Archive for July, 2016

Moonlight, Murder & Machinery: “The Puffing Devil Goes Up In Smoke”

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“The dead man was named Richard Trevithick,” Shelley said, reading from the City Watch report.
“What do we know about him?” Gordon was sitting opposite Shelley and Rose, with Polidori on one side and Felicia on the other. Felicia, who seemed thrilled at the prospect of being ‘out in the field’, had grasped Gordon’s hand upon entering the carriage and showed no sign of letting go. If she received any sensations or suggestions from holding the Captain’s hand, she did not divulge it to the other officers in the carriage.
“Born 1771 at Tregajorram, in the Republic of Kernow,” Shelley continued. “Moved to London in 1799. He was arrested after an explosion in Greenwich in 1803, that resulted in the deaths of four people; convicted of a number of illegal experiments going back to 1801 and sentenced to five years in prison.” Shelley looked up. “The other inmates called him the ‘Puffing Devil’”.
“He should have been deported,” muttered Polidori darkly. “I don’t like the sound of this.”
“Neither do I.” Gordon shook his head adamantly. “But we have to use all the resources we have, and that means detecting as well as fighting. We have to use our brains.”
“Maybe we should have brought Master Keats after all,” Rose said with an admirably straight face. “He has more than his fair share of those.”
The coach turned in to a residential section of Bermondsey – a single street lined on each side with gleaming stucco facades. Shelley looked out of the window at the City Patrol officers holding back onlookers with long stretches of rope, several more officers gathered outside a large terraced house that had lost all the glass in its windows, and was smeared with dark, soot-like stains. Faint wisps of smoke drifted out into the open. As the carriage came to a halt, dead leaves scuttled away from the wheels like frightened insects. Gordon’s boots hit the ground and he marched up to the open front door, the Watchmen standing aside for him.
Once inside the house, the smell hit them. Everything inside, the furniture, most of the carpet, had been burnt to a crisp. The smell was overpowering – an indefinable mix of smoke and blood and fear, like a charnel house. Dark stains arced across the walls and ceilings.
On the far side of the room lay the corpse, although Shelley did not recognize it for long moments. It was as black as charcoal, and as shriveled as a decayed wooden log. The only things remotely human were the teeth, exposed and gleaming like pearls in the skull now the flesh had burnt away. The hands were black, skeletal claws held up in front of the chest as the muscles had contracted.
“Looks like the Puffing Devil went up in smoke,” muttered Rose.
Polidori stood still and took in a series of quick, investigative sniffs. “Aha!” he declared. “Yes, yes, yes. I haven’t smelled that for a long time.”
“Smelled what, Polly?”
The Medical Examiner turned and fixed Gordon with eyes glittering with curiosity. “Greek Fire, that’s what. A mixture of liquid petroleum, sulfur, and quicklime. It was used by the Byzantine Empire in the Seventh Century as a weapon of war. They used to pump the substance from a container through narrow brass tubes and spray it at the enemy.”
Polidori advanced into the wreckage of the room, picking his way carefully through blackened piles of ash, gesticulating at the scorch marks on the walls. “The pattern of the burning here and here indicates that the source of the fire was a directed, concentrated stream of flammable liquid, just as a hose concentrates water into a narrow jet. Whoever was holding the weapon would have some kind of fuse to ignite the fluid as it shoots out, and – whoosh. Goodbye, poor Mr. Trevithick.”
“Hello, Satanic Mills,” whispered Gordon. “Thank you, Polly.”
He swung round to face the psychometrist. “Miss Brown, what can you tell us?”
“Well, I can see the reason why the perpetrator burned all of the unfortunate man’s possessions. He wished to give us nothing to work on, you see. Everything this man touched has been destroyed.”
“Perhaps there are some of his possessions somewhere else,” suggested Rose.
“Oh yes?” Gordon rounded upon him. “And in the whole of London, where do we look? Do you think any of this man’s acquaintances will want to talk to us? They’ll be as scared as little waifs at midnight.”
“There is nothing here that any psychometrist can do,” protested Felicia.
Gordon smiled so lasciviously that Shelley automatically turned away. “But you are not just any psychometrist, are you, Felicia?”
“Wait!” A shout from Polidori made all of them look up. “Captain, I think I’ve got something.”
The Medical Examiner was squatting next to the smoldering corpse, his long nose with glasses perched upon it almost touching the extended, off-white teeth. “God in heaven,” Shelley muttered, pulling out his muffler and holding it over and nose and mouth. Polidori was intent upon manipulating a long pair of tweezers, which he had extended down the dead man’s throat; and as Gordon came up behind him, he eased something out into plain view, something that gleamed with the luster of gold.
“Aha!” Polidori said triumphantly. “The victim swallowed something just before he was killed. It looks like he pulled off his own wedding ring and put it in his mouth.”
“He wanted to leave something for us to find,” Shelley said, moved by the knowledge of the man’s last, desperate moments.
“Felicia, quick,” Gordon snapped.
“Of course, we should really report this to the Watchmen, before we let …” Shelley’s voice trailed off as Gordon turned his haughty, reddening face towards him. “Nothing, sir,” Shelley added quickly.
