After last week’s cover reveal it’s now my pride and joy to treat you to the first chapter of the new book, Lily Marin – The Novel. I hope you like what you’re about to read!
“For the fourth time a mysterious band of villains has performed a break-in. The house that was attacked this time is the residence of the honourable Sir Montgommery Wispington. The villains used one of their by now infamous walking machines to batter a side wall through which they entered and stole many expensive items in the way that is unfortunately well-known by now. The victim this time was Sir Wispington’s son Jebediah Wispington.”
Doctor Calgori, inventor of many incredible machines and mechanics, slowly lowered the newspaper he had been reading from and laid it on the table. He looked at the woman who sat at the table too. “We need to stop those people, Lily.” His voice sounded serious.
Lily nodded. “We have to indeed. They killed six policemen too, next to their horrible habit of killing a random person in every house they break into.” The fact that these men had killed policemen stung her deeply. She left her chair and started pacing. The whip on her hip swung as she turned. “How can they have gotten their hands on walking machines that allow them into the street and away so fast?” Lily stopped her walking and patted the heavy, leather coat that hung over a chair as she thought and then looked at the doctor. “Can any of yours keep up with them?”
The Doctor looked up at the woman who in her daily life was a singer, and at night was the famous and also infamous Masked Woman. “Some would be able to, but from the description of the mechanical thing that the villians use, these few units are no match for it.”
Lily understood. After all, the walking machine that the gang used was not only fast in walking, but it also possessed some kind of sledge hammer construction to crush walls. They could easily employ that to damage one of the Doctor’s smaller machines. “Can’t you think of something bigger? Something that is strong enough to stop that monstrosity?”
Harving, the Doctor’s butler, assistant, secretary and many more things coughed politely behind his hand. “For this, Miss Marin, we’d need more accurate information on the proportions and capabilities of the – as you call it – monstrosity,” he said from the doctor’s side.
“Then I’ll go out every night until we get it,” Lily said. “They should not be allowed out in the streets any longer.”
Doctor Calgori shook his white-haired head. “That is not enough, Lily. You can’t peruse every part of this large city on your own each night. They are in a different place every time they strike. The odds are, unfortunately, greatly against you. I am working on a better idea.” He looked over to the side where his trusted man Malcolm stood. “Malcolm, would you mind showing Miss Marin how far we have come with our newest?”
“Certainly sir.” The burly man with his short grey stubs of hair and intelligent blue eyes nodded and held out his hand so as to point the way. “This way please, miss.”
Lily walked into a separate part of the large warehouse. “Oh dear.” In front of her was a redesign of the doctor’s Octopede. The original one had been stolen a long time ago. The thieves had lost control over it and left it wrecked in a ditch just outside town. This new machine was amazing, and it looked much more refined and capable than the first one. Its legs were a dull, grey metal, wrapped with a kind of leather in places. The thing was over twenty feet long, its body sleek and consisting of five circular units that probably could move independently. As the Masked Woman visited Doctor Calgori quite often, she had learnt a lot about the mechanical properties of his inventions.
The doctor was brought in as well, his wheelchair pushed by Harving. “As you see, there is some progress. This new mechanical Octopede has many improvements over the old design. For one,” the doctor chuckled, “it will only operate when one carries the proper device to activate it.”
Lily stared at the surprisingly thin legs that the contraption stood on. “Why does each leg have four joints?” she wondered. “That must be terrible to operate.”
“Well spotted, Lily. The Octopede will do all that by itself. The mechanics behind it are very new. If you want, you can climb inside and sit in the driver’s seat. It is comfortable, or so I’m told. And also please pay attention to the view.”
The singer grinned as she climbed on board the twelve foot high machine. The left front leg doubled as a staircase and once atop she opened the left ‘eye’ of the machine – a window that was also a door. Inside the head of the machine, where the driver together with someone else would sit, everything looked like shining brass and copper. Lily sat in the chair and looked at the many controls, dials and gauges, the pedals and the levers. Everything appeared perfectly aligned to give a good overview with minimal effort. Then she looked around as the doctor had asked. An impressive amount of enforced glass encased her like a bubble, she could see from left to right without any restrictions. Even parts of the floor were made of the same glass! A driver would easily see where he or she was going. To the left and right of the Octopede’s ‘head’ several mirrors were mounted, so it was possible to see behind the machine as well, also up and down. Tentatively her fingers slipped over the massive handles. How would it feel to operate such a mighty machine, she wondered. After a few more looks she left the Octopede again. “This is an amazing machine, Doctor Calgori,” she complimented the man in the wheelchair. “I don’t understand most of it, but the view from inside it is spectacular.”
“We still have to do some work on it, and then we can take it out on test-walks,” Malcolm told Lily. “Perhaps you would like to come with us on such an evening. We hope that this Octopede will go fast enough to find the villains.”
