An Excerpt from Clockwork Calico Book 1 – The Golden Owl #steampunk #catbooks

Introducing Calico Cogg: The Clockwork Calico

Calico Cogg is a cat like no other. Rescued from the streets of Ticswyk by esteemed inventor Lionel Cogg, she has been fitted with implants to enhance her natural feline abilities. When Lionel is kidnapped, Cali must put her skills to the test to free him.

Dark schemes are in the works—a plague of tiny clockwork spiders are wreaking havoc on the city’s inhabitants. Only Cali, with help from her trusted mouse friend Emmit, can get to the bottom of it all. With a criminal mastermind planning a major heist, Cali must race against time to unravel his plot before he escapes with the city’s greatest treasure.

Enhanced. A marvel of the ages. Superior to all other felines. That’s how her creator, Lionel Cogg, put it. He named this special cat Calico Cogg. Cali for short. A masterpiece of engineering, a creation of pure beauty. Who could have guessed that a skinny calico from the streets would turn out to be his most marvelous invention to date? As a self-proclaimed Master Tinker, Lionel had spent years dabbling with gears and levers. Though he’d found success with many of his creations, none had given him the pride he’d felt when looking upon Cali. She was truly a masterpiece.

Cali stretched her paws in front of her and arched her back high. Adding a yawn, she allowed her body to shudder, relishing the sensation as her tight muscles stretched. She had slept so well the night before that she’d scarcely moved an inch.

Rays of sun formed a puddle near Cali’s favorite cushion on the wide windowsill. The early morning light, interrupted only by the shadowed crossbars on the window, shone down on her, highlighting the golden facets of her fur. Her brass enhancements twinkled in the sunlight, absorbing its warmth. Turning her head, she gave her side a few licks, calming a patch of black and white fur that had become rumpled in the night. Lifting a paw, she gave it a few licks before rubbing it over her face and nose.

The clatter of a small metal dish made her ears turn forward, standing at attention. Breakfast. With a single bound, she hopped from her perch, her stomach rumbling. The metallic implants of her right paw plinked lightly against the floor as she entered the kitchen. Her mouth watered at the sight of small pink shreds in her bowl. This was a special morning indeed. She normally ate well, but it wasn’t every day she was given fresh tuna for breakfast.

“Good morning, Cali,” Lionel said as he pushed the bowl toward her.

Cali nudged his ankle with her nose, a loud purr vibrating in her throat. Lionel reached down and ran a gentle hand across her fur, adding a few scritchins under her chin for good measure. After brushing herself against his leg in gratitude, she leaned down into the bowl, lapping up pieces of fish and chewing happily. Fresh and flavorful, this was Cali’s absolute favorite meal.

Lionel enjoyed a few bites of pastry as Cali ate her meal. This morning the inventor was dressed in his finest: a white shirt with a high collar, black suspenders and bow tie, beige trousers and dark brown boots polished to a high shine. His normally stubbled chin was shaved clean, his graying brown hair combed neat. On his head he wore a black bowler hat, a bronze key tucked into the band. He had to look his best for the exhibition.

The exhibition was presented courtesy of Ticswyk’s many Guilds. As an independent tinker, Lionel had nothing to do with these corrupt organizations. They ran more like organized crime than organized labor. Occasionally they warred with each other, escalating to brawls in the streets. He tried to stay out of their way, but refusing to join them naturally put him on their watchlist. But he wouldn’t allow them to control him and his work.

Being outside the trade Guilds made finding work difficult at times but easy at others. He could set his own prices and decide which jobs he wanted to take, meanwhile allowing himself plenty of time to work on his own inventions. If he were to join the Machinists or Engineers Guilds, he’d be forced to take work that could be extremely dangerous. Some members came away injured, unable to work again. The Guild Masters didn’t care about a worker’s well-being.

Not to mention the requirement of paying heavy royalties to the Guild Masters. Low-paying jobs that the Guild coordinated resulted in a meanly sum for the worker since the Guild Masters skimmed sixty percent off the top. Higher-paying work oftentimes meant working for shady characters involved in criminal activity, and required the worker to keep his mouth shut or risk serious punishment. The law looked the other way when it came to the Guilds. Power and gold were their main objectives, not happy and healthy workers.

Even more troubling for Lionel was the fact that his inventions would be credited to the Guild, not to himself. That simply wouldn’t do. Lionel liked to let folks know what he’d created. He took pride in his inventions and had no intention of sharing credit for their design.