“Oh, you were so scared.”
Shelley looked at Felicia worriedly as she convulsed, as soon as she held the wedding ring. Gordon and Shelley helped her to a chair, but she held on to the ring tightly, the words flowing.
“You were so scared, and so alone …you didn’t want to die alone, but you had sent your wife and daughter away …the giant! The giant at the door…the bronze man with fire in his hands …but he will never get into …never get into the room …the room . . .”
Felicia’s eyes snapped open, and with a violent movement, she flung the ring away from her, and it fell with a clink into the mantelpiece opposite. “The room!” she shouted. “He had a secret room, where he kept the devices he worked on!”
Gordon raised his eyebrows and looked at Shelley.
“There!” the psychometrist exclaimed, pointing out into the hallway. “The drawing room!”
The group of five hurried to the drawing room. It showed the same level of destruction as the front room, and once inside, Felica turned to face them. “Behind the tapestry is a door that leads down to a hidden basement. That is where Trevithick kept his tools and performed his experiments, out of the sight of any visiting parole officer.”
“Shelley.” Gordon pointed his chin at the burnt tapestry. “That’s your department.”
Obediently, Shelley crossed the room and gingerly pulled aside the remains of the tapestry. He spread his fingers wide and put his hands on the plaster of the wall.
He felt his shoulders tingle, as if he were being watched. The wall rippled, as if he were looking through distorting waves of heat, and then dissolved. He could see everything. He could see, just to his left, the brass and copper arrangement of lock, hinge and handle, and he could feel it, like his own hand was upon it.
He blinked, and the lock snapped open, and part of the wall swung inwards.
“Good work, m’boy!”
His legs and back feeling rather delicate, and a slight headache behind his eyes, Shelley descended into the gloom behind the others, feeling each step carefully with his boots as he went down. He heard the voice of Master Keats once more, the fascinating ideas of the quiet, frail scientist. “I call my theory that of the Chameleon Warrior, you see. If consciousness is just a ghost in the machine, then, Master Shelley, you could be present in any machine.”
Gordon, in the lead, had found and lit a Fulmer lamp hung on the wall, and the five looked around at the Luddite’s secret workshop. Across a rough stone floor stood a large table with a vice on one end. Tools of all manners and sizes were scattered across the table surface and hung on special hooks bolted to the wall.
The most striking object in the room was a huge wooden crate, as tall and broad as a man. It stood on end next to the table.
“Open that crate, Shelley.”
The young man blinked, confused. “It doesn’t have a mechanical lock.”
“I said open that crate, Shelley.”
He took a crowbar off one of the hooks on the wall and stood in front of the crate. He thrust it between one of the planks, and after some concerted pushing and levering, a section of wood snapped off and fell to the floor. Shelley leant forward and peered inside the crate.
A pair of dark eyes stared back at him.
“Aaaah!” he cried, jumping backwards. “There’s someone in there!”
“What?”
They gathered around, each trying to look inside, until Gordon yelled furiously for order. Pressing his face to the crate, the Captain peered inside and grunted. “Shelley, you scream like a girl. It’s a dummy of some kind in there.”
Shelley and Rose soon had the front of the crate off, and the manikin stood revealed. It was the life-sized model of a man, dressed in what looked like Turkish robes, and a turban on its wooden head. The face was also painted to resemble that of an Oriental sorcerer, with black beard and slanted eyes.
“What is it?” Felicia asked.
“That, my dear, is the Turk,” Gordon answered. “Well, not the original, of course. It’s a very good copy.”
Shelley nodded, recognition dawning. He remembered the story of the German clock-maker who, perhaps thirty years ago, had built a clockwork chess-playing automaton. It was called the Turk and had been paraded as a novelty around half the Royal courts of Europe.
“What was Trevithick doing with this?” Felicia asked in awe.
“Looks like he had built a new model powered by steam,” said Rose, pointing to the machine parts in the bottom of the crate. “Maybe he had been commissioned to build this by someone on the Continent and he was just about to send it to the port.”
“And he was killed for this?”
“No,” said Shelley. “Those parts over here are different, they are parts of some kind of propulsion engine. I think Trevithick had something to do with the theft of the Remnant.”
“Right,” ordered Gordon. “We can’t let the City Patrol get hold of this. Put all of the tools in envelopes, seal them, and write a description on the front.”
Rose pointed into the crate. “What about the Turk?”
Gordon looked it up and down coolly. “Dismantle it. Put it in the utility chest in the coach.”
“What a colossal waste of money,” Shelley said, partly to himself. Rose heard and looked at him quizzically.
“I mean, they know it’s illegal, they know the penalties for dealing with proscribed technology,” Shelley went on. “Why do they do it?”
Rose shrugged. “It’s human nature. People are always trying to tinker about with things they don’t understand.”
He put his hands on both sides of the wooden head and pulled. It came cleanly off the metal peg that secured it, and Rose stepped back, the disembodied face of the Turk grinning into his.
“Oh, my,” said Rose, shivering. “That is one bad case of déjà vu.”
MOONLIGHT, MURDER & MACHINERY” CAN BE PURCHASED HERE! 

