9.16.2015

Read Chapter Two of THE OILMAN'S DAUGHTER Here!


In two weeks, Ian Healy and I will be celebrating the world debut of our joint venture, THE OILMAN'S DAUGHTER, a steampunk space opera adventure that is completely unlike anything you've seen from either of us. Especially me, if you know the freakish kind of stuff I write.

If you're here, it's possibly because you clicked through from the Local Hero Press website, where Chapter One is currently posted. At the end of this post, you can click through again over to Ian's blog to read Chapter Three. I highly recommend you do that, because it gives you an opportunity to enter our contest to win an EXCLUSIVE print copy signed by the both of us. This is a rare thing, because a lot of people might not know that Ian and I live two time zones apart, and so therefore are rarely if ever in the same room together.

ALL you have to do is read the three chapters and leave a comment on each post. Those comments can contain anything from "OMG I LOVED IT" to "Hey, I read this thing you want me to read" to "Can I have your address to send you all these hookers and blow that I have?" Either way, just leave a comment on each chapter, and you will be entered into a drawing, which will occur on October 1st, 2015. That's it!

Without further ado, I present to you Chapter Two of THE OILMAN'S DAUGHTER!

Phinneas Greaves, captain of the Ethershark, stepped from the airlock and into the CR’s atomic-powered locomotive. His heavy magnetic boots made authoritative thuds on the carpeted floor. The men had already done a fine job of securing the rig’s surplus water and oxygen units, but he expected no less from them. Cap’n Finn, as his shipmates called him, hadn’t earned his reputation as the hardest Fulton driver in space—among pirates and non-pirates alike—for running a loose operation. Phinneas stalked over to the engineer, who quivered in the cabin’s corner under his heavy suit of quilted lead. Like most of the rust buckets in space, the control cabin was hotter than the devil’s armpits. It was doubly worse in the engineer’s room, because instead of a coal or timber-fired boiler, the CR ran on atomic power, and even the train’s sizable radiators couldn’t keep the cabin from feeling like a summer day in Delhi . . . “I don’t believe I got yer name.”
“It’s A-artemus. Artemus Heath.”
He pulled out a daguerreotype of the treasure he’d come for. “Well, Artemus Artemus Heath, I wonder if ye can tell me where I might find this lovely piece.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Heath’s eyes had widened and shifted just a touch, telling Phinneas the engineer was lying.
“If ye don’t start talking, I’ll take this blade and cut yer protective little suit to pieces and ye can boil in here like a lobster for a spell. If that doesn’t work, I’ll do the same thing to yer hide. But don’t worry. I’ll start small. One finger at a time.”
Artemus screamed when Phinneas reached down to grab at his suit. “All right, stop! I saw her in the coach car when she first boarded. Please just take her and go!”
Phinneas smiled like the predator for which he’d named his ship and flung the engineer across the cabin with one hand. The man bounced back from the bulkhead and blubbered. His tears drifted off into the air like tiny jewels. Phinneas took a deep breath and savored the tang of fear in the air. He wondered if he should leave a more permanent memento of his visit, but the commotion of gunfire interrupted his train of thought; such a racket was never welcome on a space vessel.
“Bloody hell, what fool’s got himself a popgun?” Phinneas left the gibbering engineer behind for good and stormed out of the locomotive into the first cargo car of the train. “The first son of a whore I find wieldin’ a firearm on this train will find himself towed home by his guts!” He smashed his axe into a crate as he passed and took a meager measure of satisfaction from the way splinters exploded all around him like wooden snowflakes.
One of his men—though calling the greenhorn a man was a stretch, given he was barely out of puberty—loped toward him from the passenger cars further aft with his dark face a mask of panic. “Cap’n Finn! Somebody’s got popguns back there!” Stolen gold necklaces and bejeweled rings decorated his neck and fingers. He must have stopped to strip valuables from every single passenger he found. Avaricious dreams of wealth first drove men to piracy in the void, but only too soon did they learn that the real valuables weren’t the gleaming decorations of the Earthworms, but their consumables. Fuel. Air. Water. Protein. And the love of the void.
