My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

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Last updated 07/07/16.

I’m Rebekah. I recently turned 19, I live in Iowa, and writing has taken a back seat to programming for the past few years. Most of what’s up here is from ages past, but I’ve been thinking about resurrecting this blog for my current projects. I’ve got something in the works my mom really wants me to finish, and I have another project I’ve only told one person about because it’s terribly self-indulgent and kind of silly.

Anyway, I’m still busy kicking my stuff around on this website and getting rid of some of the front-page links to really old stuff (though I’m keeping the content in the archives, except maybe my blog posts from the era of high school angst).

My current project is a steampunk novel called A City Reclaimed, and for once, I’m quite pleased with it. The dumb side project I have is placer-titled Wizards, and it’s about college-age computer nerds in an alternate world where computers are magic and shenanigans ensue.

What, you want to hear more than that? Okay:

A City Reclaimed

ACR begins with a thirteen-year-old girl called Ella and a plague called hephrol. Most plagues affect commoners more than anyone else, but hephrol–for a reason unknown at the start of the book–affects nobles far before anyone else. It’s terribly contagious and the symptoms go from nausea > seizures > paralysis > death.

Ella–full name Estelle Blackwood III–is noble. Most of her family’s been wiped out by the plague and she’s the only one around who knows about bacteria, contagion, keeping your hands clean–all that good stuff of modern medicine–because she’s the only one who got tutored by this gent called Samuel, who went above and beyond his job of teaching the approved math-and-science curriculum to Ella. He introduced her to medicine, mechanics, engineering, whatever he knew and she wanted to learn, and eventually got fired and sent home for teaching her how to shoot a gun (very taboo).

So Ella’s shut up in the abandoned maids’ quarters of her family’s mansion, she’s assumed dead from hephrol, and she’s waiting for a chance to escape and try to find Samuel. She’s thinking that if she’s the only one left alive from the plague, someone’s going to try to take the city her family governed, and if she’s in the way then she’s not going to live. So she figures if she grabs some valuables, hitches a ride on the traders’ carts, and gets off at the city she suspects Samuel is from, she can find work for as long as she needs to figure out where he is. He’s the only person alive she knows and trusts, he cared a lot about her, and she’s sure he’d take her in or give her a job.

Her plan works–mostly. Her engineering skills, acquired from Samuel, and her wits keep her alive in her destination city (Corveny) for a few months… until she spots a man she thinks is Samuel and breaks her rule of not staying out after dark to follow him. Unfortunately, he’s got a cart, and when she follows him into the bad part of town, she doesn’t notice where she is and he doesn’t notice her. Ella gets mugged for her tool/money bag and knocked out on the street.

Fortunately, the man remembers a forgotten errand and loops around, spotting Ella on the second pass. The sight is kind of a trigger to him because Ella happens to look very similar to his late wife, so he picks her up and takes her home. He isn’t Samuel; Ella discovers he’s the city governor, and he’s very interested to hear what happened in her hometown, Muncival, because he hasn’t been able to get any communication to or from the area. Governor Gabriel Mullary is not thrilled to hear that the city’s been taken over by some unknown power that’s not letting his diplomats pass through–turns out this is bad news on top of the airship pirate attacks that have been happening in Corveny. (Ella’s been missing those by staying in someone’s barn at night and not going out after dark.)

Gabriel is an especially kind man, when he can be, and takes in Ella in much the same way she’d expected from Samuel. Ella quickly makes friends with Gabriel’s son James, who is also interested in engineering, along with chemistry and medicine. He stays up with her in his workshop to make sure she doesn’t fall asleep too quickly after her concussion, lets her build things with his tools to keep her occupied, and by the end of the night she’s taken a few designs he’d blueprinted but never built and made them.

Ella learns quickly and loves to build things. James does too, but he’s more hands-off and intellectual–quiet, bookish, interested in theory–while Ella prefers to work with her hands and learns only what she needs to know for the latest project. Crucially, she produces more than he does, and this brings in so much money that Gabriel’s able to put a lot of it into building up the city’s defenses toward warding off pirates. Gabriel’s never asked her directly to work for him; she’s just found an arrangement that worked and is earning her keep while doing what she’s always wanted to do.

The problem comes three years later, when the mild pirate attacks (which have mostly been persistent petty theft or vandalism) take a turn for the worse. One night, the pirates come in en masse and they intend to kill. Gabriel is kidnapped in the night while helping defenses, and taken north.

When Ella and James find out about this in the morning, they know they’re going after him. Housekeeper Connie (who is an unofficial advisor and confidante in addition to making delicious pie) has been left secretive means of keeping the city in line as it’s officially run by the captain of police; she’ll be the one to make sure he doesn’t do anything Gabriel wouldn’t approve of.

So after James checks in at the hospital where he works to let them know where he’s going and Ella makes arrangements for someone to build devices to counter what the pirates used in their last attack, they head home one more time to pack. Then they leave in a chariot Ella designed originally for Gabriel’s diplomats: a cart shaped so the rider is laying down as they either steer or sleep (it has trunk space in the belly), and bronze mechanical steam-powered horses (carefully waterproofed). It’s not the most fuel efficient thing ever, nor is it the least conspicuous or even the fastest (though it isn’t slow), and it doesn’t have room for more than two people and some supplies, but you can be moving almost constantly with two people taking shifts.

Ella and James head out on little more information than “go north.” James is well aware that the travel guides currently published all disagree with each other, neither of them has much of a plan, and they have a sneaking suspicion that they’ll end up being Gabriel’s getaway help, rather than actually having to jailbreak him.

But they head out anyway. Their mission crosses paths with the pirates’ motives, Gabriel’s stealthy rebellion, a couple mad scientists, the origins and reason behind the attack pattern of hephrol, and a political conspiracy that’s been going on for decades.