Excerpts for Mothstorm : The Horror from Beyond Georgium Sidus!


MOTHSTORM

THE HORROR FROM BEYOND URANUS! Georgium Sidus OR A TALE OF TWO SHAPERS
By PHILIP REEVE

BLOOMSBURY U.S.A. CHILDREN'S BOOKS

Copyright © 2008 Philip Reeve
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59990-303-3

Contents

CHAPTER ONE  In Which Larklight Is Filled with the Spirit of Christmas, but Things Go Somewhat Awry in the Pantry...............................................................................................................................................1
CHAPTER TWO  In Which Sir Richard Burton Reveals a Secret, and the Chief Natural Philosopher Puts His Foot in It................................................................................................................................................17
CHAPTER THREE  Wherein We Learn of a Strange Phenomenon, and Father Hears Sad Tidings Concerning an Old Acquaintance............................................................................................................................................32
CHAPTER FOUR  A Digression, Wherein Jack Havock Passes a Troubled Hour Aboard His Brig, Sophronia, and Is Set Upon the Right Path by a True Friend..............................................................................................................42
CHAPTER FIVE  Of Our Voyage to King George's Star and What We Found There.......................................................................................................................................................................................51
CHAPTER SIX  Of Shapes in the Fog and an Unexpected Meeting.....................................................................................................................................................................................................68
CHAPTER SEVEN  In Which I Take Up Queer Lodgings and Come to Learn of the Fate of Reverend Cruet and His Mission to the Outer Planets...........................................................................................................................86
CHAPTER EIGHT  In Which I Present an Interesting Portion of My Sister's Diary...................................................................................................................................................................................101
CHAPTER NINE  In Which Your Hero Explores the Wreck of the SS New Jerusalem and Experiments with an Ingenious Yet Alarming System of Powered Flight.............................................................................................................127
CHAPTER TEN  Of Cocoa and a Captive.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................143
CHAPTER ELEVEN  In Which, with Our Pocket Handkerchiefs at the Ready, We Return to Myrtle's Account and Learn of a Tragic Event within the Storm of Moths.......................................................................................................158
CHAPTER TWELVE  Wherein Charity and I Go Fishing and blake a Most Surprising Catch..............................................................................................................................................................................176
CHAPTER THIRTEEN  On Myrtle's Captivity in Mothstorm and Her Observations of the Snilth.........................................................................................................................................................................184
CHAPTER FOURTEEN  Our Voyage to the Moons of Jupiter, Where the City of Spooli Prepares Itself for Battle!......................................................................................................................................................204
CHAPTER FIFTEEN  Of Battles Both Small and Great................................................................................................................................................................................................................224
CHAPTER SIXTEEN  Myrtle Tells More of Her Adventures in the Mothmaker's Lair: of Curious Allies, Touching Reunions and a Desperate Flight.......................................................................................................................247
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN  Fond Reunions upon the Field of Battle, a Voyage to Mercury Is Proposed and a Gentleman of Our Acquaintance Receives a Kick up the Fundament, Which He Thoroughly Deserves...................................................................266
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN  In Which I, Miss Myrtle Evangeline Mumby, Shall Take Up the Reins of This Narrative, Since Art Was Too Affected by the Sad News I Brought from Mothstorm to Observe Anything Which Happened During Our Voyage to Mercury......................284
THE REAL CHAPTER EIGHTEEN  Our Voyage to the Tin Moon, as Told by Art Mumby, with None of the Slushy Bits.......................................................................................................................................................291
CHAPTER NINETEEN  In Which We Contemplate Our Sad Predicament, but Are Saved from Despair by a Discovery Quite Strange and Wonderful............................................................................................................................306
CHAPTER TWENTY  A Merry Christmas, One and All!.................................................................................................................................................................................................................321
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE  In Which the Reader Is Granted a Rare Glimpse inside One of Our Royal Family's Country Seats and Witnesses Some Surprising Happenings Therein...............................................................................................341
EPILOGUE  By Miss Myrtle Mumby..................................................................................................................................................................................................................................371
ANOTHER EPILOGUE  In Which Many a Loose End Is Neatly Tied Up...................................................................................................................................................................................................381


Chapter One

In Which Larklight Is Filled with the Spirit of Christmas, but Things Go Somewhat Awry in the Pantry.

'Dunderhead!'

'Clodpole!'

'Ninnyhammer!'

'Booby!'

'Nitwit!'

'Gumph!'

Yes, 'twas the season of Peace and Goodwill at Larklight, and my sister Myrtle and I, snug in our fleece-lined, winter-weight spacesuits, were out upon the front porch, decorating our Christmas Tree.

