Chris Trengove

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CLAWS OF VENGEANCE – PROLOGUE & CHAP. 1

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ONE YEAR EARLIER

Scarab fought hard, bringing into play every Man-Jee-Do move she knew. She landed some telling blows, but she was outnumbered five to one – and clearly her captors knew she was a master of the Mangy martial art. The snatch squad carefully kept their distance, using weapons rather than paws to subdue her, finally laying her low with a scything sword slash to her left shin. Scarab went down with an anguished howl, and the squad – masked and covered from head to toe, could have been Katzers or Mangies – grabbed and manacled her, quickly and efficiently. As she struggled and lashed out, one of them rammed a gag into her mouth.
Without a word, her captors dragged Scarab out of Tantamount’s house and into the street, where a covered farm wagon was backed up to the door. It was unremarkable, just a battered wooden cart of a kind used by both Katzers and Mangies. The leader quickly looked up and down the street – it was empty. The hooded driver of the wagon held his whip at the ready, as the sturdy farm rat between the shafts shuffled its paws, awaiting the signal. The squad bundled Scarab into the rear of the wagon and pulled the covering across. As the crew piled in after her, the leader signalled to the driver, who lashed at the rat with his whip. With a jerk, the wagon set off, and the leader leapt up on to the driver’s bench alongside him.
The rat and wagon picked up speed and quickly reached the T-junction by the mouse butcher. Here it took a left turn, just as Mynx appeared from the street on the right. She glanced at the rat and wagon with little curiosity – they were a common sight in Katzburgh – and continued on her way home to Tantamount’s house. But as she approached the familiar thatched cottage she started to have a feeling that something wasn’t quite right – the fur on the back of her neck was ruffling.
Moments later she’d reached the front door – and now every muscle in her body tensed, ready for action. For on it, daubed in crude red letters she saw the words:

MANGY LOVER

oOo

CHAPTER 1

‘I can’t believe it’s been a year since Scarab was taken,’ said Tabith. ‘There was a time you’d have been glad,’ replied Ninelives. ‘That was when I first met her. I hadn’t got to know her. I just thought of her as a Hunting Poodle. A Mangy. But now… it’s hard, not knowing what happened to her.’
Ninelives shrugged, put his arm round Tabith’s waist, drew her towards him as they padded towards Katzburgh’s main gates. ‘We did the best we could Tab. We followed up every lead. If she was taken by Katzers, they either killed her or smuggled her out of the city. It was as if she disappeared into thin air.’ ‘I just can’t believe that Katzers would do such a thing. Everyone liked Scarab. I went to her Man-Jee-Do classes. Everyone thought she was cool.’
‘I know,’ said Ninelives. ‘But some Katzers just saw a Hunting Poodle. A Mangy. They couldn’t accept it.’
The two young Katzers strode arm-in-arm through the gates, acknowledging the guard who watched all those who came or went. His name was Maxwell Tibbles, latest of a long line of Tibbles called to be gate guards. His uncle, Rampart Guard Marvel Tibbles, had laid down his life a couple of years previously, defending the city against Warrod and his hordes.