 

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Moonlight, Murder and Machinery: The Characters

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The setting of the Steampunk thriller “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”  is an alternate Regency England where the historical timeline diverged in 1742. This created a decidedly different British Isles where the Industrial Revolution has branched off in a bizarre direction, and an alternative version of Doctor Frankenstein is conducting grotesque experiments. The setting is new, but the main characters are people most of us will recognize!

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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was an English poet of the Romantic era. He is remembered largely for his lyrical works such as “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark” as well as the sonnet “Ozymandias”, but he also wrote a considerable volume of political poetry and prose expressing his anger at the disparity in the distribution of wealth between the classes and the ruthless tactics used by then Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson in dealing with political dissent. In particular, his narrative poem “Queen Mab” is often cited as inspiration to later working class political movements, such as Chartism and Owenism. He is also famous for being the husband of the author Mary Shelley, and he is associated with many famous figures of the Romantic era, including Lord Byron, John Keats, Thomas Love Peacock and William Godwin.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, Shelley joins the Royal Army at the age of 20, out of his idealistic beliefs, and also to spite his father; he is detected as having latent psychic powers, and is drafted into the Crown’s new counter-intelligence division, Red Branch.

 

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Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; August 30, 1797 – February 1, 1851) was an early novelist who is most famous for her novel Frankenstein, considered to be the first real Science Fiction novel; it was the earliest popular novel whose Speculative Fiction elements were presented as the results of (implausible) human technology.
She was the daughter of the novelist William Godwin and feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. The latter was one of the earliest feminists, famous for her work The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which is one of the earliest significant modern works in favor of women’s rights.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley married the famous Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She was  a very prolific author, writing biographies, poetry, articles, travel journals, and short stories in addition to the novels she is most well-known for.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, she is an aspiring writer and socialite who suffers from terrible nightmares that seem to predict the future. These latent psychic powers draw her to the attention of Red Branch … particularly the dreams where she sees a crazed scientist intent on creating life from re-animating the dead, in his laboratory …

 

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George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824), was a Romantic poet, womanizer, and revolutionary. He gave his name to the Byronic Hero trope, by writing about Byronic heroes and being one in real life.
His father, Army Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, of a junior line of moderately old gentry, married his mother, Catherine Gordon (heiress to the Scottish estate of Gight, in Aberdeenshire), in 1785. By the time George was born in 1788, “Mad Jack” had squandered most of Catherine’s money, and she took her son to Aberdeen to eke out an existence on the remaining crumbs and a small trust fund. When Byron’s great-uncle, the 5th Baron Byron, died childless, George, then 10 years old, inherited the title and the family seat at Newstead Abbey—which was a wreck that his mother preferred to rent out to junior gentry.
Byron grew up to be a hell-raiser, a womanizer, a political idealist, and an immensely talented poet. He had lovers all across Europe, and died while fighting in the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830).
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” he is Captain Gordon, a seasoned veteran of Red Branch and leads the squad that includes Percy Shelley as a new recruit. He becomes Shelley’s mentor, as they fight such grotesque enemies of the Crown as Boiler Calhoun and the Dandy Brethren.

