In a world of steamships and Progress, no one who sails due south across the Wild Sea ever returns.
No one knows why.
Dale Mortensen intends to solve the mystery. With the help of an old sailor and a reformed playboy searching for his missing sweetheart, he locates a captain and crew ambitious—not to mention crazy—enough to undertake the journey across the Wild Sea.
The Infinity and her crew sail south, but the truth of what really lies on the other side of the horizon is more amazing—and terrifying—than anything they can imagine.
It’s the adventure of a lifetime—and it may just get Dale and his friends killed.
Find out how this Young Adult steampunk adventure unfolds chapter-by-chapter every Thursday! Click here to start from the beginning. Or if you want to read it at your own pace, buy the ebook for $6.99 from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords or Sony, or get it as a trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Book Depository.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HORIZON
E. R. PASKEY
A DIZZYING SENSE OF DÉJÀ VU FELL over Dale as he followed Raphael and Peabody out into the cavern that housed the dirigible. The ropes and weights had been replaced, anchoring the dirigible. Intellectually, he knew they were only repeating everything they had done earlier this evening, but it still left him feeling unsettled.
Peabody made a beeline for the hatch in the bottom deck of the gondola, but Dale turned to Hawk. “Have them keep an eye on all the entrances in here so Sivak can’t catch us off-guard again.”
Hawk nodded and turned away to bark commands.
Dale noticed Raphael swaying on his feet, like he was either drunk or aboard a ship being tossed by high waves. He steered his friend around the gondola to the other side and then through an open hatch into what looked like a small cargo area before pressing him down on a large box. “Raph, have a seat.” Before Raphael could protest, he added, “You’re no good to us if you keel over.”
Raphael jerked his head toward a compartment behind them at the prow, where they could hear Peabody muttering to himself. “Dale, he needs help if we are to get out of here quickly!”
Something settled into place inside Dale; he nodded once and squared his shoulders. “I’ll do it.”
“You’ll do what?”
“I’ll help him.” Dale prickled at his friend’s disbelieving tone.
Raphael’s dark eyes widened, and then he grinned. “I knew you would come around eventually, my friend.”
“Rub it in, why don’t you?” grumbled Dale, but he strode across the cargo hold to the pilot compartment and addressed Peabody. “How can I help?”
Peabody barely spared him a glance; his attention was fixed on checking the dials and strange clockwork gears laid out before him. A large wheel was mounted in front of a wide glass porthole. “You’re the one Avarez said was an engineer?”
“You’ll do. Start the engine and make sure Sivak hasn’t done anything to it, will you? Engine room is to the aft.” Peabody frowned slightly. “I don’t suppose you know where your friend plans to take us? I’m concerned about that blasted wind. A wind gust is what got me into this mess in the first place, you know.”
Dale considered quipping that actually, flying across the Wild Sea and through the Rift was what had gotten Peabody into trouble, but as he himself had done something similar, he let it lie. Instead, he said, “I don’t think you need to worry. If anybody knows Rift City’s coast, it would be Corwin.”
Leaving the pilot compartment, Dale headed back across the cargo hold and entered another hatch to find a compact engine room. Here, at least, was familiar territory. “He’s got a flash boiler,” he muttered to himself, looking things over.
“What was that?” called Raphael.
Dale did not answer; he was too busy marveling at his own stubbornness. All these months, I never realized how similar dirigibles’ engineering is to steamships. Smiling wryly to himself, he set about starting the engine.
“Gate’s open!” called out Corwin as he boarded the dirigible. “We’re ready when you are.”
“Get everyone aboard,” Peabody shouted back.
Through the open hatch, Dale watched their team pile into the cargo hold. When Peabody emerged from the pilot compartment, he left the engine room long enough to hear what was being said.
“This will be tricky.” Peabody rubbed his hands together. “Very tricky. The gasbag’s outer covering is rubber, but I would prefer to avoid tearing it on a rock on our way out.”
Corwin looked at him. “But you can do it.”
“Of course I can.” Peabody straightened his spine, looking vaguely affronted. “Managed to fly it in here in the first place, didn’t I?”
Dale felt a gentle shift beneath his feet, one he had hitherto only associated with stepping onto a boat. He blinked and had to clear his throat before he could speak. “Are we—are we off the ground?”
Peabody glanced out the nearest porthole. “Yes, we are. Finally.”
Raphael let out a small whoop.
“Gentlemen, I suggest you head up to the observation deck and find a seat.” Peabody nodded to a ladder-like staircase on the other side of the cargo hold. “We’re in for a rough ride, I’m afraid.”
