Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 8 Excerpt

Andrews took Ruth to lunch at a hotdog restaurant. He was becoming increasingly fond of the American fast food. He specifically asked the cab driver to take them to one “on the other side of the railroad tracks.” Sure enough, there was a thriving community of black women, and while upon cursory examination the houses and businesses looked prosperous, the streets, sidewalks, and public works were clearly not as well maintained as those in the rest of the city. They ate their hotdogs. Their encounter with the police however, had fouled both their moods and neither felt like continuing afterwards. Upon returning to the Biltmore, Ruth went to the Ladybugs’ suite, while Andrews spent the evening going through the thick file that had been put together for him in Chicago. There he found a brief notation regarding a town in Mississippi called Oxford. The next morning, he asked Agent Wright about it.

“A woman named Pearl Kerrigan wrote a long rambling threat to the Ladybugs back in ’72,” she said, after examining the note. “It seemed serious enough at the time, so it was investigated by local police.”

“What did they find?” he asked.

“I don’t have any record of a resolution of any kind, but that was three years ago and the woman hasn’t been heard from since. We rated the threat level pretty low, both because of how long ago it was received and the distance from any tour venue.”

“I have half a mind to go check it out myself, just to find out what happened.”

“I think it’s a waste of time,” said Wright. “But if you want to requisition an airflivver, I’ll sign off on it. I don’t think both of us should leave the area though.”

“No, that’s fine. I can handle this myself.”

The airflivver met him on the roof of the hotel two hours later. About as wide and tall, not including the dragonfly wings as a good sized car, and about two and a half times as long, this particular flivver was owned by a private contractor who leased it out to the government when it needed vehicles. Andrews dreaded getting into such aircraft when they were still running because of the reaction that some of the pilots had to him. This pilot, a pretty girl barely old enough to have a pilot’s license, had apparently had contact with men before. Though friendly and curious, she didn’t seem shocked to meet him.

“Hi, I’m Deb.”

“Agent Andrews.”

“We’re going to Oxford?”

“Yes, you know it?”

“Yes indeed-oh!” She pulled back on the steering column and the vehicle shot into the air and spun around in an arc so tight that Andrews thought he would be thrown through the door.

Airflivvers typically had an airspeed of nearly two hundred miles per hour, and this one seemed to be one of the fastest, so the flight to Oxford took just less than two hours. Along the way Andrews learned quite a bit about pilot Deb Gale, who was nothing if not communicative. She was twenty-one, had moved to Atlanta from Ohio in order to get her piloting job, lived with two friends in a small apartment, and had a long distance friendship with a young man in the enclaves named Bud that she hoped would blossom into romance.

“I want to eventually get a job flying one of the big dirigibles, after I get enough airtime in. Right now, I’m just enjoying the adventure. You’ve got to have fun and adventure in your life while you’re young. That’s what I keep telling Bud. He’s twenty-four and he’s still afraid to move up north. Pretty soon he’ll be too old for adventure and then what will he do.”

There was no airport in Oxford, at least not one capable of landing an airship. There was a small tarmac where four or five airflivvers parked next to a single Quonset hut. A single black and white police cruiser was waiting nearby. Once they had landed, Andrews climbed out of the passenger side. Deb secured the craft and then followed him. They were met by a single uniformed woman climbing out of the car. She was a stocky woman in her fifties, her hair shot with grey.

“Agent Andrews?”

“Sherriff Donnelly.” He reached out and shook hands.

“My goodness, I can’t believe it. An actual man right here in Oxford.”

“There are no other men in town?”

“Not for years now.”

“But you’ve known other men?”

“I’ve known a few,” she said, but didn’t elaborate.

“As I told you on the phone, I’m looking for Pearl Kerrigan.”

“I can drive you out to her place. She lives right outside of town. Nobody’s seen her in weeks though.”

“I’m coming too,” said Deb, as they piled into the police car.

“All right,” said Andrews, “but stay out of the way.”

They drove through town. The once thriving main street had fallen to disrepair and beyond it was a town filled with old worn down houses with peeling paint, and newer mobile homes set back from the street in lots overgrown with weeds and brush. Beyond the edge of town were a few small farms and then the ruins of abandoned farmhouses. At last they pulled up in front of a turn of the century home. It was in better shape than some of the places they had seen, but it looked quiet now. The windows were all shuttered over and there seemed to be no sign of life.