Ninelives and Tabith had to shoulder their way through crowds, for it was the day of the Festival of Fish – a Katerwaul, one of the many Katzer festivals that divided up the year. There was nothing the citizens of Katzburgh liked better than a chance to eat, drink, sing and dance. Today most of the traffic through the gates was heading outwards, as the Festival was held just outside the city walls.
Ninelives and Tabith were more solidly than ever a couple since they’d both almost died in the Upriver territory a year previously. But they were still close to Mynx, Ninelives’ sister, and Spacer, their enigmatic psychic friend, and it was those two that they were now hurrying to meet.
They reached the edge of the Festival ground and surveyed the colourful stalls and wooden rides that covered a half-mile square. Looming over the area, a massive dark presence, was The Flat Rock, a local landmark. All around, there were tents in which rough wooden tables groaned with bowls and platters of Katzer favourites: smoked carp and roach, eel fingers, crayfish and snails, as befitting the ‘fish’ theme – but also starling kebabs, fillets of mouse and all kinds of milk, cream and yoghurt dishes.
Although it was a cloudy day, the Festival had attracted a good turnout. Young kits rode brightly painted roundabouts and swings, squealing and purring with pleasure as their parents whirled them round or pushed them higher and higher. Over the whole festival floated the joyous sound of music, played by a dozen bands, as well as individual singers and players. Closest to Ninelives and Tabith was the teenage band Skratchers, whose screeched vocals and pounding beat made conversation almost impossible.
Tabith leaned into Ninelives, shouted into his ear: ‘Where did you say we’d meet them?’
‘By the salt fish stall.’ Ninelives pointed ahead. ‘There… next to the helter-skelter.’
Mynx had already arrived, and was munching on a snail-on-a-stick, the garlicky smell detectable yards away. Ninelives hugged his sister, as did Tabith, warmly but a little less enthusiastically. Ninelives and Mynx were bound by ties of family, but Tabith and Mynx had had their differences in the past.
Now the trio gazed around them, trying to locate the fourth member of their crew: Spacer.
‘Did he say he was going to be late?’ asked Tabith.
‘Not really. Well, not as such,’ replied Mynx. ‘You know Spacer… he can be hard to pin down.’
‘Where’s he been anyway?’ asked Ninelives. ‘It’s been weeks since I saw him.’
‘He’s been doing some kind of class,’ said Mynx. ‘He told me he wanted to use his powers to help people.’
‘Spit and screech!’ laughed Ninelives. ‘Really? Spacer? Is he learning or teaching?’
Mynx shrugged. ‘I dunno. He didn’t say.’
Ninelives looked around the milling crowds again. Still no sign of their friend. He checked the sun, now starting the descent from its zenith. ‘We could be waiting for hours. Let’s check out the Festival – Spacer knows we’re here, he’s bound to catch up with us at some point.’
‘All right,’ said Mynx, ‘let’s go on the helter-skelter! Last one to the top’s a furball!’
Pushing and shoving each other, laughing and squealing, the young Katzers rushed to the stairs that led to the top of the wooden tower.

