The Calderan Problem is the fourth high-flying, swashbuckling adventure in the Free-Wrench series from Joseph R. Lallo, author of the Book of Deacon and Big Sigma series.
Several months have passed since Nita's last adventure in the fug, and though she has spent them back in her native Caldera, she has never been busier. After countless debates and discussion, she has finally convinced her people to give the Wind Breaker and its crew safe harbor on the shores of her idyllic homeland. Now she is looking forward to introducing Captain Mack, Lil, Coop, and the rest of the crew to the land of her birth.
Back in the fug, Gunner has remained behind to help their friends in the Well Diggers deal with problems beneath the fug. Their old foe Lucius P. Alabaster has become even more unhinged and eccentric since their last clash. When his latest scheme seems to be having even greater success than his last, Gunner decides he needs to get to the bottom of it. Flamboyant and overconfident though he may be, Alabaster is not to be taken lightly.
As machinations unfold, worlds clash, and relationships develop, the Wind Breaker and its crew discover that this latest adventure may have greater consequences than they'd ever imagined.
It has been suggested that I have the bad habit of giving people a glimpse of something only to hide that thing away for half a series. Despite my Free-Wrench story starting in the artful and idyllic land of Caldera, we barely get a glimpse of it through the first three books. The Calderan Problem finally brings the cast back to have a proper look at the tropical land. And, of course, they bring chaos with them.
And before you ask, yes, steampunk counts as sci-fi. Because there's no magic. And because I'm the curator. – Joseph R. Lallo
"A very adventurous undertaking. Mr. Lallo shows no boundaries with his way with words and a fantastic imagination. His characters in this book are very well written and each one has unique abilities which contribute to the great humor in this story. You will be greatly entertained throughout this book. If you have purchased any of the previous books in this series you know that this one will not disappoint."– E. Lee, Amazon Customer
"Simply awesome as always! All of his books are very good and this series is one of the best. With The Calderan Problem just leaving me wanting more!"– Ray, Goodreads
"The crew of the 'Wind Breaker' ride again and Lallo does not disappoint. I loved it. This is the 4th book in the series and all of the crew have gotten to be old friends. Their adventures are always an enjoyable read and each book is a standalone novel while they just keep adding more depth to the characters. Read it and enjoy the ride."– – S Q-ba, iBooks
In a small, smoky room tucked in one of the dead husks of a city claimed by the rolling purple mists of the fug, three slender men with white skin and black vests huddled around a fourth working away at a typewriter.
"This simply isn't coming together," remarked the editor as he turned to pace a well-worn path along the floor. "Nothing, not a single line of this edition is going to grasp the minds of our readership."
"Were you to ask me," said the man at the typewriter, "I very much doubt any amount of rewording is going to solve that problem. We have been a bit spoiled for choice lately when it comes to stories worth covering."
"So very true," the editor said.
He pivoted to pace up to an array of framed newspaper pages on the wall. As he walked by them, he recounted their contents with all the wistfulness of a fallen star of the stage reminiscing over his glory days.
"'Terror From the Skies: Lawless Thieves Rob Warehouse, Destroy Dreadnought.'" He shook his head. "I still remember the day we printed that one. Three full print runs and still we couldn't keep them on the newsstands. Weeks of coverage of the aftermath. And just as it cooled? 'Wind Breaker Crew Imprisoned: Two to Rot In Skykeep,' and before the ink had a chance to dry, 'Skykeep Falls: The Wind Breaker Strikes Again!' And since then, nothing. The very definition of feast or famine. I don't know where the blasted Wind Breaker has gone off to, but they've taken the worthwhile reporting with them."
He threw open a filing cabinet and tugged a more recent edition from inside. "Look at the bones we are left to gnaw on. 'Military Craft Mysteriously Vanish.' 'Economic Uncertainty as Phlogiston Prices Waver.' 'Historical Relics Stolen from Museum.' The same headlines simply don't move the product any longer."
A gentle knock at the front door broke the atmosphere of quiet lament.
"Whoever it is," the editor said, "we are on a very tight deadline and we must not be disturbed."
Again there was a knock, somewhat more insistent this time. He turned angrily to the door.
His angry restatement was interrupted by a third knock, this time a single blow that may as well have come from a sledgehammer. The door burst open with nearly enough force to tear it from its hinges. Instead it struck the wall and shattered one of the framed pieces hanging there. Two lean but solid men stepped inside, each large enough to have to stoop to pass through the door. They were dressed in black suits with white pinstripes. Despite the snappy outfits, they couldn't have more effectively labeled themselves as hired thugs if they'd worn signs around their necks. Broken glass from a shattered frame crunched under their high-end shoes as they took up positions on either side of the door. A moment later, a third figure stepped in.
