Tag Archives: steampunk

Writing Practise and Forgetting Your Work


Author’s Note: When I am working on a large project, I will often practise with dummy scenes and similar passages to those I will eventually publish. I find this an ideal way to feel a story out without worrying about it effecting the eventual outcome. The problem is, as with many creatives, your mind is so full of ideas that you prioritise the important ones and forget the rest. A case in point is the following short story. I hate to waste them.
I am collating a steampunk anthology — one of my favourite genres — whose main characters shall then appear in their own books. This along with The Eternals Series, which has just been completed, have monopolised my brain (it’s not big enough to handle too much). Everything else has slipped into a hazy past. So, I thought I’d share the following story here so people can see the sorts of things that often get forgotten, bypassed or dumped without even realising they’ve disappeared. This turned up in my hunting out another story that I’ve misplaced (yes, I am that bad). I genuinely hope you enjoy it.

PS. My Advice: Take more care of your writing than I do mine.

The Tinkerer


An irreconcilable truth, yet, nevertheless a truth, we were meant to die, not last forever. Eternity was meant for gods and monsters, myths and legends, dreams and imagination, never for the ordinary and undeserving. We were supposed to live our lives, make foolish mistakes, garner regrets and memories to be passed down through the generations like water to the sea. Yes, we were meant to pool in that oceanic basin called life, but never stagnate. We were meant for better things but never on Earth.

Modifications, they called them, modular adjustments, augmentations of self. The supposition was that a world without death might become a world without fear and therefore one without any desire for war. The warring nations of our planet would come together under one banner, Victoria’s banner, and peace would settle like the first winter snows carpeting the world in gentle sleep. Peace was an enviable utopia if it were the truth, but eternal life, mortality if you will, could not have been farther from that truth. I knew for I fabricated the lie.

I was an inventor, not a scientist, nor even a man of particular cranial might. My skills, for what they were worth, were formed in those steam powered machines that encircled the globe, and in particular Great Britain because she who must be obeyed — otherwise known as Queen Victoria — commanded it. The youthful me’s methods were formed from cogs and steam under the ever watchful eyes of such engineering stalwarts as Stephenson and later Brunel. If it sounded glamorous, it wasn’t. Filth and smog and oil were my medicines, and I hated taking them. So, I diversified. I tinkered, or so my mother used to say, dabbled with things beyond my ken, things that were better left alone. I left my work and retreated to the basement of my home to be seen less than frequent but more than seldom. Frogs were my speciality, my experiments of choice, as they were plentiful in the streams and ponds abutting our village: frogs in metal frameworks; frogs with extra brains stuffed in their tiny heads; frogs made to be not-frogs. Like a mad professor from a children’s fairytale, I fiddled and jiggled with the fabric of life and never once had a clue what I tampered with.

My parents did not take well to my work, in fact, they hated it. So I took my tinkering elsewhere, left the pile of stone and ivy that constituted my family’s legacy, my home, and ran away for good. I had no desire to have scorn heaped upon me at every turn, who would? Instead, I sought the quiet surroundings of nature, rural comforts, one might have said. I found them, too. Nestled away in a small corner of Yorkshire where a good horse was a greater prize than any of those new-fangled automobiles, I settled into endless days of adjustments.

I grew so good at what I did in those formative years, in my improving, that the local farmers actively fetched their livestock to be remodelled. Can you believe it? To me! I sewed extra udders here and there, grafted a pair of extra legs to this or that animal, increased a sheep’s wool capacity to that of a seeding dandelion. All knew my work by the white clouds of precious wool which lifted from said oves with the ease of blowing seeds from the dead flowers they resembled. There was no limit to my refabrications. I even crossed a pig with a Zeppelin to make it easier to move. Not bad, eh? Not good, either! I should’ve sewn up their behinds before allowing them the freedom of the skies, tethered or otherwise. Life was good. Life was easy.

My fame grew in proportion to the experiments I perpetrated. I say perpetrated because they should never have taken place. My mother had called me evil — I was not evil, I was good — but I began to see why she’d claimed it. A Mister Samuel Rothbarton, an owner of several Bradford Mills and a small island in the Caribbean, had acquired enough of a fortune to prize me from my arboreal bordered land to one of stone and brick. He refused to die and wished for me to prevent it. “I am not a commoner and shall not die like one!” he’d proclaimed. I almost believed him, too.

I had never considered the process of immortality in my tinkerer’s remit. Honestly, I hadn’t! You must believe that. However, I must confess it appealed to my bravado, my showmanship one might have said, to see if I might have managed it. I did. It wasn’t even hard. A few organs replaced, limbs adjusted, all with gears and clockwork minutiae, more than did the trick. In fact, Mister Rothbarton became more of a grandfather clock than the actual clock I’d stolen his parts from. He did not care. The cancer that had plagued him had no hold over metal, his gout ineffectual on an articulated leg. He showered me with all the money I could ever have dreamed of and never required. But like all greedy humans, once garnered, I wished for more.

