Today was scheduled to be the release date for The Daedalus Incident, but since that’s been delayed, I’m pleased to introduce The Gravity of the Affair, a novella set in the Known Worlds setting shared by the novel.
The following is the start of the novella, and I’ll likely continue posting excerpts, in order, every so often between now and whenever Daedalus launches. Ultimately, I do have plans for this work, and I probably won’t post the entire thing. But since everyone’s been so awesome in supporting me while the Night Shade acquisition slogs along, I wanted to share something by way of thanks. Enjoy the read and, if you like it, be sure to tell others about it!
In Horatio Nelson’s opinion, there was very little to recommend the icy moon of Europa. Damnably cold and unsparingly bleak, the horrible little snowball was buffeted by terrible winds that drove ice and snow into every stitch of Nelson’s greatcoat as his ship plowed through its frigid seas. Even the sight of great Jupiter, a looming, Falstaffian presence in this part of the Known Worlds, was obscured by altogether too many shades of white and grey.
He would see Jupiter soon enough, however. That was enough to keep him warm for the time being. That…and knowing that he was well upon the trail of his quarry.
A young officer rushed up the two steps to the quarterdeck—or what passed for a quarterdeck on a ship as small as HMS Badger—and saluted Nelson. To be fair, the midshipman was but three years younger than Nelson. But it was Nelson who wore the braid upon his shoulder that signified his status. At the age of twenty, Nelson was master and commander of this ship, and of the ninety souls aboard.
“Report, Mr. Cruger,” Nelson said crisply.
George Cruger stood tall despite the gust of wind that sent icy spray into his face, though he kept his hand upon his tricorn hat to keep it from blowing overboard. “Lookouts report aurorae ahead, sir. No signs of other ships.”
Nelson nodded; it was news he well expected. He turned to the officer by his side, the Badger’s first—and only—lieutenant, Osbourne Edwards. “Mr. Edwards, rig for Void, if you please.”
“Aye, sir,” the lieutenant responded, a small smile creeping over his face. Normally, Edwards was a dour sort, perhaps naturally so, perhaps due to serving under an officer several years his junior. But the prospect of leaving Europa likely gave him no small satisfaction. Turning forward, he cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted: “All hands! Rig for Void-sailing! Ready the planes and ruddersail. Secure body lines!”
From the bowels of the ship, an unwashed horde of men clambered up ladders and scuttled onto the main deck. On either side of the ship, the men unwrapped several long spars and checked the canvas that connected them. Once done, four men stood upon each side, waiting for further word.
Likewise, behind Nelson a similar contraption of wood, canvas and metal was carefully unfolded and placed onto a bracket upon the aft railing. Other men began to climb the rigging attached to the Badger’s two masts to add extra rope to the ship’s main and fore sails.
And every man aboard, be he gunner, topsman or officer, secured a line around his waist. In Nelson’s case, this was done by his valet, Frank Lepee. The young Londoner, barely arrived at manhood, had tried to get his captain to try a more complicated body-line rig, one that looped over shoulders and around legs and, in Nelson’s opinion, came altogether too close to that which he would least like to see damaged. Nelson commended Lepee for his ingenuity, but opted for the traditional line around the waist.
“Entering the aurora!” came the call from the tops. Soon, the snow and sleet became intermingled with small motes of glowing light, the mixture growing denser the further Badger sailed north.
Then the ship lurched violently forward, and Nelson, feeling the body line dig into a stomach already beset with a slight nausea, wondered whether Lepee’s invention had merit after all.
Cruger, meanwhile, was peering over the starboard side. “We’re rising, Captain!”
Nelson turned and nodded to Edwards, who needed no further prompting before giving the order, “Planesails, now!”
On either side of the ship, the men heaved their bundles overboard, while two others pulled upon ropes from fore and aft, unfurling a new pair of sails. These were long and rectangular—running nearly the entire length of the ship—and secured amidships by metal hinges. Ropes at either end would allow the crew to position the sails appropriately, as Nelson commanded. For now, they remained parallel to the seas, which were receding rapidly.
“Keel is clear!” Cruger called.
Nelson peered over the side gingerly to see the planking of his ship lined with more yellow motes, which clung to it like luminescent barnacles. This was the result of the good offices of the ship’s alchemist’s mate, Francis Forster, whose knowledge of the mystic sciences kept the Badger capable of such miracles.
“Ruddersail, Mr. Edwards!” Nelson ordered.
The men aft did not wait for the first lieutenant to repeat the order before sending their sail over the edge as well. It unfurled over several lengths until it was a triangle nearly fifty feet long—a giant extension of the rudder that would allow the ship to navigate in the blackness between worlds.
The ship bucked again, and again, as it sped ever faster through the winds and stinging snow. There were worlds upon which making the Void, or keel-fall for that matter, was often smooth as glass. Europa, with its blizzards and gales, was not among them. “Keep those damned planes steady, men!” Edwards cried out, having seen the larboard planesmen allowing the forepoint of the sail to rise slightly. This was quickly corrected, though in such winds, extra hands were needed on the lines to do so.
Nelson, meanwhile, gripped the railing of the quarterdeck with all his strength, his knuckles white, his stomach at odds. Noticing this, Cruger approached and leaned in toward Nelson’s ear. “Shall I have Forster bring you something, sir?” Forster doubled as the ship’s surgeon, as did many alchemists in service to His Majesty’s Navy; only the largest ships of the line enjoyed two such specialists.
Nelson scowled. He hated to think that he would become known in the service foremost for his propensity for sea-sickness. “I’m fine. Mind your station, Mr. Cruger. We’ll be out of this soon enough.”
Indeed, it was but a few minutes until the sky cleared and darkened and the winds grew steady, flecked with the occasional golden mote. The Badger was entering the solar current, which stretched from the Sun outward toward, and between, the moons and planets of the Known Worlds. The motes of this solar wind had an attraction to the alchemical treatments used upon Void-going ships, and buoyed vessels across the vastness of the stars.
“Square the planes, Mr. Edwards,” Nelson ordered, feeling much better now that the ship had stopped bucking. “Double the watch. I want lookouts in every direction. We must be upon our prey quickly now! And Mr. Cruger, if you would pass the word for Dr. Forster, please.”
A few moments later, Francis Forster came aft and saluted. He was not properly a “doctor,” but then Nelson was not properly a full captain, except aboard his little ship. The frigates and ships-of-the-line had officers and alchemists aplenty, but the smaller vessels in the Royal Navy had to make do. Though Forster had little formal training and, indeed, hardly looked the part with his seaman’s clothing and ragged beard, he was as sharp as any credentialed alchemist Nelson had served with.
“Progress on your little project, Doctor?” Nelson asked.
Forster frowned. “We treated the sailcloth, sir. I added an admixture of Sun-mote and powdered lodestone so that it would only take effect upon reaching the Void. But really, sir,” he continued quickly, “there’s no guarantee of anything. I mean to say, I’m not even sure it’ll work.”
Nelson smiled and clapped the man on the shoulder. “I’ve no doubt of your brilliance, Forster. You’ve given us an edge. We’ll catch her yet.”
The alchemist’s mate nodded and gave a weak smile before saluting and returning to the cockpit below, where his alchemical lab and surgery was housed. If his application of the Great Work was done rightly, then the Badger would indeed catch the ship Nelson sought.
And if that were the case, there would likely be a butcher’s bill for the engagement, and not all the alchemical curatives Forster had would stop men from dying. Nelson watched the man head belowdecks with a certain amount of trepidation. Nelson had seen battle many times already in his young career, but never in command of his own vessel. Should any man aboard meet his end, would the cause would be just?
To be continued…