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The Dinosaur Hunters

Mars, 1815

Harriet George had been dressed as a boy for the last week, and she still wasn’t sure her brother-in-law had noticed.

“The thing is, Harry old thing,” the Honorable Bertrand Simpson said as he hunched morosely over his twelfth cup of tea that morning, “disguises are such dashed confusing things. Can’t tell if a chap is a chap or, you know, another chap.” He stirred his tea listlessly.

It had never been entirely clear to Harriet how her brother-in-law had managed to work his way up to the post of Inspector in the Tharsis City Police Service. As far as Harriet could tell, Bertrand had never solved a single case in his entire life.

Unfortunately, Harriet suspected that she wasn’t the only one who had figured that out. It was the only reason she could think of as to why Bertrand had been given the job of capturing the Glass Phantom. The Glass Phantom had evaded police forces in France, Austria, Britain, and Chinese Mars. He’d helped himself to the Crown of Charlemagne from under the nose of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and had stolen the Orlov Diamond from the Imperial Scepter of Catherine the Great. No one with an ounce of common sense would risk their career tracking down such a notorious and difficult-to-catch jewel thief.

Which was why Bertrand, who wouldn’t have recognized an ounce of common sense if it had fallen into his morning tea, had leapt on the offer like a piranha-mouse on a stray muffin.

Bertrand came from a good family – his father was the fifth Baron Heatherstone – but his family’s estates on Earth had long ago been sold off to pay their debts. Bertrand’s father had brought the family to Mars to seek his fortune on a new world, but it hadn’t made any difference, and Bertrand scarcely had a penny to his name. In his position, he should have married a young lady with a good dowry. Instead, he’d married Harriet’s older sister, Amy. If it hadn’t been for Bertrand’s job, Harriet was certain they would have starved within the year.

And then, five years ago, Harriet and Amy’s parents had died, and Amy and Bertrand had taken Harriet in. She knew it had been hard for them, and she knew they’d given up a great deal for her. She owed them everything.

When Bertrand failed to catch the Glass Phantom, he would lose his job and it would be an absolute disaster for them all.

Harriet would not allow that to happen.

“You know, the Glass Phantom might not actually be in disguise,” Harriet said, trying to cheer her brother-in-law up. “I mean, why would he?”

Bertrand groaned. “That makes it even worse. If he’s not in disguise, how am I going to tell who he’s not disguising himself as?”

Which, Harriet thought, summed up rather neatly why her brother-in-law never actually caught anyone.

To make matters worse, now that Harriet had turned sixteen, Amy was determined to make a good marriage for her, a prospect that Harriet regarded with complete horror. Within a year – two at the most – she would be expected to “come out” in Society, find a husband, and live the life he chose for her. She was already thoroughly fed up with the bother of being a girl, and this was the final straw. She’d never seen the point of sewing or playing the pianoforte or endless, tedious social visits to neighbors, and what was more, she had very little interest in young gentlemen. If she was entirely honest, very few young gentlemen showed any interest in her, either. But Amy had set her heart on Harriet marrying well. She seemed to think she owed it to their late parents, and Harriet couldn’t live off Bertrand’s generosity forever, particularly if he lost his job.

Which left Harriet with only one option: she would have to solve the case for Bertrand, and she would have to prove to her sister that she could support herself without a husband.

The dinosaur hunt was the perfect opportunity.

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It had all started a month ago.

Bertrand had been tootling happily away, failing to put away criminals but generally not getting in anyone’s way, when a courier had arrived by Mars-ship from Earth with a warning: the Glass Phantom was travelling to Mars to steal the Countess von Krakendorff’s famous ruby necklace.

The British military force had been shattered following Napoleon’s overwhelming victory at Trafalgar, leaving Britain unable to interfere with the Emperor’s conquests of Europe, Africa, and North America and his ongoing assault on South America, but its intelligence gathering remained robust. The British-Martian Intelligence Service had thought the warning reliable enough to pass onto the Tharsis City Police, before it eventually landed in the eager if inept lap of the Honorable Bertrand Simpson.

Harriet didn’t know whether her brother-in-law had volunteered for the assignment or whether he’d been volunteered, and Bertrand himself seemed unsure, but the job had become his, and no one else wanted to get anywhere near it.

Bertrand had been sure that the Glass Phantom would strike at one of the many balls and parties that took place in the great hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City, the capital of British Mars. Tharsis City had been built among the ruins of the Ancient Martian civilization, on the slopes of the extinct volcano, Tharsis Mons. Here, where the cliffs fell away to the plains below, the first Martian explorers had found gigantic buildings made of unbreakable emerald jutting from the cliffs and suspended from above like strange fruit, one side open to the air to catch the first rays of the morning sun. As the city had grown, latticeworks of iron and glass had been built across the open walls, and the vast spaces had been turned into a series of glittering ballrooms where guests could dance until dawn.