I advertised myself as a man of miracles, augmenter extraordinaire. The population at large believed me. Eventually, so did our Queen.

Her Majesty Queen Victoria regarded me through heavy-lidded eyes, old eyes, and passed me a sheet of paper that merely said, I wish to be Immortal. She did not speak, not a word, and neither did her advisors. I nodded my acquiescence and was then dismissed to a small workshop adjoining the palace stables.

Things might have gone better with Her Majesty’s alterations, much better. However, live she did and would for as long as someone oiled her. I could do little about her exterior appearance, age had withered her, but her beating heart was strong and became stronger. She took to her new form like the bitten to vampirism, ruled with vigour and a literal iron fist. She bounded about the palace on strong-sprung legs like a newly walking toddler. And for a time, her people admired her that way, accepted her for what she’d become, and she accepted them. It did not last.

Victoria first pitied those doomed to die, then grew bored, then raged in spiralling madness at those unlike her, the unaltered. In a moment of sheer frustration, she had them butchered, every last man, woman and child. Not one regular human remained. Not one! Except me, that was, for I faked my metal appendages; I had no desire to last forever.

Her Majesty never allowed me far from her side — just in case, she claimed — but after a time age told upon me. Whereas she and those she’d had me correct thrived, nature took its course on my weak body. I claimed most of it by choice: I whitened my hair because I disliked black; stooped because it made the table closer, and any number of ridiculous lies. Ridiculous or not, she and her underlings believed them. Believed them until my heart attack, that was, but not after.

Victoria had one Ignatius Bumbleswick perform the operation, my one time assistant and general dogsbody. The man who I had always considered a prying fool was in fact an absolute genius. He manipulated my tools with a skill I should never have managed. Like Constable a painting, or Shelley words, Bumbleswick tore me apart and remade me: he made me exceptional.

I did not thank him or his monarch for gifting me renewed life, how could I? I wanted to die. I wanted death more than anything for I knew God would never allow me into the realm of eternal light after what I had done, not unless I remained untainted myself. That had been my hope, anyway. They stole my one chance of a pardon with an ever-present reminder ticking in my chest.

And so I persevered through the changing dynasties of the world, through Victoria’s massacring of everyone except those she wished Bumbleswick and I to maintain. Soon, although it might have been many aeons, one loses time after the first few centuries or so, few remained in a world too spacious to appreciate its worth. We congealed around London like germs a handkerchief as the rest fell into disrepair then ruin. Or so we thought?

They came from overseas. More beasts than men, the evolved and evolving, such a crush of feathers and fur were they that most Victorians — as we still called ourselves — gawped and stared in disbelief of what we witnessed. The beasts neither gawped nor stared, they butchered.

They saved me until last. I saw all fall before me, even Queen Victoria in an explosion of oil and flame, every human I’d augmented, every soul I’d taken. When a cotton wool ball of a creature tottered over to stand before me, I realised the truth. The creatures were the descendants of those I myself had altered. The ghosts of my past had come back to haunt me, my first tinkering experiments had returned tenfold.

Even then, I might have been excused, pardoned the fate of the others. They watched me through great, big eyes with the expectancy of children unwrapping birthday gifts. However, when upon closer scrutiny I scowled upon their unkempt forms, their ugliness, half-smiles turned to full snarls. They had thought me their God, when in truth, I was the Devil. They tore me apart by talon and teeth. I was glad to go.

There was no promised light, not even a candle. I lapsed into darkness like the shutting of a coffin lid on a catatonic man. In darkness I remained, my conscience trapped to tinker in obsidian forever.

The End

As Always

Thank you for reading

Richard M. Ankers

Author of The Eternals Series

The Eternals

Hunter Hunted

Into Eternity (Very Soon!)

