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Author Topic: [SEP 2020] - Steampunk - Submission Thread  (Read 676 times)

Online ScarletBea

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[SEP 2020] - Steampunk - Submission Thread
« on: September 07, 2020, 08:10:29 AM »
SEPTEMBER: STEAMPUNK



Steampunk Witch Doctor by Direimpulse

Airships and locomotives, corsets, parasols and clockworks. Steampunk is more than just steam (or even punk), it's a melding of fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, and many other genres. It can involve pirates on flying ships, pedigreed ladies doubling as assassins and spies, mad scientists in horrible laboratories or even steam-trains rushing over the ocean.

What does your steampunk universe look like? And what story do you have to tell?

Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. The story must be in the steampunk genre
3. Prose must be 500-2000 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.
5. One story per person or writing team (not per account).
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
7. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
8. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
9. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
10. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys under the B.
Bonus rule: We consider voting in a contest you're taking part in a given. Others take time and effort to read the stories - you should do the same. A small community like ours lives from reciprocity and this contest needs stories as much as votes. 


If you want so submit your story anonymously you can do so by sending it in a personal message to @xiagan.

Entry will close September 30th/October 1st, 2020 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.

All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.
Submitting a story counts as published. The author retains all rights to their work.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here
At home in the Fantasy Faction forum!

I'm "She Who Reigns Over Us All In Crimson Cheer", according to Peat!

Offline hexa

Re: [SEP 2020] - Steampunk - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2020, 12:18:57 PM »
The Ripper
950 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Detective Holmes arrived at his office at Scotland Yard.  He was greeted by Deputy Watts.
Watts murmured, "Good morning, Detective Holmes.  I am to brief you on your new assignment."
Detective Holmes removed his deerstalker hat, and sat in a wooden chair.
Watts continued, "Since you have succeeded as a detective, the chief has assigned you our most
pressing case.  There is a serial killer afoot in Whitechapel, in East London.
The newspapers call him Jack the Ripper."
Holmes sighed, "Ah, the fiend slays poor prostitutes.  After the slayings,
he continues his depravity by surgically extracting inner organs.
Jack the Ripper is a senseless killer; he is a madman."
Watts nodded, "The victims have no connection other than prostitution.
The Ripper's broad mania has alarmed the women of Whitechapel.
Queen Victoria is unhappy with the newspapers' hysteria about a petty thug of no significance."
Watts placed a folder of papers on Holmes's desk.  "Here are the documents about the Ripper."
Holmes said, "Thank you, Watson.  These are crimes of passion with a knife.
My Adams revolver should be adequate for this fiend."  Watts nodded as he left the office.
As Holmes read the documents, he sighed again.  "The latest victim, Catherine Eddowes,
was found in the City of London.  The preceding bodies were found in Whitechapel.
Jack the Ripper is no longer confining his crimes to East London.
He has moved west to the heart of the city.  This represents an escalation in his crimes."
Holmes informed Watts that he would investigate the latest crime scene,
the site of Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square, in the old city.
Holmes retrieved his deerstalker hat, and traveled from Westminster to Mitre Square via train.
As Holmes arrived at the south side of Mitre Square, he found that a crime scene technician was
still there.  Holmes greeted the technician, and inquired if he had discovered anything.
The technician nodded, "It was very foggy this morning, due to coal smoke mixing with vapor
from the River Thames.  The yellow fog assisted the killer in concealing his assault from
witnesses.  This location in Mitre Square was once the site of an old monastery,
a priory named Holy Trinity.  Those old monks would disapprove that their monastery has been
turned into a site of prostitution.  One of those monks still lives across the street.
His name is Nicholas.  I thought that you might like to ask him if he witnessed anything
unusual this morning."  Holmes thanked the technician.
Holmes proceeded to the monk's house, knocking on the door.  An old bearded man opened the door.
"Ah, Detective Holmes, your reputation proceeds you.  My name is Friar Nicholas.
I presume you are interested in the murder that occurred this morning?"
Detective Holmes acknowledged his investigation.
Nicholas continued, "I heard a commotion across the street, but there was a sinister yellow fog
blocking my view.  Fortunately, we monks have a rite to drive away fog.
I performed the rite, which gave me a clear view of the crime.
I must warn you, Detective, that we monks condemn prostitution as a sin.
Normally I would not grieve for a prostitute, but that maniac butchered her body in a devilish
manner.  Although Jack the Ripper's face was not pointed in my direction, I noticed that he wore
a large black top hat.  He also had a rash.  The Ripper suffers from syphilis, a disease spread
by passion.  He was clumsy enough to drop a paper."  Nicholas handed a paper to Holmes.
The paper held a drawing of the Clock Tower of London, Big Ben.
Two days later, Detective Holmes reported to his office at Scotland Yard.
He informed Deputy Watts that the case of Jack the Ripper had been solved.
Watts walked to Holmes's office for a debriefing.  Holmes explained his deduction.
"Jack the Ripper was a mad hatter.  He worked at a hat factory in Westminster.
The mercury from his hats dripped on his head, giving him madness.
However, there have been many mad hatters in this city, and only this one became a serial
killer.  Jack's wife was not patient with his illness, and she left him.
Jack became a customer of prostitutes.  However, Jack contracted a disease named syphilis from a
prostitute.  Jack was angry at the prostitute that infected him.  Jack also lived within view of
the Clock Tower.  The precise schedule of the big clock convinced Jack to strike prostitutes in
a methodical manner, scientifically examining their bodies for syphilis.
That is why Jack extracted the inner organs of the prostitute, in a demented scientific study of
syphilis.  I was able to locate Jack's house, and summoned a police wagon to arrest him."
Watts congratulated Detective Holmes.  "Brilliant, Detective!  Should we charge him with murder?"
Holmes shook his head.  "The Ripper has been driven completely insane.
I shall recommend to Queen Victoria that he be committed to a sanitarium for the criminally
insane.  I wonder whether Queen Victoria will inform the newspapers that the case has been
solved."
Watts shook his head.  "Queen Victoria is disgusted that the greedy muckrakers have
sensationalized the crimes to sell more newspapers.  She shall not tell the newspapers anything
more of Jack the Ripper, for they would only use that information to fill their pockets with
money."  Watts paused.  "Is it time for you take a vacation, Detective Holmes?"
Holmes disagreed.  "It is not elementary, Watts.
I am disturbed by the Clock Tower's participation in recent crimes.
I fear that the infernal machine has become an instrument of evil.
I shall pay a visit to Friar Nicholas, asking him if the machines are empowering criminals.
It is not enough to merely solve crime; we must understand what causes crime."