Christmas Trees are a German notion and quite the latest thing, but I doubt whether Prince Albert, who is responsible for introducing this charming festive fad, has ever tried to erect such a tree outside a house like Larklight, which floats about in an eccentric orbit far beyond the Moon. Despite the new Trevithick generator which Mother and Father had lately installed, gravity was still decidedly patchy in the outer reaches of the dear old place, and those baubles, bells and candies with which Myrtle and I were endeavouring to bedeck our tree kept coming undone and drifting off into the inky deeps of space. It is little wonder that tempers were becoming frayed!

'Numbskull!'

'Jackanapes!'

'Knuckle-headed galoot!'

Dipping into the trunk which held the Christmas decorations, we both seized upon the same pretty chain of silver stars. 'It is mine!' I cried.

'Not so, you brute,' replied my sister. 'I saw it first!'

And thus a tug-of-war commenced, with each of us quite refusing to relinquish our end of the chain.

So angry were we, and each so intent upon gaining victory over the other, that neither of us noticed the aethership that was sailing silently towards Larklight on outspread wings, until the shadow of its space-barnacled hull fell across us. Only then did we look up.

'Why, it is Jack!' cried my sister, and let go her end of the chain in order to tidy her hair and pinch a little more colour into her cheeks. You would be amazed at how calm and dignified she looked as the good ship Sophronia drew alongside, with our old friend Jack Havock beaming down at her from the star deck. He could never have guessed that a few moments before she had been bellowing at her innocent younger brother (i.e. me) in a manner that would have made a fish-wife blush!

Meanwhile, I had been taken all aback at the sudden way Myrtle let go her end of the starry chain and, still tugging upon my end, I went hurtling backwards off the balcony and seemed set to follow so many of our decorations out into the endless wastes of the interplanetary aether.

I daresay I should have drifted halfway to the Moon had not Mr Munkulus, the Sophronia's mate, seen my predicament and thrown me a line. 'There now, young Master Art,' he cautioned, reeling me in through the Sophronia's main hatch a minute later, 'this is no time for gymnastics and ballyhoo!'

And it would hardly have been gentlemanly of me to say, `'Tis all Myrtle's fault', would it?

The Sophronia was soon tied up at Larklight's mooring platform, and I greeted her crew as they made ready to disembark. I was pleased to see that they all bore heaps of brightly wrapped gifts, and that the Tentacle Twins were bearing between them a hamper from which the scents of cooked hams and game pies wafted. But better than anything was just to be there among them again, and to see the friendly way they smiled at me and clapped me on the back as they made their way ashore.

I had not seen any of them since our adventure with the Moobs at Starcross, and since then I had endured a long and dismal season spent cramming Latin, Geography and Arithmetic, for once the Christmas holiday was done I was to be making a start at Vermiform's Academy for the Sons of Space-Faring Gentlefolk, which is a minor public school on Callisto. To be quite honest, I was not much looking forward to leaving home and beginning my education, but the arrival of the Sophronia made me forget all my worries. School was next year; for now there would be parlour games, and sing-songs about the pianoforte, and toasted muffins, and Christmas presents, and tales of all the daring things that Jack and his crew had been up to in the wildernesses of space!

I was so happy to see them that I even managed to forgive Myrtle and bestowed a cheerful smile upon her as we gathered outside Larklight's brand-new front door. The others were all busy wishing her a Merry Christmas and teasing her and Jack about their romantic attachment, asking when the engagement was to be announced, etc., and drawing their attention to the large bunch of mistletoe which Nipper held up above their heads.

Myrtle looked somewhat put out at first, for she and Jack had had a squabble at Starcross; Jack had told her that she was too much the lady to ever be a part of his roistering, adventuring life, and Myrtle had vowed to prove to him that she was every bit as good an aethernaut as he-which is how she came to be having lessons in Alchemy and causing stinks and explosions. But they did not have to look at each other long in the dappled shadow of that mistletoe before they seemed to forget their differences and warm to one another once again. There was a hearty, cheer when Jack kissed her, and then we all joined in a rousing chorus of 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', instead of pulling upon the bell-rope.

But when Father opened the door, he did not look pleased by our carolling. Indeed, he seemed distracted, and his spectacles sat awry, giving him a lop-sided appearance.

'Jack! Sophronias!' he exclaimed in a dreadful whisper. 'Thank Heaven you've arrived! A most vexing thing has happened! The Pudding has gone Rogue!'