oOo

If Scarab stood on the tips of her hindpaws on the one chair in her cell, she could just see out of the high barred window. There wasn’t much of a view – just the scrubby courtyard in which she and the other the prisoners took their exercise, the high wooden fence that surrounded it, and, beyond, a gaggle of drab and indistinguishable wooden buildings. Still, she occasionally made the effort to peer out, if only to get a glimpse of the sky and, if she was lucky, the sun.
She wasn’t sure how long she’d been captive, although she thought it was about a year. Her captors hadn’t told her why she was locked up, or what they wanted, or what her fate was to be. Her cell was positioned in such a way that she could only communicate with the occupant of the cell across the corridor from hers, whispered exchanges through the food slots in the heavy iron doors. She found out that the prisoner opposite, an ordinary Upland citizen, didn’t know why he’d been imprisoned either. Not that it mattered now – he’d been taken away months ago, and she hadn’t seen him since.
Apart from twice-daily visits by guards – first to deliver a bowl of almost inedible food, second to allow her access to the small exercise patch – she was in solitary confinement. She spent her time doing mental exercises and, when she was sure that she was unobserved, practising Man-Jee-Do. Her cell was just big enough to allow her to carry out the complex manoeuvres.
Already a Man-Jee-Do Black Collar, being able to practise for so many hours a day had enabled her to develop several new moves, unique in their daring and complication. She was also developing extra strength in her claws, hooking them one by one into the wooden headboard of her bed and forcing herself to lift it with one claw. She worked her way through these exercises for several hours a day, and was confident that if anyone tried to grab her today in the same way they did a year ago, she would prevail, whether they were armed or not. Trouble was, her captors didn’t allow her anywhere near them. Food was shoved through the slot, and at exercise time the door was opened by some sort of remote control mechanism, leaving her to walk the enclosed corridor to the courtyard. While she exercised – fast walking or gentle jogging, enough to raise her heart rate, nothing that could cause suspicion – they looked on from a gallery above.
Now Scarab relinquished her vantage point on the chair. It was a dull day, and she couldn’t even enjoy a ray of sunlight on her face. She sprang down, landing lightly and silently. She decided to spend the next few hours, until the arrival of food, developing a Man-Jee-Do move that she’d started to work on a few days earlier. It was a work in progress, but she had high hopes for it. In any event, she had nothing to lose, and it passed the time.
Suddenly, a commotion: doors banging, shouting, an angry yell. Scarab padded to the door and looked out of the food slot, but couldn’t see the end of the corridor where the noise seemed to be coming from. She put her ear to the slot: more noise – screeching now, thumps and bangs. Scarab’s brow wrinkled. There was something familiar about that screech…
Scarab peered through her food slot again, desperate to see what was going on. But the corridor was dark, and clearly the four guards had either drugged or stunned their captive, for they were carrying a limp body, taking a limb each. The bodies of the guards were between Scarab and the unconscious prisoner, so that she could make out nothing, not even whether the body was male or female. One guard reached for his keys, allowing the prisoner’s head to fall to the stone floor with a crack. Scarab winced. If they hadn’t been unconscious before, they would be now. Another guard got the door open, and Scarab saw all four throw the prisoner into the cell like a sack of grain. There was a thump as the body hit the floor, followed by a clang as the door was slammed shut.
There was nothing further to see. Scarab abandoned the food slot, paced up and down. This was the first new prisoner in… what? Must be months anyway. Of course there were other captives in other cells. She saw them looking at her on her way to exercise… rheumy, hopeless eyes peering at her through their food slots. But this one was different. She knew she could communicate with the occupant of the cell opposite, or at least had been able to, until he was taken away. Briefly, Scarab allowed herself a glimmer of hope. Two heads were always better than one… and she at least had nothing to lose. Scarab went back to the food slot, looked left and right, even though she could see no further than a few feet either way. Nothing. No one. She put her mouth to the slot and whispered: ‘Hey!’
Nothing.
She whispered again, a little louder: ‘You, in the cell. Can you hear me?’
A moment passed. Then, a moan… barely audible, the sound of a creature in pain. From its timbre, Scarab could ascertain only one thing: that it was uttered by a female…

