Read The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1) Online

Authors: Ava Morgan

Tags: #Curiosity Chronicles, #Book One

The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1) (15 page)

BOOK: The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1)
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“How would you know such a thing?”

“Because I told him the night after Cartret sent him to the brig.” Finley rejoined the conversation. “I’m sure Cartret didn’t share his history while he was busy seducing you.”

Lydia swallowed a lump in her throat. That was why Rhys grew angry with her when she demanded to know more about him. He possessed the background of the very type of man she despised.

But he also changed his life for the better. He was no longer a pirate.

Finley snickered. “How does it feel knowing your charming diplomat is a criminal?”

She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of disgracing Rhys’ memory. She drew herself up. “You misinterpret my silence as an admission of shame. I still hold respect for your captain.”

“He is not my captain.” Finley placed his hands under the table. His shoulders convulsed as anger tightened his muscles. “I am now captain.”

Lydia’s outrage and sorrow at Rhys’ passing gave her courage to voice the truth. “If Rhys did have a history of piracy, his crimes have been paid for. He’s not the one committing treason at this moment.”

Finley whipped his arm from under the table. Lydia found Rhys’ pistol in her face. “You have no idea what you speak of.”

Lydia’s heart pounded in her ears, almost as loud as Finley’s breathing as he bristled up at her. Duncan pressed his gun to the back of her head again.

“Forgive Lady Dimosthenis, please, Captain Finley,” Nikolaos interjected. “She’s sustained a blow to the head. She’s not thinking clearly. Let me guide her in the new agreement.”

Lydia always suspected Nikolaos of being disloyal to her uncle. His words now confirmed it.

Hours seemed to go by before Finley lowered his weapon. Duncan did the same, as Lydia felt the pressure of the gun barrel at her skull fall away.

“Listen to your adviser.” Finley’s voice fell to a vicious rasp as he set the gun on the table. “This ship is set on a course for Le Havre as we speak. Once the automatons are in Broussard’s possession, you and Lord Abeiron are free to take your money and return to Aspasia.”

Nikolaos muttered in her ear “Do it.”

Lydia inched away. “What will you do after this is over, Finley?”

“Once I receive my share of the money, I’ll take this ship and the crewmembers that choose to follow me. I hear the Americas are hospitable to expatriates.”

“I won’t stand guilty of treason.”

“I’m sick of hearing that word.” Finley picked up the gun again. “I tried being civil with you. I can still sell the automatons to Broussard without your permission.”

“May I advise Lydia?” Nikolaos piped in.

Finley kept the gun pointed at her. “Do so, but remain seated.”

Nikolaos spoke in hushed Greek. “Agree to give Broussard the automatons, Lydia. You can claim that it was done under duress. Sabba will understand.”

She was forever amazed at how Nikolaos could so deftly weave ruinous circumstances together and come out with perfectly patterned plans of escape. How dare he dismiss everything she worked for Aspasia to gain? She reverted to Greek as well. “This is a lose-lose situation. Aspasia will make an enemy of New Britannia if I disregard the true agreement.”

“You have no other choice but to be killed.”

Finley cocked the pistol hammer, making Lydia draw her eyes to him. “I’m guessing that Lord Abeiron is trying to convince you that dying is a poor alternative. I couldn’t agree more. Now, Lady Dimosthenis, you have a decision to make.”

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

Atlantic Ocean, twenty-two knots out from Portugal

 

Rhys shook the bars of his cell in aggravation as Thomas administered another round of chloroform on his crew. “How do you intend to make them follow Finley if they aren’t awake?”

The deck hand removed a wad of cloth containing the ether solution from under O’Neil’s nose. He let the engineer droop against the wall. “That’s Captain Finley’s worry. I just do as I’m told and give ‘em their hourly dose of medicine.” He tucked the rag and bottle of chloroform back in the leather pouch hanging from his belt.

Anger clouded Rhys’ vision as he looked again at his unconscious crew. Anxiety soon trumped that reaction when he thought about Lydia. Was she still asleep in her quarters, oblivious to all that took place below her?

He had to get to her somehow. But first, a way out of the cell.

He studied the lock on the door. If only he had a pick. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the habit of stowing such a handy little tool in his boot while he was on board his own ship. Then again, he and the crew weren’t in the habit of being the victims of mutineers, either. New procedures would have to be adapted as soon as he got out of this fix.

