LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE…..
Thaddeus (Thad) Sharpe (& Dante, the mechanical parrot)
Name: Thaddeus (Thad) Sharpe (and Dante, the mechanical parrot)
Book Series: The Clockwork Empire
Job: Sword Swallower and Part-Time Assassin of Mad Scientists
Weight: 150 lbs.
Hair Color: Black, with a curl
Eye Color: Brown
From (Location): A traveling circus in Eastern Europe and Russia
Significant Other: Sofiya Ekk (definitely not his wife, but treats him like her husband), Nikolai (adopted son)
Signature Move: Using clockwork devices against their creators.
Kill Highlights: Has killed over fifty clockworkers around the world.
Enemies: Mr. Griffin (a mad scientist with mobility problems)
Favorite Pastime: Hunting clockworkers (mad scientists) and practicing for the circus ring
Other Facts: Ten years ago, Thad’s new wife died, leaving him with a son named David to raise. Thad was a devoted father, and was horrified beyond measure when a clockworker snatched David one night. Thad tried to effect a rescue, but David was already dead when Thad arrived. Thad managed to kill the clockworker and take his mechanical parrot Dante, and since then he’s been trying to rid the world of the clockwork scourge, one madman at a time. He usually carries a newfangled revolver and a number of stolen clockwork gadgets, and he doesn’t hesitate to use either.
Thaddeus Sharpe hovered in the shadows of the tunnel. Ahead, the wide spaces of the arena beckoned. A cloudy sky threatened rain. What the bloody hell had he gotten himself into?
“Sharpe is sharp,” whistled the battered mechanical parrot on his shoulder.
“Shut it, Dante,” he muttered back. Thad felt the dank air move. Others were gathering in the other tunnels. Other people. They weren’t clockworkers, though. Clockworks, the mad inventors who created some of the strange machines Thad himself carried, didn’t skulk in doorways. Thad knew this–he had personally killed more than fifty of them.
The arena reminded him of the Coliseum in Rome–wide and round, with a sandy floor and seats all the way around it. Sheer walls at the bottom that kept combatants inside. He wondered who would be watching. Thad liked this less and less, but his attention was riveted on the Box.
The Box sat in the exact center of the arena. It was the size of a horse, made of plain brown wood. Sofiya had assured him that the contents would grant great power. Exactly what sort of power, she didn’t know, but Thad had come to trust her. More or less. The trouble was, there was only one box, and a lot of interested people in the other tunnels.
Thad edged forward again, and tension squeezed his chest. He had to be careful. Nikolai was counting on him. It had only been a month since he had first encountered the boy, but already Niko meant more to him than Thad ever thought possible. He remembered slipping into the ruined castle of the clockworker who called himself Lord Havoc. Thad had been paid an enormous sum to kill the lunatic inventor and steal one of his machines, but Thad would have done both for free.
He had been ghosting down a corridor much like this one, and it had opened unexpectedly onto a balcony that ringed a large hall. On the floor a story below lay yet another dreadful laboratory. Thad had seen so many now that they were blurring together. Clockworkers focused on different areas of science–mechanics, physics, automatics, biology, chemistry, even astronomy–but their labs tended to have the same equipment. They almost always had a forge, since they had to design and create their own machinery. They usually had a great deal of glassware, mechanical parts, medical equipment, and sadly, chains, cages, and other restraints near some kind of operating table. Thad’s all-too-experienced eye ran over the similarities and picked out differences. A stack of barrels in one corner. A large cooking stove in another. Shelves lined with jars, each one containing a human brain in fluid. And on a worktable amid a jumble of half-built spiders, a very different spider, a large one with ten legs instead of eight and intricate wires and carvings all over its body. Havoc’s machine. Of Havoc himself, there was no sign.
Dante shifted on Thad’s shoulder, and Thad narrowed his eyes. What was this machine and why did his employer want it so badly? Secret reasons for wanting it couldn’t be good reasons. On the other hand, he’d given his word and taken the money.
Thad gave a mental shrug. He could decide later. First, he’d have to kill Havoc.
