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
WHILE THEY WAITED FOR COMMISSIONER BLACKWYN TO arrive, restless quiet fell over the men filling the kitchen. It would not be much longer before they would be able to spring into action, but these last few moments felt like they took years to pass. Hamper himself had subsided into hollow-faced silence.
A fragment of memory wafted through Dale’s mind, dredged up from the depths of his mind where he had tucked it away for future consideration. Now, with a Council member here, surely he would be able to get an answer. “What was the Corona incident?”
The silence permeating the kitchen fractured as though he had pitched a rock into a mirror.
“What?” asked Hawk after an awkward stretch.
Dale met his gaze. “What was it?” He looked around the table. “I’ve heard references to it, but no one’s ever come right out and said what it was.” He shook his head slightly. “Must have been pretty terrible.” He noticed that even Corwin—who had grown up on Rift City and had to know a little bit about it—kept silent.
Everyone’s heads turned to Hamper, who did not look at Dale, but remained contemplating the wall.
Dale waited a moment, and his patience was rewarded.
“The Corona incident refers to the first glitter-oil Platform and its…unfortunate collapse.”
A shudder ran around the room, which Dale did not miss.
Nor did Raphael, who shot Dale a puzzled look before turning back to Hamper. “It collapsed?”
“It had some help.” Hamper’s face grew pale. “We hadn’t reinforced the bottom enough. Streamers got it.” One of his hands made a vague motion. “Pulled it right apart. And then the boilers blew.”
No wonder. Dale blanched, remembering the explosion that had torn the Infinity to shreds.
“Ripped the whole thing right apart. Set us back months and killed a number of men.” Hamper’s mouth twisted into a grimace. “Sivak persuaded the Council to block that section of coast off after that to make sure the Streamers didn’t come anywhere near the Mining District.”
Sharp, sudden realization stabbed into Dale. So that is where the first glitter-oil platform was located. An image of that dark, rain-lashed beach crossed his mind. No trace of that Platform now remained. That explains the setup on the current Platform.
Another thought occurred to him, sending him leaning forward in his chair. “When did this happen? Was it about ten years ago?”
Hamper looked startled. He snapped his gaze from the wall to Dale. “I beg your pardon?”
“On my world, there was a tsunami ten years ago.” The back of Dale’s throat tightened a little. “Wiped out a large section of the coast, including the city where my family lived. It came from the Wild Sea—from the direction of the Rift,” he clarified, for those who had been born in Rift City.
Raphael’s eyes widened alarmingly; he froze with a cup halfway to his lips. “You thought that came from the Rift?”
“Could it have?” countered Dale.
Everyone swung to regard Hamper, who was shaking his head.
“He’s right,” said Corwin. “It’s not possible. The Rift is to the south of Rift City and that first platform was due west.”
“So the tsunami was just a tsunami,” said Dale heavily.
“Aye,” said Hawk. “Just bad luck.” He sent Dale a sympathetic look. “Must have been an earthquake in Demas after all.”
An earthquake. Stunned, Dale sat back heavily in his chair. All these years, I thought the tsunami had something to do with the Wild Sea. He laughed once, without mirth. Who’d have thought it would actually be a mundane reason like an earthquake?
Ten minutes later, a sharp rap on the back door brought them all to their feet. Corwin and Dale exchanged determined looks and moved into the mudroom to take up positions on either side of the door. Both were armed.
“Who is it?” called Corwin.
“It’s me, Brian, sir,” came the reply. “And I’ve got you-know-who with me.”
Corwin opened the door to admit Brian and a tall, wiry man wearing a top hat and a long, brown coat. He shucked both and handed them to Brian, but he waited until Corwin had closed the door to speak.
“What’s this all about, Mr. Hamper?” Commissioner Blackwyn looked Corwin up and down with sharp brown eyes. “You don’t look Disappeared to me.”
“That’s the story, Commissioner,” said Mr. Hamper from the kitchen. “I need your help.”
IT took the better part of an hour to tell the Commissioner the entire story. Blackwyn asked for clarification on several points, and examined Dale and Raphael’s injuries carefully before he agreed to get an arrest warrant from Rift City’s only judge.
“In the meantime,” he said crisply, “I’ll post men around the Square in case anyone decides to cause trouble.”
“Thank you, Commissioner.” Hamper shook his hand gravely.
As he turned to leave, Blackwyn swept his gaze across Dale, Hawk, Raphael, and Corwin. “You’re very fortunate to be alive. I’ve been police commissioner for twenty-three years and in that time the department has never found enough evidence to suggest these Disappearances were actually murders.”
“It couldn’t last forever,” said Dale quietly.
Shaking his head, Blackwyn took his coat and hat from Brian and departed.
Shortly thereafter, the time finally arrived for the rest of them to put their plan into action. They began trickling out of Hamper’s house in twos and threes to avoid drawing undue attention. Dale pulled Raphael and Hawk aside just before they left with Corwin and Hamper, respectively.