 

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The poet John Keats died of tuberculosis when he was only 25. Given what he accomplished in only that time, there is much speculation about what he could have done with a full literary career — for example, he was in progress on an epic poem, The Fall of Hyperion, which had the potential to become a classic on the level of Paradise Lost, but was left unfinished when he died. We’ll never know.
He is most famous for his series of odes, which remain very popular today. They include “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, and “Ode on Melancholy”. He also wrote many other poems, such as “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art”, “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and “The Eve of St. Agnes”. His poetry and letters advanced some revolutionary theories of literary composition, such as ‘negative capability’, and the concept of the ‘chameleon poet’, that still influence writers today.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, John Keats is head of Red Branch’s Research and Development Division, where he conducts experiments into the soldiers’ psychic and physical capabilities … and how they can be enhanced.

 

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(Above:Dr. Andrew Crosse and his ‘acari’).
Who was the real-life inspiration behind Doctor Frankenstein? Many have been named as the scientists who first gave Mary Godwin the idea … such as Giovanni Aldini, protege of Luigi Galvani, the discoverer of ‘animal electricity’; James Lind MD, friend to the Shelley family; Johann Conrad Dippel, a rumored alchemist; Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein, who perhaps inspired the name of the protagonist; and most intriguing of all, Dr. Andrew Crosse, who claimed to have spontaneously created an insectoid form of life called ‘acari’ in his laboratory (to this day, exactly what he did, how he did it, and what the ‘acari’ really were remains unexplained).
These are some of the main characters in “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” … want to see them in action? Go HERE!

 

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Inside the World of “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”!

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Welcome to London, 1814 – capital city of Nova Albion!
"The new Covent Garden megalith loomed over the rooftops as Mary’s horse and carriage clattered past. Claire was right – you could see it from New Oxford Street. The Godwin’s driver, Hendrick, turned and swung the carriage onto the wide arc of the new Charing Cross Avenue. Mary sighed. Lances of sunlight pierced the incandescent clouds to turn the monoliths, towers and church spires to the palest gold, and in the distance loomed the giant mausoleum that marked the city’s northernmost point – Londoners referred to it, with good reason, as ‘the Pyramid of Primrose Hill’.

The central part of the capital of Nova Albion was contained within a ring of new megaliths, made of blocks of sandstone fitted together and capped with lintels, known as the Sarsen Circle Line. Within this circle stood a horseshoe formation of five enormous standing trilithons, curving around from Marylebone, through Mayfair and St. James’s, over to Bloomsbury and Russell Square. This was the latest development in the renovation of the London metropolis, overseen by Prime Minister William Wordsworth in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office. They had ordered the sandstone taken from the same region that had fathered the original Stonehenge – the Prescelly Mountains, in south-west Wales – and had adhered to the scale of the original structure, to ensure that telluric power, light and warmth be provided to every London household. It had taken almost thirty years to plan and build, and was scheduled to be completed in another seven months.      

Caught in a tangle of horse traffic, the carriage was forced to stop. Mary watched the sunset, the cables of the cargo transport system slicing across the translucent sky, crates suspended from metal sleeves and harnesses moving slowly from rooftop to rooftop overhead. She tilted her head back, watching a number of crates heading away from the Covent Garden pylon – laden, no doubt, with leftover flowers and fruit."
This is the year 1814 – in a mysterious world very different from our recorded history. Humanity has turned away from the technological gifts offered by the Industrial Revolution, and instead embraced the archaic earth mysteries known to ancient civilizations. The British Isles is ruled by a council of Druids, policed by masked officers trained in psychic warfare, overseeing a land haunted by Gothic phantasms and legends from Celtic mythology …

 

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"The next morning, at dawn, the men lined up on parade, forming three sides of a hollow square, in the middle of Stonehenge. On the fourth side waited Swann with the altar stone behind him. Beyond the inner circle, wooden scaffolding and coarse sackcloth sheets draped the new stones being moved in to replace those fallen and missing for centuries, each one hewn from the original mineral, the far Prescelley Mountains of southern Wales. The sackcloth stirred fitfully in a gentle wind, and the sun shone down from majestic clouds, down upon the cadets who stood to attention in full uniform.