Most of the men looked to Hawk, who nodded. “Go on,” he said gruffly.
“You’re not going with them?” asked Dale.
Hawk shook his head. “Rather be in the engine room.”
“Speaking of the engine,” said Peabody, “I will be controlling it from the helm.” He nodded to the pilot compartment. “The dirigible was designed with that specifically in mind. I will just require one of you to keep the engine running.”
“We’ll do that,” said Dale.
Peabody disappeared into the pilot compartment; Corwin and Raphael trailed after him.
“Here we go,” muttered Hawk.
Heart in his throat, Dale could only nod in agreement.
They returned to the engine room while Peabody flew the dirigible out of the cavern. The instant the wind hit them, the dirigible rocked violently. Dale had to brace himself against the wall and the ceiling to keep from falling over. Hawk was not as fortunate; he slammed into the inboard wall with a thud and a muttered curse.
“You’ve been away from a ship too long, Hawk.” Dale flashed him a tight smile. “Got to get your sea legs back.” This was not quite the same as rocking on an ocean, but it was close enough that he could almost forget they were rapidly rising above the water.
“Sea legs?” Hawk snorted in disgust. “Air legs, more like.” Behind his dark beard, his face drained of all color. “Good God, Dale, what have we gotten ourselves into?”
“Too late to think about that now.”
Another violent gust of wind made the dirigible shudder, but this time they were ready for it. Dale cast a longing look at the pilot compartment; he wanted to know what was happening.
He turned back to Hawk to find the other man waving him out of the engine room. “I’ll take care of this, Mortensen. Go on.”
Dale took him at his word. “Thanks, Hawk.”
He half-walked, half-stumbled across the cargo hold to the pilot compartment, and found Raphael assisting Peabody while Corwin looked on in amazement.
Rain lashed the large portholes, obscuring what little remained of their visibility with watery trails. Raphael hung one of the lanterns they had taken from the cavern on a hook protruding from the center of the ceiling and motioned for Dale to take one of the four chairs that had been bolted to the deck.
“Corwin?” asked Peabody, without looking away from his instruments.
“Yes, sir?” Corwin stepped forward.
“Need you to guide me toward this cove of yours.” Peabody grimaced. “Flying will be nigh impossible in this weather, but I’d almost rather wreck my girl than have Sivak put his grimy hands all over her again.”
“I do not blame you,” said Raphael. Beneath his brown skin, he was very pale. Dale suspected one or two of his wounds were bleeding again, but there was little he could do about it now.
The next half an hour was the longest of Dale’s life, save for their stint being staked out on the river for Streamers. Watching Peabody fight against the wind to keep the dirigible headed around the side of Rift was the most tedious, nerve-wracking thing Dale had ever experienced. It was worse than the danger of being shipwrecked, because at least with a shipwreck, if you survived the initial explosion you had a chance of using wreckage to keep yourself afloat.
If we crash… Dale cut that line of thought off at the knees. He could not afford to let his mind wander in that direction.
Using a compass and a crude map Corwin roughed out on the back of another map, Peabody guided the dirigible through the black storm. Every so often, Corwin would leave the compartment to peer out one of the portholes in a dark part of the dirigible to see if he could distinguish any features of the coastline. Or see the coastline at all.
Raphael acted as Peabody’s assistant, but since Dale was reluctant to return to the engine room, all he could do was sit on his hands and pray. He experienced several moments when he thought they were as good as dead.
“Here’s the cove!” said Corwin sharply. “Peabody, bring us around and set her down. She should fit—and the rocks should protect us from the wind.”
Peabody complied, but in this gale it was difficult to be as precise as he wanted. The dirigible banged into something and scraped alongside it, her metal hull making a terrible shrieking noise in the process. A great shudder wracked the dirigible, startling everyone on board, but she held together.
Dale forced his hands to unclench as Peabody gently lowered the dirigible to the water. “I didn’t know dirigibles could float.”
“Of course they can.” Peabody patted his steering wheel fondly. “She was designed to be set down in water, if ever a need for it should arise.”
“I, for one, am honored to have finally gotten a chance to travel aboard a dirigible.” Raphael nodded solemnly to Peabody and raised himself back to his feet. No sound escaped his lips, but the skin around his mouth and eyes tightened with pain.
I’d tell him he ought to be in the Hospital, if I thought he’d listen. Dale settled for shaking his head. His friend was far too stubborn for his own good at times. He unfolded himself from his seat and stood to his full height. His hair just brushed the ceiling. “Where to now?”
Raphael opened his mouth, but Corwin spoke first. “We visit my father.”
