Fiddlehead: A Novel of the Clockwork Century

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9780765334077: Fiddlehead: A Novel of the Clockwork Century

Young ex-slave Gideon Bardsley is a brilliant inventor, but the job is less glamorous than one might think, especially since the assassination attempts started. Worse yet, they're trying to destroy his greatest achievement: a calculating engine called Fiddlehead, which provides undeniable proof of something awful enough to destroy the world. Both man and machine are at risk from forces conspiring to keep the Civil War going and the money flowing.

Bardsley has no choice but to ask his patron, former president Abraham Lincoln, for help. Lincoln retired from leading the country after an attempt on his life, but is quite interested in Bardsley's immense data-processing capacities, confident that if people have the facts, they'll see reason and urge the government to end the war. Lincoln must keep Bardsley safe until he can finish his research, so he calls on his old private security staff to protect Gideon and his data.

Maria "Belle" Boyd was a retired Confederate spy, until she got a life-changing job offer from the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pinkerton respects her work, despite reservations about her lingering Southern loyalties. But it's precisely those loyalties that let her go into Confederate territory to figure out who might be targeting Bardsley. Maria is a good detective, but with spies from both camps gunning for her, can even the notorious Belle Boyd hold the greedy warhawks at bay?

Another rollicking alternate history from Cherie Priest―Fiddlehead is the fifth book in the Clockwork Century steampunk series that started with Boneshaker.

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

CHERIE PRIEST is the author of Four and Twenty Blackbirds; Boneshaker, the first book in the Clockwork Century series; and several other novels. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One
 
