Read The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1) Online

Authors: Ava Morgan

Tags: #Curiosity Chronicles, #Book One

The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1) (6 page)

BOOK: The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1)
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Lydia’s voice reached them through the brass speaking trumpet she used to command the automatons. She ordered the front line to send incendiaries out. Sand kicked up from the resulting blast to land unnervingly near.

Rhys felt a rough tug on his sleeve as Malcolm backed away several feet. “What is it?” he asked when he was sure they couldn’t be heard over the din.

“I don’t like the looks of this. You want to transport those volatile machines on the ship?”

“That was the whole point of saving room in the cargo hold.”

Another round of incendiaries exploded. The blasts sent tremors through the ground.

Malcolm bared his teeth at the automatons. “Supposing a breaker shakes one of their gunpowder cartridges loose? Or one explodes and leaves a gaping maw in the hull?”


The Enlightened
faces risks every time it transports cargo. This is no different.” Rhys said the words and knew them to be only half-true. Just that morning he came close to having an automaton’s metal hands clamped around his throat. Should that happen on the ship, he couldn’t very well fire a gun below deck to stop it.

Only Lydia’s distinctive voice would have an effect.

Across the beach she stood behind the defensive line of automatons. The wind assaulted her hair until curls fell over her brow. She hardly noticed as she issued another command for the soldiers to open fire.

A mortar hit the ground seven yards from Rhys’ feet. The device blasted sand and pebbles into the air. Rhys covered his head as debris pelted his arms and rolled into the opening of his shirt collar. “Well, I did ask for a demonstration.”

Malcolm cursed. “The crazed lass did that on purpose.”

Rhys could neither prove nor disprove him. “At least she gave us protective lenses.” He brushed sand from the goggles strapped around his head.

Lydia came running to him, barely acknowledging King Sabba and Nikolaos, who stood far enough way to get no more than sand in their shoes. “I didn’t expect that mortar round to land so close to you.”

Rhys hid a smile. She must have read Malcolm’s mind. “No harm done. Automatons can’t always be perfectly controlled.”

Her eyes flashed at his hinted reference to earlier in the Guild. “I’ll tighten their trajectory. Are you sufficient as well, Mr. Clark?”

“He’s fine,” Rhys answered for Malcolm. “In fact, the bosun inquired about transporting your soldiers aboard the ship. I told him that you’ll make sure to prevent any mishaps.”

“Of course.” Lydia clutched the speaking trumpet at her side. Sea breezes played with her clothing, molding it to her figure. As much as she preferred to dress as a London street urchin while she worked, she was unable to hide that beneath coarse canvas rested the soft curves of a woman.

“Is there anything else you’d like to see, ambassador?” She rested the trumpet against her hip.

He realized she referred to the automaton demonstration. “I’ve seen enough.”

“Enough to sign the agreement?” Nikolaos asked, but Sabba was the one who looked the most eager for an answer.

“Yes, but I have new terms.”

Lydia narrowed her eyes. He supposed he’d have to get used to her frequent expressions of disapproval.

Sabba poured over his copy of the agreement in his hand. “What new terms? You said you were satisfied with the demonstration.”

“The terms are not unduly burdensome, Your Majesty, but it’s clear that no one knows the automatons’ capabilities better than Lady Dimosthenis. I request that she journey to New Britannia with me to oversee their production.”

Malcolm and Nikolaos spoke in unison. “What?”

Lydia jerked her head in Rhys’ direction. Fine lines formed around the otherwise smooth skin of her brow.

“Why does she need to accompany you?” Sabba asked.

“Having Lady Dimosthenis present will ensure that no mistakes are made. She’ll also have peace of mind knowing that no scientist or engineer can abuse her inventions.” Rhys put the full truth of it before them all. “I’ve taken the liberty of drafting an amendment.” He opened the envelope containing the addendum. “Never mind the handwriting.”

Malcolm opened his mouth to blurt out something. Rhys shushed him with a glare before he gained the opportunity.

The king read the addendum before passing it onto Lydia. “Do you understand what Ambassador Cartret requires of you?”

She managed a stiff nod as she read the terms. She sighed heavily and looked to Rhys. “How long am I to be away?”

