“The Survivor” tells the story of Angelica Blackmore, the lone survivor of the HMS Phoenix, Great Britain’s first airship attempt that ended in disaster.
“The Survivor” preview:
Angelica’s head throbbed. A scorching breeze laced with smoky fumes—far too hot for an autumn evening in England—rushed across her face. She lay on her back against the ground with the corner of a sharp rock poking at her temple. With each heartbeat, intense pressure burst across the left side of her head. Such pain felt foreign; Angelica rarely experienced headaches.
An explosion thundered in the distance and caused the ground underneath Angelica to vibrate. Several yards away, women, children, and even men shrieked with terror.
Wake up, Angelica ordered herself.
She blinked, trying to open her eyes. Once she fully lifted her eyelids, Angelica saw only swirling smoke that blocked out the half-moon’s light.
My circumstances have not improved, she thought. She was lying in an unknown field, barely able to see the ground beneath her feet. Fortunately, but not surprisingly, the throbbing across her temples began to subside. The headache would disappear in a few minutes.
Those near her, hidden in the smoke, continued to wail. Their haunting cries resounded on all sides. Angelica ignored them. Her mission required all of her focus.
Another gale brought yet another gust of heat, intensifying the suffocation she already felt beneath the layers of fabric in her dress, bustle, corset, camisole, and drawers. She pushed herself onto her arms and attempted to stand up. Her corset fought against her.
“My underthings will be the death of me,” she mumbled. Unlike other ladies, Angelica loathed the confinement of such finery. She possessed a far different set of talents than others of her gender, and all required freedom of movement.
Angelica rolled onto her stomach. She pushed herself to her knees and stood up. She spent a few moments brushing off her dress and making sure it hung correctly. Once satisfied, Angelica reached to the top of her head to adjust her hat. She felt only air and loose strands of hair. It must have blown away during her fall. Angelica huffed with frustration. She prized that midnight-blue bonnet with its black trim and peacock feathers. Finding another like it would take time.
Another blast rumbled through the field.
Focus, Angelica reminded herself. She had only completed half her mission. Forget the hat.
Her eyes stung and started to water from exposure to the dense smoke. She squinted as she grasped her purse. Inside, she found a pair of goggles, which she pulled over her head. No one considered goggles appropriate attire for a respectable British lady, but Angelica never claimed to be one of those. Besides, she reasoned, wearing the goggles compensates for having to wear a corset.
The goggles may have protected Angelica’s eyes from the smoke, but they did little to help her see through it. She knelt to the ground, feeling for the one item she required to complete her assignment.
Angelica’s fingers grazed pebbles, shoots of grass, and an occasional sharp rock. She continued her search until she found a smooth, leather box. She pulled it close and beamed at the sight of the ivory-handled briefcase. She grasped the handle and stood up.
“How much time do I have?” she muttered to herself.
Angelica glanced at the small silver watch that hung around her neck. It was two fifteen. She needed to rendezvous with the carriage no later than four o’clock that morning in order to meet Alistair in London at seven.
“What are my bearings?” she whispered.
Angelica turned the watch over and opened the back, revealing a small compass. She turned south. Then she sighed, closed the compass, and let the watch fall to her chest.
No point in knowing where south is if I don’t know where I am to begin with, she thought. She hoped to find a point of reference with more promise than random stones lying on the ground.
Slowly, the smoke thinned, and the soft glimmer of light beckoned to the east. Angelica began hiking toward the glow. The heels on her boots sank into the ground as she walked, adding to her sweaty, fabric-and-corset-lined misery.
It’s silent, she realized. The screaming and moaning had stopped. Even the normal nocturnal animals, such as crickets and owls, made no peep.
Angelica refused to entertain any morbid thoughts of why those around her had fallen silent. Focus, she again reminded herself. For some reason, maintaining her concentration seemed more difficult than usual on this mission.
She took only a few steps when she heard voice. She dropped to the ground, softened her breathing and waited, ready to spring if those who approached had malevolent intentions.
…To be continued in “The Survivor.”
You can get a copy of Dreams of Steam 3: Gadgets here:
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Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston hosts The Final Cut in Movies, an radio talk show about science fiction and fantasy movies that airs on 740 am WSBR. The Final Cut in movies can also be heard on iTunes. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.