Unlike his associates, he was a bit more difficult to place. His outfit was unique, and utterly ostentatious. It began with a gray suit tailored to his lanky frame. Four rows of polished, cherry-red buttons fastened it shut, offering only a glimpse of the black shirt and matching red tie beneath. Continuing the red ensemble were twin sashes of the same brilliant hue, one over his shoulder and the other around his waist. This lower sash also hosted a gold-plated, jewel-studded revolver perched jauntily on one hip. The ornate revolver matched the spiraling, ruby-encrusted cane he clutched in his narrow fingers. A forest-green cape and matching dress shoes completed the outfit. The overall impression was that of a vaguely military dictator with a flare for the dramatic.
He glared at the newspapermen through dark-rimmed eyes and ran his free hand through a mane of windswept hair. While his coif was rather wild and unkempt, it seemed positively tame in comparison to his eyebrows, mustache, and beard. All the facial hair was several inches long, exceptionally thin, and waxed into flowing curves and curls.
The man could just as easily have been a talented performer or a dangerous mental patient. The wild look in his eyes and manic grin pitched the scales quite firmly in the latter direction.
"Gentleman, I could not help but overhear your plight. And, as ever, when the problem seems intractable, it has either been caused by, or can be solved by, Lucius P. Alabaster!"
He concluded the statement with a triumphant thrust of his finger into the air and a thump of his cane to the ground. The stunned and confused silence that followed was clearly not the effect he'd been seeking. The ear-to-ear grin twisted into a scowl, and he eyed the men reproachfully.
"Lucius P. Alabaster," he repeated. "Noted financial powerhouse? Darling of the gentry? The one true defense our fair society has against the terrors of the Wind Breaker crew?"
"Look here, sir. I am sure you are well known within your circles, but we are reporters with a newspaper to put out."
"Reporters…" Alabaster fumed. "That you do not have head enough upon your frail shoulders to make yourself aware of Lucius P. Alabaster, easily the most notable figure in recent history, illustrates the true reason for your flailing little publication. You should know my name. Everyone should know my name. You are speaking to the first man to be locked within the heart of Quartzvault Penitentiary, as well as the first man to escape that utterly impenetrable prison."
"I am afraid I'm not familiar with it."
"Idiots…" he rumbled. "Do yourself a favor. When I am through with you, march yourself up the street to the office of our dear, increasingly ineffectual Mayor Ebonwhite and speak my name. See if perhaps he, a man who at the very least knows those worthy of fear and hatred, can tell you the nature of the man who stands before you. I would, of course, gladly continue to list for you my exploits of note, but doing so would take ages, and like yourselves I am on something of an unforgiving timetable. So I shall instead get to the heart of the situation. If you would be so kind, direct me to the cabinet where you file your photographs."
"I have had quite enough of this! You get out of my building immediately, or I will call the authorities."
Alabaster rolled his eyes. "Mr. P? Motivate our inhospitable host to reveal the information I seek."
One of the thugs stepped forward and grasped the editor by the vest. With little effort, he wrenched the man from his feet and bashed his head into the ceiling. When the thug released him, the man fell to the ground, dusted with clumps of plaster that continued to rain down from a head-shaped hole.
Alabaster stepped up and looked down at the unconscious man. He turned to the thug and clucked his tongue. "Let us try again, with that fellow. Perhaps a bit less vigorously this time," he said.
The thug turned. His new target, one of the thus far silent reporters, reacted quite sensibly with utter, abject terror and total compliance.
"The last three months are in that set of drawers, the last three years are in that row, and the archives are through that door!" he yelped, shielding his face with one arm and pointing shakily with the other.
"Now that seemed to be a far more pleasant way to go about the transaction, didn't it?" Alabaster said.
The garishly dressed interloper walked to the indicated cabinet and pulled it open. He glided his fingers across the tops of the file folders, murmuring the hand-lettered file labels under his breath.
"Ah. There we are. I would know it anywhere," he said, a seething anger in his voice as he scrutinized an image from one of the folders.
His lingering stare could have burned a hole through the image. Finally he stuffed it back into its place and plucked out the entire folder, along with several on either side. He handed them off to the other thug.
"You will no doubt choose to immortalize this moment in your next edition, the deadline for which, as you have lamented, is rapidly approaching, so I urge you to listen closely, because I shan't say this twice…"
He paused, looking about expectantly. "You do intend to take a photograph, do you not?"
"The editor is also the photographer," remarked the frightened reporter, his shaky finger now pointed at the man lying motionless on the floor.
"Of course he is," Alabaster said flatly. "Mr. Q, the camera."
One of the thugs stepped forward and fetched the small portable camera from its case and affixed it somewhat roughly to its tripod.
"At least this way I can be sure you incompetent halfwits will be able to capture a proper likeness. Is it too much to presume that the man at the typewriter might actually have some aptitude with the device? Good. Then listen closely, and do be sure to print up extra copies of this edition, because it is certain to be a hot commodity. And the name is Lucius P. Alabaster, L-U-C-I-U-S P. A-L-A-B-A-S-T-E-R. If I see it butchered, Mr. P and Mr. Q will be paying you another visit…"