Phinneas himself had no use for the glittery trinkets. He’d collected thousands of such things over twenty years of sea and space voyages alike. As he grew older, he found he preferred books, rare art, or useful tools. He struggled for a second to remember the greenhorn’s name. Sebastian something. “Aye, ye think I can’t hear the racket from up here? Which one of ye shriveling dicks brought the pistol?” He grabbed Sebastian by the arm and herded him down the hall.
Sebastian’s feet flailed as he tried to regain contact with his magnetic boots. “But it ain’t us, Cap’n. It’s that jet-haired doxy! She’s back in the aft cargo car right now, and we can’t get to her with all the bullets flyin’ around. She’ll pierce the hull and we’ll all be for Willy Wright’s Locker.”
Phinneas bit back the storm of curses that wanted to fly from his mouth. His orders had been simple. Get the French girl and bring her back to Houston. The businessman had bankrolled the largest sum the Ethershark had ever earned for a job, but he’d said nothing about the possibility of armed combat, and Phinneas hadn’t expected it. These passengers were soft-bellied rich folk who were as likely to pack a gun onto a spaceship as they were to drink Kentucky Moonshine and piss vinegar. They weren’t supposed to fight back.
A white-faced unconscious passenger drifted past Phinneas and Sebastian. Globules of bright red blood spun and wavered through the air in his wake. Cordite-scented smoke washed in swirls of gray amid the sulfurous electrical lights. The pirate captain didn’t stop for anything until he reached the cargo compartment door. Another whip-crack of a pistol firing, and something whistled by his shoulder to bury itself in the far bulkhead. He felt the heat of its passing on his skin.
A group of his crewmen huddled around all edges of the entrance, peeking into the aft cargo car like they were watching a ten-cent peep show. Bloody cowards! Phinneas shoved Sebastian aside and tried to see over the heads of his men. He didn’t want to pick his feet up from the floor and risk getting caught in open air with no leverage to move or dodge.
“Get outta me way, ye useless lumps!” He forced his way through the group with great shoves and heaves. When he got to the window, he saw a woman in a wide-brimmed hat perched behind a big wooden shipping crate, waving her six-shooter around, firing almost at random. The pirates crouched down behind barriers of their own and clutched their crossbows to their chests. At least the whelps weren’t trying to shoot her. She was no good to them dead. With her wide eyes and steely grimace, the lass looked crazy enough to do anything, like shoot out a window on purpose. The way she kept snapping off wild shots, it was only a matter of time before a bad ricochet cracked a pane and then they were all in with Willy Wright.
“Where’s that cursed Chinaman?” Phinneas bellowed. He’d hired an acrobat for a reason; Feng could move through microgravity better than even the most seasoned full-time spacer.
“Right here, Cappin,” said a small voice from behind him. Phinneas looked up to see Feng pressed flat against the roof of the car. He wore no magnetic-soled boots; in fact, he disdained shoes altogether, and his clever toes could find purchase on even the smooth surface of the glass overhead. He was crazy, though—crazier than a Fulton coalman in bad ventilation. He filed his teeth to make his face a wicked parody of the Ethershark’s namesake, which was disturbing for even the most hardened spacefarer to gaze upon for too long. Phinneas tolerated the man’s eccentricities, though, because of his uncanny ability to dance through a crowded room without a single person laying hands on him.
Phinneas pointed to the door. “Get in there and get her. She couldn’t hit a standin’ barge let alone a twirlin’ Chinaman.”
Feng bared his mutilated grin and placed his hands on the edge of the door, ready to fling himself into the cargo car.
“Feng,” said Phinneas.
The acrobat turned back.
“If you kill her, I’ll personally turn yer insides into chop suey and feed them to the crew for an extra protein ration.”