Sheriff Donnelly got out of the car and walked up onto the front porch, peering into the front window before knocking on the door. Andrews got out and walked back along the long driveway toward the separated garage behind. He heard the sheriff knock several times and then call out but there was no answer. The garage had a door that slid from the side and it proved to be unlocked, so he pushed it far enough to create a two foot wide opening. He stared into the darkness inside.

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The Price of Magic – Chapter 12 Excerpt

The lizzies carried the large cogs, springs, and sprockets out of the building and stacked them in the back of the task lorry. The copper and steel parts all looked so normal, like the pieces of a very large clock. But Wizard Peter Bassington could feel the magic radiating off of them like heat from a fireplace. They were parts of the great machine built many years before by Professor Merced Calliere—the Result Mechanism. A huge steam-powered machine designed to add, subtract, multiply, and divide large numbers very quickly, the Result Mechanism plotted out water and sewer lines, created projectile trajectory charts, predicted the movement of the planets, and determined the optimum paths for the city’s trolley lines. It could in fact, compute any series of numbers for any purpose, including creating magic spells. Wizardry was at its heart, nothing but mathematics.

Anyone who could master advanced mathematics could become a wizard, memorizing the abstract formulas for the eldritch forces that were bent to one’s will. Wizards set these formulas in their brains like a housewife set a rattrap. Then with a single gesture and word, they released the magic. Once that was done, they had to reset the mathematical formula again. Sorcerers on the other hand, did magic without arithmetic. They could detect the magic in the world around them and tap into it naturally. No one could learn to be a sorcerer. You were either born one or you weren’t. For that reason, there might be thousands of wizards in the Kingdom of Greater Brechalon, but fewer than a handful of sorcerers.

Several wizards had used the result mechanism to formulate spells. As a result, magical energy was drawn to the building housing the great computer. For years, the machine stewed in the magic soup, until it became dangerous—perhaps even sentient. Senta had put it to sleep and now Peter was disassembling it and melting down the individual parts.

“All right! That’s enough for this load!” he called to the lizzies.

The one who could understand Brech signaled to the others and they climbed into the rear of the task lorry with the machine parts. Peter locked the solid oak door of the building with a large padlock.

“You must have just about all of it by now.”

Peter turned to see the pasty, emaciated form of Wizard Bell, in his seemingly oversized blue police uniform, complete with hexagram.

“Good day, Wizard Bell.”

“Wizard Bassington.”

“I seem to run into you fairly often on this side of town.”

“Police constable,” he said, pointing at his uniform.

“I didn’t realize that police wizards walked a tour.”

Bell shrugged.

“Yes,” said Peter. “I think one more load, and it will be all taken care of. Sorry to see it go?”

“No, of course not. Can’t have dangerous magical artifacts falling into the wrong hands. What is your sister planning to do with the building?”

“I don’t know. I suppose she’ll have to work that out with the governor.”

“Right,” said Bell, giving a thin-lipped smile. “Well, I’ll be on my way.”

He turned and strolled north. Peter looked around for a moment and then spotted one of Szoristru’s lizzies. Peter was still paying them to watch the police wizard, though they had yet to find anything worthwhile. Climbing into the lorry’s cab, he nodded to the driver, who in turn, started the engine.

It took over an hour to drive across town to the foundry. The large metal-casting factory, a massive building at the southern edge of the city, had only been completed the previous summer. It wouldn’t come into full production mode until spring was well on, and the iron ore that was being mined by the lizzies arrived by train from the mountains. For that reason, it had been relatively easy to rent the facility. Most of what had been the Result Mechanism was stacked just inside the main entrance—now just so many bars of copper and steel.

By the time the lizzies finished unloading the lorry, the sun was sinking toward the western horizon. Mr. Flint, the foundry manager, stepped over to where Peter was supervising.

“We can stoke up the furnace and get started on these now, but we’ll run into evening overtime.”

“Perhaps it’s for the best if we wait until tomorrow,” said the young wizard. “I have an engagement this evening, and I really should go home and get cleaned up.”

Mr. Flint nodded, and hurried off to see to the closing of the factory for the night.

“Lance, can you give me a lift home?” Peter asked the driver, who nodded to the affirmative.

“More work tomorrow, same place,” he told the lizzies, peeling off a five mark note for each, double for the interpreter.”

Then he climbed back into the lorry cab and the vehicle zoomed up the street.

