My latest novel The Mechanicals is coming out next month on the 23 October, so here is a sneak preview.
A boy delivered the telegram to the Blazing Blunderbuss while they were in a Middle Eastern port. It was such a rare occurrence to receive any correspondence, so everyone looked over Hara’s shoulder, as she paid the boy and turned the message over in her hands. When Hara realized she had an audience, she decided she would take the message somewhere private.
That was more difficult than she expected. Even in Hara’s room, Gideon followed her. She gave him a glare, but he was oblivious to the daggers she shot his way and closed the door behind himself. He considered her room his space as well, since he had flown back to the airship the time she had tried to ditch him in the Wyvern Empire. She had hoped he would go back to his previous life as a professor of Mathematics and leave her alone. She should have known better. That time she had walked into her room to find him naked in her bed after he had flown to catch up with her. She believed he had been naked to punish her for leaving him behind. He was a dragon and his logic wasn’t like her own.
Hara said, “Boundaries, Gideon. I thought we talked about this.”
Gideon grinned. “You talked, I listened, but that doesn’t mean we decided on boundaries.”
Hara decided that was an argument for another time. Her curiosity had her opening the message. She frowned at the few words and then looked up at Gideon. “It’s from the Emperor. He is summoning me, as he has a task for me and in return the Empire will pardon all my crew.” Hara’s hand tightened on the message. She knew becoming pirates last summer would have repercussions, but they really hadn’t had much choice when they were threatened by the Roshian government to do their dirty work for them or the Roshian’s would send endless assassins after them wherever they went.
Gideon frowned at her revelation and she asked, “You know the Court better than I. Do you think this is for real?”
“Yes, and that concerns me. They have not bothered with me in centuries.” He said sagely.
Hara raised an eyebrow. “What about those guys at your house when I dropped you off? They were sent by the Emperor.” When she had dropped him at his home there had been two men from the Court. One had been Harlen, Gideon’s brother. He had been a surly type in all the interactions Hara had had with him. Hara had the impression that Harlen worked high up in the Empire. Hara enjoyed bringing the brusque man out of his shell. Gideon didn’t have much in the way of family. He had explained to her once that dragon eggs were abandoned after they were hatched. The only way dragons could keep their biological family was to add them to their collection.
“Oh, that was more about family than the Court. It’s unusual for a formal summons like this and it’s addressed to you. I think they might’ve heard that I’ve bonded with you and they are curious.” Gideon seemed unfazed that his family all lived at Court. Hara wasn’t used to dealing with royalty. Nobles yes, as they had been her father’s main target in his cons, but they had avoided anyone who had links to the Emperor’s Court.
Hara smoothed out the wrinkles in the letter from her tight hold and asked, “So, do you think it will be safe? This isn’t a trap, is it?”
“Not a trap, but it doesn’t mean you have to drop everything to follow their summons. I never do. They often try to get me to come to family gatherings and I always decline. Even if the food is always good.” He shrugged a single shoulder to indicate the choice was all hers.
Hara shook her head. “You made me Captain of this floating zoo and that means I’m responsible for the crew. If this summons means my crew can someday go home, then I have to do everything in my power to see that through. I know you don’t like the Court, but will you come with me?”
Gideon frowned and closed the space between them. He took up her hands and she let him. Not so long ago she would have pulled free. Gideon was a very tactile person and she was used to his touches now. Technically they were married, but that was a complicated issue that Hara didn’t like to dwell on.
He said softly, “It bothers me that you would ask me that question. Wherever you go I will follow, you know that.” He ran his thumb over the raised brand that ran down one of her arms.
He had branded her and bonded with her in Rosha when a manipulative politician had shot her in the chest. Gideon had done it to save her life, but he hadn’t explained what it all meant at the time. Hara had thought it had meant slavery, apparently it was more complicated than that.
Hara wasn’t stupid, she had an inkling about what it all meant, except she wasn’t ready for any of that. Men in her experience were only going to betray her and leave her behind. She felt just a shade guilty that she used this time to test Gideon to make sure he really was the man she thought he was.
Hara’s opinion of men was low, as her own father was a con man who had left her to be thrown into prison in order to escape himself. He hadn’t improved over the years and earlier in the year had involved her in a plot to poison dragons and start a war between the Empire and Rosha.
The only man so far in her life who had been a positive influence had been her Oupa, but he lived in a small town where people made it difficult to be a woman and different.
Her Oupa was a renowned engineer. In fact, he had worked for the Emperor’s Court while Gideon had been there. The two of them had even known each other before her Oupa had met his wife and had left the Court for the small town on the edges of the Empire.