 
Gideon Bardsley was working in the basement of the former Jefferson Hospital, which had been converted into the science center that housed his laboratory, when the first window broke. He heard the brittle sound of glass being strategically shattered, but he did not turn off the machine. Instead, he glanced at the dial beside his hand. Its tiny needle leaned hard past the yellow warning threshold, and tapped against the red zone.
A second window broke upstairs.
He rejected the reflex to look up at the basement door. Looking at the basement door would not tell him anything he did not already know—nothing he could not discern from the sounds of motion upstairs. Two intruders, at least. Entering from the western side of the building. Not close yet; not even in the correct wing of the disused hospital space. But coming.
He had time, but not much.
Gideon reached for a large glass knob and turned it carefully, but as quickly as he dared. He checked the dial again. Its needle careened farther to the right, fully in the red, but fairly stable. The lever on the left would activate the printing apparatus upstairs. He pulled it.
He needed an answer, and he needed it now.
The mighty computational engine strained and hummed, its gears and chains struggling against the request. At the rear a fuse fizzled and popped, but did not blow; a circuit objected with a fit of sparks, but held steady; a row of lights flickered, but did not go out.
Now Gideon looked up at the basement door. He stared at it. Hard. And he willed the system to work the way he told it to—please, just this once , if never again.
Three seconds passed. He knew because he counted.
Click.
Whir.
A blue-green glow sparked to life on the machine as a thin line of watery light pooled through the crack where the bottom of the door met the top stair.
Yes,” Gideon breathed, but he did not smile. Turning on the apparatus was not the hard part. It was the first hard part.
The printer was far too large to share the basement with its companion device, which occupied two-thirds of the downstairs floor space. Ordinarily this was a source of great irritation for Gideon, who would’ve been much happier to have everything in one room, or at least on one level, preferably at a quarter of the present size. But just this once, it was a good thing.
So long as everything worked. And sometimes, it didn’t.
The lines, wires, tubes, and lumpily soldered joints that connected the two machines were strung through holes in the ceiling and floor, carrying more information at a greater speed than any such wires were ever expected to bear. They twitched, sparked, and jerked as electricity surged from the master device, depositing Gideon’s answer into the printer’s circuits, where the information sorted and arranged itself.
And then the printing apparatus began to translate the electric and magnetic impulses from the mechanical brain in the basement onto paper.
The nimble, spindly lead keys clacked slowly at first as rows upon rows of them rallied for the task, pressed themselves against ribbons of ink, and banged down on the paper receipt with sticky gravitas. Then the rhythm rose in volume, the noise soaring into something loud and rumbling, like the gravelly grunt of a diesel engine.
A tremendous roll of paper, bought from the Washington Star-News, unspooled within the printer’s belly. The apparatus dutifully pressed its message on the newsprint, and through a slot that emptied into a basket it spit out paper covered with whatever the brain downstairs commanded.
He grabbed his grandfather’s coat off the back of a chair he never had time to sit in, and donned it with a fast hitch of his shoulders. He also seized a cast bronze plaque created as a gift by former president Abraham Lincoln—not for sentimental reasons or because the plaque was as valuable as the coat, but because it praised and identified Gideon’s greatest creation.
A series of heavy blows battered the door to the laboratory upstairs, but Gideon was finally smiling. He already had a plan—plans were never the problem. Time to execute them was more often the difficulty.
He dashed up the stairs in a hurried tiptoe that muffled his steps, opening the basement door with care to keep it from squeaking.
Whoever was trying to get inside through the reinforced main door had discovered his folly, or so the scientist assumed. That particular portal was lined with lead, and fastened to the wall with hinges made to hold a firehouse door.
Gideon checked the paper basket and said, “Excellent!” Before his eyes, the basket filled and then overflowed with a billowing flutter as the paper kept coming, covered with facts and figures of such outstanding volume that it surprised even the man who’d demanded them, knowing the answer would not be brief. And knowing it would not be good.
Apart from the printer’s clatter, he heard only silence.
The intruders had given up on the door, but it wouldn’t take them long to come around the side and realize there was another way into the office.
Crash.
Not long at all.
The breaking glass of his office window was followed by the scrape of an arm, cleaning out the frame and pushing the shards to the floor. After this came the crush of feet on the scattered fragments, and the grinding sound of heels turning the glass to dust.
Gideon picked up an armful of paper and scanned it. His eyes widened.
A man called out, “This way! I see him!”
Without lifting his attention from the printout, Gideon kicked the office door shut, then twisted the lock. It wouldn’t hold forever—not nearly as long as the main entrance. But he needed more time. The printing apparatus wasn’t finished. It spewed its contents without pause, flinging more and more and more still into the basket, faster than Gideon could empty it.
The heavy thump of a big man’s body shoved hard against the side door. Then three shots—something high-caliber, something that could punch holes in a body or blow away a lock. The fastener held through the fourth round. Gideon was not dealing with the world’s greatest sharpshooter.
A booted foot kicked the door open with a bang.
The printing apparatus wasn’t finished yet, but Gideon told himself that this much would suffice—it was enough to give him his answer, and, if he was very lucky, it might even be enough to make his case.
The stacks of numbers were so fresh they smeared ink across his palms as he hurriedly seized them and bundled them together. In the office doorway, a man with a red bandana over his face and a gun in his hand shouted, “Get away from that machine!”
Irritated at the interruption, Gideon tore off the printed paper and gave its dangling, still-growing edge a rueful look before hefting the bulk of the printout. He crushed it in his arms, holding it between himself and the gunman.
In the brief pause that followed, he let Lincoln’s plaque slip quietly from his grasp, hidden by the crinkled, fluffy mass of wadded paper.
It fell.
And at the moment the plaque landed atop the printer’s console, Gideon flung himself behind a table and used his hip to knock it over. He dropped down for cover as the gunman opened fire. Two shots plunked into the heavy oak, which banged against the scientist’s elbows as he twisted, rolled, and folded the paper into a more manageable mass. Meanwhile, someone fired another shot, maybe more. It was hard to tell them apart over the rattling industrial clank of the printer’s keystrokes.
A second set of footsteps joined the gunman, and two more bullets went wild. Maybe both of them were terrible shots. Something to keep in mind, but it didn’t mean he could disregard them. They only needed one lucky shot between them.