“Home in time for dinner,” said Baxter, when he passed through the parlor. “That’s something new.”

“Just stopped by to clean up and change clothes. I’ve got a date with Abby tonight.”

“I like that girl. Shame she had to end up with you.”

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 7 Excerpt

At ten o’clock the following morning, the airship Rosalie Morton rose up from the field at O’Hare and made a slow, majestic turn toward the south. She would make a quick trip to Atlanta, arriving just before 2:30 local time. Andrews was seated at his tiny desk in his very small cabin, completing the extensive reports that had to be filed anytime a Science Police agent fired his weapon. A knock at the door brought him to his feet even though the door opened before he had a chance to reach for the handle. Ep!phanee stepped inside. She had to press up against him in order to close the door behind her.

“Hello stranger,” she said.

“Hardly a stranger. We saw each other half an hour ago.”

“Yes but we weren’t alone. I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

“What’s more, my clownfish misses you.”

Sometime later, after the coral reef dweller in question had renewed his acquaintance, Andrews lay on the small single bunk in his room. Piffy was draped over him like a blanket, her skin separated from his only by a thin layer of perspiration.

“So what is the fascination with sea life—the whole aquatic motif?”

“I like fish and the coral reef. When I’m home on Thatch Cay I go snorkeling almost every day. Sometimes I go spear fishing.”

“Thatch Cay?”

“Yes, that’s the island we own.” She giggled. “I managed to say that almost like it’s a normal thing—we own an island.”

“You all live there?”

“Well, we all have houses there. Agave Studio is there. Then there’s an old fishing village I had fixed up as the port for our boats. And I had my beach renovated—two hundred barges full of rocks and debris hauled away, the sand sifted, and several rows of palm trees planted back from the shoreline. But until a couple of months ago, I was the only one there besides the caretakers and their families. Steffie and Penny were both in Europe and Ruth was staying with her mother in St. Croix.”

Andrews was quiet for a moment. “Really? Spear fishing?”

“Sure.” She climbed off of him and began putting her clothes back on. “You know that island is why we got back together.”

“How so?”

“Oh, we were all fighting about recordings and copyrights and who was going to be the band’s manager, but when it came to selling our joint assets, Thatch Cay was first on the list and nobody wanted to let go of it. Penny and I got together after not speaking for a couple of years to figure out what to do with it, and we ended up in the studio together.”

“Then the world owes Thatch Cay a debt of gratitude.” He sat up and folded his hands behind his head. “I hope we get a chance to sneak out for dinner tonight or maybe tomorrow. I hear they have a very famous hotdog restaurant in Atlanta.”

“That’s not going to be possible I’m afraid.” Now dressed in her tee shirt and mini skirt, Piffy wobbled like a stilt walker as she put her feet into her platform sandals. “We have some planning to do for the show this evening, and I want you to spend tomorrow with Ruth.”

“Ruth? Why?”

“She’s nice. She’s pretty.”

“I know she’s nice. She’s famous for being ‘the nice one’, and I think she’s beautiful. But we’re hitting it off so well, I thought we could spend some time together.”

“We are hitting it off and we’ll spend more time together, but if I have a man it’s just not right that I don’t share him with my best friends. It’s not like we come across men every day.”

“There are men… around,” he sputtered. “What are you going to do, loan me out like one of your guitars?”

“Don’t be stupid. I wouldn’t loan Ruth my guitar… maybe my Dreadful, but not my Rickenbacker. Anyway, she can’t play guitar for shit. Besides, you should be loving this. Men are supposed to be like that. You all make your monthly donations willingly enough don’t you? You’re supposed to be… what’s that word that you are?”

“Promiscuous?”

“Horny. That’s it.”

“You have no idea what men are like, do you?”

“I’ve seen men before, though I admit I haven’t really gotten to know one until now.”

“Not even your father?”

“I didn’t have a father. My mother ordered her genetic sample from the Science Council.” She stopped and stared at him, eyes and mouth wide open. “Oh shit. Oh shit.”

“Relax. I’m thirty-five.”

She stared uncomprehendingly.

“I’m too young to be your father.”

“Oh my God,” she let out the breath she had been holding and put her hand over her heart. “What a scare. I guess Ruth doesn’t have to worry about that. Penny doesn’t either, though that’s just the kind of kink she’d probably enjoy.”

“So you want me to go out and have sex with your friends?”