Bertrand had had half the Tharsis City police in attendance, watching every guest, but the Glass Phantom hadn’t showed. As the days passed and the Glass Phantom made no appearance, Bertrand’s superiors had begun to believe that the tip-off was a hoax and had started to ask pointed questions about the use of funds.

Maybe someone else would have given up and tried to salvage something of their career. But not Bertrand. If there was one thing that could be said about her brother-in-law, Harriet thought, it was that he was stubborn. When the countess had announced that she would be travelling to the Great Wall of Cyclopia to observe a dinosaur hunt, Bertrand had decided to accompany her. And that was when Harriet had conceived her plan to save them all.

So, a week later, Bertrand and Harriet had found themselves on Harrison Airfield, ready to board the expedition airship flying west to the Great Wall.

The airfield had been built a few miles north of Tharsis City, around the flank of the mountain, just below where the dragon path from Earth terminated. When the Mars-ships floated down from the void on the vast current of wind, twin mechanical arms reached out to pull the ships down to the docking bay. Harriet had never ridden on a Mars-ship – she’d never actually traveled further than a couple of hours beyond Tharsis City – but she’d watched the Mars-ships descend and then lift off again, carried by the powerful wind on their journeys back to Earth. An airship might not be a Mars-ship but it was the next best thing for someone who’d never travelled anywhere.

One day I’m flying on one of those, she swore to herself. I’m going to go everywhere.

The expedition airship was tethered to the ground in front of them. A platform had been lowered from the center of the crew compartment, and mechanics were attaching the two massive, flat springs that would drive the propellers. Harriet noticed that the airship’s balloon was covered in armored panels.

Nothing to worry about there then. Just because none of the other airships feel the need for armored panels…

“Are you sure Amy is happy about this?” Bertrand asked for the third time, his brow wrinkling, as they climbed the sloping platform into the belly of the airship. “It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing she’d approve of.”

“Of course!” Harriet said, feeling slightly guilty about lying. As far as Amy knew, Harriet was spending a month with her distant cousin Florentia.

Oh well. Amy should have known better. The idea that Harriet would voluntarily spend more than an hour listening to Florentia witter on about fashion was beyond absurd.

“Come on,” Harriet said. “Let’s find our cabins.”

***

It was the middle of autumn on British Mars, and the shimmer-stream migration had begun. At this time of year, the prevailing winds shifted and rivers of startlingly blue shimmer-stream pollen lifted from the slopes above Tharsis City and were swept east toward the wilderness. As the airship rose through the semi-sentient pollen, Harriet felt like she was inside a great leviathan, ascending through the waters of the Valles Marineris to breach the surface. It made her feel free for the first time in years.

Even with the airship’s powerful, spring-driven engines, the trip from Tharsis to the Great Wall of Cyclopia would take almost a week, and for most of that time they would be passing over unbroken wilderness, unsettled and unexplored since the days of the Ancient Martian Empire. The airship would skirt the northern border of Turkish Mars, then follow the coast of the Elysium Sea before cutting inland across the rolling Hesperian wilderness.

They picked up more passengers on the way: a middle-aged couple called Mr. and Mrs. Patterson at New Hibernia, then two slightly drunk young men at Port Sabis on the north-western border of Turkish Mars. Now the airship was beating its way over the wild lands toward the Great Wall of Cyclopia and the Amenthes Peninsula behind it, where they would find the dinosaurs.

There were thirteen of them in the party, not including the captain and crew of the airship, and Harriet had to admit that if the Glass Phantom was part of this group, he was doing an excellent job of hiding it.

“We don’t actually know that the Glass Phantom is a man, do we?” Harriet said thoughtfully, as she watched their companions.

The countess was sitting, straight-backed, with her admirer, Baron de Sorville, and her maid, Maria. The Pattersons were talking with a portly, elderly man, Major Beaumont, to Mrs. Patterson’s apparent displeasure. The two young men were drinking loudly next to a wide window, and another shabby young man, who had introduced himself to Harriet as Neville Seymour, a young journalist from The Tharsis Times, sat by himself, scribbling in a notebook with a frayed auto-quill. His employer, the newspaper proprietor Sir Angus Cameron, was resting in his cabin, as was the last member of their party, the renowned natural historian Professor Riemann.

Harriet gazed at Neville Seymour with displeasure. She hadn’t planned for a journalist to be on board. Her plan to prove that she could support herself had been to write up the dinosaur hunt and Bertrand’s subsequent capture of the Glass Phantom and sell it as an exclusive to one of the newspapers. Seymour’s presence threw an unwanted spanner in her plans.

