Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Paul Crilley’s Tweed and Octavia from The Lazarus Machine.
An alternate 1895… . A world where Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace perfected the Difference Engine. Where steam and Tesla-powered computers are everywhere. Where automatons powered by human souls venture out into the sprawling London streets. Where the Ministry, a secretive government agency, seeks to control everything in the name of the Queen.
It is in this claustrophobic, paranoid city that seventeen-year-old Sebastian Tweed and his conman father struggle to eke out a living.
But all is not well. …
A murderous, masked gang has moved into London, spreading terror through the criminal ranks as it takes over the underworld. As the gang carves up more and more of the city, a single name comes to be uttered in fearful whispers.
When Tweed’s father is kidnapped by Moriarty, Tweed is forced to team up with information broker Octavia Nightingale to track him down. But he soon realizes that his father’s disappearance is just a tiny piece of a political conspiracy that could destroy the British Empire and plunge the world into a horrific war.
Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away a copy of The Lazarus Machine.
A Very Steampunk Christmas
Octavia narrowed her eyes and frowned suspiciously at Sebastian Tweed. “Excuse me?”
Tweed held out a paper bag and shook it. “Humbugs. You want? I don’t like them.”
“No. Thank you.”
He took a boiled sweet from the bag and tossed it into his mouth. Octavia winced as he crunched and cracked it into oblivion. “I thought you didn’t like them?”
“Waste not, want not,” he said, casting a suspicious eye over their surroundings.
Octavia followed his gaze. Even at this time of night the street was bustling with people rushing around to complete their last-minute Christmas shopping. Automatons followed behind them carrying piles of gaudily wrapped gifts, their brass faces lit from beneath by the white light of the Aether Cages in their chests. You could almost pretend they were part of the season’s decorations, especially when combined with the brightly-colored Christmas lights that festooned Harrods department store directly opposite. But only if you ignored the fact that the light in the Aether Cage was actually a trapped human soul, used to power the construct.
“Why have you brought me here in the middle of the night?” asked Tweed. “I’m trying to catch this gang of housebreakers. You know that. I don’t have time for this.”
Octavia ignored him. Ever since they’d tied up the Lazarus affair Tweed had been simply impossible, complaining that he was bored, that he needed to keep his mind occupied, blah-blah-blah. So he had latched onto the plague of housebreakings that was sweeping through the city, trying to solve the riddle of how the thieves were pulling it off. There were no signs of forced entry. No open doors, no unlatched windows. Just a house devoid of all valuable items.
Of course, no one actually asked him to try and solve the case. Tweed just took it upon himself, sneaking into New Scotland Yard to copy the case notes, impersonating a member of the police to questions witnesses. It was a wonder he hadn’t been arrested yet.
“What are those people doing?” he asked.
There was a huge crowd gathered outside Harrods. They looked agitated, forced to wait in line by automatons who stood implacably outside the store.
“Last minutes shopping, I suppose,” said Octavia. “And to answer your question, I need to buy one last present. Come on.”
They crossed the street, but instead of moving to the back of the line – the line that stretched almost 100 meters along the pavement – Tweed moved in the opposite direction.
“Where are you going? We have to wait in line.”
Tweed waved his hand impatiently. “I don’t do lines. They disturb me. All those people.”
Tweed shivered at the horror of it, then turned the corner and moved along the side of the building until he came to an alley that led to the rear of the shop. It was dark, littered with crates and old newspapers that slapped wetly against the ground. Tweed popped another sweet into his mouth and trotted along until he reached the wide door at the rear of Harrods that was used for receiving goods. Tweed tested it. It didn’t budge.
“No need to worry,” he said brightly, opening his cumbersome longcoat and pulling out a velvet wrapped bundle. He gave it a little shake and it unfurled into a long piece of cloth that held numerous metal tools. He picked two and got down onto his knees before the door.
Octavia looked nervously around. It wasn’t really breaking and entering, was it? The shop itself was open. They were just using an alternate means of entry. And they certainly weren’t going to steal anything. So that was all right.
There was a flash of yellow light from above. Octavia shrank back against the wall and looked up as a small zeppelin coasted slowly past. There were huge viewing screens attached to the blimp, a sepia-tinted message flickering on a never-ending loop.
Citizens of the Empire, the Ministry wishes you a crime-free festive season.
Enjoy yourself responsibly and be vigilant for enemies of the Queen.