“I would love to!” Lily was delighted at the prospect of travelling in such an advanced piece of mechanical engineering, the more as it might help put an end to the reign of terror that these murdering burglars were spreading.
“And I am working on something else,” the doctor then said. “It is a dirigible which will be able to extinguish fires from the air.” The doctor wasn’t only working on secret projects like his Octopede, but also worked for the public whenever he could. Lily had learnt that since she had met the man.
She nodded, then frowned. “That is very clever, doctor, but how can it bring up enough water for that? Water is heavy.” She knew that airships had enough problems staying aloft; extra weight was always a problem unless the balloon was taken to extreme sizes.
“For this we are designing a special powder, one that will suffocate the flames without the need for water. Our first steps are very promising, there are a few details to deal with though.”
“What details?” Lily asked.
“The powder we have at this moment will not only suffocate the flames very quickly, but also anything living that is covered by it.”
“Oh. I understand.” Lily thanked him for the information and showing her the Octopede, and then wished the men a good evening, or rather a good night. The next day there were people to see and she needed some sleep before that, so she put on her sturdy coat, slipped her mask on, and then put the wide-rimmed hat on her head. Fully dressed as the Masked Woman, she disappeared into the darkness.
The night was calm, the streets were empty. As she walked home, using the elevation mechanism in her special boots for extra speed, Lily thought back again to that fearful day she’d been at the mercy of that crazy Dr Drosselmeyer, and the scary experiments he had performed on her, pretending to improve her voice so she could be a really good singer. After she’d passed out during one of the procedures, he’d tied her to the table and completed his mad scheme. Lily clenched her jaw as she remembered waking up with her extraordinary powers that made her hearing incredible, and her strength so great that she could rip apart the heavy chains with which he’d restrained her. The man had escaped her wrath, but she’d turned this alarming change inside her into something that she considered positive, even when most of the time she hated this alter ego. After all, it made her a freak, a strange person that people would turn away from, she was convinced of that. In an attempt to avenge her father and her uncle, who’d been in the police force and killed by thugs, she was now out in the nightly streets very often, to prevent as many criminals as she could from doing their evil deeds.
A wonderful man, Master Wilfred, had found her crying in the street. He was the first, and for a long time the only one, she had confided in. He was the only other person, apart from Dr Calgori and his crew, who knew that she was the Masked Woman and how she had become her. Master Wilfred had created her boots with the extendible soles, arranged for her ray-gun, and built the amazing backpack that could propell her into the air. How he had managed to find the almost bullet-proof long coat still was a puzzle for her, but she loved it. It had saved her from injury many times already.
Lily reached up to her mask and flipped a special lens in front of her eyes. It enhanced light, so she could see in the dark as if it was day. Inspecting the darker streets had become second nature to her, but there were no people in need, nor were there thieves or robbers that needed to be apprehended. She reached the street where she lived and, as usual, went through the little back alley and her garden. No one needed to see her. Once inside, she took off the heavy gear, hung up the whip and daggers that she always carried, and put the ray-gun on its charger. Then it was time for bed.
The next morning Lily went out to do some grocery shopping. On her way back home she was thinking about all the novelties that the doctor had shown her. She very much liked the man, he was so different from Dr Drosselmeyer. Once back in the street where her little house was, she saw the milkman’s cart and the old horse in front of it.
“Good morning, Miss Marin,” the milkman greeted her. “Can I fetch some milk for you today?”
The singer pondered her supplies. “Yes, a quarter of a pint would be fine, please. I do need some for my tea.”
“Very well, miss, won’t take a minute.”
As the man took care of Lily’s small order, she patted the horse. “She’s quite old already, isn’t she?”
“Aye, miss, I should’ve retired her a while ago, but I can’t afford a new horse, you know. Selling milk is not like selling automatons when you look at the profits. And here you go, miss,” the man replied as he handed her the small bottle of milk. Lily paid him a little extra, patted the old horse once more and crossed the street to go home. Behind her the cart rattled over the cobblestones, as the milkman looked for more customers.
After allowing herself some time for a nice cup of tea and a bit of reading, Lily prepared herself and her bags for an evening of singing at a venue that Jonathan, the husband of her good friend Selma, had arranged for her. Lily liked Jonathan. He was one of the kindest men that she knew, and he was always looking for a good opportunity for her to perform at. This evening he had arranged a dinner and dance party for a large group of people. “Most of them,” he had said, “are normal people like you and I.” The singer sighed as she packed her hairbrush and make-up in a small case. Normal people. Jonathan, the dear man that he was, would probably be upset if he learnt that Lily the singer, and the Masked Woman who roamed the nightly streets to rid them of human vermin, were the same person. Master Wilfred knew, as he helped her with her utensils, and Dr Calgori and his people knew, but they all had proven to be trustworthy. No one else needed to know that.