Online Henry Dale

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Re: [SEP 2020] - Steampunk - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2020, 12:14:45 PM »
Sweet Tea
618 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
The Inventor's Faire was wild this year.

Steam Power had revolutionized the world and now everyone was focusing on its development to find that next life-changing breakthrough.

***

Granny Harriet would have none of it, however.

The reason she was here was because her granddaughter Letty wanted it really badly.
The girl was running to and fro, examining every invention with great fascination before bounding to the next exhibit.
That new-fangled steam was all the rage these days and some people even said it would eventually replace magic.
Harriet snorted at the mere thought of it. She was old enough to recognize a fad when she saw one.

"Granny, come look!"
Letty's high-pitched voice cut through the sounds of the bustling crowd.
Harriet sighed as she slowly made her way to her grand-daughter, brandishing her walking stick and whacking the shins of anyone who wasn't fast enough to let her through.
"What is it, dear?" Harriet spoke to Letty in a sweet voice, ignoring the upset looks of the people in her wake.
"Look, granny, it's so cool."
Above them, a group of miniature contraptions were puffing about, leaving a trail of little clouds in their wake. They sputtered and hissed as they circled overhead.

Harriet looked down into her four-year old granddaughter's doe-eyes. She knew what was coming next.

"Can I have one, granny, pleeeeaaaase?" The girl stretched out the last word, knowing all too well Harriet wouldn't be able to refuse her granddaughter.

The salesman, a young flamboyant character with a straw hat and striped suit started his pitch, much to the annoyance of granny.
"Are you two young ladies interested in a drone? They can fly up to a hundred miles without recharging and are eco-friendly to boot. On top of that, no enslaving of djinns to make 'em fly. This is proper certified science and nothing beats that."
Harriet's eyes narrowed themselves to little slits. "Harrumph." She said, but Letty tugged at her granny's arm.
"Alright, alright. Just give me one of those thingamajigs."

While the salesman bagged one of the toys, Harriet started counting out her copper coins from the tiny wallet she carried around. As is the case with wallets of old ladies, they were larger on the inside.

After the exchange was made, Harriet managed to grab Letty before she darted off again.
"What do you say to your granny?"
The girl bounced up and down, struggling to free herself from Harriet's iron grasp. "Thank you, granny!"

***

It was getting late and Harriet's legs were getting tired. She didn't know where Letty kept getting that energy.
The girl ran between the different exhibits and her gran.
Honestly, she didn't get what was so great about this stuff. To think she could've sat in the sun, in her rocking chair and --

A divine smell interrupted her train of thought. A smell of summer leaves in the wind. A hot breeze in the evening. And it was coming from one of the stands.

Tucked between the exhibit for the rocket boots and the one for automobiles was a little table, decked with strange metal bulbs with elephant snouts. There were an assortment of mismatched mugs as well.

The salesman was an elderly gentleman with spiffy white hair.
The man jumped up from his chair and called out. "Do you fancy a cup of tea, ma'am? I made it with my revolutionary invention: the tea kettle. I swear it will change the world. The power of steam will find its way to every household."

But Harriet wasn't listening anymore as she sipped from the fragrant tea she had been offered. And she had to admit not all steam power was a fad.



Offline bdcharles

Re: [SEP 2020] - Steampunk - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2020, 05:06:49 PM »
Note G
(1500 words)
Spoiler for Hiden:
Lady Fairy wanted to fly. Lady Fairy wanted to fly, and to understand the human mind. But that was before Spamme slid curious tendrils about the narrow isthmus of her waist.

Charles was the one who began it; note this down. Naturally he had read much of Byron’s work, going about it with some protraction, until later everyone said that ennui at his desk employ must surely have set in because in February’s meetup at the Green Mum in Gaslantern Street, he brought along a copper bowl, a lantern, a vial of naphtha, and a gem that might have been the turkstone. I, the first to arrive, procured us a corner table in the window and rubbed mist from the panes with one finger.

“Naphtha?” spluttered Catherine, when all were present and seated. Montgomery’s eyes pondered Lady Fairy’s mechanical contrivances, bolted to the walls. Her creations had revolutionised the Mum’s distilling process, much to our enjoyment, and she had apparently gifted them a few parts as decoration. No doubt more chuntered on in the taproom at the back, diligently producing mettrick and wine for us.

“Mmm,” muttered Charles. “For the vapours. Spamme, you see?”

Lady Fairy said nothing, though I recall an admiring glint crept into her gaze. That was nothing unusual itself; the two were firm friends. None of us had any clue what Spamme was, and started to query Charles on it. But he was evasive, fobbing us off with mumbles about “shrouds” and “forms” and “the mendicantish Other.”

Then Lady Fairy spoke for the first time that befogged evening. “Spamme?” she said. “It’s a little-known sect of the Jesuits.”

Montgomery’s head nodded up from its measure of brandy. Everyone else fell quiet. The only other customers in the Mum were a trio of hooded figures; bandits, I surmised, or taxmen; ne’er-do-wells at any rate. “The Jesuits?” Montgomery muttered. He was a meticulous man prone to bouts of kundalini panic and I suspected Lady Fairy might be loosing a joke on him.