The blimp passed out of sight. A second later Tweed stood up and packed his tools away. Then he stepped to the side, opened the door and bowed to Octavia. “After you, milady.”
“No, I think if we’re going to be breaking into one of the biggest shops in London, you can go first. If it’s all the same to you.”
Tweed shrugged and stepped inside. Octavia followed him into a large warehouse, where massive crates were piled one atop the other. They made their way across the floor to a door that led into the first floor of the shop.
Tweed opened it a fraction, and Octavia, leaning over his shoulder, saw gold, red and green decorations. Firelight flickers warmly and she could smell freshly baked biscuits. Christmas music came from somewhere deeper inside the shop. Octavia smiled happily.
“Disgusting,” said Tweed, staring suspiciously through the door.
“I take it you’re not a fan of the season?”
“A pointless, calculated means to empty our wallets and purses,” said Tweed. “Some German prince decides to plop a tree inside his house and we all have to copy him. And a couple of years later everything’s got out of hand. Look at it.” He gestured into the shop, where gifts and items of all kinds were crammed onto the shelves and tables. “You can’t tell me that’s about anything meaningful.”
Octavia shook her head in amusement. “Come on Scrooge. They’re opening the doors. Let’s get this over with before you go on a rampage and start berating everyone for buying gifts.”
The doors at the front of the shop were indeed being opened by staff. The crowd didn’t wait for them to be opened all the way. Instead they surged inside, pushing the workers aside in their haste. Octavia was a bit disturbed by the look of avarice on the faces of the shoppers as they clawed and shoved their way to a small stage that had been set up in the center of the shop, cordoned off by a line of gleaming silver automatons.
“Look at that,” said Tweed. “The spirit of the season.”
Octavia stuck her tongue out at him.
“Charming. Now I ask again. Why are we in this place?”
“I told you. I have one last present to get.”
“Indeed it does. Come on.”
They moved around the tables of holly, cake, biscuits, silverware, and pottery, Octavia taking time to look at everything. As they were doing so, the tattered red curtains across the small stage swished aside and a tall, thin man with a ridiculously massive top hat sauntered into view and bowed to his audience.
“Gather round one and all,” he said loudly, rubbing his hands together. He pointed at a young woman who stood at the front of the heaving and jostling crowd. “Good evening to you, Miss. You have a son? A daughter? What am I saying? Why else would you be here on this most glorious of Eves? Why else but that tonight is the last time Spindle’s Most Magnificent and Amazing Automatons will be available for purchase. At least until next year. But next year won’t mean anything to those disappointed boys and girls who wake up on the morrow to find no Spindles in their stockings.”
“These are those toys everyone’s going on about,” muttered Tweed, watching the man.
Octavia glanced up from where she was perusing a pewter mug. “Mmm,” she agreed. “Apparently every child in the city wants one.”
Spindle picked something up from the floor of the stage. It was a small brass figure, about the length of Octavia’s forearm. It didn’t look particularly well made. The face was that of a small boy, (but there were girl Spindles available as well). Cogs and springs turned and wound behind a glass plate in its chest, bathed in a white light that she supposed was supposed to mimic the Aether Cages of full size automatons.
Spindle held it up. “What does it do, I hear you ask. I’ll tell you, shall I? Although I’m betting you already know. Why else would you queue for three hours in the freezing cold? That’s right, the Spindles are this year’s hottest selling item. The Spindle is the friend your child never tires of. An automaton programed by my patented punch cards. All you need to do is wind them up once a week and bob’s your uncle.”
Octavia glanced at Tweed out of the corner of her eye. He was frowning at the stage. She hid a grin and turned her attention to some chocolates in a purple tin.
Spindle was carrying on. “Now these are the very last of this year’s stock, and I’m afraid I’ve had to treble the price. But what does money matter at this time of year? What price can you put to a child’s happiness? But if you don’t get this year’s model, fret not. Next year I have bigger plans! A central office where wireless instructions are sent to the Spindles via the city’s Tesla Towers! Where operators will instill real-time reactions into the Spindles. It will be like your children are playing with real people! That’s not to say these versions are in any way inferior, though! Far from it. Why, only the other day I heard from a woman who said she got up in the middle of the night to find the Spindle stoking up their fire! Another said hers was trying to bake a cake! Truly, they live a life of their own. Such is the genius of my programming.”
