Book: Cogs in Time Anthology (The Steamworks Series) by Catherine Stovall, Cecilia Clark, Amanda Gatton, Robert Craven, Samantha Ketteman, Emma Michaels, Faith Marlow, Nina Stevens, Andrea Staum, Zoe Adams, S.J. Davis, D. Dalton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Catherine Stovall
, Cecilia Clark
, Amanda Gatton
, Robert Craven
, Samantha Ketteman
, Emma Michaels
, Faith Marlow
, Nina Stevens
, Andrea Staum
, Zoe Adams
, S.J. Davis
, D. Dalton
the wet and mud were playing havoc on Hitch’s gears, and he would have to assist him with some thorough cleaning when they arrived back at camp, whether he liked it or not.
While he waited for Hitch to return from his entomology survey, Pen rolled up his sleeve to reveal the notation terminal on his forearm and flipped the switch. The terminal possessed a miniature keyboard and a narrow display, which revealed two small drums of water resistant paper, similar to that of an accountant’s calculator. It hummed with mechanical life, gears and springs working beneath the coppery tinted exterior, fully wound and ready to function by the movement of his body, just like self-winding watch.
He quickly typed the coordinates of his location and a quick observation. The paper fed onto the roll behind the first as he typed. When Hitch arrived, he would photograph the location and work up a detailed map as they investigated the interior. He quickly finished his notes and turned off the terminal, not wishing to test the resistance of the paper any more than necessary.
Pen walked to the sealed entrance of the temple, which was mostly obscured by thick vines and tree roots, and rubbed his hands across its surface. He could feel carvings, but eons of overgrowth and exposure had taken their toll, eroding and obscuring what remained. He returned to his satchel and withdrew a small crate, which opened like a briefcase. Nestled inside the protective foam were four small egg-shaped pods, with a winding key on the top of each. Pen called them crawlers.
He extracted the first, feeling the gears and mechanisms within the pod come to life like a butterfly within a cocoon as he wound the key. He sat it on the ground and continued to the next as the crawler’s six legs unfolded from its sides, and two arms with brushes at the ends, peeked out as the top opened like the back of a scarab. Soon, all four crawlers stood in a line with gears turning, lightly trembling and awaiting directions.
Pen gathered the devices up, took them to the doorway, set each of them to the “clean” function, and watched as they scurried forward. Soon the crawlers would be busy cleaning and removing foliage with their tiny, surgically precise tools, and Pen would have a better idea of what he was dealing with. As he watched them work, he heard the familiar whistle and cadence of his old friend as he plodded through the undergrowth.
Eight years prior, five years before he and Pen had met, Peter “Hitch” Barnesly had been on a species reconnaissance expedition in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of North America. As the caravan of researchers traveled the remnants of a narrow muddy road, the earth beneath them sloughed off and Hitch’s rover had careened down the slope with it. The rover and its three occupants rolled down the mountainside, crashing into trees and covered by the following avalanche of mud and rocks. The driver and front passenger were killed. Hitch had been riding in the back seat with the equipment, and although his choice of seating saved his life, the heavy crates crushed his left leg and arm.
He had lain comatose in the hospital for two days, straddling the line between life and death. He woke to discover his colleagues had not survived the crash and that his leg had been amputated below the knee and his arm just below the shoulder joint. After months of healing and physical therapy, he was fitted with top of the line prosthetics, funded by the University. Unlike traditional prosthetics, the appliances were fueled by steam, hydraulic powered enhancements. They still functioned as well as the day he was “reassembled,” as he liked to call it, aside from the “hitch” in his gait from the added weight of his leg.
“Hello, Pen.” Hitch said in his flat, dry voice. He puffed and wiped the sweat and rain from his eyes. The bandana he wore to shield his head from the sun and insects was soaked through, trickling down his sideburns and running