“I’ll meet you at the Hospital,” he said in a low voice. “I have something important to do first.”
“Where are you going?” Hawk’s bearded face creased in a frown. “This is not the time to go running off, Mortensen.”
For once, Raphael said nothing. He merely watched Dale with grave eyes.
“I have to tell Naya’s grandmother that her granddaughter is all right.” Dale pulled himself up to his full height. His friends had to understand how important this was. “By now she’ll know Naya didn’t come home last night, and she doesn’t deserve to think Naya’s Disappeared or—” he trailed off, uncomfortable with the implications of those other things. The back of his neck started to burn.
“We’re about to go head-to-head with Sivak and the Council and you’re worried about your girl’s grandmother?” Hawk looked like he wanted to argue, but Raphael clapped him on the shoulder—hard.
“We are concerned about the many as well as the few.” He nodded to Dale. “Go. But keep a sharp eye out.” He smiled grimly. “Naya will not be there to save you a second time.”
With a nod of gratitude, Dale peeled away from them. Trading the relative safety of Hamper’s house for the uncertainty of the walkway outside, he strode toward the closest hanging bridge.
His heart thumped wildly in his chest the whole way to West Lowersedge. If there had been any doubt in his mind that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Naya, it had drowned last night. She loves me. Naya had braved her deepest fear to come after him and save his life.
And if Naya is going to be part of my life, well, so is her grandmother.
Dale knew Naya too well to think she would abandon her Gran. And truth be told, he had come to regard her as a grandmother of sorts to himself as well. A scary, occasionally intimidating old grandmother, but still…
West Lowersedge was full of people going about their business as usual. Few of them paid Dale any attention and he did his best to keep it that way. Providentially, he also managed to avoid running into anyone he knew.
That would be difficult, considering most of them probably think I’ve Disappeared.
The little flat Naya shared with her grandmother came into view and Dale’s heart began to thud even faster. His palms grew damp with nervous sweat; he wiped them on his trousers. Everything is going to be fine, he told himself.
He would just have to dodge any frying pans the old woman launched at him.
Mrs. Azlynn must have been keeping watch at the windows, anxiously waiting for any sight of her wayward granddaughter, because Dale had barely raised a hand to knock before the front door was wrenched open.
“Where is she?” she demanded. “Where is my granddaughter?” She glared up at Dale, fury mixed with fear in her rheumy eyes. “What have you done with her? Ruined her reputation, I’ll warrant!”
This was not a conversation Dale wanted to have on her stoop. “She’s safe.”
Fury won out over fear. Mrs. Azlynn drew herself up to every inch of her diminutive, wrinkled height and opened her mouth to let loose.
Dale cut her off before she could start yelling again. “Let me in and I’ll tell you. It’s important.”
The gravity of his manner did more to take the wind out of the old woman’s sails than anything else. She closed her mouth and stepped aside to let him in, but she was still bristling. If she had been a cat, Dale thought her spine would have been arched and her fur standing on end.
As soon as she closed the door, however, Mrs. Azlynn rounded on him. “Where is she? My Naya went out last night and she never came home.” Her fingers tightened on her cane; she pointed it at him threateningly. “I thought you were an upstanding young man, Dale Mortensen, but it seems I have been sorely mistaken in your character!”
Dale had the feeling she was also disappointed that her granddaughter had not come to confess in person. “I almost Disappeared last night,” he said bluntly. “Naya saved my life and the lives of several other people.”
Given his appearance on her doorstep, Mrs. Azlynn had apparently thrown that possibility right out the window. Now, the blood drained from her wrinkled cheeks and she seemed to crumple in on herself a little. She swayed on her feet; Dale caught her elbow and helped her over to her rocking chair.
“What are you talking about, boy?” she asked hoarsely.
“I don’t have time to tell you everything,” warned Dale, but he told her enough about Elena, Raphael, Peabody, and the dirigible for her to understand. He then took her hands in his own; his fingers greatly dwarfed hers. “Naya saved my life. She’s safe now—and,” Dale cleared his throat; his vocal chords were refusing to cooperated, “I swear to you I will do everything in my power to keep her safe.”
Mrs. Azlynn only looked at him and asked dryly, “Is that all?”
Dale’s heart was now pounding so loudly in his chest that he was surprised the old woman could not hear it. “It’s not the time for me to ask, I know—so many things are about to happen today—but I want you to know—” He swallowed and persevered. “I want to marry your granddaughter. I love her.” He laughed, a little incredulously. “She is…amazing…and if anything had happened to her last night, I would never have forgiven myself.”
“I see.” The old woman’s voice gave nothing away. Very carefully, she disentangled her hands from Dale’s and looked up into his face, clutching her cane. Even kneeling in front of her, he was still taller. “Do you intend to stay in Rift City?” She waved her cane. “Or take this…flying machine back through the Rift to your world?” She grimaced as the words exited her mouth.