“How many of those Spindles do you think he’s sold?” said Tweed thoughtfully.
“As far as I know, over ten thousand,” said Octavia. “At least, that’s what I heard at The Times.”
“Interesting,” mused Tweed.
“What is?” asked Octavia innocently.
“Mmm?” said Tweed, moving slowly toward the crowd.
“Excuse me, sir,” Tweed called out.
Spindle turned in their direction. “Yes? Tall fellow at the back?”
“How agile are these creations?”
“Oh, very agile, sir! They can do gymnastics, they can.”
“Strong enough. But not strong enough to harm a little ‘un, if that’s your fear.”
“That’s not my fear, no,” said Tweed.
Octavia followed behind as Tweed moved through the shoppers. For some reason they parted wordlessly to allow him through. This was something Octavia had noticed before. Tweed had a sort of… look about him sometimes, a look that people didn’t want to get in the way of. He had it now.
Tweed slipped around an automaton and picked up one of the Spindles that was on display beneath the stage. He inspected it, peering into the chest cavity, looking closely at the fingers and feet.
“That’s a rather large Babbage Box in there,” he said. “For such a simple toy.”
“Is it?” said Spindle. He was starting to get edgy, the way most people did when Tweed focused on them.
“It is. Almost as if there were hidden programs in there. And these fingers and toes.” Tweed held the Spindle up. “Sharper than necessary, yes? And fully articulate? Overkill, surely? For a toy?”
“Only the best craftsmanship sir. Now if you’ll excuse—“
“The thing is,” said Tweed. “At these housebreakings that have been going on throughout London. I’ve been to a few of the houses, yes? Found these odd scratch marks in the soot inside some of the chimneys. Course, the chimney’s are too small for a man. And if a child was used, well there’d be more mess, wouldn’t there? No, just these tiny little marks, almost as if some very small, agile and strong creature had clambered up to the roof, perhaps weighed down with certain valuable items?”
Spindle stared at Tweed with glittering eyes. Tweed stared back, saying nothing.
Then Spindle made a run for it. He leaped from the stage and tried to dart past them, but Octavia put her foot out and tripped him. He went flying to the floor, crashing into the display of Spindles. The constructs fell on top of him, burying him beneath a hundred tiny cat burglars.
Tweed turned a suspicious look on Octavia. “You knew!” he said accusingly.
Octavia nodded. “I figured it out at The Times. I was putting together a piece on the break-ins, saw that all the victims had children. A few follow up interviews and I found out they’d all recently bought Spindles.” She shrugged. “Wasn’t too hard to figure out.”
“Why didn’t you just tell the police?”
“Well, you’ve been such a misery guts lately. I thought if I brought you here to work it out for yourself you might cheer up a bit.”
She grinned at him.
“Merry Christmas, Sebastian Tweed.”
Tweed shook his head ruefully and grinned back. “Merry Christmas, Songbird.”
Meet Paul Crilley!
Paul Crilley was born in Scotland in 1975 and moved to South Africa when he was eight years old. He was rather disappointed to find out that Africa was not at all like the Tarzan movies he watched on Sunday afternoons and that he would not, in fact, have elephants and lions strolling through his backyard. (Although there are plenty of monkeys.) He now lives in a small village on the east coast with his family, six cats, and one dog. As well as The Lazarus Machine, he has written the first two books of his Victorian fantasy series, The Invisible Order. He also writes for South African television, (so far he has written sitcoms, dramas, soap operas, and children’s CGI cartoons), and worked on the computer game, Star Wars: The Old Republic. When he is not writing, he can be found chasing away the monkeys that like to steal food from his kitchen. Paul is currently writing the sequel to The Lazarus Machine.
Want to purchase Paul’s novels?
Tweed & Nightingale Adventure
Please help spread the word: Tweet: Celebrate the madness with 32 authors while #giveaways ensue during #BlackFriday (Nov23-Dec24) http://tinyurl.com/LEBlackFriday2012 #paranormal #fantasy
Thank you Paul for taking part in Literary Escapism’s Black Friday!
Paul is giving away a copy of The Lazarus Machine. To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: Can you imagine/attribute a nefarious reason to some of the hot toys this (or past) holiday season? Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered. (US/CA only)
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
All Black Friday contests will remain open until December 31st at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have. Have you checked out the other Black Friday contests yet? Check out the Master List to see all the Black Friday giveaways
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.