The Red Branch uniform was akin to that of a hussar’s, with pelisse and light cavalry sabre. The navy blue color of their jackets and breeches was so dark it was almost black. Each man wore a Venetian-style half-mask; it had been decided, at the founding of Red Branch, that the identities of its members should be withheld from the public, as their work involved matters of national security. The hats were tricorn hats, an unfashionable and outdated item when compared to the bicorn hats and shakos the regular army wore – but as they were the preferred headgear of Sir David Dundas, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, they were not about to change any time soon. Black facings, white piping and black leather equipment were completed by casaques, capes that could be buttoned to form a coat – and the masked, billowing outline of each soldier had given rise to the nickname of the clothing as a ‘stealth uniform’.      

Shelley stood at the left of the line and stared over men’s hats at the heel stones. They dominated the plain, the slabs rising like curtain walls, and Shelley wondered again what kind of people had decided to place the stones here. The air was cold, but not cold enough to make him shiver. He felt light-headed, the atmosphere of suspense making him strangely disconnected, as if his body was a loose fit for his mind.

Commanding Officer Swann stood, gazing straight ahead, his face as stony as the dolmens that surrounded them. Threading its way through the stones, two horses appeared, mounted cavalry bearing saddlebags in the shape of large wooden drums.

“Gentlemen,” Swann began, “Today, you stand in the presence of something we can only describe as ‘otherness’. We in the state of Nova Albion have not fully defined or explained this presence yet, but it is what brings life to the land; it inhabits the trees, the groves, the hills, and fills them with meaning. There is an alphabet in the forests, there is music in the hills, there is a subtle and powerful geometry in the network of standing stones. The path to enlightenment leads through landscapes where only the traveler who understands the forces of life may pass.”

 

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How did the nation of Nova Albion arise? When did the timeline diverge from our own history? The answer lies with a real-life gentleman named William Stukeley.

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William Stukeley (7 November 1687 – 3 March 1765), was an antiquarian, a scholar, and one of the pioneers of the modern science of archeology. What distinguished him from other historians of the age were his interests in mysticism, Freemasonry, Druidism, Celtic Mythology, and his travels around the country to personally take part in the digging and excavating of prehistoric sites of worship.

In "Moonlight, Murder and Machinery", the timeline diverges in 1742, when Stukeley is conducting an excavation at the very center of Stonehenge. His team of early archeologists accidentally discover a new energy source - telluric energy, the energy of the standing stones themselves, turning the network of stone circles and ley lines across Europe into a national grid of power stations, ready to be tapped for light and heat.

This event - which comes to be known as 'The Great Unearthing' - also causes a political upheaval. Bonny Prince Charlie, armed with new weapons powered by tellurically-charged crystals, successfully leads the Jacobite uprising of 1745, resulting in the exile of George II and the House of Hanover. The victorious Charlie becomes King Charles III, and he appoints as Prime Minister none other than Francis Dashwood, leader of the Hellfire Club, who reshapes the laws of the land along ancient, Druidic lines. The mining of coal and the manufacture of steam technology is forbidden; all power is declared to be renewable, and provided by the Earth itself.

The Industrial Revolution, however, doesn't stop. Inventors who tinker with steam technology are forced to go underground, conducting illegal and dangerous experiments, resulting in bizarre Steampunk devices that are often used by criminals or religious heretics for nefarious purposes.

COMING SOON: Our protagonists ... Byron, Shelley, and Mary Godwin ... and a Rogue's Gallery of some of the antagonists threatening the security of Nova Albion ... the steam-powered smuggler Boiler Calhoun, the ghostly highwayman Billy Barebones, and the dreaded Dandy Brethren!

“Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” … available in ebook here, and in paperback here! 

 

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