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Written by Chris Trengove

April 12, 2017 at 4:06 pm

CHAPTER 1 OF ‘FRANKENSTEIN VIGILANTE: THE FEAR’

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Here’s the first part of chapter one of THE FEAR, second book in the FRANKENSTEIN VIGILANTE series. Of it, an American reviewer wrote: “Cerval Frankenstein and his Incorruptibles are back with a vengeance in FRANKENSTEIN VIGILANTE: THE FEAR. The Incorruptibles series of books… takes an interesting and exciting turn in this latest story, which kicks the entire franchise up a lofty notch.”

IT WAS DIFFICULT TO PINPOINT THE MOMENT when the smouldering fire of revolution in The Smoke finally sputtered and died. When the Incorruptibles retreated to the Frankenstein estate to nurse their wounds? When Dalton Trager Rhineheart sold out to Colette Garcia Cognito? In any event, it seemed only moments before the Commission regained its stranglehold on the city-state, and its allies in the coal, iron and steam cartels took heart. Colette would lead the way and life would be good.

At one minute past midnight, Battersby Power Station exploded.

The hulking, stone-built structure, more castle than industrial building, was blown to fragments, everyone in it vaporized. The explosion also blasted a massive crater in the accumulator caverns beneath the station, creating a basin as wide and long as Battersby Park itself. In the five minutes following midnight, every sub-accumulator in The Smoke blew up, in a catastrophic chain reaction that spread darkness, death and panic throughout The Smoke.
No one would ever be able to assess the real effect of the disaster, partly because many who died were reduced to dust, partly because The Smoke wasn’t the kind of place that could accurately account for its population. But the death roll was in the tens of thousands. Houses, offices, warehouses and factories were reduced to brick-sized pieces of rubble. Bridges collapsed, roads were cratered, vehicles tossed into the air like handfuls of nuts and bolts.
And then the disturbances began, what eventually became known as the Electricidad Riots. Since the downfall of the Silencios and the coming of electricidad, the citizens of The Smoke had lived in an uneasy limbo, hoping for things to get better, shrugging resignedly when they didn’t. It was as if the explosions had blown the lid off their frustration. Looting started within minutes of the blast. Individually and in marauding bands, Smokies stole whatever they could find, whatever had any value; and if anyone tried to stop them, that was an invitation to a brutal beating, a violent death.
Murder was a by-product of the looting. But it wasn’t long before it became an end in itself, street predators raping, assaulting, killing with a violence that might have shocked a Manu cannibal.
A couple of hours before the explosions, roiling black clouds had signalled a coming thunderstorm, and Battersby Power Station technicians had begun their routine preparations to capture the coming lightning to convert it into usable power. The father of electricidad, Doctor Pedro Robledo Efrain, and his young assistant Siddeley Yip-Harbottle, were in his lab working on a project for the Incorruptibles, trialling the latest version of Evangeline Evionne’s prosthetic legs. As the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed above his house in suburban Ussher, Efrain glanced up nervously, although Siddeley seemed barely aware of the threatening weather.
In the early days of electricidad, Efrain had supervised the power station during the critical lightning-collection moments. Then, he had been acutely aware that the success of the Electricidad Consortium that he had founded was dependent on the safe capture and conversion of lightning and, though he was a modest man, he had felt that his genius was vital to the process. By the time of the disaster, however, he was learning to trust his well-trained staff. Besides, tonight’s storm came in so fast, the rain pounding down so furiously, that he knew he could not get to the power station in time to oversee the operation.
He focussed on the work in hand.
“Don’t worry Doc,” said his young assistant, “they’ve done this loads of times. Nothing’s going to go wrong.” Smiling wryly at her self-possession, Efrain consoled himself with the thought that she was right. His staff had collected and stored the power of lightning many times before – why should tonight be any different?
But that night was different. Very different.
As the rain pelted down and the thunder rolled, the power station’s people worked the gigantic knife switches, turned the massive potentiometer dials and monitored the huge brass meters even as, with a powerful, humming energy, the control motors thrust Battersby’s cast-iron antennae up into the night sky, probing, searching for that lightning strike, to suck electricidad out of the heavens, transform it into controllable, functional energy.
Moments before midnight, the first lightning bolt struck the antennae, appeared to consume them as it travelled down through the above ground transformers – and at one minute past midnight, the imprisoned lightning began to detonate with unimaginable force.

The next day, as dawn rose bright and clear – clear as it could be in this filthy coal-smoky world – with no trace of the previous night’s extreme weather, the full extent of the damage to the city became clear. Most of the affluent suburbs, built on higher ground, had survived more or less unscathed – including, ironically, Doctor Efrain’s home base in Ussher. The serious damage was mostly in the areas where the sub-accums were situated: the poorer quarters and industrial zones like Burrowham.
More shocking than the physical damage, however, was the almost instant disintegration of The Smoke’s already rotting social fabric.
Police Chief Bar One mobilized his force but their free passage was hampered by huge piles of rubble, tangled metal wrecks which had once been steamers, jitneys and hackneys, as well as bodies, both human and animal.
Hampered, too, by the pitiless barbarity of looters, rioters and opportunistic thieves. Who were they, these people who seemed to appear from nowhere, pillaging shops and dwellings, barricading streets and setting fire to steamers? No one quite knew; although it was a fact that many in The Smoke had been un- or under-employed for decades, bitterly resentful of the concentration of wealth in the Commission’s and the affluenzos’ hands. The brief period following the death of Silencio supremo Franklin Rooseveldt Pfarrer at the hands of the Incorruptibles, when it seemed there might be some hope for the future, had not been long enough for these hatreds to fade. Now the explosions and the chaos which followed provided an opportunity for sweet revenge.