“Why are you so quiet?” Thomas’ bellow jarred him out of contemplating the intricacy of the cell’s lock and his mild lapse in resourcefulness. “You’d better not be thinking of how to break out of that cell.”

The deck hand was more astute than he let on. Rhys stepped away from the front of the cell. His back ached something fierce from having to stoop over for so long. “I was thinking.”

“About what? Being a prisoner again?” Thomas laughed at his own poor joke.

“The irony wasn’t lost on me. But, no. I was thinking about something else.”

Thomas came closer to the cell. “What?”

“How poorly you would fare at Coldbaths.”

That took him aback. “I’m not going to prison.”

“You will when you stand trial before the admiralty courts. Being an accomplice to a crime is just as bad as committing it yourself.”

“You would know, wouldn’t you?”

Perhaps another approach would yield a more effective result. Rhys waited for the deck hand to finish his second round of chuckles. “You don’t have to do this, Thomas. You can end the mutiny.”

Thomas wiped his nose on the back of his hand. “Why would I want to do that? Finley said he’ll make me bosun. Don’t see you offering me no better deal.” Shaggy brown hair fell into his eyes when he lowered his head to launch another wad of spittle into the cell.

Rhys stepped away from where the phlegmy trajectory landed. “I can keep you out of prison when I hand Finley over to the authorities.” That was if he didn’t cause monumental harm to him first, and
that
centered upon whether Finley touched Lydia.

Rhys’ blood stilled as Thomas moved towards the brig entrance. If he left, there went with him the only chance for escape.

To his relief, Thomas stayed and leaned against the door. “You’ve always been a cocky one, haven’t you, Cartret? You think you’ll make it home? You can’t even make it out of that cell.”

“Give me the key, and I will see that you aren’t subjected to the same punishment as Finley. You have my word.”

“Even if I had the key, I wouldn’t let you out. You’d try to get one back on me for that fist to the head.”

Try wasn’t even the word. Rhys wished Thomas would step within reach where he could grab him through the bars and shove his head against them. But that was a bit pointless, seeing as how he’d still be confined to his cell with no way of getting out. “Why would Finley put you in charge of guarding prisoners without giving you a key? He must not trust you.”

Thomas’ face fell at that. “Not true. I’m stronger than Duncan. Finley said it’d be best for me to guard four men while he and Duncan tended to the woman and Nikolaos upstairs.”

Rhys’ stomach knotted around itself. “What do you mean ‘tend to’?”

“Be a kipper if I knew. Some bother about making a deal with them over those soldiers.”

Finley must be forcing Lydia to give him the automatons. The implications of such a move flashed in Rhys’ mind. That would instantly make Finley the owner of some of the most advanced weapons in the world.

Rhys’ inability to prevent the
Donna Dulce
tragedy slapped him in the face once again. He couldn’t live with the weight of bringing destruction to more people. Every minute that he wasted in this cell, Finley had more opportunity to cement a hold on the ship, affairs of state, and the woman he cared for.

Rhys blinked as the realization came to him. From the first time he saw the dancing gleam in Lydia’s eyes when she showed him her automatons to that night after the storm when she lingered in his arms, she took up residence in his mind and heart. No other woman possessed her unique intelligence and deep dedication to make life better for those around her. He couldn’t help but be drawn to her. Her very nature was one of progression and hope.

Rhys lowered his head. He dealt too strictly with Lydia, especially in denying her the manufacturing license to profit from her inventions. How could he be so shortsighted and selfish, focusing only on his goals when she aided him twice without hesitation?

He admired her for her persevering spirit. Now he just had to get out of the brig so he could tell her and make things right.

He rapped on the cell bars to get Thomas’s attention. The deck hand amused himself by burrowing into an ear with his pinkie. “Thomas, I’ve always treated you fairly on this ship. Finley will not be so democratic.”

Thomas stopped digging in his ear. Hope seized Rhys, and he continued to make his case. “A woman is in danger. Help me see her to safety.”

“For the last time, Cartret, you can just go and—”

The room shook without warning. Thomas lost his footing and fell. The chains suspending Rhys’ cell to the rafters rattled.

