About the Book:
Thirteen-year-old Cog loved getting her hands greasy in her Uncle’s workshop and building the occasional mud-cannon before the return of her mother knocked her life completely off its rails. Before long she’s stowing away on a royal airship and tricking her way into a dream apprenticeship with the Queen’s master engineer by pretending to be a boy. But her situation takes a dangerous turn when she discovers a plot to assassinate the Queen and throw the kingdom into war.
If she can keep her identity a secret despite her best friend developing a crush on her alter ego, unravel the deadly conspiracy, and keep the demanding master engineer happy, then maybe she can have the future she’s always wanted. Keeping hidden identities and saving kingdoms may not be the same as fixing a steam wagon or an auto-mechanical potion mixer, but Cog has a set of precision screwdrivers and she isn’t afraid to use them.
Follow Cog’s rollicking adventure as she uses her wits and ingenuity to find friendship, trust, and justice in a colorful but sometimes unforgiving steampunk world full of mechanical mayhem.
Targeted Age Group: 9-12
“I reckon it’s one hundred ten yards. What do you think?” Cog handed her spyglass over to Winifred.
Winifred slithered on her stomach to get a better view from the bushes before putting the long brass tube to her eye. “One hundred thirty.”
“I’ll need to make some adjustments.” Cog scrambled over to the device they had lugged all the way to Farmer Hemsworth’s fields. It looked like a small cannon with brass and copper tubing entwined around it. She checked the pressure gauge and turned the dial. “Okay, I think that’ll do.”
Together, they propped up the cannon just the right amount with an old log. Winifred took another look through the spyglass. “We need to turn it more to the right.”
Cog rotated it until Winifred held up her hand. “Perfect!”
“Powering up.” Cog flipped a switch near the base. Sparks played along the copper coiled around the barrel, and the brass tubing hissed like a bucket of angry snakes. The pressure gauge swung ominously into the red.
Winifred took a few steps back. “Are you sure this won’t blow up?”
“Sure, I’m sure,” Cog said, grinning. “We’ll only have one shot, though.”
“I’ll make sure the target is still there.” Winifred returned to the bushes for another look. “We have a problem.”
“See for yourself.” Winifred held out the spyglass, and Cog lowered herself to look. The ground was damp and slick, but she hardly worried about getting her workshop overalls dirty.
Cog put the instrument to her eye. The target, Polly, hadn’t moved from the bench in Mrs. Hemsworth’s rose garden. Polly was fifteen, two years older than Cog, and very pretty. She delighted in teasing Cog about her cropped hair, workshop clothes, and greasy hands. As the unofficial leader of the girls in the village, Polly also made sure that nobody else treated Cog too nicely. Only Winifred broke ranks.
Winifred’s problem was immediately obvious: a boy had joined Polly. Not just any boy either, it was Lawrence Hemsworth. With his good looks and his family’s wealth, he was the most popular boy in the village. Worse yet, Lawrence was only one of a couple of boys who didn’t take Polly’s lead in tormenting Cog.
“You still want to do this?” Winifred asked.
Cog watched him sit next to Polly. They looked good together—Lawrence with his crisp, white shirt and Polly in a flattering, light blue dress. Lawrence leaned in and they met lips, closing their eyes.
“Definitely!” If Lawrence insisted on kissing pretty, precious Polly… well, he’d have to face the consequences.
“Who gets the spyglass to watch?” Winifred asked.
“Rock, paper, scissors.”
They pounded their fists into their hands and counted. “One… Two… Three… Go!”
Cog kept her hand in a closed fist, but Winifred held hers open. “Paper covers rock,” she said, grinning.
“Lucky.” Cog handed her the spyglass. “Ready?”
“I have them in sight,” Winifred reported.
“Firing!” Cog flipped a switch and the machine made a crackling sound followed by a tremendous phoomp! A ball shot out of the barrel—a ball of the slimiest, smelliest mud Planter’s Creek had to offer. Cog had designed the mud electro-cannon to apply a powerful electrostatic charge to the moisture that kept the slimy mass intact as it hurtled over the field.
Cog settled next to her friend to peek out from the bushes. Even at this distance, she could see that Lawrence had slipped his arm around Polly’s shoulders. Polly adjusted herself to face him. They moved toward each other again and… splat!
“Direct hit!” Winifred shouted before exploding into giggles. She clutched her sides and rolled into a ball, laughing so hard her eyes watered.