“Yes.” At this, Charles became more focused. He leaned towards us, away from the brassy fire, embracing us in a mischievous gaze, and continued sotto voce, though infused with new energy. “These Jesuits – Spamme – believe that the way to heaven can be accessed, at will, via a consecrated hedgerow, which I have tonight learned is not far from here, past the little chapel on Astrophasia Lane.” He paused, leaving us all a-raised of the eyebrows. “There are, however, conditions.”

“Oh, go on, Charles,” said Catherine, getting to her feet and squeezing around a candleholder whose flame broadcast orange. “More absinthe, anyone?”

“Heaven?” I chortled. “At will, you say?” It was too delicious. “Yes, do go on. What conditions would these be?”

As Charles recited a fanciful-sounding list, including his three items, assorted inclement meteorological terms, most of which were rapidly transpiring outside, followed by a sequence of words, to be venerably spoken, and so forth, Montgomery looked to fold up inside himself. It was as if he didn’t wish to be there or was trying to avoid being spotted. I couldn’t blame him. This was rather silly.

And I immediately noticed – by what mechanism, I cannot say, though Lady Fairy might illuminate me – that between that lady herself and Mr. C. Dickens, esq., across the table, had sprung new strands of some co-conspiracy. An affair? It was not outside the realms of possibility. Moreover, I was certain that Catherine, his wife, was privy to precisely none of it. She returned with a bottle, an 1847 Couric and Tayburns. Those curlicues on that label didn’t lie.

Lady F and C.D. chatted on. She produced a scrap of paper headed with the words ‘Note G’ and in whose blanks were written numbers and arcane symbols, arranged to form patterns akin to poetry or mantras. What the deuces were they up to?, I pondered in my mind, as Charles went on.

Across the small saloon, the caped individuals got up and left. Suddenly the world presented as something very fractured. This was no ordinary meeting of friends. And furthermore, I harboured no illusions that this marvellous hedgerow to which Charles alluded would escape a visit from us tonight. The fog, Lady Fairy’s paper, Charles’s bits-and-bobs – the pre-conditions were all there.

And so it was not mere happenstance that thirty or forty minutes later, we five – Catherine, Charles, Lady Fairy, Montgomery and myself – having paid and quit the Green Mum, emerged from one bank of thickening pea-soup or another to stumble straight into the metal gate at the end of Astrophasia Lane.

“Careful!” cried Catherine. Her voice was pitched too high, too loud, too inappropriate for the moment. In the milky gloaming of one shuddery lamplight, the cross atop the chapel shimmered. Judging by his timid gesticulations, Montgomery was inferring it as an augury.

But before he could make any tremulous excuses, Lady Fairy was by his side. “Now, my dear, Mr. Montgomery,” she purred, and it was just like that – the sort of noise you might expect from a jungle cat; “you weren’t thinking of leaving, were you? But you simply must stay!” She laughed. Unlike Catherine’s utterance, it was in keeping with the shrouded dark. Enhanced it a little, you could say; gave it a sheen of something. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Montgomery gave a feeble moan; and with a ferrous screech, the gate swung unwillingly open. And we were in.

At first I supposed us to have entered the churchyard. I couldn’t say what Spamme’s burial customs might have been, but a cemetery was an appropriate spot for a glimpse into heaven. Presently, however – and remember, we were entombed in wratithlike drapes of fog; at one point, despite our lantern, I realised I could not see my hand and very nearly panicked – segments of mist vanished and I realised we were in a maze. What a sight we would have made by day. I wasn’t half-glad no respectable persons could see us then.

Charles took Lady Fairy’s arm. “Do you have your paper – Note G?”

She looked into his eyes, solemn. “I do,” she replied, each word coloured by hues of meaning. What I could see of Catherine, which was about an arm-and-a-half, suggested she remained unaware of the situation developing.

We proceeded down arboreal lanes, and, I considered those hooded figures in the Green Mum. Were they emissaries of Spamme? Something sinister about a shadowy religion, wasn’t there? Still, we’d by now made so many turns that even the most committed zealot would have trouble finding us even without the fog. From ahead, Charles told us to “hold hands, as there was a great thickening up ahead.” I was at the back; Catherine took my sleeve.

A great thickening up ahead. How I wish I had heeded the warning in those words.

Paper in hand, Lady Fairy took up residence beside a solid wall of conifer – a dead end. In the ordinary realm of things, we were profoundly lost. Beside her, Charles held the lantern. Behind him, Montgomery, then Catherine and me. All about was white. I wished for naught than to be a small child again.

“Grant body and soul entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. Six,” read Lady Fairy.

The hedges parted. I craned my neck to see.

“Good Lord!” Charles screamed.

Poor Mr. Montgomery. The whole thing thrust him into sudden and terrible spiritual loops. His eyes must not have been prepared for what awaited us; then again, none of ours were, except perhaps Lady Fairy’s. His knees gave out.

The colours – in the name of humanity, I cannot begin to categorise them, yet I must. Here we were, gazing upon True Heaven. Yet we – or I, certainly, had no idea what I was looking at. Imagine a dahlia, green and pink and spiny. Imagine it turned through a million multiple contortions until it was the only thing in our field of vision, warped and awful and everywhere, suffused with fury. Imagine a thousand freakish bugs squeezed into configurations never meant for them, and possessed of the power of the most demonic language. And the things they spoke of – oh.

And beyond them, three – how can I say? Three tadpolean forms, man-sized, devil-faced, the emissaries circling a – circling a – a rent, an anomaly, a hole.

The emissaries.

The mind of God! We were looking into the mind of God, and it was a psychic artefact to dread. The mendicantish other, grabbing blindly at human souls, disposing of them.