A second rumbling issued through the ship’s foundation beams.

“What was that?” Thomas rose on his hands and knees, bilge soaking his chin from where he had fallen face first in the muck.

“Your guess is as good as mine.” Rhys reached for his pistol and came up with nothing. A lot of good his instincts did him when he was without a firearm.

He stilled as a third, smaller crash resounded. Wood splintered.

Thomas gained a foothold along the floor beams and listened. “It’s coming from the cargo hold. I hear steps. It’s the mechanical soldiers.”

Rhys heard a series of noises, too. It did sound like approaching footsteps. Heavy ones. “Their engines were disabled before they were taken aboard. This is something else.”

The bars on Rhys’ cell moved with the vibration. The cell swayed atop the muck. Whatever made such a resonance was not small. “Finley and Duncan must be tinkering with something, but what?”

The heavy staccato beat of the unknown sound grew clearer. It was coming towards them, slow in the advance but nonetheless steady. The steps ended at the door. The door rattled on its hinges.

Rhys shot a look at Thomas. “Is it locked?”

Thomas shook his head multiple times.

Rhys kicked at the padlock of the cell, serving only to make his holdings rock forward like a child’s swing. “You still think you’re going to be bosun?”

The deck hand gave a shout as the door hinges flew off. The heavy door teetered within its frame before it came crashing onto the ground. Rhys saw an outline of a hulking figure in the entrance.

The entity moved forward. It appeared to have no head as the light from the room lantern highlighted a seven-foot span of torso, arms, and legs, all armor-plated. The frame of the doorway cracked where it applied substantial force to the structure. Metal creaked and bent as rivets sprang loose from their holds.

“She’s done it. She’s set her machines on us,” Thomas’ cry echoed in the brig.

Rhys gave the padlock another kick. Thomas was in a much better position. At least he could make a run for it instead of playing parakeet.

The clockwork hybrid automaton broke through the frame, sending wood and iron fissuring into the room. It ignored the unconscious forms of the crew. It turned its faceless head Thomas’s way, eliciting a scream from him.

“Get a hold of yourself.” Rhys attempted to project his voice calmly as he recalled his previous encounter with the automaton in the Machinists Guild. “You’re drawing its attention by shouting.”

“It’s going to kill us.”

“Not if you stay quiet and keep still.”

Thomas clamped his mouth and stood locked in place as a rabbit sighting its predator. Rhys’ cell swayed back and forth. The chain creaked and groaned. Despite the noise, the automaton did not turn from Thomas’s direction. Rhys squinted. How did it become functional if no one touched it?

But he did tinker with it. Just hours ago, he wound up the gear mechanism in the automaton’s back after he shoved it back into place. He remembered that he talked to himself while doing so. The automaton must have made an imprint of his voice. That meant...

“Get away from me. Keep back,” Thomas shouted to the automaton as he began running to Rhys’ cell. The automaton locked on him.

Rhys’ prior cautions to keep still and quiet had no effect on Thomas as he attempted to climb the cell. Thomas grabbed the suspension chain. The chain jerked and broke away from the rafters.

Rhys grunted as the cell made impact with the uneven floor beams and landed on its side with Thomas still clinging to it. Now Rhys couldn’t crouch, much less stand. He saw the automaton’s crushing metal feet within an arm’s length away.

The machine seized Thomas by the back of the shirt and plucked him off the cell as though he were a tick on a dog’s back. Free of the extra weight, the cage rolled inches away from the automaton.

Rhys clutched the bars as he watched Thomas dangle in the air. The deck hand’s head scraped the ceiling as the automaton suspended him in its iron grasp. It raised its other hand, coming towards Thomas’s face. Rhys’ pulse sped as he saw that it intended to crush him.

He called at the top of his lungs. “Stop.”

The automaton’s head swiveled down to look at Rhys, but its hand didn’t pause.

Rhys told it to stop again, only this time he remembered to say the word in Greek.

The automaton dropped the hand that would have crushed Thomas’s face. All the while, it kept its sensors on Rhys, waiting for his next command.

“Drop him,” Rhys ordered in the same language.

Thomas landed on his bottom in the muck at the machine’s feet. He didn’t waste time as he scrambled between the automaton’s legs and ran out the brig.

BOOK: The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1)
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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