“Only if you hit it off. If you don’t click, then no problem. Unlike most women, they can afford to fly south and find their own man. And just Ruth and Penny—not Steffie. She had her own man and the bitch never once offered to share him with me. Well, all right. Maybe Steffie too. We’re kind of a package deal. You understand how the world works, don’t you? There just aren’t enough men for us not to share. You can’t just date one girl, no matter how much I would like to have you all to myself.”

The Price of Magic – Chapter 11 Excerpt

Tokkenoht walked wearily toward the hearth room, intent on nothing more than plopping down on her sleeping mat and letting blessed sleep take her. She stopped short when Szakhandu, who was standing beside the doorway, held up her hand.

“What is it?”

“Don’t go in yet. Hsrandtuss is mating with Ssu.”

“Again?”

“Yes.” She shrugged. “The king wants to mate… he needs to, and neither of us is ready. Kendra doesn’t want to and so that leaves Ssu. I wish I was ready.”

“Why is that, do you suppose?” muttered Tokkenoht.

“Why what? Why do I want to mate? Or why doesn’t Kendra?”

“No. Why are you and I not ready? This isn’t our first season.”

“I have an opinion,” said Szakhandu.

Tokkenoht motioned for her to continue.

“I think it is stress.”

“What is stressing us? We have plenty to eat and drink.”

“Mental stress. You are high priestess and I am chief diplomat. I don’t know about you, but this whole mess with the humans is worrying my tail.”

“You’re not on about that again, are you?” growled Hsrandtuss, his bulk suddenly filling the doorway. “I’ve sent a message to the human city. Either they can pay a ransom, or I will mark humans’ tails and banish them. We should hear back from them by the next bright face.”

“Great King,” said Szakhandu. “I hesitate to point it out, but the soft-skins have no tails for you to mark.”

“Well figure out a place for me to mark them!” he hissed, pushing past them. “Do I have to do everything myself?”

“The humans mark thieves here,” said Tokkenoht, pointing to the webbing between her thumb and forefinger. Then she stepped through the doorway and collapsed on her mat, asleep in seconds.

The high priestess jerked awake when someone grabbed hold of her. She thought she was being attacked for a moment, but when she opened her eyes, it was only Szakhandu.

“What? Why are you waking me?”

“You have slept late. It is past the morning meal.”

“So?”

“The prisoners want to speak to you.”

“What prisoners?” wondered Tokkenoht.

“The human prisoners—the soft-skins.”

“Why do they want to talk to me?” she wondered. “How do they even know me?”

“They want to talk to the high priestess,” said Szakhandu. “You are the high priestess, aren’t you?”

“All right, all right. Paint me, and then have Kendra meet me at their cell.”

“She is already there,” said Szakhandu, pulling her toward the paint.

A few minutes later, with the smallest amount of paint acceptable, but wearing her feathered cape, Tokkenoht allowed her fellow royal wife to lead her down to the holding cells. Two large males guarded the door, but opened it for the two of them. Inside, they found another guard and Kendra, along with the four human prisoners. They looked well enough and had been allowed to clean themselves daily, but the hair on their faces had grown, making them seem much more animal-like.

“Good morning, wife of my husband,” said Tokkenoht to Kendra. “Are you gravid with eggs yet?”

“I think I might be. I have no appetite.”

“Yes, that is a sure sign.” She looked at the prisoners. “Now, what is it that they want?”

Kendra turned and spoke the lyrical language of the humans. To the lizzies, it sounded like the calls of small birds. The humans answered, sometimes talking over one another. They talked far longer than the priestess had expected, until Kendra finally raised her hand for them to stop.

“These two are eggs from the same female.” She pointed to two of the humans. “They have the same name—Tardut, that’s as close as I can pronounce it anyway. This one’s name is Neiers, and that one is Grissinski. He is the one that has much to say to you. He says that our god will not like him being imprisoned. He says that Yessonar will punish us if he is not released.”

“Tell him it is I who speak for the god here and not him. Tell them all that we have sent word about them to the human city. We will know their answer in another ten days or so.”

Kendra spoke the human tongue again and Grissinski answered, loudly, waving his arms.

“He threatens great destruction.”

Tokkenoht reached past Kendra and shoved the human. He crashed into the wall and slid down to the floor. She had heard that some of the humans were fierce warriors, but this was not one of them, she decided.

“Ask the other three if there is anything they need.”

“They say they need more food,” Kendra translated. “They say we feed them only half of what they need.”