For the most part, Lionel had been successful. He’d traveled to exhibitions, displaying his latest gadgets and impressing the onlookers. Some of them were even willing to buy. It was a modest living, but it was done on his terms. He’d earned himself a comfortable middle class existence.

There had been a few occasions where the Guild interfered with his work, though. Two years ago, Guild operatives had sabotaged his steam-powered hammer, leaving him with a bruised reputation. The Builders Guild was using the same tool only three months later, proving that someone had stolen his schematics before tampering with the prototype. It had taken this long to invent something else worth exhibiting, and he was delighted to be demonstrating the enhancements he’d made to Cali. Today he would recover his reputation, even in the presence of Guild members.

Cali took her time finishing breakfast before thoroughly saturating her paw with her tongue. Rubbing it vigorously over her mouth, she removed all traces of the meal. Satisfied, she sat back on her haunches and looked up at her friend. Curiously, she cocked her head to the side as she watched him walk away and retrieve something from beneath a blanket. He can’t be serious, she thought as she realized what he held.

“Now don’t give me that look,” Lionel said. In his right hand he held a small crate with dozens of holes drilled into each of its four sides. “I have to keep you hidden before the exhibition starts. That way you’ll be a surprise.” He grinned at the cat, hoping the explanation was acceptable. He knew Cali hated being confined, but it was a necessary evil today.

Lionel set the crate on the ground and let Cali look it over. With suspicion, she scanned every corner of the crate. Making use of her mechanical eye, she checked it for any sign of a flaw, lest she should become trapped or worse, it fail to hold her weight and she tumble to the floor. It appeared sturdy enough, but she still detested being carried in such a manner. Walking on her own four paws was far more dignified.

“Don’t you want to hear the crowd ooh and aah when you come out of here?” Lionel asked, tempting her. “Imagine how amazed they’ll be when they first see you.”

He makes a good point, Cali decided. Nudging his hand, she allowed him to give her a few pets before trotting inside the crate and settling herself in. It wasn’t as bad as she expected. There was even room to stretch a bit. It’s actually quite cozy, she decided, kneading her paws against the thin cushion inside.

“Don’t worry, Cali,” Lionel said. “You won’t be in there long.” He scooped up the crate and held it tightly to his side as he stepped out of the apartment. Securing the door behind him, he double-checked the lock and tucked the key back into his hat.

Ticswyk’s cobblestone streets bustled with activity, hundreds of citizens making their way to the exhibition. From the holes in the top of her crate, Cali had a clear view of the sky. Balloons of every color dotted the skyline, their baskets heavy with passengers. Travelers came from all around to view the annual exhibition, and rightly so. Inventors from around the world came to show their latest contraptions. Any citizen in attendance could boast to their friends how they had seen it first. Competition for tickets could be fierce.

Though it was proclaimed that all inventors were welcome, the Guilds frequently blacklisted certain individuals from entering their creations. Guild members were, of course, given priority, and only a few independent tinkers from inside and outside the city were allowed to exhibit. Fortunately, Lionel’s application had been accepted this year. He had an inkling that the Guilds were interested to see exactly what he had done to his cat. His descriptions on the submission forms were vague, with only scant drawings of his contrivances. Never again, he promised himself, would they be allowed to steal his ideas. If they wanted to enhance a cat of their own, let them figure out their own method. Cali would remain unique.

The shiny tips of Lionel’s boots clicked against the cobblestones as he hurried along, still clutching Cali to his side. Hearing hooves behind him, he paused and turned, waving his free hand to the driver. The carriage came to a halt, the driver hopping down to open the door for Lionel and his crate.

Cali pressed her nose to the crate’s holes, taking in the strong scent of the horse. She was black and white with a stocky frame, her long tail swishing as she waited for her passengers to board. “Good morning,” Cali said to her.

“Morning,” the horse replied with a toss of her head. “Fine day to be out and about.”

“I’m afraid I’ll be inside all day,” Cali replied. “There’s an exhibition, and I’m the main event.” Never modest, Cali knew she would draw a crowd. She was proud of the fact.

“Is that so?” the horse asked. “It’s an honor to pull your carriage.” She clicked a friendly hoof against the street and whinnied.

“And I thank you for it,” Cali replied. Being proud didn’t mean she had to be rude. In fact, Cali was considered quite pleasant by the other animals on her street.

