and continued on, determined to behave for Aunt Sadie's sake.
We moved forward into the ballroom, and my aunt greeted her friends with the grace of a woman who had not just seen a hideous creature moments before. I longed to possess that strength of poise. Sadie Blackburn, my father's spinster sister, was as childless as I was motherless; a tragedy and a comfort to us both.
Excerpted from "The Tremblers"
Copyright © 2017 Raquel Byrnes.
Excerpted by permission of Pelican Ventures, LLC.
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