I cannot say what happened next or how we got out of there. What I do know is: Montgomery never recovered his senses; the elderberries did Catherine’s liver in; Charles, not seen again. I can only imagine he ventured past the tadpole emissaries – and into that hole, the hole in the mind of God.

But come, now; sit; be easy, for Spamme has us, and demands we show the world that hedgerow on Astrophasia Lane.

Ah; Lady Fairy, inheritor of her father’s madness.

« Last Edit: September 16, 2020, 05:27:46 PM by bdcharles »
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Offline Nora

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Re: [SEP 2020] - Steampunk - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2020, 02:43:25 AM »
Sorry for length, but since we have two shorter stories this month I hope it'll be bearable. For once I don't think I could have carried that baby to fruition without the 1924 words...
And in honour of the Titles thread, I present to you :
Portrait Of An Artist In Love – (or, if I weren't trying to be funny, The Perfectionist, because I do love my titles being a single word. Let me know which would have fit best in the end!)


Spoiler for Hiden:



Portrait Of An Artist In Love


There is a motto within our guild:

'Your client is your Art.'

It dictates our rules, weaves itself into our practices, shapes our pride, and though our clients are made to understand its impact, the phrase itself is not spoken to outsiders. It is a tenet, a pillar of our teachings, an invisible chain around our wrists. A chain I wonder if inspector Merig has come to tug.

'You are a popular biomata craftsman and a respected guild member, Dr. Parahi,' he says, clearly fishing for a reaction. 'A true artist among steamwrights, I'm told.'

'Inspector, what is this visit about?'

'Just a few questions, if you please. Are you aware of the series of murders that have happened in the Kublai and Kodenshi districts?'

I smile tightly. So, this is about her after all.

'I do read the papers. Even if I didn't, the guild keeps us appraised of such... events as might disturb our work.'

'When did you first become aware of the killings?'

'After the one that happened at the Proctor's party. Since that was only a district over, everyone here was made aware of the case. No one knew then that it was serial.'

'We still don't know for sure,' the inspector says, pulling photographs out of a battered folder, 'but they all have a few things in common.'

He pushes the glossy black and white photographs forward. I find myself oddly surprised. The content might be gruesome, but the police department has a talented photographer on their payroll. All the bodies are angled to showcase the gaping injuries. They lay sprawled in pools of grey, blood diluted in hydrofill, I suppose.

'They were all either augmented or full biomata. They are all missing parts. A lot of parts.'

'Oh, please. Are you suggesting a guild member is behind this? Me, even? No self respecting craftsman would destroy someone else's work like that. Particularly not in such a barbaric fashion.'

'No, rest assured,' inspector Merig says, placating, 'we've already sorted things with your guild concerning alibis. At least in your case.'

Nothing in our code states that we should not try to help the police. There is, however, no incentive for me to volunteer information, and so I stare at him in expectant silence.

'Do you ever work on automata, Dr. Parahi?'

'Never. All of my work is meant for live grafting.'

I wave a hand to encompass the atelier space all around us. The copper and ivory limbs showcased at the forefront all are to exhibit taste and designs. The hands made of tantalum, titanium and tungsten, laid out on the cabinet to our left, are where the craftsmanship is on display. It is all a front, a showroom, as it were, despite the small workbench. That one is for clients in need of repairs or simple cosmetics. There is no automata on display or in use. It would constitute false advertisement in such a curated room.

'Would one be able to craft an automata out of parts taken from such victims?'

I feel a shiver run down my spine at the question. Surely, the real one will soon follow. It takes some effort to maintain the appearance of nonchalance, to not trigger the whirring of my knee joints with an anxious shift, to ignore the weight of the stare of my ancestors, perched in their gilded frames on the wall at my back. Six generations of steamwrights silently judging the last practising scion of their house, readying his lies.

'Of course,' I say, inclining my head with a smile, a show of scholarly indulgence. 'Depending on what they wanted to build. If needed, you could smelt and reforge to fit–well, depending on the material. The only thing you cannot transfer or reuse are the tubing and the cores. The engine needs are completely different, and automata don't require hydrofill. Anyone savvy enough can do this. It is not even considered guild work.'

'What about building biomata with them?'

Here it is... And what can I say? It is another tenet of ours that you should never deny a client the components they bring you. Our work is... a communion, a shared vision. A concept I highly doubt officer Merig would ever understand or appreciate.
I look at him studiously as I mull over my answer, though there is nothing of interest to look at. He is what is derogatorily referred to in the milieu as a "meatbag". There is no Art to him. Not even a glimmer of cosmetic copper-gold, ivory or amber, not a whisper of inner mechanism, no murmur of churning steam.

'Obviously it can be done,' I answer, keeping up with the affable professor persona. 'People often inherit parts from deceased relatives and have legacy work done to integrate them. This would not be very different, except the guild is usually involved in the original disassembling process.'

'Could you tell the parts were taken by force, if someone presented them to you?'

'Not necessarily,' I reply, lying through my teeth. In for a copper, in for a silver: 'There are shunts that can be activated to section off limbs cleanly. If these were used, the limb would look as neat as if I'd taken it off the donor myself.'

I tap a ringed finger at one of the photographs, one of the more gruesome ones, as one of the parts removed was the insulation polysheet around the steam core.

'Providing materials has always been a popular way to offset the cost of the operations for our clients. However some of these parts you simply can't smelt or play pretend with. Anyone within the guild would know and call the police. This looks more like trophies to me, it's so pointless otherwise.'

Inspector Merig strokes his bearded chin. Though he appears to be considering my point, his lack of surprise makes me think the idea is not new to him.

'Could someone be out there,' he asks, 'someone not from the guild, enhancing themselves, or someone else, with the parts taken from the killings?'

I smile indulgently at this.