“Until the first production is complete,” he answered. “You can return to Aspasia afterward, if you wish.”

“I trust you to hold true to these terms, ambassador. Don’t make me regret it.” Lydia gave the addendum back to the king and walked away to return the automatons to the cavern. Her steps were noticeably heavier.

An urge to go after her took hold of Rhys, but he held firm. This was the simplest, most effective way to ensure Lydia’s cooperation. It had to be done.

“We’ll adjourn to the palace,” announced Sabba. “Nikolaos will be witness to the signing.”

“And I for New Britannia,” Malcolm rejoined.

“We’ll meet you there shortly,” said Rhys.

Nikolaos and Sabba were escorted back to the palace by the guards. Malcolm turned on Rhys with a face of complete disbelief. “What was that?”

“What?”

“Don’t play daft. Your new
terms
. The COIC will have your head for bringing that woman to New Britannia without express orders. ”

“It was necessary. Lydia took repeated stance against me about maintaining control of her inventions.”

“Is that why her dainty hand was bandaged with your handkerchief, because she struck you and bruised her fingers?” Malcolm smirked. “I’d not have known but for the overhand knot you commonly use for the sail rigging.”

“She didn’t strike me.” Rhys found himself rushing to explain away the morning’s dalliance in the Guild. “She suffered a minor mishap while handling an automaton. It was before the demonstration.”

Malcolm’s braying laugh started the seagulls that pecked for snails scattered in the mortar blasts. “So you did have a private audience with her after all.”

“And nearly lost my neck in the process.”

“A feisty one, is she?”

“Get your head out of the bilge water. Lydia keeps the automatons in the Guild. She showed them to me and one happened to go on the attack.” Rhys ran his hands through his hair, feeling grit and sand in his scalp. “She burned her hand while attempting to stop it. I’m to blame.”

“How?”

“I shot the automaton at close range. A poor solution, given the machine’s tendency to leak hydraulic fluid. Oh.” Rhys blurted out the last thing Malcolm needed to hear.

The bosun wagged his head with force. “Those monstrosities cannot be put on the ship. We’ll be sent to a watery grave or burnt to cinders.”

“Pray that we don’t, Malcolm. Our interests rest upon Lydia’s inventions.” Rhys’ eyes followed Lydia before she disappeared over the hill. “Let’s get this agreement signed before more amendments have to be made.”

 

#

 

The purchase agreement weighed heavily on Lydia’s mind, although it rested light as sea foam in her hand when she added her name to the collection of signatures.

She brooded as Rhys took the agreement from her and handed the duplicate transcription to King Sabba. Rhys gave her exactly what she wanted. That, and so much more. She shook her head in a bemused state. She thought herself capable of playing for her country in the ambassador’s game of high stakes when he so elegantly overturned her hand.

Rhys tucked the envelope under his arm and stood to leave the counsel room of the palace. “We set sail in six days. Have the automatons and your belongings ready to load onto the ship in five. Malcolm will give further instructions.”

The burly bosun, witness to the signing, had a frown frozen in stone for Lydia.

She had yet to tell her parents of her impending journey. Her hands grew cold at the prospect, and worse, having to part for an indefinite amount of time.

Lydia took the path to her residence once the signing ended. The windows were raised and the aroma of soup wafted outside. She concealed her bandaged hand in her pocket as she approached her mother inside.

Iris sat rigid in the chair before the door, a cup of tea on the table beside her. “Something has happened to you.”

Lydia exhaled. She never could hide much from her mother. “The ambassador requires that I go to New Britannia to oversee the automaton production.”

Her mother sat mute for several moments as the teacup beside her sent curlicues of steam through the still air. “You must do what he says,” she said, finally.

Lydia didn’t expect her mother be so acquiescent. “This sits well with you?”

“I don’t wish for my daughter to journey over a thousand miles from me, but you have your duty to the king and to Aspasia. Was this part of the agreement?”

“I pressed the ambassador to let me retain control of the automatons. He gave me my wish, but this is his way of making sure I don’t cheat New Britannia of its investment. He doesn’t trust me.”

“You would do the same if the roles were reversed.”

“That’s not true.” Lydia raised her eyes and saw her mother’s amused expression. “Well, I wouldn’t be nearly so smug about it.”