“That is probably true,” said Tokkenoht. “They are warm-blooded and so their bodies need more fuel. Tell them we will have more food brought.”

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 6 Excerpt

Andrews ordered a taxi and rode with Ep!phanee back to the American, where the rest of the band and entourage had stayed. Once she was safely under the protection of the Chicago Police Department, and after he had made a quick stop at his own room to shave and change, he took the same cab back to the international building and met up with Agent Wright and the team.

Two of the local agents were working in the office, coordinating with other Science Police teams who were investigating possible threats in cities around the globe. Andrews and Wright, each taking one of the local agents with them, set out to determine the veracity of threats in the Chicago area. Wright and her temporary partner Agent Finnegan were to investigate the source of some anti-lesbian letters, while Andrews and Agent Loginova were looking into a woman who had sent several long, rambling quasi-religious, anti-rock and roll letters. Downstairs in the garage, Andrews bid farewell to Wright and followed Loginova to the large black Packard Clipper.

“You know the area better,” he said, as he climbed into the passenger seat, aware that many women didn’t trust male drivers.

Loginova was a tough looking woman of five foot eight. She had the body of an athlete, and while her face was attractive, it boasted several scars that said she could take a beating as well as give one. Her burgundy-dyed hair was cut into an unusual bob, very high on the back of her head and featuring bangs that came to a point in the middle, just above her nose, rather than being cut straight across.

The last known residence of Miss Athena Kesting was in Bolingbrook, which with traffic took almost forty minutes to reach. The quaint little village was covered by a large glass and steel dome to protect residents from the acrid smoke and acid rain that was the bane of the Midwest. The address in question proved to be huge house on a large, fenced estate.

“Not what I was expecting,” commented Loginova, as she pulled the car up the driveway, past extensive gardens.

The two agents parked and got out. On either side of the front door were life-sized marble statues of women in long flowing dresses. Andrews knocked, using the brass doorknocker, and when the door opened, he was surprised to find a woman who was the spitting image of the statue on the left.

“Good morning,” said Loginova, showing her badge. “We would like to speak to Miss Athena Kesting.”

“Oh. She doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Can you give us her forwarding address?”

“Won’t you come in please?”

The two agents entered a home that was as opulent inside as the outside had hinted. Passing through a foyer covered in rich wood paneling, they entered a stunningly decorated living room and sat down on a beautiful antique sofa. Two other women were seated when they came in, but both rose to their feet.

“Inga, would you ask Mr. Larkin to come down?” asked the woman with whom they had entered. “My husband will very much want to speak with you.”

A few minutes later, the gentleman in question entered the room. He was an average looking man, wearing casual though expensive clothes. He was slightly balding, something that he had chosen not to try to cover up by combing his hair over.

“Good Morning,” he said, shaking hands with both agents. “I’m Evan Larkin, and these are my wives Elke Lom-Larkin, Angelina Redmond-Larkin, and Inga Lom-Larkin.”

“Agent Andrews, and this is Agent Loginova.”

“So what can we do for you,” Larkin asked sitting down across from them. Elke sat to his right, while Angelina and Inga stood behind them.

“They are here about Athena,” said Elke.

“Oh yes. Well, no surprises there. She was a troubled girl, I’m afraid.”

“What was your relationship with Miss Kesting?” asked Andrews.

“We were engaged. My wives thought that she might fit in with us here, so she moved in for a trial period. I’m afraid it was not to be, though. She left, what has it been now? Six months ago.”

“Do you have a forwarding address?”

“Inga will find that for you. May I ask why you are looking for her?”

“I’m afraid we can’t say. It involves an ongoing investigation.”

“I see. Well, it’s no stretch of the imagination that it involves Athena’s strong feelings. She was brought up in a very religious community in Idaho.”

“They were very strict adherents to morality and believers in a patriarchal lifestyle,” said Elke. “That’s why we thought she might fit in here.”

“And you are all adherents to a patriarchal lifestyle?” asked Loginova.

“Not really,” replied Elke. “We’re more of a pragmatic family. We just thought that having grown up that way, Athena would fit in. It just didn’t work out. She was far too inflexible.”

“She thought that everyone had to believe the way she did,” added Angelina.

Andrews felt rather than saw Loginova cast a glance in his direction.

“Would you ladies mind if I spoke to Agent Andrews alone in my study?” asked Larkin.