Cog snatched the spyglass. Mud covered Polly. It was in her hair, on her dress, and smeared across her face where she’d tried to wipe it off. She stormed this way and that, searching behind rose bushes. Cog watched her shove some of the rose canes aside only to quickly clutch her hand, apparently too angry to remember thorns.
Lawrence hadn’t been spared—muddy spots now marred his shirt and face. Unlike Polly though, he merely looked befuddled. Maybe he’d noticed the mud had fallen from the sky.
Polly turned and her mud-soaked hair swung around to smack her across the face. Cog dissolved into giggles and soon joined Winifred, rolling on the ground and scarcely able to breathe.
By the time they recovered, Cog’s stomach hurt, and she had to wipe tears from her face. “That should teach Polly to stop teasing me about my hair.”
“Only if she figures out we were behind it,” Winifred said as she stood and made a futile effort at brushing off her dress.
“She knows,” Cog reassured her. Who else would Polly suspect of making mud fall from the sky? “Help me get this back to the workshop.”
With Winifred holding up one end and Cog the other, they began their trek into the village. Cog hoped to get her invention back and at least partly disassembled before Papa returned. He wouldn’t consider a mud electro-cannon a good use of his stock of parts.
They took a path along a long wind-break of trees to Papa’s workshop. Cog peeked in a window of the white-washed building. “C’mon, Winny, it’s clear.”
As always, the shop was tidy with racks of tools on the walls and shelves filled with well-organized bins of parts and fasteners. Two large tables took up the rest of the space, one covered with parts and the other empty and clean. They shuffled the device onto the empty table, and Cog immediately started loosening bolts.
Winifred cleared a little space among the steam wagon parts on the other table and hopped up to sit, swinging her dirty feet. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Polly that mad before.”
“You made a perfect call on the range,” Cog said, grinning back.
“Too bad we got Lawrence, too.”
“He’ll probably be laughing about it by tomorrow,” Cog said. Maybe she could have waited for Polly to be alone, but that would’ve risked missing the chance.
“Getting the mud from the creek made me think,” Winifred said. “If we made a raft, maybe—”
Polly burst into the shop like an unwelcome locomotive, her face still smeared and her hair in dirty strings. She jabbed a finger toward Cog. “You!”
Polly tugged on a particularly muddy part of her dress. “Lawrence said this mud came out of the clear, blue sky.”
“That’s odd,” Winifred remarked, looking as innocent as a kitten.
“There’s only one person who could make that happen,” Polly turned her sharp gaze toward the disassembled mud-cannon. “Is that what did it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Cog tried to hold back a guilty grin.
“Oh yes, you do, you and your stupid gizmos.” Her lips twisted in anger. “Nobody is ever going to hire a girl to fix machines. All this playing around with junk is a waste of time. Your uncle just wishes he had a son instead of some freak girl his sister didn’t want.”
“Shut up!” Winifred yelled, jumping down from the table.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten the freak’s mousy accomplice.” Polly turned to Winifred. “You’ll both pay for—”
The workshop door’s bell jingled, and Papa came inside. He looked pale.
Polly turned toward him, pointing to her dress. “Look at what your niece did to—”
He waved vaguely toward the door. “You can come back and play with Cog later, Polly.”
“Hmmmph…” Polly shot one last scathing glare toward Cog before flouncing out the door.
She vanished from Cog’s mind as quickly as she had from the workshop. What had Papa so upset?
“Is it Gran?” Cog asked. Her grandmother had taken ill a couple of years ago and still hadn’t recovered.
Papa shook his head. “No. It’s… well… she’s come back.”
“Come back? Who?”
“Your—” He turned to Winifred. “I need to talk with Cog, Winny. Maybe you two—”
“Albert, that’s where you went off to,” a woman’s voice came from behind him. “Is this the old workshop? You must have expanded it.”
“Yes, business has been good.” He stepped to the side as a woman slid past him.
She had the same chestnut hair as Cog, though hers trailed down her back in lustrous curls instead of being cropped short. But the eyes made Cog freeze to the spot. They looked exactly the same as her own: large and dark-brown in color. In her well-tailored lavender dress, the woman looked beautiful, elegant, and completely out of place standing next to a rack of tools.
“I was just telling—” Papa started.