'Inspector Merig. Surely you realise setting a steam core engine inside a living being is nothing like automata work? You need to be a talented surgeon for the client to even survive. The creation of a biomata is Art in its truest form, combining medicine, metallurgy, jewellery, design, engineering, fine tuning more precise than clockwork, and the mastery of the gods' greatest gift: steam. Most of the processes involved are guild secrets too. If someone is out there trying to fiddle with an existing biomata without the proper training...' I tap my chin, thinking, hoping to sell it. 'It's possible... At least they could try. But the guild would take it about just as well as if the imperial botanists heard someone was growing Telura on their roof garden.'

Inspector Merig snorts at the comparison.

'Still, why come to me? Surely all of this could have been explained to you at the guildhall?'

'You came highly recommended. Most popular in the district, I was told.' Merig waves his gloved hand to encompass the shop and its shining collection of limbs and skeletal constructs. 'Certainly looks like it to me.'

There is a certain quality to the man's expression. The way his jaw is set, the tension around his eyes. It is a cousin to the apprehension I see in so many faces lying down on my workbench. A sort of uncertainty. It occurs to me then that maybe Inspector Meatbag here has been given a case in which he will forever be out of his depth. Maybe it's a test, maybe it's a punishment. All it means for me is opportunity.

'Ah, you want help identifying the makers of the missing pieces?'

'Yes. I hope you might also be able to tell me if you've seen any such parts in recent months.'

'I certainly can do that,' I offer, 'but the best person to consult remains the creator of the parts themselves.'

'That might not be possible. You see, all the parts we could trace back to a steamwright led back to a certain Dr. Asiheu, who has been missing for some time.'

'Wait a second... You mean several of the victims were clients of the same steamwright?'

Inspector Merig nods gravely as he spreads more pictures of close-ups on the table and takes notes as I systematically fail to remember ever seeing anything relevant, but offer several names for him to go and consult. It is my honest opinion that the woman first killed in Kodenshi had her work done by someone from the Eastern branch.
By the time the Inspector rises again, shakes my hand and heads out with promises of 'being in touch', I am mentally exhausted. I lean against the locked door and lowered blinds, catching up on breath I've never run out of.
In the darkened shop I make my way back to the table. I push the lever, one my grand-father so distastefully hid in the branch of a candelabra, and watch the slab of carved stone shift to reveal the staircase to the actual workshop, the one with my tools, the operating workbench and steam reactor.

I can almost feel it at my wrists, the invisible pull Linia has on me, my greatest work of Art.

She lays sprawled on the workbench, like a sultry painter's muse.
We have another saying, more informal, that states that a client is never closer to perfection than when the world starts to doubt their humanity.
She unfurls herself, titanium plates slithering over carved mother-of-pearl, tantalum rib cage pressing darkly against translucent syndermis, revealing the hydropump's viscous throbbing and the soft glow of her steam core, nestled under her heart. I reach out, brushing strands of hair back from her angular face, fingers gliding over the grooves and embossments etched as verdant jungle ferns across the planes of her brass temples.

'You heard.'

'I did,’ she murmurs against my palm. ‘They’ll never find Asiheu... But it seems I now own you as much as you own me.'

'You owned me from the start,' I say, chiding, and watch her eyes crease in her characteristic smile, the very same she gave me when she first came to me, a mangled toy with very little figure left to her, and figure, in steamwright lingo, refers to meat. Hers was a jigsaw of swollen, septic flesh, patch-worked with steel junk. She had no left arm, her jaw springs were slack and rusting, her hydropump was overheating her innards... She was a mess, a mockery of the Art. A malicious garage job.

'Who did this to you?' I asked.

She'd smiled with her eyes alone–blue eyes like windows into fields of ice that never thawed–arced into cold crescents. She lifted a sack and laid it across the counter between us, the mouth of it parting to reveal the bronze glimmer of joints, rubber fingertips and polycarbon tendons.
I'd sealed my fate right then, by hastily gathering up the strings of the bag and reaching to the lever that would lock the atelier's door.

'Come. We can talk once I've given you some first aid.'

I'd seen the blood on the metal-composite fingers. I knew then, and every time thereafter, but she'd offered herself to me in full–this monster, this killer–to be my creation, if only I would make her perfect with the spoils of her vendetta.

And I was ever the perfectionist...
« Last Edit: September 30, 2020, 05:48:28 AM by Nora »
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: [SEP 2020] - Steampunk - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2020, 04:18:52 PM »
The Exchange

1748 words

Spoiler for Hiden:

The limestone wall of the Coal Exchange glistened with early morning frost. The sun was just beginning to rise over the Bay, thin slivers of light piercing the thick black clouds choking the sky. Those clouds were heavy with potential, and Ieuan was sure it would rain soon. The black, stinging rain that always fell in the spring. He had no intention of being caught out in the open when that happened, and quickened his pace.
The main entrance was a no-go, for obvious reasons, so he headed for the rear of the imposing structure. Even there, he saw guards. Thickset men in green and white uniforms, with those ridiculous red hats of theirs. You could see it was all adapted from mining gear. The hats still had tiny alcoves for lamps. The men looked like miners too. Stained with even more soot and grime than the rest of the filthy city. They didn’t look like they were expecting company, however, and most were leaning on walls, lighting cigarettes and chatting in that strange language of theirs.
Ieuan stayed close to the wall, using the shadows as cover. There was a door not far ahead. Unguarded, and he hoped unlocked. He moved closer, hand reaching for the handle.
“Beth wyt ti’n gweud?”
The barked words caught Ieuan by surprise. He pulled his hand back to his hip, to where he wore his revolver. Turning, he found himself face to face with one of the guards.
“Beth wyt ti’n gweud?” he repeated. He held a rifle, and was gesturing with it aggressively.
Ieuan licked his lips nervously. “Mae’n bwrw glaw yn y fory,” he said, stumbling over the unfamiliar words. He gestured at the gloomy sky overhead.
The guard’s eyes narrowed.
“Dw I eisiau . . . Shelter?” His knowledge of the local dialect failed him, and he had to resort to English. The wrong move, as it turned out.
“Saes,” the guard growled, spitting on the floor. He raised his rifle, intent clear. No other word was ever said with such hatred, and always followed by violence.
Ieuan moved fast, unholstering his gun and firing in the same move. Both his and the guard’s weapon discharged at the same time, but only one bullet found its mark. The guard fell back and hit the floor with a thump. Choking noises as blood pooled in the remains of his face told Ieuan the man was still alive, but he doubted that would be true for much longer. Ieuan raised a hand to the fresh rip in his sleeve. A near-miss, not quite close enough to draw blood. But it wasn’t the blood that worried him. A revolver was effective, but loud. The crack of its firing would surely draw attention. If not that, then the body. There was nowhere nearby to hide the evidence of his crime, and he hadn’t the time to drag it somewhere more secluded.
No time to lose, he decided, and returned to the door. It was unlocked, and he slipped into the building.