Handing a coin to the driver, Lionel climbed inside and placed Cali’s crate next to him on the bench. “To Exhibition Center,” he told the man.

With a click of the driver’s tongue, the horse trotted forward, the carriage rocking as they went. Cali looked up at Lionel through the holes and mewed.

“You want to look out?” he asked. Lifting the crate onto his lap, he pushed it close to the window opening, allowing her to see the world around her. His hand remained on top of the box for safety.

The wind caressed Cali’s nose and rippled through her fur, the scent of fresh bread wafting on the breeze. Ladies in ruffled skirts walked arm in arm with gentlemen wearing top hats. Fine dress for a fancy dinner, let alone a morning gathering. The exhibition was truly a big deal. To her surprise, she found herself growing anxious as they neared Exhibition Center. It was one thing to be a celebrity in one’s home, but quite another to be displayed to the masses. Small butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Trying her best to bat them away, she put on a brave face and purred.

“That’s a good girl,” Lionel said, sticking a finger through the crate and scratching her ear.

The carriage came to a halt in front of a massive stone building, gargoyles grinning from its heights. Huge windows of stained glass decorated the front, the lights inside projecting the colors onto the granite sidewalk. Everything about the building spoke of elegance. The Guilds had spared no expense in its construction.

Lionel stepped out, carefully tucking Cali beneath his arm. With a nod to the driver, he stepped toward the glass doors of Exhibition Center.

“Have a fine day!” the horse called as she trotted away.

Cali intended to. All she had to do was stay calm and look pretty. How hard could it be? She was a natural. And she trusted Lionel completely. He would never let harm come to her. After all, he’d rescued her from a life on the streets, scrounging in trash bins for scraps. He’d seen a diamond in the rough, and what a gem she had turned out to be. She wished there were a mirror around so she could admire all the wonderful enhancements he had gifted her. All her nerves fell away, and she meowed her gratitude to the man who carried her. For her dearest friend, she would gladly put herself on display. This would be a show to remember.

Inside was all alight, gas-powered lamps illuminating every corner of the cavernous interior. Rows of tiny orange bulbs were arranged on a high balcony, greeting the entering guests with the words: EXHIBITION CENTER. Hundreds of voices talked over each other, the puffing of steam engines and clanging of metal gears and levers filled the place with so much sound that Cali retreated to the back of her crate. There were far too many noises to discern which were friendly.

Clutching the crate tightly, Lionel made his way through the crowd. It was a slow process, as those in front of him couldn’t manage to walk without stopping to peek at a few inventions that were already set up. Though impatient, they would just have to wait. Each exhibit had a scheduled presentation time, and the Guilds saw that it was followed to the letter.

Finally he arrived at his own booth, complete with a small stage and a riser for Cali to stand on. Behind them hung a metal sign, engraved with the words: CALICO COGG, THE CLOCKWORK CAT. Taking a moment to admire the sign, he placed Cali’s crate behind the little curtain beneath her riser. Here she would remain concealed until it was time for the demonstration.

Opening the top of the crate, he allowed Cali to sit up. She stretched her arms and legs and gave a content yawn. The sight of the sign above her made her purr with delight. Lionel had crafted the sign himself, making sure it was bright and polished for her debut.

When she started to step out of the crate, Lionel said, “Just a little longer, Cali.” Petting the top of her head, he gently helped her back in the crate. “Your show starts in half an hour. Until then, you still have to stay out of sight.”

Sitting back on her haunches, Cali twitched her whiskers. That was a long wait, but what else could she do? Until her audience was in place, she would sit here like a good cat and obey. A voice boomed over the loudtalker—a curious device aptly powered by hot air—startling Cali, who pulled her ears backward in response. The speaker welcomed all to the exhibition and ran down a list of presentations that would be taking place each hour. Visitors hurried all around, rushing to their destinations.

Lionel produced a comb from his pocket, and instead of using it on himself, he gently stroked Cali’s fur. Always a fan of grooming, Cali lifted her head, allowing him to comb under her chin. Pressing each side of her face into the comb, she made sure the fur was nice and neat. A quick pass over her belly, and she was all set to be shown. Holding up a pocket-size mirror, Lionel allowed her to check her fur for any strands out of place. She studied every inch of herself before meowing her approval.

“Now’s your moment,” he said, a proud smile on his face.

Clockwork Calico Book 1: The Golden Owl will be available in Spring 2016

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