“Back there!” The first man pointed. The upended table rocked again as another volley dug a row of deep, splintering holes.
Behind the incessant clatter of the still-pounding printer keys, he thought he could hear the intruders reloading. Even if it was his imagination, it was only a matter of time before they fired again. He needed a way out.
Several plans presented themselves from his vantage point. He sorted and prioritized them according to likely cost versus success rates.
The men stood between him and the stairwell door, but that was fine. He didn’t want to lead them down there anyway.
No. Behind him. The trapdoor to a storage cellar. That’d be a better option. It had once been part of the basement, before the basement had been finished out for Gideon’s work. The old hospital was a rabbit warren of such places, and he knew them all, having studied the blueprints before establishing his professional headquarters.
Of course, the cellar’s exterior door may or may not have been barred from outside, closed up fast against storms or burglars. There was always the chance that choosing this escape route would render him a fish in a barrel, but he ran the odds in his head and was reassured. Despite the risk, this was his best chance, both for preserving his equipment and for escaping the facility unseen.
Gideon jammed the unwieldy bundle of paper under his arm and glanced about for something to tie it with. Nothing obvious presented itself, so he dropped that idea. He’d have to carry it unsecured. A little noisy, and a little inconvenient, but not impossible.
“Is this the Fiddlehead?” one of the men shouted to the other over the cacophony of pounding keys.
“I don’t know! What does it look like?” came the uncertain reply, meaning they hadn’t yet seen the strategically relocated plaque.
Behind a counter over to his right, Gideon spied a jar of aluminum powder. His eyes narrowed, swiftly scanning the room until he remembered that the potassium chlorate was in the cabinet behind it.
“Science to the rescue,” he mumbled as he scooted on his knees and one hand—the other clasping the wadded sheaf of paper against his chest—across the floor and toward the aluminum.
The intruders must have heard him … maybe only a rustle of his old coat and the fast scrape of his boots as he scrambled out of the way, but they fired in that direction anyway, aiming wherever they guessed he might be heading.
They didn’t hit too close. The noise from the printing apparatus disoriented them. Sometimes Gideon forgot how unsettling it could be to people who weren’t accustomed to it.
He ignored it, fully and happily embracing the sound as cover as he knocked over a chemistry set on a repurposed tea tray. More confusion. More gunshots. But here was the aluminum. He’d have to stand for just a second to get the chlorate.
He put the printout down by his leg. He’d need both hands for this.
He closed his eyes and mentally checked the layout of the cabinet; he knew everything in it, every bottle on every row. Positioning himself as close to the right spot as possible, he counted back from three … two … one … and reached up to pop open the small door, hoping like hell that the morons with the guns wouldn’t shoot up the contents and blow them all to Maryland.
He nicked the bottom edge with a fingernail and the metal door flipped open. With a turn of his wrist, he seized the potassium chlorate without looking, simply trusting his memory.
To his casual delight, his palm was not aerated by bullets.
Over by the printer, his visitors had finally stumbled upon the plaque he’d left behind, which stole their attention at a convenient moment.
“Look at this!”
“What is it?”
“It’s a sign, see? This goddamn piece of junk … it is the Fiddlehead!”
Gideon objected to the “junk” part, but not too strongly, given that these people couldn’t tell a sophisticated calculating device from a relatively mundane printing apparatus. “Idiots,” he mumbled softly as he unscrewed the powder’s lid.
“It’s huge,” one gunman correctly observed.
“Sure is making a lot of noise.”
While they talked over the printer’s racket, Gideon found an empty measuring glass and filled it with the aluminum powder. Then, with exceptional care, he added the chlorate.
“Don’t worry about it: It’s only noise, not a weapon or nothing. Now where’d that nigger get off to?”
Gideon paused, lifting an eyebrow. “Just for that…” He reached over his head, jabbing his fingers into the cabinet again, this time nabbing a vial of sulfur. With a gentle tap, he dumped the yellow substance into his mix, jostled it oh-so-gently, and turned once more to the map in his mind.
Now he needed a spark.
He considered the printing apparatus. He mentally examined the console and dismissed it, knowing it was too well sealed. The most obvious target was across the room where the wires emerged from the basement. They were hot now, their uninsulated ends casting small fizzes of light all along the switch box.
The printer slowed. Its keys pounded down with less regularity, coming to the end of its instructions, to the very end of the answer Gideon needed … and the room fell quiet.
Even Gideon’s ears were ringing, so he knew how strange the silence must feel to the men who weren’t accustomed to the outstanding drone of the metal keys. Still, he’d have only a few seconds while they shook their heads and found their bearings and a few seconds more than that before their ears calmed down enough to hear the hum of the big machine downstairs.
He couldn’t let them notice.
“You got the dynamite?”
Gideon’s back straightened when he heard that word. He didn’t like it. Should’ve expected it. But would have to work around it now, and analyze the meaning of it later. His brain needed to stay on track, just the one track, which he’d narrowed down from many.
He retrieved the paper, bundling it up under his arm and clamping it against his ribs. He tore off a blank strip from the edge, wadded it into a ball, and used it to stopper the small glass cup.
The sound of tearing paper got the gunmen’s attention again. One of them shouted, “He’s over there!”
But before the words were out of the man’s mouth, Gideon was on his feet. He flung the glass across the room and immediately turned his back, dropping back down behind the table.
His aim was better than the gunmen’s, and his concoction was true. The glass shattered against the fuse panel and the powdered mixture exploded—and the room went blank with fire, a blinding chemical light, and a terrible smell.
It threw a shadow so strong that Gideon squinted, even though he was crouched down on the floor and facing the other direction.
“My eyes! Jesus Christ, my eyes!”
“He had a bomb!”
“Give me your dynamite!”
“I can’t see! I can’t see anything!”
“I can, a little bit—give me your sticks!”
The idea of two half-blind fools playing with dynamite was not the sort of thing to make a man dally, so while the gunmen struggled with their explosives, Gideon seized the trapdoor ladder and withdrew into the unfinished cellar. At the bottom he kicked the final rung, bringing the ladder down with him. If the gunmen wanted to follow him, they could jump and break a leg.
He climbed the steps to the exterior door and unlocked it, shoving it with his upper back. It was heavy, but it wasn’t barricaded from the other side. He knocked it open and stepped out into the crisp November night.
His breath clotted in the air, and the stars looked like ice. He was free, and his unwelcome guests didn’t know it yet.
But had the unwelcome guests brought company?
Gideon gently let the door fall shut behind him.
He stay...