Inside, the Coal Exchange was as dark as the sky. The oil lamps lining the halls were unlit, and only a few patches of light made it through the dirty windows. Wilting flowers sat in glass vases at regular intervals between the doors. Not a soul was present, the employees having not yet arrived. There were still a few hours until opening, and the offices were empty. There was no sound of roars from the trading floor, only the ticking of a single massive clock. Once the doors opened, thousands would pour in to do business, but for now there was a human in sight. Yet the building as not totally empty.
With the clank of gears and a hiss of steam, an automaton stomped past Ieuan as he stuck his head through a doorway. It was shaped like a man, but no one would ever mistake it for one. Its skin was golden, its innards brass. Like a statue come to life, it patrolled the dark hallways, sweeping its facsimile of a face side to side as it searched for intruders. Thankfully, its eyesight was no better than a human’s, and it did not see the spy lurking in the shadows.
Ieuan emerged from his hiding place and slipped down the corridor, checking the number and name on each door as he went. The layout of the building was simple, and just as his map suggested. He found the door he was looking for soon enough, and ascended the helical stairway beyond, stepping out onto the third floor. Forget the clerks and day traders, this was where the real business got down. This was where the money went, and where the power came from. It was from these rooms that the Senedd controlled the country, whatever their counterparts in Abertawe might claim. Moving slowly so as to limit the creaking of the wooden floor, Ieuan found the room he was looking for.
RHYS AP CWNC, read the embossed nameplate on the oak door. Gingerly, Ieuan pressed the handle down and pushed. Locked. Of course it was locked. All luck had to run out eventually, but he was prepared for just such a situation. He reached into the stachel at his hip and pulled out a metal spider just a little smaller than his palm. It was a spindly thing, its legs barely thicker than needles. The bulbous shell making up its abdomen contained a single chunk of coal, sitting in a bath of flammable alcohol. With the strike of a match, he lit the fluid, and the spider began scuttling around in his hand, probing his flesh with it’s pincers. Before it could do any harm, he set it down on the lock. Finding its purpose, the tiny machine rummaged around within the locking mechanism. There was a click, and it withdrew. Ieuan snuffed the flame inside with a quick blow and tucked the warm spider into his pocket. Trying the door again, he found it opened without protest.
The office within was about what he had expected. High bookshelves and oak cabinets on the walls, a single shut window and, in the centre, a heavy oak desk piled high with papers. If his information was correct, and he had no reason to believe otherwise, what he sought would be somewhere in that stack. Careful not to make a sound, he began searching through the documents. He had no hope of deciphering the syllable-heavy scrawl of the ink, which at times didn’t even look like words, but what he was looking for would have diagrams, illustrations and maps.
Rhys ap Cwnc was infamous across England as the mastermind behind the occupation. It came as no surprise to Ieuan that the papers on his desk were covered in handwritten annotations and corrections. Everything about the man was so precise, so functional.  Ashame he had been born on the wrong side. A man like that could have turned the war. Perhaps he still would.
With a suppressed cry of triumph, Ieuan found what he had been looking for. A map, showing the great urban sprawl of a city. In map form, all cities tended to look the same. Houses clustered so close together and in such tight lines that the white paper was black as coal. Only the heading at the top gave away any more information. Llundain. Circled three times and underlined once. Tracing the lines of the map with his finger, Ieuan found a few familiar landmarks. The multi-ringed citadel of the Tower, the Cromwell Memorial, the great foundries of Battersea. Most importantly of all, marked out with tiny red dragons, were the Ty Ddraig, the hidden safe-houses of the Senedd’s spies in England. With this map, they could finally route out the traitors.
Ieuan rolled the map into a tube, tucking it inside his shirt. That was the first part done. But if they found the map was missing, it would all be for nothing. Pulling out his matches once more, he lit the oil lamp in the corner of the room. A theft would be noticed, but if the papers were presumed destroyed in an accident, nobody would think twice. Ieuan knocked the lamp to the floor, giving the scene a gleeful smile as the flames spread to the desk, climbing up to the papers. That ought to do the job, he thought. All he had to do now was leave.