Bertrand swung around to face Harriet, his mouth falling open in horror. “You think the Glass Phantom is a woman?”

“Why not?” Harriet said. “It would make perfect sense. No one would be looking for a woman.” As far as most men were concerned, women had neither the wits nor the courage for such activities. Harriet had often wondered whether a life of crime might be worth pursuing. “She’d hardly be noticed.”

“But… But… A female?” Bertrand sputtered. “Stealing?

“You obviously don’t know Amy as well as you think you do,” Harriet said. “She spent most of her childhood filching pastries from the kitchen.”

“That’s not the same,” Bertrand said, reddening.

“Anyway, he might not be,” Harriet said.

Bertrand slumped. “At least we know no one’s stolen the jewels yet.” He rubbed his eyes. “No one’s gone near the countess’s cabin without her since she wore her necklace at dinner last night.” He yawned. “Not sure how long I’m going to be able to keep it up.”

He straightened in his seat, stretching and wincing. Harriet knew how he felt. She’d spent most of the night here with him, only giving up and returning to her cabin a couple of hours before dawn.

Someone cleared their throat directly behind them. Harriet had to grab the arms of her chair to stop from jumping in surprise. Bertrand wasn’t so lucky. He jerked forward, spilling his tea. Harriet swung around to see the wispy-haired Professor Riemann standing only a foot away.

“Please accept my apologies, Mr. Simpson,” the professor said. “I did not mean to startle you.”

“Ah.” Bertrand stumbled to his feet, almost tripping over their low table. “Professor Riemann. We, er, didn’t see you there. Have you been there long?”

“Not long.” If he’d heard them talking about the countess’s emeralds, he gave no sign of it. Something about his pale gaze made Harriet shiver. He indicated the seat opposite her. “May I?”

“Of course,” Bertrand said, reddening. “Rude of me.”

“This,” the professor said, nodding toward the window as he lowered himself slowly into the chair, “is where they found the remains of the Artherton expedition.”

Harriet cleared her throat. “The Artherton expedition?”

“1758,” the professor said. “Sidney Artherton. He resolved to find an overland route from Tharsis to Cyclopia. The remains of his expedition were discovered in the wilderness just below where we are now. Most of the members of the expedition were never recovered, but Artherton and his assistant, Connolly, were found here. Their bodies were entirely crystalized. It was a most peculiar case and it was quite a sensation in the newspapers at the time.” A look of distaste crossed the professor’s face. “Of course, we now know it was the work of the weaver beetle, which turns its hosts’ bodies into chrysalises, but at the time all sorts of lurid theories were put forward.

“It was a shame.” His face twisted again, although to Harriet it looked more like contempt than sympathy for the dead men. “They were no more than twenty miles from the Great Wall. Some theorize that the expedition actually made it to the Wall and was on its way back when disaster overtook them, but there is no evidence to support that theory.” He smiled thinly. “I would strongly recommend that you do not find yourselves alone in the wilderness. There are many hazards for the unwary.” His bland eyes didn’t waver from Harriet. She clenched her hands into fists under the table. Was he threatening them? Why would he do that? Then he blinked, breaking the gaze. “We should be able to see the Great Wall from here.”

“What do you say, Harry old thing?” Bertrand said. “Fancy a glimpse?”

Harriet’s heart sped up as she nodded. There were few sights on Mars as famously magnificent as the Great Wall of Cyclopia. The dragon tombs of Lunae Planum held wonders of technology scarcely dreamed of, and the buildings of Tharsis City outshone anything from Venice to Beijing, but in terms of sheer, impossible scale, the Great Wall was unmatched. It stretched over seven hundred and fifty miles and was at least three hundred yards high, cutting off the entire Amenthes Peninsula from the Hesperian landmass. Behind the Wall lay three hundred thousand square miles of wilderness, and in that wilderness roamed those ancient reptiles, the dinosaurs.

Harriet stepped onto the viewing platform at the front of the airship with Bertrand at her side. At first she couldn’t even make out the Wall, it was so large. It was more like the line of the horizon stretching as far as the eye could see and rising hundreds of feet from the tangled wilderness, as though the planet had simply been cut in two, and one half had slipped down, exposing the bedrock.

Storm hawks circled over the Wall, their enormous wings drawing tiny crackles of lightning from the clear air as they searched for their prey below. One of the birds folded its wings as Harriet watched, plunging down into the wilderness far below. Released lightning flashed beneath the canopy.

Out here, the wind was cold and the beat of the airship’s spring-powered propellers felt like a giant pulse thumping through Harriet. She felt a sudden urge to leap from the balcony, her arms spread wide like the storm hawks’ wings, and soar into the sky. She’d never felt so free in Tharsis City. She realized she was grinning madly.

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