The Steam Mole - By Dave Freer

I’ve had a fine agent, an excellent editor, and a great cover artist for these books. That’s more good fortune than most writers get, and I am grateful to both Mike Kabongo of Onyxhawke Agency and Lou Anders from Pyr books for their advice and patience, and to Paul Young for his covers and Lou, again, for involving me in them. This is my first entirely Australia-set novel, and I want to thank the huge number of people, particularly the islanders, who have made moving here a happy and wonderful thing, and who have helped me to try to understand the culture and people I have written about. Jamie, Pippa, Peter, Russell, Mel and Eric, Bill, Tania…and many others who I will be in trouble with for not naming. Thank you all. And as always, thank you to my loyal first readers, and especially to Barbara, who makes my work readable.

“Fire one!” bellowed the controller, dropping his hand to signal the order.

Tim Barnabas pushed his long brass igniter into the hole. He was rewarded by a hiss, a blast of heat, and a deep, stuttering rumble as the vast digging drill head began to turn. The drill heads flashed in the acetylene light of their lanterns in the smoky tunnel.

“Fire two!” called the controller, timing it. The next drill-man inserted his igniter. The rumble grew deeper, the stutter less pronounced. By the time they got to “Fire five,” the drill head was a blur and the rumble had become a grumbling roar. The digging head spun so fast, it, and the rotating drill heads on it, were a silver blur, ready to start cutting the red earth, clay, and shale ahead of the vast steam mole. Despite the heat, Tim pulled the leather earmuffs down over his ears, and his scarf over his mouth, and joined the mole-men heading back for the hatch. The air in the tunnel would be unbreathable soon. Already it was full of dust and smoke.

It was a world away from the coal-fired submarine that had brought him to Australia, but, in some ways, very alike. The crew of the steam mole also had to live in a narrow tube, with no real view out. Only they were underground, tunneling, not underwater.

The physical similarity was about where it ended, however. Tim had loved being a submariner. He was hating being a mole-man.

He was part of a crew, but it wasn’t his crew, and he wasn’t fitting in. His crew were scattered, and Tim missed them badly—nearly as badly as he missed Clara. He got a rough shove forward from the foreman. “Get to your station, boong. You blackfellers are all the same, dreaming all the time.”

Clara Calland wasn’t sure when the dream of reaching safety in the rebel Republic of Westralia—the part of Australia abandoned by the British when the Melt made it into a desert—had turned into something of a nightmare. It wasn’t a real nightmare, more like one of those half-feverish dreams entirely too real to tell from life, where every time she woke she slipped back into the same dream. The Cuttlefish had limped into Ceduna under the cover of Westralian rockets. For a brief few hours, life had been pretty good—they’d been home free. From thinking they’d be trapped underwater, with the submarine cracking open like a dropped pumpkin under the water pressure, or, if they did manage to surface, being machine-gunned in the water, to the Westralian cheers as they came in to the quayside.

And then it started getting complicated, as if it hadn’t been bad enough before.

Respectful and very complicated: The two hadn’t been natural partners in Clara’s mind. Nasty and complicated, yes, but she hadn’t expected a mix of polite and terrible.

She’d known that reaching Westralia meant the end of her life on the submarine. It meant that she and Tim would probably go their separate ways…at least for a time. But she’d started to believe, somehow, that nothing could beat them, that it would only be a matter of time before they could be together.

Right now that seemed too much. Australia was too different—different from the warm wet of Ireland since the Melt, different from the flooded streets and musky damp tunnels of London, and different from the closed-in world of the submarine. Mostly it was the dryness. The air itself had dried up here, as had her supply of friends and people she could turn to for help.

The officers of the Republic of Westralia had taken her and