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Descripción Tor Books, United States, 2013. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Young ex-slave Gideon Bardsley is a brilliant inventor, but the job is less glamorous than one might think, especially since the assassination attempts started. Worse yet, they re trying to destroy his greatest achievement: a calculating engine called Fiddlehead, which provides undeniable proof of something awful enough to destroy the world. Both man and machine are at risk from forces conspiring to keep the Civil War going and the money flowing. Bardsley has no choice but to ask his patron, former president Abraham Lincoln, for help. Lincoln retired from leading the country after an attempt on his life, but is quite interested in Bardsley s immense data-processing capacities, confident that if people have the facts, they ll see reason and urge the government to end the war. Lincoln must keep Bardsley safe until he can finish his research, so he calls on his old private security staff to protect Gideon and his data. Maria Belle Boyd was a retired Confederate spy, until she got a life-changing job offer from the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pinkerton respects her work, despite reservations about her lingering Southern loyalties. But it s precisely those loyalties that let her go into Confederate territory to figure out who might be targeting Bardsley. Maria is a good detective, but with spies from both camps gunning for her, can even the notorious Belle Boyd hold the greedy warhawks at bay? Another rollicking alternate history from Cherie Priest--Fiddlehead is the fifth book in the Clockwork Century steampunk series that started with Boneshaker. Nº de ref. de la librería FLT9780765334077

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