Feng laughed. “Aye-aye, Cappin.” He flew into the room.
The Chinaman flipped end over end from ceiling to floor, bulkhead to storage rack. It was the kind of motion that no ordinary man should have been capable of, and Phinneas struggled to keep his eyes focused on the whirling freak show.
“Filthy barbares!” The French woman waved the gun like a weathervane in a high wind as she tried to draw a bead upon Feng. He braced a foot for one more twisting leap and the shelf splintered under his mass. He flailed in desperation as the woman pointed the pistol at him and pulled the trigger.
Click.
“Ye are empty, lass.” Phinneas stepped forward into the car.
Pas tout fait!” She grabbed a second gun that he hadn’t seen floating in the air by her waist and trained it on him with a hand that no longer shook in fear. He couldn’t help but admire the wench’s spine. Phinneas raised his hands. He might have been a brute among his men and to others, but he knew when to use a gentle touch. He also saw Feng disappear into the shadows and knew the Chinaman would find his way around to her blind side.
“We aren’t here to kill ye, lass. A man just wants to talk to ye.”
She sniffed. “Men who just want to talk do not hit people over the head, or storm onto trains and steal all the the passengers’ jewelry. You’re pirates.”
Phinneas found her accent charming. “Space is dangerous. We always take a little hazard pay.” A couple of the men snickered from the doorway. He ignored them. “If ye keep slingin’ that gun around here, ye’ll get us all killed. You. Me. That bloke you shot bleedin’ to death in the next car.”
“I don’t care! I’ll never go with you!”
Like a serpent, Feng hung down from an overhead conduit. He was in the perfect position to nab the woman. Phinneas tipped her a slight bow. “Suit yerself.”
Feng scooped his arms under hers, and Cecilie screamed. She reached up and squeezed the popgun’s trigger. The bullet punctured the ceiling of the cargo car, opening a tiny round window to the void outside. Pandemonium erupted among the men, who all tried to flee the car at the same time in a screaming herd of swinging fists to escape to a pressure-sealed train car. Feng kept calm and changed maneuvers, wrapping his the woman’s neck for a few seconds until her eyes rolled back into her head and the gun drifted from her lax hands.
Phinneas hoped she wasn’t dead as he launched himself over to her, ears popping as air whistled out of the hole. After more than a few seconds of this, they’d start to suffer from the bends. Clipped to the leather harness over his shoulders was a tube of tar foam. He yanked it free and squeezed the thick black goo onto the hull breach. The whistle of air became a gloppy, sucking sound, and then ceased altogether.
Feng gave Phinneas a knowing grin. “It just you and me, Cappin.”
The captain grumbled. “Bloody babbies. Ye’d think all of them were still suckin’ at their mothers’ teats.” He turned and roared after the panicky cowards of his crew. “Get yer stinkin’ arses back to the Ethershark!”
The sound of their captain’s fury scared the men into a sense of order once again, and they filed out and down the passenger cars toward the locomotive.
Phinneas turned to Feng. “Take her and go. If she’s damaged, ye’ll breathe vacuum before dinner.”
“Aye, Cappin.”
Phinneas took one final look around to make sure none of his men remained behind. He had no patience for stragglers, but neither would he abandon a wounded crewman if he could help it. Unconscious passengers drifted peacefully as he bounded back through the train toward the ship and salvation. He caught up to Feng at the mouth of the ‘Shark’s toothy proboscis that had chewed in through the bulkhead. They would have to leave it behind, like they did for every raid, but they could always build more from the raw materials available back at their lunar grotto. Feng pushed the unconscious girl through the tube and followed after her. Phinneas took a final look around and then squeezed in as well. Once past the shark’s teeth, he closed and dogged the hatch tight. Yanking on six levers, he separated the tooth module from the rest of the vessel and the Ethershark was free once more to cruise the byways of the void.