“I—” Dale looked away for a second, trying to find the right words. Then his gaze swung back to pin Mrs. Azlynn in place as effectively as if she had been physically glued to her chair. “Yes. I’d like to take Naya to my world. I think she’d love it. I—I think you both would.” He raised his chin, as though daring her to comment on his inclusion of her. “I want to introduce Naya to sunshine and an ocean that doesn’t have Streamers in it.”
There was a brief pause, while he and the old woman stared at each other. Then Mrs. Azlynn heaved a fluttering sigh. “My husband used to tell me about sunshine. He was a sailor from your world, you know.”
Dale nodded. He knew this part of the story.
“He described it, but I could never quite wrap my mind around what it was supposed to look like.” Mrs. Azlynn shook her head slightly. “The closest description that ever made any sense was liquid gold.” Her eyes lost that faraway cast to focus on sharply on Dale again. “And you think you’re going to put me on that flying contraption and take me with you?”
“Yes,” said Dale boldly. “If I can stand to fly on it, so can you.” He smiled at her. “Naya would never forgive herself if we left you behind, and frankly, neither would I.”
Mrs. Azlynn observed him shrewdly. “That sure she’ll say aye, are you?”
A blush rose in Dale’s cheeks, spreading to the tips of his ears, but he nodded. He thought she would. He hoped she would, at any rate.
“Well.” The old woman thoughtfully tapped her cane on the floor. “We have a few things yet to discuss, but I think—” her voice faltered and it was her turn to clear her throat, before she continued briskly, “I think if Naya were to marry anyone, she’d be happiest with you.”
A broad smile spread across Dale’s face; he ducked his head bashfully. He felt relieved and ecstatic all at once. His heart swelled, to the point he should probably have been concerned that it might burst right out of his chest.
“Now, mind you, part of that is the fact that Naya’s such a tall girl that she needs a tall man,” Mrs. Azlynn warned him, but she was smiling too.
Dale climbed to his feet and extended a hand to the old woman. “I can take you to see her. History’s about to unfold here in Rift City.” Also, he had a niggling feeling of danger; he wanted the old woman to be well out of the way should someone come looking for her or Naya before the meeting was announced.
“History! Unfolding in Rift City?” Mrs. Azlynn used her cane to help herself to her feet. “You don’t say much, Dale Mortensen, but when you do…my, you have a way with words.” Her eyes glinted. “All the same, I think I’ll take you up on that offer. I’ve seen enough people Disappear over the years to want to see the truth exposed. And I think you had better start calling me Gran.”
DALE escorted Mrs. Azlynn through West Lowersedge and up to the Square as quickly as he could. They took the Rail and no one bothered them; people now had something better with which to occupy their attention.
Theroux’s plan had begun to unfold.
In every part of Rift City, a large—and rapidly growing—number of men, women, and children were passing out hastily-printed pamphlets and shouting the news about the Revolution’s meeting in the Square. Dale accepted a pamphlet from a twelve-year-old lad with fire in his eyes and scanned it quickly before handing it to Naya’s grandmother.
TRUTH BEHIND DISAPPEARANCES REVEALED! screamed one large headline.
FLYING MACHINE AND HER PILOT FOUND! shouted another. CORRUPTION IN THE COUNCIL!
The top of the page proclaimed, COUNCILMAN HAMPER CALLS CITY MEETING IN SQAURE—9 AM!
Mrs. Azlynn snorted as she folded the paper up into quarters and tucked it into a skirt pocket. “There’ll be no going back from this,” she said ominously. She craned her neck back to peer up at Dale. “Bringing down the regime, are we?”
“I’ve only lived here for a few months and even I can see that things are broken.”
“I hope your friends know what they’re doing,” muttered the old woman. “Otherwise, there’s going to be hell to pay.”
Startled, Dale looked down at her, but Naya’s grandmother only stared straight ahead and took determined steps.
They reached the Square ahead of the bulk of the crowd, and Dale led Mrs. Azlynn around the fringe to the Hospital.
“What are we doing here?” she demanded suspiciously, drawing a little closer to Dale. “Why the Hospital?”
Dale had wondered why Theroux had chosen the Hospital himself, before chalking it up to irony. The Hospital was where he had first regained consciousness after collapsing on the beach; now they were preparing to lead a revolution from its bleach-scrubbed halls. “I’m sure there’s a good reason.”
No sooner had they set foot inside the Hospital than a burly man slouched up against the wall on one side of the room straightened and moved forward to intercept them. Dale did not recognize him, but the shorter man definitely knew who he was.
“They’re waiting for you in the Dragon’s lair, Mortensen.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward a hall.
Dragon’s lair? If he had not been so shocked, Dale would have smiled. This had Raphael all over it—there was only one person in Rift City he called the Dragon. Mrs. Weatherby is helping the Revolution? Shaking off his shock, he looked down at Mrs. Azlynn. “This way…Gran.”
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