He was almost to the exit when the automaton found him. He had grown overconfident, and turned a corner without looking, bumping right into the humanoid contraption. He staggered back as it studied him with its hollow, lifeless eyes. Raising its hands in fists, it stumbled towards him. He knew he could outrun it, the things were not built for speed, but he couldn’t take the risk it would tell someone he had been here. They couldn’t speak, so far as he knew, but who could say what advancements the Welsh had made?
As the automaton advanced, its boilerplate fell open, unaccustomed to such aggressive movement.A coal fell out, landing harmlessly on the floor.
The sight of the open furnace gave Ieuan an idea. He grabbed one of the nearby vases, pulled out the flowers and dropped them to the floor. Then, when the automaton had drawn closer, he threw the vase like a rugby ball, hitting the thing directly in the furnace. The glass shattered in the intense heat, and the water that spilled out was enough to extinguish the flame within. The automaton stumbled to the ground, twitching momentarily. It looked for all the world like it had simply stumbled into the vase on its own. With any luck, that was exactly the conclusion people would reach upon finding it.
Ieuan left through the same door he had entered, closing it behind him. The now-dead soldier was still lying there, his body as yet undiscovered. Taking no chances, Ieuan slung the corpse over one shoulder, carrying it as one might a drunken friend. Nobody would look at him twice on a night like this.
As he left the Coal Exchange behind, Ieuan felt a sense of triumph. Finally, they had a way to identify the traitors in London. Once they were out of the way, the counter-attack could begin in earnest. As the sun rose over Caerdydd, so too did it rise over an England that might one day be free.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2020, 11:37:36 AM by Alex Hormann »
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Offline Kindly

Re: [SEP 2020] - Steampunk - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2020, 11:09:54 PM »
The Engine - 1994 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
In the year 1506, Leonardo Da Vinci moved to Milan, then under French control, by invitation from the governor of the city.

’Dammit!’ Oil flew as the engine made a noise like a whale in distress, then exploded. Melzi only just managed to take cover behind the safety screen in a corner of the laboratory. Leonardo, however, was not so lucky.
Olive oil soaking his fair hair, dripping from his nose, the inventor grinned. ’Melzi, get the charts! I’ve got it!’ Leonardo squeezed Melzi’s shoulder, leaving a greasy handprint. Melzi glanced at his sleeve, then smiled. ’Think we’ll get it right next time?’
’Of course!’ Leonardo smiled, perfect teeth glistening. Then his face fell, eyes squinting in concentration. ’Or the time after that.’ He gave a sharp nod, flinging oil drops to the floor. ’The second time after that at the latest.’ He walked to the storage cabinet at the corner of the laboratory, leaving a trail like a giant, olive-scented slug.
Melzi chuckled, then went upstairs for a cloth. A large one.

The rebuilt machine occupied a full third of the laboratory, additional piping added to better circulate the steam. Of course, the true design change wasn’t visible from the outside – it lay deep inside the steel hull, in the alchemical fomulas inscribed into every core component. Today, Leonardo was covered in soot instead of oil. He could quite safely have passed for a chimney sweep. Melzi shook a stray lock of hair from his eyes and tightened the final valve. He grabbed the shovel in the coal box, but paused before any coal hit the furnace. He’d recognize that perfume anywhere.
’Well. It looks like I arrived just in time.’ The voice was velvet over ice, smooth and cold, though Melzi had never been able to attach the voice to the woman to whom it belonged. She was tall, skeletal, heavy chestnut hair draped around a long face. For some reason, she always wore purple.
’The apparatus seems poised for a trial run. This time, I assume the alchemy won’t be as… reactive in connection with the steam power?’
Leonardo was busy checking the only piece of magic visible from the outside: a ruby, carefully inscribed with minuscule etchings. This chrystal was to gather and focus the energy built up from the steam – in theory. In actual fact, it had thus far never done more than heat up, glow, and, on one memorable occasion, emit a screech like a dozen monkeys fighting over the same nut.
’Lady Claire!’ Leonardo, finished with his inspection, only now realized they were no longer alone. ’This alchemy of yours shows promise, yes, a great deal of promise!’ He held out a hand, saw it was black with soot, and withdrew it.
’Wonderful.’ Her voice glided through the air of the laboratory, across Melzi’s neck and down his shoulderblades with a presence almost solid. ’Now, the royal visit is approaching, and we must not disappoint King Henry.’
’No, certainly. The engine is very nearly ready! Come, a demonstration!’
Melzi placed an acorn against the far wall of the room, checking its position with the utmost care. He then resumed his coal shuffling, and before long the furnace was blazing. The air vents were the best ever built, yet another mechanism created by Leonardo, but they couldn’t keep the laboratory entirely smoke free. Melzi gave a damp cloth to the Lady Claire and tied another around his own mouth and nose. Meanwhile, the machine was clanging, shaking, the pipe from the furnace to the belly of the machinery glowing red hot. Energy gathered, kept in the alchemically inscribed coils by forces Melzi couldn’t begin to understand. Finally, the machine stilled. Melzi backed off, pulling both his friend and the lady with him as he went.
The engined made a noise like a cat coughing up a fur ball, and a blinding white light flashed from the machine towards the far wall of the laboratory. When Melzi opened his eyes, the acorn had already sprouted and was happily growing at a steady pace. For a moment he worried about what might happen to the laboratory roof if the growth didn’t subside, but fortunately, the tree slowed its ascent at a size resembling a six- or seven-year-old specimen.
But naturally, all growing things need roots, and dirt to plunge them into. The stone floor of the laboratory would never be the same.

Lady Claire’s face stretched into a rare smile. ’This will make the English king suitably impressed, I should think. Have the apparatus ready in two months time. An opportunity to impress him such as this one is unlikely to reoccur for some time, after all.’
Leonardo nodded, a stary lock falling into his eye. ’Yes, yes, of course. It will be ready, as you say.’
Melzi watched the alchemist leave the laboratory, leaving only a trace of heavy rose perfume drifting through the air. Leonardo never doubted anyone claiming scientific interest, but this woman made Melzi’s hair stand on end. There was something she wasn’t telling them.
He began cleaning up the sooty mess the test had resulted in, but in his mind, a plan formed. He had some asking around to do.