Phinneas emerged into the familiar humid heat of the bridge, filled with the acrid scent of sweating men and sharp-smelling lubricant. He turned to Zeric, his First Mate. “Secure the hostage. and make sure her bonds are tight. She’s a fiery one.”
Jeron, one of his spotters, wheeled around from his position at one of the Ethershark’s scopes. “Cap’n! There’s a British Space Guard on an intercept vector! She’s flying flags ordering us to stand to. Her gun ports are open.”
Phinneas laughed. This was always his favorite part of the job—barking orders and thumbing his nose at the law. He had been doing it since he was a young man steering Caribbean sea ships full of smuggled cargo, and it never got old. “That’ll be the Southampton. She patrols these lanes. Flagman!”
“Yes, sir?” The junior pirate Sebastian puffed up his scrawny chest with pride.
“Tell Captain Bartles to kiss me arse.”
Sebastian paused, probably unfamiliar with that particular flag combination. “Aye aye, sir.”“Helm, prepare to come about. Man and extend the cupolas. I want every man in a suit and hat, ready for canned air.” The men had practiced the dress-out drill for many hours until the entire Ethershark crew could be combat ready in under a minute. Phinneas stepped into his own quilted vacuum suit and zipped up the seal. He grabbed a speaking tube. “Engine Room, give me a hundred and five percent pressure. Stand by for hard burn.”
Aft and above the bridge, the engineers began to feed additional fuel and oxygen into the fires that kept the ‘Shark’s twin boilers running hot. The familiar whine of the gyroscopes filled the air and the temperature rose a dozen degrees in as many seconds. Gun crews cranked out the cupolas—small matte-black pillboxes with a single gunner and a gimbal-mounted machine gun that fired bullets embedded in cakes of oxidized gunpowder. The bullets and tracer rounds weren’t of use against the heavy armor of Space Guard cruisers, but they came into their own for point defense against incoming rockets.
“Range, Zeric?”
“Looks like a mile, sir, and closing fast.” The First Mate’s face was glued to the primary periscope.
Phinneas squinted against the glare of Earth through the ‘Shark’s windows, seeking the steam plume from the approaching cutter. He found it in seconds; the Southampton was approaching from a lower orbit. It would have a clear field of fire within seconds of the Ethershark disengaging from the train. “All right, let’s give them somethin’ to worry about. Harpoon crew, stand by. All hands, prepare for maneuverin’ and acceleration. Helm, relative pitch minus ninety. Mark!”
The helmsman pulled a lever, spun a wheel, and kicked a pedal. The Ethershark’s nose dipped downward from the plane of the CR to face the approaching cutter.
“Harpoon, target the train boiler and fire! Lock yer line at two hundred feet. Forward cannons, fire! Helm, stand by.”
The thud of the small charge that launched the magnetic harpoon was dwarfed by the thunderous roar of three cannons firing nine-pound cannonballs toward the onrushing cutter. “Reload!” bawled the chief gunner, and the crews raced to set the cannons for another round, a process complicated by the need for them to fire into vacuum.
“Harpoon set and locked, sir,” called a pirate.
Phinneas grabbed onto a railing to keep from being flung across the bridge. “Helm, ahead full. Harpoon, cut the line on me mark.”
The helmsman pushed the throttle lever forward to its furthest position. The steam pipes throughout the Ethershark clanked and hissed as pent-up pressure found a route to release. The vessel jerked forward, straining against the magnetic harpoon holding it to the train. Phinneas caught a glimpse of the bright Union Jack flag across the Southampton’s prow before the ‘Shark’s linear momentum became an arc with the harpoon at the focus. The ‘Shark groaned at the stresses as she looped underneath the train and back up the other side.
“Cut the line!” shouted Phinneas.
The harpoon crew closed a heavy lever. Gears spun and steel jaws closed upon the cable, shearing it off. The ‘Shark jerked free and cut across the Southampton’s prow at a right angle to the cutter’s course.