“We are not taking Peabody.” Raphael shot his former rival a sharp look. “He stays with the dirigible and out of the Council’s hands.”
Corwin held out his hands. “That is acceptable.”
“Hawk!” Raphael raised his voice. When the other man appeared in the doorway, he asked, “Are you coming to see Hamper?”
Hawk’s mouth tightened. “You had better believe it.”
“Good. Put somebody in charge of guarding Peabody and the dirigible.” Raphael looked back at Peabody. “You do not mind staying here for now?” It was not exactly a question, but Peabody answered it anyway.
“Not at all. It’s good to be out of that cell.” He smiled slightly. “I would prefer to avoid any situations that might end with me back in it. Again.”
No one laughed.
THE trek back to Rift City was only slightly less arduous than anything else they had done thus far. They were drenched the instant they set foot outside the dirigible; even Dale was shivering by the time they reached the shelter of the glitterglass ceilings.
He matched Raphael’s pace—which had flagged; his friend was running out of expendable energy—and leaned in close to him. “Think Sivak will have men watching Hamper’s house?”
“Possible, but not likely,” muttered Raphael in response. “What reason would he have? For all Sivak knows, Corwin is dead. For all Hamper knows, his son is out on yet another rescue mission.”
“Best be careful, just the same.” Dale moved closer to Hawk and relayed their conversation. Hawk nodded in understanding and Dale moved back to keep an eye on Raphael.
The Four Families’ houses were scattered across both East and West Uppersedge—the best, safest part of Rift City. Though he had now lived in Rift City for a number of months, Dale had never been this far north before. He had never had a reason; unlike Raphael, he had not been propelled by either curiosity or a desire to deck the man vying for his love’s affections.
They headed into West Uppersedge and Corwin led them down a narrow walkway to his home’s back entrance on Level 2. “I don’t carry a key with me when I’m out on patrol,” he explained in hushed tones. “Never know when I’m going to be back, and I can’t risk losing it.” He rapped sharply on the door in a series of prearranged long and shorts.
After a brief pause, a peephole latch slid aside. “Who is it?” asked a suspicious male voice.
“It’s me, Brian,” said Corwin. “Open up.”
“Right away, sir.” The voice lost its hostility and instead sounded relieved. “Glad you’re back. That storm sounds something wicked.” Another roll of thunder punctuated his words.
Dale glanced instinctively up at the sky, before looking to his left. His eyes found Hawk’s and they shared a silent nod. If Corwin’s man did not let them in, they would storm the door by force.
The heavy back door swung open and Corwin passed through the doorway into the house. When Brian attempted to shut the door, however, he found his way barred. “What’s this?” he asked in alarm, as Raphael, Dale, and the others streamed into the house. The candle in his hand wavered as he peered at the men now crowded into the small mudroom. He was a stocky, middle-aged man with worry lines etched into his forehead.
“Friends of mine,” said Corwin. “Nothing to worry about, Brian. Is Father in bed?”
“Far as I know. What’s all this about, sir?”
“Tell you in a minute. But first, I need you to go up and wake my father. Tell him it’s about me, but don’t tell him that any of us are here.”
“Young sir—” began Brian.
Corwin cut across him. “This is important, Brian. Life or death.”
Brian looked at him for a second, before he blew out a short breath and ducked his head. “I’ll tell him, sir.”
“Thank you. But remember, do not tell him I’m here.”
Brian squeezed past Dale and Hawk to turn the corridor, and in a few seconds his footsteps could be heard ascending the back staircase.
Corwin turned to Dale, Raphael, and Hawk. “I’m going to step out of sight over here.” He motioned to a door leading off to the left over his shoulder. “Tell my father that Elena, her father, and I have all Disappeared.” His face was very grim in the dim light cast by the flickering candle Brian had left behind. “I want to see his reaction.”
Dale felt a twinge of sympathy for him.
A moment later, hurried footsteps rushed down the staircase. Corwin ducked out of sight just as Brian returned with an older man Dale recognized from his meeting with the Council. Mr. Hamper, Sr.
The man was belting his dressing gown around his waist, but his expression was fierce. “What’s happened?” he demanded without preamble. A quick glance told him that his son was not in the mudroom. “Where is my son?”
“Disappeared,” said Dale bluntly. “Along with Elena Mountebank and her father.”
Find out how this Young Adult steampunk adventure unfolds chapter-by-chapter every Thursday! Or if you want to keep reading right now, buy the ebook for $6.99 from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords or Sony, or get it as a trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Book Depository.
Copyright © 2013 E. R. Paskey