Iris sipped tea. Lydia noticed her hands trembled. “Well, let’s be practical. You should think about what you will take with you. I hear New Britannia can get very cold in winter.”

“It’s the journey I worry about.” Lydia pictured the great expanse of ocean she would traverse in order to sail north. There was much to prepare for and not enough time. “I’ll write often,
mana
.”

Her mother cast a glance out the window towards the sea. “I will settle for often enough. If the ambassador is as demanding as you describe him, your hands will be very full.”

Beneath the secure binding of Rhys’ handkerchief, Lydia’s injured hand smarted.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

Within the end of the week, Lydia stood on the shore on the eve of her voyage to New Britannia, observing as the automatons were hoisted onto Rhys’ ship.

Rhys supervised his six-man crew on deck. In stark contrast to his calm was Malcolm, roaming about the ship and giving orders for transporting the automatons to the cargo hold. His shouts carried.

“One at a time. Those cable wenches canna support the weight of two automatons at once. Finley, Smythe, have care not to drag them. I swear, you’ll send this ship up in flames before the anchor’s raised.”

Lydia shook her head. Before the crew began loading the cargo, she told Malcolm how a simple command would enable the automatons to walk to the cargo hold on their own.

He had flat refused her suggestion. “There’ll be no machines roaming freely about the vessel on my watch.”

She continued to stand by as the crew loaded the remaining automatons on board. She sensed Rhys’ stare wash over her.

Not too long after, he called. “Come see how the crew placed the automatons in the cargo hold. We don’t want them falling over when we reach open waters.”

A stout, grizzle-haired crewman by the name of Thomas rowed her to the ship. She climbed the rope ladder. Rhys took her hand and helped her as she swung over the rail. Her skin tingled where he touched the tender flesh of her still healing hand.

Three crewmen made way for her to walk across the deck, their faces wary. She passed Finley, the sailor who intruded upon the Guild six days ago. He steeled his jaw and strode to the navigation room on the quarterdeck.

“I thought most ships of this size need a full crew,” Lydia remarked to Rhys.

“Because the engine handles most of the operations, a large crew is unnecessary.” He led her down to the lower levels, where it was dark, cool, and confined.

She appraised the ship’s interior. The wooden floor was reinforced with metal rivets running along the sides and reinforcing the middle. The walls were lined with metal. She ran a finger down the section of the wall. Cannonry on the outside. Bessemer steel lining on the inside. Would the fate of the
Donna Dulce
been different if it was outfitted like this vessel?

Lydia abandoned her speculation as Rhys ushered her down to a third deck level and through a wide door to the cargo hold. Lydia ducked her head under the low ceiling beams, straightening again when they gave way to an arched middle. She crossed the floor, much of it piled with crates labeled as containing silks, china, and spices from Aspasia’s marketplace. The sweet smell of licorice competed with earthy saffron.

“The automatons are against the wall to the right.” Rhys directed to a row of canvas-covered objects. “Malcolm thought it best to store them where the extra weight would be evenly distributed.”

“They should do well so long as they don’t shift. One of my trunks is open.” Lydia pointed to a small steamer case, where two texts and a notebook had fallen out. “I must not have latched it properly.”

Rhys picked up the binder. “Who is G. Dimosthenis?”

Lydia paused in placing a text atop a pile of mechanical engineering tomes. “Galen Dismothenis. My husband.”

His gaze came to rest on the bare fourth finger of her left hand. “You never said you were married.”

“He is deceased.” She watched Rhys carefully as she divulged additional facts. “He helped me become a Guild member. We collaborated on the automatons initially.”

A note of compassion shown in his eyes. He held the binder out to her. “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t know.” What would he think of her now that he knew she was a widow? Lydia closed the trunk and made sure the latch was secure. She then reached in her pocket and produced his handkerchief, washed and neatly folded into a square. “I need to return this to you.”

He accepted it without a word.

“I should go home and finish packing.” Why did it always sound as though she needed to make excuses to leave his presence?

“We leave at first light.” Rhys moved the trunk into a corner where it couldn’t tip over. “Get plenty of rest.”

Knowing sleep would not come easily on her last night in Aspasia, she bent her head to exit the low door of the cargo hold.

BOOK: The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1)
3.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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