Fri
May 31 2013 4:00pm

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders (Excerpt)

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders cover, Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.Take a peek at Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.'s Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders coming out on July 2 from 47North:

In a post-apocalyptic world of endless snow, Captain Romulus Buckle and the stalwart crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin must embark on a perilous mission to rescue their kidnapped leader, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the impenetrable City of the Founders. Steaming over a territory once known as Southern California – before it was devastated in the alien war – Buckle navigates his massive airship through skies infested with enemy war zeppelins and ravenous alien beasties in this swashbuckling and high-octane steampunk adventure. Life is desperate in the Snow World – and death is quick – Buckle and his ship’s company must brave poisoned wastelands of noxious mustard and do battle with forgewalkers, steampipers and armored locomotives as they plunge from the skies into the underground prison warrens of the fortress-city.

Captain Romulus Buckle must lead the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew of never-do-wells on a desperate mission where he must risk everything to save Balthazar and attempt to prevent a catastrophic war which could wipe out all that is left of civilization and the entire human race.

 

II

THE PNEUMATIC ZEPPELIN

 

Buckle took hold of the wooden handles on the forward gyroscope housing as the Pneumatic Zeppelin plunged into her stomach-lifting drop. In his mind’s eye he saw his huge airship swing down from the clouds, a razor-backed, torpedo-shaped monstrosity nine hundred feet long and one hundred and sixty feet in height, its fabric flanks fourteen stories high.

The sudden descent placed considerable stress on the airframe but, as always, Buckle’s airship handled it well: her thousands of yards of canvas skin rippled in thunderous snaps over the circular metal airframes, every girder groaning in its flexible joint. Everything was pinned to the keel, which shuddered, sending a dull vibration into the decks of her three streamlined gondolas, piloting, gunnery, and engineering, all tucked tightly in line underneath, nestled inside endless miles of rope rigging and antiboarding nets.

From below, Buckle’s ship looked like something of a shark, with the entire length of her underbelly encased in bronze and copper plates bolted and screwed together into a tight Frankenstein skin. Weight was always a concern for airships, so the metal plates were quite thin, but they provided an excellent defense from ground-fire “pottings.” The piloting gondola under the bow looked like a long, gold-copper pod, its glass-domed nose reflecting the weak orb of the sun now forever locked behind a permanent overcast. Under its belly was slung the pneumatic turret and the long barrel of its cannon.

The air vessel’s main cannons, housed in the gunnery gondola amidships, would have their muzzles showing, run out and ready to fire: ten firing ports lined the gun deck, five on each side, an ambitious number for a time when blackbang cannons—good ones that did not threaten to blow up both you and your entire tea party when you fired them—were rare and expensive. The Pneumatic Zeppelin carried five cannons—four twelve-pounders on the gun deck, plus a long, brass four-pounder in the bow—still a quite respectable set of artillery for any clan airship.

Between the backside of the gunnery gondola and the nose of the engineering gondola, the 150-foot-long hull of the Arabella, the launch, would be visible, tucked up inside the belly of the Pneumatic Zeppelin and slightly offset from the main keel.

At the stern of the sky vessel, under the shadows of the cruciform fins and rudder, the four main driving propellers whirled, four colossal razors slicing the sky, churning against the whistling updraft of the wind as they thrust the behemoth forward. Dozens of exhaust vents, tubes, and scuppers—the “Devil’s factory”—thrust straight out from the rear of the engineering gondola, snapping upward above the propellers like the legs of upturned spiders, spewing white steam, belching black smoke, and hissing water.

The Pneumatic Zeppelin was a machine of fire in a cold, cold world.

Slowly, evenly, Romulus Buckle descended, one with the Pneumatic Zeppelin, his mechanical monstrosity, a feather-light colossus, and as it came down it rotated slowly to port, casting a huge, equally rotating shadow on the blasted white landscape below.

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