Ouma had been an engineer as well, but she had been afraid of crowds and open spaces. Oupa had loved her enough to leave everything behind for her. Hara didn’t think her Oupa regretted it, even for a moment. He had enjoyed having the dragon in his home where they could talk about the old days and about Ouma who Gideon had known as well.
That didn’t mean that the small town her Oupa lived in didn’t have its own issues. They had Alice on board who had been chased out of that town because of rumours started by an ex-boyfriend.
All that didn’t stop Hara from having second thoughts about a relationship with Gideon, even if he was different from other men. Gideon wasn’t a man, he was a dragon and that only made Hara more suspicious, as dragons did not have the same moral compass as humans. What dragons thought was normal could be considered downright barbaric by humans. So far Gideon had proved to be more human and noble than most of the men she had met in her life.
The crew waited in the mess for Hara to announce what was in the telegram. They all turned their heads towards Hara as she entered. The crew was so sure that she would share what was in the message that they didn’t even ask, except with their eyes.
Hara announced, “We’re going to Court.”
Alice smoothed her hands over her skirt and asked, “Are we allowed to?”
Murphy snorted. “If we aren’t then we can always go in guns blazing.” He demonstrated with a few hand actions and pew-pew sounds.
Talen frowned at Murphy’s antics. “Or we can sneak in. It doesn’t have to be an invasion.”
Talen had worked as a thief for years even before Hara had known him. He had worked with her father when Talen had retired from burglary and instead collected information.
Hara waved her hand to get their attention and added. “We’ve been invited by the Emperor himself. There will be no need for guns blazing or sneaking. The Emperor wants us to do something for him, in exchange he will pardon us.”
Alice was the one that looked the most excited by the possibility of a pardon. Alice, like Hara, had a family who she loved and would like to visit, even if they lived in a town she found unbearable. Hara could understand Alice wanting to go home. Hara also wanted to go home to her Oupa. He was the only family she was willing to actually call family. Gideon had been the one to teach her that sometimes you can choose your own family.
It had been almost a year since Hara had seen Oupa last, but she hadn’t wanted to risk sneaking into the Empire with the piracy charge over their heads. They had managed to get free of the Rosh government and they had done a favor for the Empire in the process. Hara had known the favor only meant the Empire wouldn’t chase them, not that it would mean they were safe, travelling through the Empire itself.
Hara knew she was right when Gideon hadn’t even suggested going to visit her Oupa. The two of them had gotten along well.
Hara smoothed the letter out on the table. “I don’t know what this favor is going to cost us, so I need to know how far you all are willing to go.”
Murphy patted his gun on his hip. “I’m in for some mayhem.”
Talen glared at the gun happy muscle and then turned to her and said, “I don’t care if I’m hunted because I’m a pirate or a thief, but you still need someone to look after you.” He eyed Gideon in specific, Gideon was always oblivious to those kinds of looks from Talen.
Hara said, “But if we head into mayhem, as Murphy suggested, will you still stick around? If I remember correctly that kind of trouble was the kind you always ran away from.”
Talen had after all left her, just as her father had, though Talen hadn’t known that her father would be rotten enough to leave her for the authorities to punish in order to save his own skin. Talen didn’t deserve any special considerations, especially because he insisted on trying to act as her father. He was here because he was a friend, but she didn’t need another father.
Alice said, “I’m in, but I’m not a killer.”
Gideon piped in. “Neither am I, so we will avoid the blood shed while we head towards mayhem.”
Liam said, “I like a bit of mayhem, as long as it’s worth it, but I’m like Alice and bloodshed isn’t my field of expertise.”
Everyone looked at the cook, Henry, as the one who hadn’t had any input so far. He coughed and rubbed his jaw, as he thought. “I’ve been part of the crew who was here before, who not only liked the mayhem, but the bloodshed as well. I’m not keen to go back to that, but if it means being free to go anywhere I want to then I’m up for pretty much anything. These hands aren’t clean so I’m not going to complain if they get a little bloody.”
Murphy patted him on the shoulder in a friendly way. “No problem mate. Just point them out and I’ll put holes in all the people you want dead.”
Hara shook her head. “So, trouble and mayhem is all right, but bloodshed is to be avoided?”
They all agreed. Even Angel trilled her agreement from Hara’s shoulder. She was a sentient mechanical construct which Hara had rescued from a border town, but Angel felt she had as much say, as the rest of the crew.
Liam said, “You know, working for the Empire really could be trouble. Working for governments has gotten us into trouble before. Look what happened when we became privateers for Rosha. We almost started a war.”
There were ribald remarks to that, but Hara tuned out and absently stroked Angel’s head. The last time they had been summoned by a government they had been forced to become pirates. They had avoided having to kill innocents that time. Hara wasn’t sure if they would always be able to keep their hands clean of innocent blood if they kept looking for trouble. She hoped this summons was more auspicious.