I thought it would be fun to give my readers a sneak peek of my recently published novella, “Prophecies of an Electric Man,” that appears in The Clockwork Oracle.
My story starts on page 69 so the Amazon Look Inside feature won’t show you my words.
Being the personal Doctor-Scientist for the aging Queen of France wasn’t as glamorous as Adelaide had expected. She propped her elbows onto the scarred mahogany desk and let her head sink into her hands. The brilliant electric lights in the laboratory were crucial for her work but gave her a headache. She longed to go back to her suite at the Palace and sit in the glow of the gas lamps. But she was just too busy for that luxury. The Queen’s constant demands as her aging mechanisms broke down kept Adelaide busier than she had anticipated. She had been required to attend formal dinners every night for the past week, trussed into a tight corset and bustled evening gown. Now the Augmented nobles residing in the Palace of Versailles had discovered her mechanical skills. How would she find the time to develop improvements in Her Majesty’s mechanisms, as well as create a self-actuated automaton to replace her?
The air in the cluttered laboratory grew warm and heavy as she sat scribbling. Adelaide pushed herself to her feet but a twinge in her back slowed her. She winced. The new pains in her muscles made her feel much older than her thirty-two years. The machine parts piled on the floor and the cabinets overflowing with tools oppressed her. She scowled at the mess. A stroll in the gardens would clear her head.
She walked towards the door but a glimpse of the covered figure of her automaton on a workbench stopped her. She had been working on it for months in secret, but her progress was slow. It was vital that this project, the Automated Dauphin, be complete before the Queen stopped functioning altogether. Adelaide intended to present it to the Presidente le Scientiste and the Academy as a successor for the childless monarchs. She gnawed at her lip, unsure about leaving now rather than working on the project.
The door to her laboratory creaked open, breaking into her musing. She raised her head. An older man limped in. His embroidered silk outfit and powdered hair marked him as a courtier. His face was drawn, a mixture of discomfort and disdain. He spotted Adelaide and called out, his voice shrill.
“Madame le Scientiste! I must insist that you repair this accursed mechanical knee of mine. I simply cannot bear it anymore.”
She restrained a sigh but couldn’t force a polite smile onto her face. She was not a born courtier with perfect manners drilled into her from birth.
“Monsieur le Comte. Bon jour. What sort of difficulty are you having with your knee?”
The noble stomped closer, clicking with each step. He waved a pale hand at his knee.
“It clicks. Could you not hear it? Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to click as one walks? It is insupportable. You must repair it immediately.”
Adelaide bit her lip. The mechanical knee was not her invention nor had she installed the device. Why did the comte think she could help him?
“Monsieur le Comte, would it not be more appropriate for you to seek the counsel of your own Doctor-Scientist?”
The man looked affronted and crossed his arms.
“Why would I do that? You’re right here in the Palace. Isn’t that why you’re here? I’m sure it would be an easy thing for a brilliant young scientist like yourself to repair.”
Adelaide tapped her foot. Who gave him that idea? She bent to make a cursory examination, then straightened and forced a smile.
“I am afraid I’m not familiar with this particular type of mechanical knee joint. I don’t know if the clicking is part of the design or a malfunction. I’m sorry, Monsieur le Comte, but you will have to consult with the Doctor-Scientist who installed it.”
The comte‘s nostrils flared and he tossed his head.
“I see that your reputation is greater than warranted. I should have known better, after the death of that poor de Laincel girl. Bon jour, madame.”
He limped out, grumbling, his knee clicking with every other step. Adelaide stood shaking and pale.
Bastard. How dare he imply that it was my fault that Marie-Ange died?
Images of Marie-Ange de Laincel, the only recipient of Adelaide’s artificial heart, raced through the scientist’s mind. She had been so beautiful, a petite, pale girl with a bad heart. Her death at an unknown assailant’s hand remained a mystery. Adelaide’s vision blurred and she dragged a hand across her eyes. Her efforts to save the girl’s life had been useless. Marie-Ange had died a few short weeks before on the work table beside the one where the automaton now lay. The table remained bare, a reminder of Adelaide’s failure. The Palace guards were still unable to discover the killer. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Adelaide had turned over the deadly paint box bomb to the Guards herself. How many painters had been at the Palace that day? The guards must be incompetent. Possibly even negligent. She needed to question the Captain of the Guards to make sure he was continuing the investigation. Energy filled her and she strode into the hallway, determined to find out what progress they had made.
The Palace corridors thrummed with the business of the Court at Versailles. Ministers and their staff hurried along, dodging drifting petitioners lost in the vast Palace, and sauntering courtiers searching for amusement. Adelaide stood at the doorway of her laboratory, hands on hips. She hesitated, trying to decide where to search for the Captain. Adelaide knew only a few areas of the Palace. She shrugged and headed towards the front of the vast building. Guards were always stationed there to control entry into the Palace. She could get directions to the Captain’s location from one of his men.
Adelaide slowed her march down the corridor as she drew next to a statue depicting Aquarius as a young woman. Adelaide closed her eyes for a moment. She had found Marie-Ange collapsed on the marble floor in front of this statue. How long would it take before she could walk past this spot without that stab of pain? A trio of giggling young noblewomen drew up behind her, spurring Adelaide to move. She glared at them over her shoulder. They ignored her, caught up in their own world. Had they known Marie-Ange? They were of similar age. Did they know anything about Marie-Ange’s death? Adelaide smoothed back her hair and paused, turning to face them.
“Mademoiselles? Have you a moment to speak to me?” Adelaide was vividly conscious of her provincial accent and her face flushed. The girls exchanged looks. One giggled. The tallest of the three, a willowy brunette, shrugged.
“What does the Royal Doctor-Scientist need from us? We have no need of your notorious Archimedean Heart, madame. We three are fit and healthy.”
Adelaide’s flush deepened and her palms grew damp. When she replied, her tone was brittle and probably not as obsequious as the noblewomen would expect.
“Did you know Marie-Ange de Laincel?”
The girl dropped her gaze and sniffled, the picture of misery, although it struck Adelaide as forced.
“Please, madame, we are grief-stricken. Poor Marie-Ange. Her Majesty was so very fond of her.”
Another of the young noblewomen spoke up. She did not wear the mask of mock-sadness her companion did. Perversely, Adelaide liked her better.
“At least she escaped marriage with Mercoeur. Do you know he’s already casting about for a new bride? I shudder to think which of us will be caught.”
Her compatriot hissed at her.
“Be still, Aurelie. Madame does not need to hear about our romances.”
Adelaide tilted her head to one side. She had not heard that Marie-Ange had been averse to her betrothal to Mercoeur.
“Why would she not wish to marry Mercoeur? He is young, wealthy…”
The girl who had remained silent until now burst out.
“Because she didn’t love him, madame! She loved another!”
Her friend pinched her arm and shushed her.
“Idiot, you swore you would never speak of that.”
“Why does it matter now she’s dead?”
The girls glared at each other for a moment, then seemed to remember where they were. They all curtsied, a quick bob, then spun on their heels and hurried away. Adelaide stared after them.
So Marie-Ange had a secret lover? Who was it? If Adelaide could find out, she might have a clue to the girl’s killer or possibly an ally to help her investigation.
She continued her search for the captain through the Palace corridors. This new clue in the investigation might help his efforts in bringing the killer to justice.
When did I become so blood-thirsty?