As if on cue, a door in the lab below opened and a man emerged. He looked perfectly ordinary–nearing forty or so, a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, the long mustaches favored in this part of the world. His right arm was elaborately mechanical, though, and nearly twice as thick as his left. Steam even puffed from the joints. Thad wondered what surprises it contained. Havoc–Thad assumed the man was Havoc–was trailing a chain, and with it he towed into the laboratory another figure. Thad’s stomach went cold and his hand stole automatically up to his shoulder where it gripped Dante hard. The figure at the other end of the chain was a child, a boy from the look of it. He was wrapped in ragged clothing from head to foot, and a tattered scarf covered his face. Even his hands were wrapped in rags.
The gut-wrenching memories threatened to drag Thad back into the past, and he fought to stay in the present as Havoc dragged the boy onto the operating table. A bear made of rage roared to life inside Thad, and he trembled with the effort of holding himself in check. Nothing else mattered now, not the machine, not the money, not Sofiya, not even Vilma and her sister Olga. Havoc would be dead before the sun rose. He looked around for a staircase so he could slip down to the main floor. Havoc bent over the boy on the operating table.
“Bugger this,” Thad said, and leaped over the edge.
He landed on the foot of the operating table intending to deliver a solid kick to Havoc’s face. Unfortunately, he lost his balance. Fortunately, he fell straight into Mr. Havoc. The two of them went down in a struggling bundle of arms and legs, brass and iron. Too late Thad remembered the pistols under his coat. His anger had gotten the better of him.
Havoc’s thick metal arm shoved hard, and Thad skidded halfway across the floor on his back. The clockworker sat up. Dante peered down at him from the operating table with his one good eye.
“Who the hell are you?” Havoc boomed in Lithuanian. It would have been more impressive if he hadn’t been sitting on the ground with his legs open. “Have you come to steal my work?”
In answer, Thad pulled the pistols from beneath his jacket and took aim. “Olga,” he said.
Havoc blinked at him. “What?”
“Olga. She was one of the women you took from the village. I spoke to her before I came here.”
“Oh. I take a lot of women. Sometimes dogs, too. Dogs are nice. I don’t remember a woman named Olga but I do remember a dog named Sunis, but a dog wouldn’t steal my work like you are trying to do.”
Thad fired. Havoc’s metal arm moved so fast, it blurred, and the bullet ricocheted away. “It seems stupid to name a dog dog, but he wasn’t mine and he didn’t live very long. It looks like you’re trying to kill me, so it would be prudent to kill you straightaway, though I would like to know why you didn’t fall into my pit so I can fix the problem, and it would have been interesting to save your brain for my work, the work you want to steal, and I do not take kindly to thieves.”
With a series of clicks and whirrs, an enormous pistol emerged from Havoc’s forearm. Thad scrambled to his feet and dove behind the worktable with the ten-legged spider on it seconds before Havoc fired. A spray of bullets chittered across the floor right behind Thad and pinged off the equipment piled on and around the table. Thad glanced up. The ten-legged spider sat on its pyramid of junk, just another piece of paraphernalia. Thad could almost touch it. Glass shattered as bullets zipped around for several seconds like deadly hummingbirds. Then they stopped. Thad risked a peek around the table. The fluid jars near him had been shattered, the gory contents pulped. Thad smelled sharp formaldehyde. Havoc, still sitting on the ground, was feeding bullet cartridges into his arm. Thad whipped his pistol around, then realized that from this angle, the boy on the table was partly in line of fire.
“Damn it,” he muttered.
“I hate it when people make a mess in my laboratory,” Havoc said, the words rippling endlessly from his mouth. “Especially thieves like you. It will take hours to clean this up, though I can use automatons to help me, but lately some haven’t been so cooperative, which is why I had to put some of my work aside, though this new breakthrough is very promising and I don’t appreciate that you have interrupted me, little thief.”
He fired again, and Thad ducked back behind the table. Bullets pocked and pinged all around him. A red hot line scored his forearm and he snatched himself farther back. Blood trickled down the inside of his sleeve.
“I hit you, little thief. I can smell the blood. It’s funny how these days I can sense so much more than I could before I contracted this wonderful disease–”
“Dante!” Thad shouted, “shut it!”