Keira Specklestone Pfarrer, only daughter of the dead Silencio chief, had been woken by the detonations, which were close enough to shatter a couple of the bullet-proof windows of the mansion she had once shared with her father. Designed to look old, but actually built only a few years ago, Cranbury Court offered dozens of bedrooms, as well as dining and living rooms of cavernous proportions. Franklyn Rooseveldt had a preference for the baronial style, and those rooms were decorated with invented coats of arms and the heads of big game animals bought in bulk. Now Keira Specklestone lived in the huge house alone, apart from numerous maids, butlers, cooks, handymen, drivers and the handful of freelance Silencios who, like ronin, had attached themselves to her household as bodyguards. She had assumed that her staff would attend to whatever had caused the sudden noises, and went back to sleep.
The next morning, arising at the crack of eleven, Keira decided that she wanted to visit Rrods & Phortnum, despite distant sounds of riot and mayhem. But if Keira Specklestone was unaware of the smell of burning and death, the rumours of murder and rape, the maid who brought her morning tea wasn’t. She had family in town, and one of them had only narrowly escaped a marauding mob.
“Miss,” she began fearfully, “maybe you shouldn’t…” but it was if Keira were deaf. “Tell… tell… ” Keira couldn’t remember any of her drivers’ names. “Tell them to get my steamer ready. The one with the zebra-skin seats. And run my shower.” The maid saw that Keira wasn’t going to listen to sense, went to the bathroom and ran the shower, then fled to the servants’ quarters and passed on the message. None of the chauffeurs wanted to drive the steamer out into the unknown dangers of The Smoke, but the Silencio newcomers were not so fearful. Violent by nature and training, they were also courageous in their own way, not ones to shrink from conflict. Besides, this might be an opportunity to further ingratiate themselves with Keira and rise up the ladder of her household.
Because Cranbury Court was situated on high ground on the outskirts of The Smoke, the fearful damage of the previous night was not obvious for the first few miles; though groups of UnderGrunts were assembled here and there, restless, like carnivores scenting blood but unsure which way the wind was blowing. The Silencios – a driver and three bodyguards – recognized the threat these groups represented, yet weren’t afraid. They were professionals; the street people were amateurs. They stoked the custom steamer’s boilers, deftly operated the speed levers and gripped their Ximans more tightly.
Keira was oblivious as she gazed through the armoured windows at the passing scene, which gradually became less leafy as they passed out of Cranbury into the city centre. The people didn’t register, not simply because they were UnderGrunts but because she didn’t recognize anyone as human unless they were either friends or celebrities. There was little animosity in her attitude, simply indifference. As to the damage to roads and buildings, the steamer bouncing uncomfortably through potholes and swerving violently around wreckage, she just wondered why, at the level of taxes Daddy paid, the Commission didn’t at least repair the roads.
Daddy. For a moment tears filled her eyes but truth to tell he was already fading fast into the past. Keira lived only in the present, her sole purpose the indulgence of every current whim, at least until it quickly passed.
The Silencios grew grimmer – silent – as the steamer closed on The Smoke’s centre. The worst of the rioting and looting had been concentrated here, where the pickings were the richest. The destruction was far more obvious than at the start of the shopping expedition. Even Rrods itself was severely damaged, its elegant window mannequins lying sprawled and headless, walls cracked and blackened from fire, iron and glass doors hanging. The Smoke’s most exclusive store had a beleaguered air to it, emphasized by a volatile mob of wannabe looters, gathering in dangerous numbers, but held at bay for the moment by Ximan-toting guards wearing Rrods’s plum-coloured livery.
The Silencios read the UnderGrunts’ hungry gazes and knew that sheer numbers – and the prizes within the store – would soon overcome the mob’s fear of the guards.
The driver made a decision. “Miss,” he said, turning to Keira and speaking through the vehicle’s internal AvCom. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
“What isn’t a good idea?” asked Keira blandly.
“A shopping expedition? At this time? I mean, with the explosions and riots and all that.”
“Explosions? Riots? What are you talking about?” she asked. She was intent on the purchasing orgy to come and had already forgotten the blasts of the night before. The Silencio driver turned to the bodyguards and rolled his eyes. Could any human be this unaware? Nevertheless, he persisted: “I don’t like the look of some of the folk out there.” He was astonished to be interrupted by a high-pitched giggle. “Heeheeeheeee! No one likes the look of them. They’re UnderGrunts! Now, come on, slowpoke, park this baby and let’s buy!”

Written by Chris Trengove

September 11, 2014 at 9:53 am

THUNDERING AHEAD!

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Kevin Hopgood has done a very cool cover featuring Ninelives and Tabith aboard their war rat, and CLAWS OF THUNDER is now up for sale on Amazon Kindle. Sales for CLAWS OF FURY are slowly picking up, and hopefully there’ll now be symbiosis between the two titles. THUNDER is aimed at a slightly higher age group than FURY, and takes the story on a year or so from the ending of the first book. This time round Ninelives and co. investigate an eco-disaster, along the way encountering electric storms, giant mutant creatures and marauding dog soldiers. In a thrilling final showdown, Ninelives goes head to head with Gizzard the Merciless, in a battle that he can’t afford to lose. CLAWS OF THUNDER is the second volume of a projected Trilogy, with the third, CLAWS OF VENGEANCE, now in development. Watch this space!

Written by Chris Trengove

February 22, 2012 at 7:25 pm