A comet threatens Earth . . . in 1897. Of the six men launched by cannon to deflect it, one is a saboteur. It’s steampunk Armageddon! The Cometeers by Steven R. Southard. Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, other fine eBook vendors and Gypsy Shadow Publishing at:
huge comet speeds toward a devastating collision with the Earth, but no one will launch space shuttles filled with nuclear weapons. It’s 1897. Instead, they’ll fire projectiles from the Jules Verne cannon and try to deflect the comet with a gunpowder explosion. Commander Hanno Knighthead isn’t sure he can motivate his argumentative, multinational crew of geniuses to work together. It turns out one of them is a saboteur. Then things get worse. Only a truly extraordinary leader could get this group to cooperate, thwart the saboteur, and jury-rig a way to divert the comet. Lucky thing Hanno brought his chewing gum.
Word Count: 10500 Pages to Print: 37 Price: $ 3.99
EXCERPT: This crew couldn’t figure out how to shoot a pop-gun, much less save the world, Commander Hanno Knighthead thought. As he chewed a stick of gum, Hanno wondered how he was supposed to lead such a mismatched and argumentative group, but knew if he didn’t, thousands of people would die when Comet Göker struck on September 9, 1897, just eight days hence. Just now, more bickering had broken out.
“No,” Sutton Woolsthorpe said with a snarl, “my preliminary calculations show we should fire cannon number three in five minutes, but I require time to refine the analysis.” He went back to turning gears on his portable Babbage Machine with pudgy fingers.
“There’s no time for calculating.” Gotzon Voegler’s rich German accent emphasized each consonant. “You must trust my judgment and fire the number three now.”
“Based on what?” Woolsthorpe asked, “The ramblings of a witch from a Grimm’s fairy tale?”
“No. Based on rules of thumb formed from decades of explosives experience.” Voegler held up a thumb. Prosthetic fingers made up the remainder of his right hand.
“A rule of thumb?” Woolsthorpe laughed. “But all your other fingers were blown off in an explosion.”
When Hanno saw Voegler cocking his other fist for a blow, he said, “That’s enough, gentlemen. Voegler, I’m siding with Woolsthorpe’s recommendation this time. Prepare to fire number three on his mark.”
Voegler grumbled, but then spoke aloud to Woolsthorpe. “One day you won’t have time for your calculating machine. On that day, you’ll have to trust my thumb.”
Hanno and his crew travelled within two identical, bullet-shaped vehicles, each quite cramped, being only twelve feet long and nine feet at the widest diameter. Once in space, they’d attached a short connecting tube to join the two projectiles together, allowing three men to sleep in each one. Hanno realized he’d soon have to rearrange the berthing arrangements to lessen the chance of brawling.
“What’s this?” asked Konstantin Golubev, pointing at some wires leading from a switch. “Someone tampered with my electrical system!” He glared at Hiroto Takahashi as he spoke.
Hanno had known a multi-national crew of experts would be a mistake for this mission, and had argued against it, but had been overruled.
Takahashi wore a mechanical, prosthetic right arm, and now used its screwdriver attachment to fasten his Buddha shrine in place near his bunk. “Not tamper, improve.”
“How dare you do that!” Golubev shouted, his voice reverberating in the enclosure. “I designed the system myself using minimal wire exposure for safety. I’ll also remind you it was Russians who invented our air purifier, our plumbing system, our—”
“I improved your design,” Takahashi shrugged, “by adding more switches to safely cut out sections in case of fire.”
“But just look at this loose wiring! I’ll have to re-route it all.”
“Leave the system alone for now,” Hanno told Golubev. “And Takahashi, no more improvements to the system without checking with Golubev first.” He hadn’t figured on treating geniuses like children, but that’s how they behaved.
The two manned projectiles travelled through space, linked to seventeen others of the same size, but those seventeen contained only gunpowder. After each projectile had been launched from the ground-based cannon, the crew had joined them together in orbit, linking the manned ones with an access tube, and the seventeen others with ropes. They’d installed small cannons on the exterior of the projectile cluster, and Hanno hoped the cannon they were about to fire would put them on a close path around the moon, increasing their speed and flinging them out toward their real target, where they could accomplish their mission, God willing. If they didn’t kill each other first.
“Upstart Japanese,” Golubev said, shaking his head at the wiring.
“Arrogant Russian,” Takahashi said to his Buddha statue.
“Reckless German.” Woolsthorpe watched the bulkhead chronometer.
Voegler rolled his eyes. “Haughty Englishman.”
And it never takes long for nationalism to emerge, Hanno thought, like the squalls that had often spoiled the fair weather days of his seagoing career. Only months before, Hanno had been serving as captain of a U.S. Navy torpedo boat. When in port, he’d followed with increasing interest the news of Comet Göker, named for its Ottoman discoverer. Astronomers had at first claimed this body would put on a spectacular show, visible even by the naked eye. Concern had become worry when orbital calculations showed it would pass quite near the Earth. This had given way to alarm when later observations confirmed a collision to be inevitable. Scientists could not say where it would strike. Most likely it would impact at sea, causing no harm, but it could strike a city instead. Experts had been clear about the date, however, and the comet would keep its unsought appointment on September 9th.
“Mark,” Woolsthorpe said, “Fire cannon number three.”
“Firing cannon three,” Voegler said as he moved the handle of the electrical switch.
Hanno heard a muffled report, and the walls of their vehicle shook.
Woolsthorpe brought out his handheld telescope and peered out a window, “I daresay that nudge should be enough.”