* * *

Those of you who live in earthly houses, and have no experience of life as it is lived on the further frontiers of Britain's empire, may never have had any difficulty with your Christmas puddings. To you, no doubt, it is a simple matter. Your cook makes you a pudding on 'Stir-up Sunday'; it is left to mature upon a pantry shelf, and on Christmas Day it is delivered to your table piping hot, doused in blazing brandy, with a sprig of holly on the top and a sixpenny-bit in the middle.

Here in space, however, there is an added complication. For all manner of strange beasts haunt these heavenly oceans, and one of them is the dread Pudding Worm. The larva of this charmless insect looks almost exactly like a raisin, and so it oft goes unnoticed as it creeps into our kitchens and burrows its furtive way into a Christmas pud. Once inside, it starts to gorge itself, growing and growing in the heart of the pudding until there is no pudding left, only the worm, a noisome thing in pudding shape. Its antennae look uncannily like a sprig of holly, its eyes glint like the edges of silver sixpennies and within its fat and unctuous body lurk a thousand more raisin-grubs, all itching to sneak out and ruin other puds!

Such, sad to relate, was the fate that had befallen our pudding at Larklight that year! Only about a month before, Myrtle and I had helped Mother to stir it up, laughing and chatting in a most carefree manner as we cast figs and dates and orange peel into the mixture, and never noticing that worm in raisin's clothing which must have inched its way up the leg of the kitchen table and secreted itself among the other ingredients. But while we were outside decorating the tree that afternoon, Mother had gone down to check once more that our larder was fully stocked in readiness for the arrival of our guests and had happened to peek beneath the pudding cloth. Then, snarling horribly, the vile bug had leapt from its bowl, knocked her to the floor and made off into Larklight's labyrinth of air ducts!

Mother met us in the entrance hall, carrying the patent flame-gun which Father had purchased a few years previously for clearing Nattering Space Moss from the gutterings. Because she is a Superior Being and four-and-a-half-thousand-million years old, she was not too much affected by her nasty encounter with the pudding, and she looked very grim and beautiful with her long hair tied back and smudges of flour upon her face and clothes.

'Oh Sophronias,' she said. 'How pleased I am to see you! But I fear we cannot offer you much hospitality until this pudding is captured and destroyed. From the glimpse I had of it I should say that it is almost ready to reproduce, and if that happens, then the hatchling maggots may infest all our mince pies and fruit cakes too ...'

The Sophronias, like the devil-may-care space dogs they are, rose splendidly to the occasion. They at once set down their gifts and hamper, and armed themselves with walking sticks and umbrellas from the hallstand, while Jack drew one of his revolving pistols. No one spoke, as we were all awaiting Mother's orders - but we did not need them, for in that silence we plainly heard the pseudo-pudding go trundling above our heads through one of the air ducts which crosses the hall ceiling!

'The game's afoot!' cried Mother.

'It's making for the Chinese drawing room!' exclaimed Father, brandishing a golf club.

We ran in a crowd along the hall, through a few panelled passageways and into the room he had spoken of, which has been very tastefully redecorated and is a perfect sea of lacquered cabinets and willow-patterned wallpaper, in which the Emperor of China himself might feel at home. Alas, the Pudding Worm seemed at home there too; a large, pudding-shaped hole in the wire-mesh cover of a ventilator showed where it had burst out, seeking a place to cocoon itself and spawn its vile maggots!

'Oh, this would never have happened if we lived in Berkshire or Surrey,' said Myrtle in a complaining undertone.

'Hush!' warned Mr Grindle, the Sophronia's goblin-like master gunner, and by means of pantomime conveyed to us that the pudding was lurking behind a charming screen in the farthest corner of the room. Gripping one of Father's walking sticks like a broadsword, he crept over to the screen and kicked it aside with his space boot. At once the pudding roiled out, flailing its holly at Grindle's shins. He struck at it with the stick, but managed only a glancing blow as the foul pud came trundling across the carpet towards the rest of us, who were ranged between it and the door.

We went down like so many skittles as it crashed into us, and by the time we had picked ourselves up it was clear out of the door and down the passage. A moment later we all heard the bomp-bomp-bomp of its fat body roiling down the back stairs.

'Quickly!' urged Mother. 'It is trying to find its way to the kitchens again!'

'Returning to its ancestral breeding ground to spawn, eh?' cried Father.

Myrtle fainted. (Whether it was because of the emergency or because Father had just used the word 'spawn' in mixed company, I could not tell.) Jack hung back to tend to her. The rest of us hared off after the puddingey foe, and I am pleased to say that I had the presence of mind to snatch a decanter of Father's best brandy from the drinks cabinet as I passed, for I knew that it was quite the best weapon against a foe of that sort.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from MOTHSTORM by PHILIP REEVE Copyright © 2008 by Philip Reeve. Excerpted by permission.
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