“Applesauce!” Dante’s interjection was followed by a scream from Havoc. Thad shoved himself away from the equipment pile and slid sideways on the floor. Dante was at Havoc’s shoulder, his sharp beak piercing Havoc’s ear and his needle claws dug into Havoc’s neck. Blood flew in all directions. Havoc’s metal arm fired wildly into the ceiling. The boy huddled on the operating table, but Thad’s slide across the floor had changed the trajectory so that the child wasn’t in the line of fire. The pistol barked three times in Thad’s hand. All three shots went straight into Havoc’s upper body. His arm gun went silent and the clockworker toppled backward with a burbling gasp. The smell of gunpowder hung in the air.
“Bless my soul,” Dante said, hopping free of Havoc. His claws were red. “Doom!”
Thad glanced over at the ten-legged spider crouched atop the pile of equipment across the room. What about that thing was worth so much? In any case, it would keep for now. He ran to the table. The boy lay huddled on his side, shivering in his rags. For a terrible moment Thad was back in Poland looking down at David. But this wasn’t Poland, and this boy wasn’t David. There was no sheet, no blood, and Thad had arrived in time.
“It’s all right,” Thad told him, then cursed himself for speaking English. He switched to his heavy Lithuanian. “I’ll get you out of here. The bad man is dead. He can’t hurt you.”
Thad shook his head. The boy–Nikolai–had escaped the castle with him, but–
“Your attention, please!”
A figure appeared in the stands, speared at the center of a spotlight. It wore a white robe and hood, and Thad couldn’t tell, not even by the voice, if the figure was male or female.
“Welcome to the Supernatural Smackdown!” the figure boomed. “The rules are simple. The last one standing keeps the box and its contents. Our healers are standing by to ensure no one receives permanent damage, though I am afraid they can do nothing to stop the pain. The match will begin in five seconds. Four . . . three . . . ”
Steven Harper Piziks was born in Saginaw, Michigan, but he moved around a lot and has lived in Wisconsin, Germany, and (briefly) Ukraine. Currently he lives with his three sons in southeastern Michigan.
His novels include In the Company of Mind and Corporate Mentality, both science fiction published by Baen Books. Writing as Steven Harper for Roc Books, he has produced The Silent Empire series. He’s also written books based on Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and The Ghost Whisperer, as well as the movie novelization Identity, which he managed under a deadline of only three weeks. His numerous short stories have appeared, among other places, in all but one of Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthologies and in all of her humorous suburban fantasy anthology. Currently he’s working on The Clockwork Empire steampunk trilogy for Ace Book, and The Doomsday Vault, the first in the series, is due out in November, 2011.
Most recently, he’s branched into the field of romantic suspense with Trash Course, written under the pseudonym Penny Drake, a name he swiped from his mother.
Booklist calls his novels “fast, furious, and absorbing,” and “intelligent enterntainment.” Strange Horizons says his work is filled with “fast-paced adventure filled with intrigue and populated with characters you care about,” and The Romantic Times writes that “Harper . . . creates a compelling universe.”
Mr. Piziks currently teaches high school English in southeast Michigan. His students think he’s hysterical, which isn’t the same as thinking he’s hilarious. When not writing, he plays the folk harp, dabbles in oral storytelling, and spends more time on-line than is probably good for him.
Want to read more from Steven Harper?
This contest is provided by Roc/Penguin
Five winners will each receive a copy of The Havoc Machine by Steven Harper
Available May 7, 2013 from Roc/Penguin
About this Book:
In a world riddled with the destruction of men and machines alike, Thaddeus Sharpe takes to the streets of St. Petersburg, geared toward the hunt of his life…
Thaddeus Sharpe’s life is dedicated to the hunting and killing of clockworkers. When a mysterious young woman named Sofiya Ekk approaches him with a proposition from a powerful employer, he cannot refuse. A man who calls himself Mr. Griffin seeks Thad’s help with mad clockwork scientist Lord Havoc, who has molded a dangerous machine. Mr. Griffin cares little if the evil Lord lives or dies; all he desires is Havoc’s invention.
Upon Thad’s arrival at Havoc’s laboratory, he is met with a chilling discovery. Havoc is not only concealing his precious machine; he has been using a young child by the name of Nikolai for cruel experiments. Locked into a clockwork web of intrigue, Thad must decipher the dangerous truth surrounding Nikolai and the chaos contraption before havoc reigns…
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