The Earl of Brass (The Ingenious Mechanical Devices Book 1)

BOOK: The Earl of Brass (The Ingenious Mechanical Devices Book 1)
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The Earl of Brass:

Book One of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices

 

 

Kara Jorgensen

 

 

Fox Collie Publishing

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are
either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Kara Jorgensen

Cover Design © 2014

 

First Edition, 2014

ISBN 978-0-9905022-0-3

EBook ISBN 978-0-9905022-2-7

 

 

ACT ONE:

 

“The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.”

-Oscar Wilde

 

 

Chapter One:

 

The Death of the HMS
Albert

 

 

The more I’m among English society, the more I hate them
, Eilian Sorrell thought, staring out the starboard observation deck of the HMS
Albert
as it lumbered over the English countryside. Even with his back to the lords and ladies tittering in the dining room, he could hear them discussing balls, marriages, and affairs of the crown, all of which he cared little about. As the eldest son of the Earl of Dorset, the other denizens of the dirigible clamored for his opinion whether he had one or not, but he had the suspicion that many of the women wanted to see their daughters married-off to a man of good fortune and reputation. Eilian didn’t hate them for this. He hated that inheriting the earldom was the only accomplishment that would ever matter to them or his parents. Somehow he had hoped that by 1890 it would not be frowned upon for a member of the gentry to have ambitions outside of politics.

Raising his grey eyes to the glass, he caught his reflection staring back at him. His wayward brown hair had laid down in defeat when he donned his tailcoat to have dinner in the respectable dining room. How could he be so unhappy at only six-and-twenty? Maybe it was because he knew he would never be what they wanted. His father would never be proud that his son was in Italy reconstructing the mechanics of an Etruscan temple’s automated doors from minute fragments of tarnished metal and decayed wood. He had published books the gentry had never read on places and people they had never heard of, and to them, he would only be the ninth Earl of Dorset and nothing more.

Eilian sighed as he stared into the vast greenness of the countryside, which he had long shunned to venture to the East. In the stormy, waning light of the autumnal afternoon, the rolling hills of grass only punctuated by the occasional hamlet or lone great house made him yearn for his own home in Greenwich. There was something beyond the brass and mahogany halls of the first class dirigible, something real and more important than finery and dinner parties. The airship tossed and shivered. Thunder rumbled through its metal frame and up Eilian’s legs, breaking his reverie. He grasped the brass railing as the dirigible momentarily pitched forward. A flash of lightning erupted near the window, setting an ancient oak alight below as a dozen more bolts flooded his vision.

“This is your captain speaking. Please vacate the common areas and return to your rooms as we head into the storm.” The tinny voice echoed through the entire ship, traveling down the brass tubes lining the walls and invading every cabin with his plummy, droning voice. “An announcement will follow when it’s safe to return. Thank you.”

“Lord Sorrell!” the prime minister’s brother called behind him.

Eilian ignored him and darted down the coffered hall, hoping to reach his cabin before he could be coerced into spending another evening playing poker in a haze of cigar smoke. He couldn’t stand another night with half a dozen old imperialists with whom he had nothing in common apart from his country of birth.

Slamming the door behind him, he turned and ran his leg straight into the brass-barred edge of his trunk. With the motion of the flailing ship, it had slid from its niche near the window and come to rest only a few feet behind the door. He kicked it aside and sank onto his bed, letting his bruised shin rest on the wing-backed armchair just beyond it. The room was too small for the amount of hulking furniture in it even if it was of the finest quality London could offer.
It’s all sacrificed for appearances
, he thought as he tossed his dinner jacket carelessly onto the back of the chair and lay down. When he heard Patrick would be forced to ride in steerage beside crates and share a bathroom with a hundred other servants, he sent his butler home ahead of him by train with his souvenirs from India. If his oldest friend was going to ride with luggage and boxes, it would be in a private car on the Orient Express.

As Eilian Sorrell closed his eyes and the drone of the great engines lulled him into slumber, the bright colors and scents of India and Constantinople he had grown accustomed to over the past few months drifted back. The brilliant pops of orange and yellow in a sari or the cool, spicy bite of ginger root from a vegetable curry drowned out the sour taste of England the HMS
Albert
had left on his soul.

 

***

 

With a lurch, Eilian awoke just in time to see his trunk rapidly approaching the end of his nose. He tumbled over his luggage and into the paneled wall, landing in the narrow space between them as the trunk slid back into his chest. Grabbing the armchair, he hoisted himself to his feet only to be hit with a wave of nausea. The world felt as if it had been turned on its side. He forced his door open and staggered into the hall, swallowing down the bile rising up his throat. His gold pocket watch slipped from his vest and hung at an angle as he hobbled toward the observation deck, but when he reached for the rail, the ship rolled to the right as if shot from a sling, slamming him into the unforgiving wood. Screams erupted from behind closed doors. The heavy furniture slid, trapping men and women under them as they were thrown from their beds. As the aristocrats began to filter from their rooms, he scrambled to his feet in stunned silence, rubbing the sore arm he knew would soon contain a bruise to match the one on his leg. His eyes trailed to the world just beyond the mullioned glass of the ship. Only a few hundred yards below, lightning cracks illuminated the miniature people standing in the village streets, gazing up at the lumbering giant. He could nearly make out their features in the glow of the streetlamps. How could they be so low if they weren’t landing?