Zeric looked up from his scope, a grin creasing his pockmarked face. “Her portside gunports are still closed. Looks like a clean breakaway, sir.”
Phinneas shook his head. “Don’t be so certain. Space Guard isn’t staffed with greenhorns. Helm, set course for the Moon. Spotters, any strikes with our volley?”
“No, sir, no visible damage to the Southampton.”
“Damn it.” Phinneas took over the scope from Zeric. He flicked brass levers and thumbed the wheels, zooming in on the Southampton as she wheeled about to give chase. “Grapeshot. They’ve got gallery windows forward. Maybe we’ll get lucky. Fire as soon as ye are set.”
“Grapeshot, boys, move it!” the chief gunner shouted over the din of the engines. The gunnery crew cranked hard on winches to rotate the cannons out of the firing ports and the scatterguns into place. Sweat flew off the men in a fine mist.
Southampton’s firing rockets,” shouted Jeron. “Five, no six contrails.”
The scatterguns fired, sending a cloud of golf ball-sized iron pellets toward the Space Guard cutter. They couldn’t do much damage to armor, but would wreak havoc upon unprotected steam lines, radiator fins, or windows.
They also made for a reasonably good defensive screen against rockets.
The cupola gunners began firing. The chunka chunka sound carried through the struts, filling the Ethershark with even more racket. Phinneas watched through the scope as tracer rounds flared through space toward the inbound rockets, vanishing into invisibility when their oxidizer burned out. It only took a single bullet to destroy a rocket, and Phinneas’s gunners were skilled.
One contrail vanished. Then another. A third disappeared and Phinneas began to feel a little confident.
The remaining three rockets seemed to explode prematurely, but instead of being destroyed, twelve new contrails flashed toward the Ethershark.
“What the hell are those?” cried Zeric.
“Some kind of multi-stage cluster rocket,” said Phinneas. “Helm, get our belly to ‘em! Pitch minus ninety!”
One rocket shot past the ‘Shark’s starboard portholes, its engine sputtering out. “Maybe they missed,” said Sebastian.
The Ethershark rang like a bell as two hard impacts caught it on the stern. The fleeing ship lurched sideways, flinging men across the cabin like paper in a gale. The helmsman crashed headfirst into the iron hatch wheel hard enough to bend it and shatter his skull like an overripe tomato. Zeric yelped as his arm intersected a bulkhead at an odd angle. Everywhere, men screamed in pain and terror. Steam valves overloaded and burst. Metal bent, wood splintered.
Phinneas couldn’t busy himself with their ails, though. He pulled himself back to the deck, locking his hands around the scope handles. His ears popped, and then popped again. “Bloody hell, we’re ventin’ air! Damage control, find that leak.” He looked at the helmsman’s ruined head and wished he hadn’t. “You, Sebastian. Take the helm.”
“B-but . . . I never . . .” The boy raised his hands in feeble protest.
“Goddamn you, boy, take the helm!”
“Aye aye, Cap’n.” Sebastian pulled himself into the helm station. Phinneas would have preferred Zeric, but the First Mate’s arm was shattered and his pockmarked face was painted with agony.
“Engine room,” called Phinneas into the tube. “What’s our situation?”
No reply.
Phinneas leaned closer to the tube to listen, but heard nothing except a familiar whistling sound. Air was flowing into the tube from the cabin. He grabbed his tarry foam and shot it into the tube. The leak was either in or near the engine room. He hoped the crewmen in there had gotten their helmets sealed before it was too late.
All that would have to wait. The Southampton was still out there, and the Ethershark was wounded. Phinneas didn’t know the extent of the damage, and wouldn’t until they reached the Grotto. And reach it they would. He refused to accept anything less than success.
“Don’t they know we have a hostage, sir?” Sebastian glanced away from the dials and levers of the helm to look back at his captain.
“I doubt it, Sebastian. How bad off are we?”