“Oh, this must be Corinna,” the woman cooed, sweeping over to Winifred. Her gaze took in Winny’s dirty dress, scabbed knees, and filthy feet. “What a beautiful young lady you’ve grown into.”
Winifred turned her gaze back and forth, her eyes wide. “Um…”
“That’s not Corinna,” Papa said.
“I should go,” Winifred whispered. She crept to the door, shooting Cog a glance that clearly said she’d want a full report.
The woman turned back to Papa, “Where is she?” She peered around the room before settling on Cog and smiling. “Is this your son, Albert? He looks just like you. You never said anything about—”
“Abigail,” Papa said, putting a hand on Cog’s shoulder, “this is Corinna.”
“Corinna?” Her mouth fell open.
“You’re Papa’s sister?” Cog supposed her mouth must be hanging open too. She’d never suspected the teenage girl that gave her up would be the elegant woman in front of her.
Abigail regained her composure and opened her arms. “Come here, My Little Princess.”
Cog took a few unsure steps before holding up her grimy hands. “You probably don’t want me to—”
Abigail frowned at the dirty fingers. “Perhaps you should keep those behind your back this once.” She closed the distance as Cog kept her hands out of the way. Abigail gingerly pulled her into a loose hug.
What should meeting your mother for the first time feel like? Her mind had jammed from trying to be happy, angry, curious, nervous, and a hundred other emotions all at once.
Abigail backed away. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Why did you leave?” Cog blurted out.
Papa gestured toward the door. “Maybe we should go into the house, and—”
“No, Albert, there’s no point putting it off.” Abigail placed a hand on each of Cog’s shoulders. “I did it for you darling. I married very young, and shortly afterwards your father, Charles, needed to go seek his fortune in one of the big cities on the sea. Then we had you. We were very poor and life in the city was hard, so I brought you back here where you’d be happy and safe. I knew Albert and Mother would take wonderful care of you.”
She took one of Cog’s hands and cradled it in her own. “I hope you can understand. I regretted giving you up every day, but I did it because I love you so much. Your life here is so much better than what I could have given you.”
“So you came back to see how I’ve grown up?” Cog asked. What was she supposed to feel?
Abigail shook her head. “No, My Little Princess. I’ve come to take you with me.”
“But you said my life is better here.”
“And it has been,” Abigail said. “But things have changed. Your father inherited his uncle’s vineyards near Clark’s Mill—the best in the southlands. Now we can finally be a family together. It’s wonderful there.”
“But I like it here.” Cog turned to Papa.
“You’re moving too fast, Abigail. This is something the three of us need to discuss.”
“We’re discussing it now, Albert. Corinna should see more of the world.”
“I’ve lived here my entire life, and I don’t have any complaints,” Papa said.
“She’ll have opportunities she doesn’t have here.”
“She’s learning plenty in my workshop. You can’t sweep in here after all these years and simply—”
“Albert, I finally have my life together, and I want to be the mother I haven’t been. You’ve done a wonderful job with her, but it’s time for me to do my part as well. I’ll be able to have her attend the Roseburrow Academy where she’ll get a first class education. She could go to a university then.”
Papa nodded impatiently. “Yes, that’s very well, but she wants to be an engineer and she’ll get no better education for that than apprenticing in a real working shop like mine.”
“Albert,” Abigail said softly, “you’re a mechanic fixing equipment for farmers. At a university she could learn how to be a real engineer.” She turned to Cog. “Wouldn’t you like to work on things like the latest airships, design new kinds of engines and machines or do whatever it is engineers do?”
Cog nodded uncertainly. She’d always imagined herself working alongside Papa until he decided to retire, fixing the same old steam tractors, pumps, clocks, and miscellaneous odds and ends the local farmers needed fixed. Now she imagined herself working on the latest Hamilton car, or a Gorathian royal airship like the ones that sometimes flew high above. Maybe she could work with aether-tapping machines and other things she’d only read about in books. Exciting new possibilities bloomed like Mrs. Hemsworth’s rose garden in spring. But leaving her home….
“Besides,” Abigail added, “she’s no longer a little girl; she’s entering a time of her life when she’s going to need a mother.”
“I—” Papa started, then frowned. “We need to discuss it.”
They did a lot of discussing that afternoon and night. However, the arguments didn’t change much, and they took a break for dinner. Abigail volunteered to take Gran her meal. When she returned from the upstairs bedroom, she told Cog that Gran wanted to see her.