The captain’s stridulant voice rang out, calling for order, but Lord Sorrell didn’t hear him as he noticed the people below shifting slightly. They tilted, and as they did, his feet began to slide across the Turkish carpet of the observation deck. His stomach somersaulted when he grasped the rail, hoping it would pass. The moment his other hand reached the brass railing, the airship plunged forward as it yanked everything toward its bow. Eilian’s hands slipped down the bar, but the sinews of his arms and legs held firm. Passengers screeched as they fell to the floor and tumbled into the legs of chairs and great skeins of drapery and carpet. The reminders of home entrapped them and smothered them beneath their silk and Berber folds. The pops of glass globes from the gas lamps reverberated through the dirigible as the bow shot back up and teetered unsteadily. Eilian froze with his trembling hands clutching the rail. His breaths came rapidly as he strained to stand up, his body weak from the shock of holding on during the deathly plummets. For a moment, there was silence as the others waited for something to happen. The chilled night air whistled in through the glass of the observation deck, which had been shattered by a dining chair impaled in the brass mullion.

At the port observation deck, the cries of men and women rose to a shrill din. A man called for the captain after a child had been jettisoned overboard. As the dirigible continued its dull tour, Eilian caught a glimpse of her shattered body leaking blood into the capillaries of the cobbles below.
Something is very wrong
, Lord Sorrell thought, calculating the distance below to be only three hundred yards. Taking a calming breath, his mouth was filled with the sulphorous odor of methane as it wafted from the globe-less gas lamps. If they were to go down, they would surely incinerate when the fire of the engines met the hydrogen of the gasbag and the methane in the gondola. A wine bottle lazily rolled past Eilian’s feet toward the nose of the ship. The HMS
Albert
had begun its final dive.

The field and the hard cobbles were rapidly approaching as Eilian ran toward the aft of the ship. Maybe if he could make it to the farthest point in the gondola, he would have a chance. When he reached the hallway, pushing past men and woman in motley brocade and black dinner jackets as they began to slide past him, his feet slipped from the polished floor. The world erupted around him in a maelstrom of cacophonous voices and groaning wood and metal as they struck flesh and earth. Fire flooded the ship, and Eilian collided with the boards.

 

***

 

Eilian’s eyes fluttered open as he lifted his head from the raft of paneling that lay beneath his bruised and swelling cheek. The fractured wood scraped his knees and palms as he hoisted onto his trembling knees and stared into the hall, lying on its side. Flames burned through the remaining walls as he stepped over doorways and bodies lying broken, crushed beneath pieces of beds or impaled by the broken ribs of the dying airship. The drone of men’s voices wisped across the wind, but as Eilian followed them, they were drowned in the crackling fires and moans of the ship. The smoke burned his eyes and prickled his throat while he waited in the abyss for a means of escape. His back and legs ached with each movement, but he pressed on as pieces of elephantine canvas fluttered down, incinerating before they ever reached the ground.

Staring back at him between spilled trunks and lumps of fabric was the prime minister’s brother. His dull eyes were fixed on him with his mouth poised to scream, but his body lay splayed like an abandoned doll with his neck contorted at an impossible angle. Flames licked at his temples, biting his hair and nibbling away at his flesh. Eilian had seen funeral pyres in India, but nothing had prepared him for the demented dead, forever in agony once their suffering had ended. Wrenching his eyes away, he stepped over a woman and her child as they held each other. The disembodied voices crept over the wind, putting him back on the path to safety. When he listened again, the ribs of the dying ship groaned in pain and sagged under their load.

He threw his arm up to stop the impact, but the beam knocked him down, pinning him beneath its red-hot iron. Eilian Sorrell screamed as the metal seared through his clothes and into his flesh until he was certain his heart would stop from the pain. Like a wounded animal, he thrashed and writhed until he worked his legs and torso free, but his right arm remained lodged and continued to burn. Kicking off the beam, he hoped to free his numb limb, but on the third attempt, the sole of his shoe melted onto the metal. Finally, he twisted and pulled, hoping sheer force would free it, and with the sickening release of suction and the smell of burnt meat, his arm dislodged.

Eilian averted his gaze, hoping what he saw was a hallucination, and heedlessly rushed toward the voices on the wind. His heart pounded as the moon peeked between the naked ribs of the dirigible. Flames leapt and popped beside him. Sweat poured down his back and chest, stinging his open wounds. The searcher’s lights pierced the gnawed openings in the outer hull as he burst into the cool night air. His knees gave way, and he collapsed into the dewy grass. Pain flared from his right side, squeezing the cries from his throat. As voices called out around him and tried to lift him onto the stretcher, they hesitated at his right side. Suddenly, the pain subsided, and the world went black.

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