Excerpt: The Brothers Sark

coperniscus_winchell_v2
Original cover art for “Crosswind” by Keith Thompson, 2012.

Have you put your name in for the giveaway copy of Crosswind at Goodreads? Mine’s not the only Enclave Publishing book that’s available. We’ve got a whole raft of them listed at Enclave. Make sure you sign up. The Crosswind giveaway ends at midnight on Dec. 1.

As promised, here’s the first of three excerpts from Crosswind, which follows the adventures of Winchell and Copernicus Sark as they uncover a conspiracy aimed at their home city-state of Perch. In this portion, they’re making their escape from the rival city-state of Trestleway:

——-

The pursuing Peace Branch cars raced right through the intersection. They didn’t match Cope’s turn, apparently. Behind them, Winch heard squealing brakes and a chorus of horns.

But the gate was still ahead. And Winch despaired when he saw that it was closing slowly. Two militiamen were at the crank that controlled the mechanism. He couldn’t hear the grinding of gears, but he imagined he could feel the vibration through the street.

“Now what?” Cope slowed the ’wagon’s headlong rush.

Winch flipped through ideas in his mind faster than pages in a notebook. That was when he saw the truck waiting at the gate—the truck from which two more militiamen leapt. It had crates in the back. Stamped with the blurred black word AMMUNITION.

Winch’s hand acted before he could acknowledge the thoughts behind it. He jerked back on one of the levers, and their red motorwagon growled full-speed ahead.

“Winch!” Cope seized his arm. “I’m not one to usually begrudge a man his want for speed, but this isn’t the time!”

“It is!” Winch shouted back. He jerked the rucksack over his shoulders. “Keep us steady to that truck! It’s loaded down with ammunition and should make for quite the show, provided we have enough fuel on us.”

The gate and the truck grew rapidly in Winch’s vision. Militiamen scrambled out of the way. The crack of carbines firing broke through the rumble of the ’wagon’s steam engine. Winch and Cope ducked.

“And what now?”

“We jump.”

Cope stared at him. “Jump?”

Winch nodded. He poised himself by the edge of the ’wagon. Oh, dear. That pavement rushed by faster than an aeroplane’s prop spinning.

“You know, I think I might just be a bad influence on you.” Cope got his own rucksack on and took his gun back from Winch.

“I reloaded.”

“Thanks much.”

They were close now.

“Jump!” Winch cried.

Cope went first, with a howl that faded quickly.

“Forgive me for my insanity, Allfather.” Then Winch pushed off.

Pavement rushed up to reach him. He covered his face and tucked in on himself. For a blissful second, the cool, rushing air and muffled sounds—shouting, the blast of gunfire, the retreating rumble of the motorwagon—held him in their embrace.

Then his body hit what felt like a wall, except that he went rolling over and over and over on its impenetrable surface. He was certain, if he survived this, that his skin would resemble one tremendous bruise.

He slammed ingloriously into a barrel of water, and the air went rushing from his lungs.

Winch pried his eyes open in time to see the motorwagon, driverless and steadfast, collide with the back of the ammunition truck. It crumpled and burst apart, casting metal bits and wood frame and that lovely red paint finish skyward and streetside. The impact shouldered the truck into the gap between the gates, slamming the front end up against one of the massive wooden doors.

Somewhere in its fragmenting engine, a spark or two must have hit the fuel tank. A ball of fire erupted from the wrecked motorwagon and the backside of the truck. A gout of steam shot out of the conflagration and quickly died out.

The militiamen nearby yelled warnings to another and dove for cover.

Winch glimpsed Cope running across the street toward him, with a slight limp on the right leg, as he fired a handful of wild shots toward the scattering guards.

“Stay down!” Cope yelled. “Winch, duck your head!”

Winch ducked.

The back end of the truck exploded in a tremendous flash that threw debris and flame nearly higher than the gate. The explosion lifted the truck bodily a good six feet off the pavement before dropping it to a careless landing that broke the wheels clean off.

The ammunition crates caught fire. Munitions popped and burst, sending off an insane pinwheeling display of sparks like fireworks on the Fourteenth of Octaron.

Something impacted the barrel above Winch. It shattered the rim and sent a stream of water pouring onto him. He pushed out of the way just as Cope slammed into him. They went down in a tangle of arms, legs, and, in Cope’s case, cussing.

“Get up. Get up!” Cope dragged Winch to his feet. A maniacal grin lit his face, which was scored with dirt and soot. Soot, Winch realized, was falling like rain over everything. “Tarnal skies, Winch, when you’ve an idea, it’s one with wings.”

Winch could see that. The truck, motorwagon, and both doors of the gate were now a flaming pile of wood and metal. One of the gatehouses of stone had partially collapsed. There was no way that heap would be moved aside anytime soon. Even the militia stared in abject shock—the ones who hadn’t been blown aside in the explosion and weren’t strewn over the pavement like so many rag dolls.

Alarm bells rang. It didn’t seem the explosion had thrown the Peace Branch boys off their trail, though. Winch counted five clambering out of their motorwagons. All were armed. Someone blew a whistle.

“Don’t suppose they’re here to offer congratulations.”

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