Cog entered the dimly lit room. Gran was in bed, looking as frail and tired as ever. She appeared much older than she should with her white hair and bony hands. The dark shadows on her face from the light of the single, feeble gaslamp deepened the sunken eyes and hollow cheeks.
“Come here,” she beckoned.
Cog moved to the bedside. “What is it, Gran?”
“Abby has told me what she wants to do.”
“Your mother, Abigail. She’ll always be Abby to me.” She smiled weakly. “My Abby has certainly grown up, and what a charming woman she’s become.”
“What do you think I should do? I like the idea of becoming a real engineer, but Papa needs me to help him in the workshop and to help take care of you.” She’d also miss Winifred, but that didn’t seem as mature a reason to stay.
“We’ll be fine, Cog. You know your Papa, always so responsible even when he was a little boy.” She smiled wistfully, and a few of the years disappeared from her face. “So different from his carefree, little sister.”
“Gran, I’d always planned to take over Papa’s work one day.” Polly’s words burst back into her head. What if the local farmers and villagers didn’t want a woman fixing their tractors and equipment?
“Cog, I think you forget that your Papa is still a young man. The business won’t disappear if you spend a few years away.”
“It’s up to you, sweetheart.” Gran took her hand. “But I think you’re overlooking something. This is also a chance for you to get to know your mother; she’s already missed so much of your life.”
“She didn’t have to leave.”
“Don’t judge her too harshly; she did what she thought was best for you. I know my Abby would like a chance to see her daughter blossom. I just ask that you remember that.” She pointed toward an old, battered dresser in the corner. “There’s something I want you to have before you go. Bring me the green pouch in the top drawer.”
“You don’t have to give me anything, Gran. I don’t even know if I’m going.”
“This is something I want to do.”
Cog crossed to the dresser, retrieving a small, soft pouch. She felt a delicate chain through the folds and something hard. A necklace? She handed it to Gran.
“My father gave this to me when I was a few years older than you. I wanted to give it to Abby, but she left before I could.” She poured out the contents onto Cog’s palm, a round golden locket on a thin chain. “It’s time for you to have it, whatever you decide.”
“Thank you,” Cog said as she held the locket up to catch the light. A dragon with crystal eyes curled around the outside edge, the tip of its tail reaching to its reptilian head. The lamp light glinted off of minuscule scales, making it almost look alive. “It’s pretty.” She felt a latch on the side and opened it to reveal a clock.
“It needs winding, but it keeps good time.”
Cog wrapped her arms around Gran and gave her a gentle hug. The woman felt so thin and fragile that she dare not squeeze too hard.
Gran smiled weakly as Cog let go. “Now, give me a kiss and say good-night.”
She left the room with a sickly swishing in her stomach as she tumbled the dragon locket in her fingers. No matter what her Gran said, the locket felt like a good-bye gift.
Papa met her at the bottom of the stairs. “How’s Gran?”
“Good.” Cog held out the locket in her hand. “She gave me this.”
He stared at it for a few moments and then sighed. “She wants you to go with your mother, doesn’t she?”
“I think so. She said it was up to me though.”
“Where’s Abigail?” Cog looked past him into the front room. The mismatched sofa and chairs were empty, the only sound the splashing of the automatic clothes washer as its arms scrubbed a shirt on a washboard. Papa had made the washer himself out of an old metal drum and spare plumbing parts. Most of the machines in the house were similar creations, giving the place the look of an animated junkyard.
“She’s in the guest room.” He frowned and swallowed hard. “Abigail might be right. If you stay here, you’ll be fixing the same things you are now the rest of your life. You’ve got a sharp mind—maybe too sharp for a little village like this.”
“So you want me to go with her, too?”
He shook his head. “Want? No. ‘Course I don’t want you to go.”
“Then why are you telling me she might be right?”
“’Cause it’s the truth. Simple as that. Now you should be getting to bed, we’ve got plenty to do tomorrow.” He pulled her into a tight hug and ruffled her cropped hair. “Good night, Cog.”
She poured herself a glass of water and retreated to her small bedroom over the workshop. After changing into a nightgown, she settled into her firm bed and breathed in the scents of grease and oil. On a small table next to her bed rested the books she had borrowed from Papa. One was about Gorathia’s royal airships and the other contained diagrams of Aether-based devices. All about machines he’d never work with or even see in a simple southlands village. Did she want to spend her whole life fixing steam tractors? What would having a mother be like?