Over the following weeks, Melzi became a more faithful patron of the alcoholic arts than ever before in his life. He frequented bars and inns, befriending drunks, innkeepers and unhappily married men. Everywhere he went, the subjects of alchemy and a certain scientific society were raised. At last, he had heard enough rumors for a picture to form. A dark, mysterious picture, full of strange symbols, cogwheels and pink elephants.
All right. Time to go home.

Leonardo reached into the cold furnace to adjust a bolt, and gasped. His hand, once withdrawn, was dripping red, staining the floor. ’Oh, damn.’
’Oh, dear. The tomatoes again?’
’A most volatile substance, Melzi. The most treacherous of vegetables, I’ve found.’
He looked up at Melzi, and his face lit up in a smile. ’Melzi! You’re here!’
Melzi was given no time to assure his friend that yes, he was indeed present.
’It’s working! Better even than we expected!’ He grasped Melzi by the arm, shoving a notebook at him. ’See? By improving the alchemical inscription, the coils can hold nearly twice the original power!’
Melzi’s heart pounded in his ears as he attempted a smile. Leonardo tried to catch his eye, and Melzi forced his head up as he took the other man’s hands. ’Dear friend, there is something you need to know.’

Leonardo sat slumped against the wall, head in his hands. ’Are you sure, Melzi? Really sure?’ Melzi could only nod, not trusting his voice. ’It’s the only explanation. It seems they’ve been planning it for years.’
’But to murder the English king?’
’It would mean chaos.’ He sighed, sliding down next to his friend. ’They seem to thrive on chaos.’
Leonardo pressed his knuckles to his forehead, eyes closed. ’It would work, too. No doubt about it. The only thing needed would be a different focus – easily exchanged.’
’But we won’t go through with it.’
’No. No, of course not.’
’And we’ll destroy the engine.’
Silence fell over the laboratory, and Leonardo raised his eye to the machine, gleaming in the lamplight. Melzi held his breath.
’Yes.’
He sighed, nodding. ’Good. Then we’ll-’
’No!’ Leonardo leaped to his feet, two long strides taking him to the engine’s side.
Melzi sat still, not daring to move a muscle. ’But then they’ll…’
’No, they won’t.’ Leonardo removed the chrystal from the top of the engine, gazing at it, a smile forming in his eyes. ’They definitely won’t.’

The day had dawned clear and crisp, and the cart drew to a shuddering halt at the camp near Calais. At least, that was the word the Lady Claire had used to describe their destination, but the word ’camp’ did not fit very well with the sight that greeted them. It seemed half the world and all its finery had come to France, a field of cloth of gold stretching as far as the eye could see. The neighing of horses broke the morning silence as a smell of roasting meat rose from hundreds of cookfires. It was idyllic like nothing Melzi had ever seen.
Along with the idyll, however, came mud. More mud than Melzi had thought possible, considering the fact that it hadn’t rained for the past two days. As the cart made it’s way into the camp, the wheels found every hollow in the ground. Once, it found such a hollow and a rock a short distance apart, and Melzi went flying.
They made their way to the demonstration tent in silence.

As the time of demonstration neared, Melzi became increasingly jittery. There seemed to be too few seats in the tent, and so far their only audience was a fat man in a large brocade coat who sat immersed in his fingernails at the honour’s table. Leonardo didn’t seem to notice anything amiss, running from one side of the tent to another, setting the engine up. The Lady Claire had provided them with a new, ’recalibrated’ ruby, but of course, that particular chrystal would never be used.
Finally, they were ready. Their audience had increased to number seven in total, and Melzi was quite sure King Henry wasn’t present. The men seemed grand enough, dressed from head to toe in cloth expensive enough to make every woman in Milan jealous, but not one of them wore a crown. Royal presence or not, the show had to begin.
Of course, from the very beginning, everything went wrong.
Leonardo hadn’t been joking when he said he had doubled the power generation. This particular acorn was not content to stay a sapling; it was determined to do in one minute what another oak would be proud to accomplish in a hundred years. Melzi had previously thought of oak as a rather serene species. He had been wrong. The really quite large tent they had been inhabiting now flopped som forty metres in the air like some form of striped fascinator.
Melzi and Leonardo returned to Milan the very next day, the king of both England and France being quite pleased, but the royal Chief of Protocol being less so. It seemed an unexpected oak rather ruined the plan he had made.

Melzi was alone in the laboratory this evening, while Leonardo investigated some mechanism for the drying of tea leaves, so there was nothing distracting him from the heavy scent of Lady Claire as she entered the room. Melzi coughed and turned to face her where she stood, hair draped across her shoulders, eyes glaring at him from under heavy eyelids.
’You switched the focus.’ No warmth left in her voice now, only ice.
’Obviously.’ He put his notebook down and sighed. ’Killing kings is all very well for some, I suppose, but to us it seemed… unnecessary.’
’Kill king Henry? The only thing obvious here is your lack of intellect.’
His eyes snapped to her face. ’No? Then what was your plan?’
She strode across the room and flipped through the notebook he had just put down.
’The king is getting poor advice. We meant to improve it.’
’Oh, his advisors… But murdering them? Seems… messy.’
’All we needed was a slightly different focus. The advisors would have been dead within a few months. I suppose some bad oysters would take the blame.’
’But surely, there are easier alternatives available.’
’We’ve tried those.’
’And?’
’My apprentice, fostered under my care here in France, was sent to… influence his majesty. Our British rivals spread their rumors, to really quite astonishing effect.’
’Meaning?’
’He chopped her head off.’
’Oh.’ He cleared his throat. ’And… What will you do now?’
’ We’ll think of something, I’m-’
’Melzi!’ The cry, though faint, penetrated the walls of the laboratory. ’Astonishing!’
 When Melzi turned around, the lady Claire was gone. In her stead was Leonardo, bag of sardines in hand. ’You have to see this, Melzi!’
Melzi smiled. It promised to be yet another exciting day.