“I think we’re down to sixty percent pressure. Make that fifty-five, sir. We’re hurt bad. I bet the Southampton’s gaining on us. If she takes another shot, we’re done for.” The boy gasped, struggling to find breath in the thin air.
An idea presented itself to Phinneas. “Then we’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t take one.”
“Sir, I think we’re spinning.” Sebastian’s youthful brow wrinkled in consternation as he tried to interpret the gauges.
“Engines to full stop, Sebastian. Don’t try to correct the spin.” Phinneas looked around the bridge at the rest of the crewmen, already busy with damage control. He couldn’t spare anyone else, so he went to the flag lines and composed a message upon them. He spent the extra time to use individual letters so there could be no misinterpretation in his two-word message: Hostage Aboard. He added the signal flag for Vessel Disabled, and Request Assistance and, swallowing his pride, the white flag of surrender. He inflated a small rubber balloon, tied it to the end of the cable, and fed the cable with its flags into a small airtight case at the edge of the cabin. Air hissed as he pulled the lever to open the case to vacuum. Pulling another lever employed the needle that pierced the balloon. As it deflated, it towed the message out into the void.
“Orders, Cap’n?” Zeric’s voice sounded shaky, but Phinneas knew First Mate was a strong man who could shake off almost anything.
“Everyone we can spare to reroute pressure through undamaged pipes. Give me two gunners on the starboard cannons and leave Sebastian here on the helm.”
“Aye, sir.”
Phinneas ordered the gunners to triple-load the cannons. They tried to argue that doing so could cause them to explode inside the ‘Shark.
“Do as I say or ye’ll ride the next cannonball out,” shouted Phinneas. “Leave the ports closed. Ye’ll be firin’ through them. We’ll get only one shot at this. Best we make it count.” He buried his face against the scope, watching as the Southampton steamed closer.
The Ethershark slowly tumbled through all three dimensional axes. The message cable had unfurled without tangling and so far, the Space Guard cutter hadn’t fired again. Her ports remained open, and Phinneas knew they could unleash a second wave of rockets at a moment’s notice, which would send the Ethershark and everyone aboard to Willy Wright’s Locker for good.
As the ‘Shark spun, Phinneas counted seconds, tapping his fingers on the scope handles in time with the ship’s clock. Every seventeen seconds, the starboard side turned to face the Southampton. He kept the count up. “Stand by for full power. Gun crews ready.”
The clock ticked, and the cabin grew hot and stuffy as the crew worked to halt the steam pressure loss.
“Forty percent power,” whispered Sebastian. “But holding. I-is that enough, Cap’n?”
“It’ll have to be, lad.” Phinneas raised his voice. “They’re close now, men. Stop yer work and brace yerselves. Gun crews, fire on my mark.”
Waiting for the clock, Phinneas tapped his fingers. He had to give the men at least a second to fulfill his order to fire. “Three . . . two . . . one . . . “Mark!” cried Phinneas.
The cannons roared inside their sealed chambers just as the Southampton flashed into Phinneas’s view at nearly point-blank range. One of heavy iron cannons broke from its moorings and crashed against the bulkhead with a collision that rattled the entire ship.
The Southampton’s radiators shredded into thousands of tiny fins as six cannonballs tore into them. “That’s got them,” Phinneas shouted with glee. “Full steam ahead, Sebastian!”
With her radiators destroyed, the British cutter wouldn’t be able to pursue or else the crew would cook from the excess heat. Even firing weapons would add to the thermal risk. The Southampton was disabled, and the ‘Shark, although damaged, was still mobile.
Just the same, Phinneas kept both eyes on the cutter as the Ethershark steamed away, making for the far side of the moon and the pirates’ secret Grotto.

If you like what you've read, be sure to head over to Ian Healy's blog to read Chapter Three! And don't forget to leave a comment here and on the other two chapters to be entered into the drawing for a signed copy.

You may also pre-order a copy for your Kindles now! We hope you'll want to read the whole book and leave us a review after 9/29!

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