 

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#VignetteSeries – A Queen Angers

Author's Note: This is a snippet from the Steampunk Novel I am currently editing. Here, two particularly slimy scientists are confronted by a — let's say altered — Queen Victoria. She is not a happy monarch.
Objects 177

“What is it you wish of us, Your Majesty?” Monk’s words shot from his mouth like a trigger-happy soldier.
They were met by an ominous silence. The quiet extended from a pause, to a thought, to a comatose sleep.
Monk wrung his hands together as the silence lengthened, his finger ends apparently not up to the job on their own. Somerset fiddled with something deep inside his jacket pockets before reemerging to pick remnants of Monk’s masonry from his shoulders. Each piece fell to the floor with a plink.
“I hate littering!”
“Sorry, Your Majesty,” Somerset’s hasty response as he shoved both hands back inside his pockets.
“I hear you have taken issue with my eyes.”
“No… no, not at all. I just mentioned it to…”
“To whom?”
“Just Sir Magnus, Ma’am, I was concerned nothing more.”
“It concerns me that you are concerned enough to concern yourself with a verbal distribution of facts that do not concern you.”
“Ma’am?”
“KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!
The words echoed around the throne room like the bells of Westminster Abbey. Sir Magnus covered his ears, Somerset, too. The warning grew louder than ever until the two pitiful figures quaked on the floor like rabbits before the hounds.
Only when the two men wept without care for who or what saw them, mucus pouring from their noses like Cumbrian tarns, did the echoing stop. Not even a ghost of a whisper remained.

#VignetteSeries – Yellow: of Wars and Flowers

Author’s Note: This first draft section has been cut from my upcoming Steampunk anthology. I hope it gives a taste of the characters involved. I don’t think it needs explaining.

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“Yellow is such a pretty colour.”

Grace eyed the daffodil that protruded from Sir Belvedere’s buttonhole.

“Yellow is the colour of cowardice.”

“No, sir, it is not.”

“I have seen many things on many battlefields most too terrible to recount. However, one thing I can say with assuredness, is the colour yellow is associated with the worst in each.”

Sir Belvedere’s eyes blazed from beneath bushy eyebrows. He stared into a cold nowhere, one his beautiful companion could only imagine in nightmares.

If it bothered Grace, she did not show it. Instead, she poured a cup of Earl Grey and placed it before the giant of a man.

“Thank you,” said he through gritted teeth.

“My pleasure,” the angel returned.

“How much longer will your father be?” Belvedere enquired. “Her Majesty was most specific.”

“Not long.”

“You are certain? If ever this infernal war is to end, we need him.”

Grace took a sip from her cup and set it back down with a chink of China on China.

“My father lays flowers on my mother’s grave. He shall return shortly.”

“So you say, but there are no roses to lay in April.”

“Yes, so I say!”

Grace stood so suddenly that Belvedere almost fell out of his chair.

“My father lays daffodils on the anniversary of her death. He has done so every April of every year since the day she died in childbirth, my birth. This is how I shall remember yellow, not as some act of wartime desertion.”

Belvedere was quick to his feet, his hand slipping to the flower at his chest. “War taints a man, Grace and for this I apologise. I see war in everything these days. Everything. Please, accept this flower and my condolences.”

Belvedere passed Grace his buttonhole and turned to leave.

“You said it was most important that you wait?”

“There are more important things.”

“But, Her Majesty?”

Belvedere hung his head and whispered, “I wear the daffodil for her as your father lays his for your mother.”

“But, Her Majesty is not dead?”

“Isn’t she, Grace? Isn’t she?”

#VignetteSeries – Luna

Author’s Note: A first draft clip from the latest fantasy I’m working on. Here we find the mysterious gentleman Cornelius Black preaching to a very frightened little girl called Luna.

Full moon rising copy

“There are few views ones might accept as the truth of all things, fewer still an exactitude. The universe in all its alternate dimensions has many beauties, many baubles and trinkets, many curtains of colours to draw across imperial night. They all falter before she. You see, my dear, my sweet young thing, to reign in heaven as one does on earth one must weave subtlety into one’s shades, not venture to outshine nor outdo. Those with the bravado to boast such things become a target for those inferior higher percentile who smudge the cosmos with tainted greys and dirty shades. The majority hate the minority unless that minority compliment them, ease their worries, become as essential as she to me. You see, Luna, like your namesake, you are a child of subtlety. If you stood out too far you would be persecuted. I shall not allow it.”

Thanks for reading

Richard

#VignetteSeries – The Pegasus Carriages

Author’s Note: Scenes in first draft from an upcoming work.

The flying things filled the sky like oversized bluebottles buzzing here, there and everywhere with a general disregard for their passengers safety. Dark ink stains on a dirty blotting paper sky, the Pegasus Carriages went about their business of human transportation with even less purpose than the insects they so resembled.

“They bother you, Mortimer?”

Headlock appeared not to hear his companion’s words, instead, his attention remained fixed upon London’s latest aerial business.

“Mortimer?”

When he spoke, it was with measured words.

“It is not the carriages per se, Grace. No, it is not them at all.”

“Then, what? To see a man whose business it is to instil unease in others having that same unease instilled in him is frankly unnerving.” Grace placed a canary-yellow glove upon Albion’s champion’s arm.

Headlock lowered dark eyes to the ground, then returned them to Grace’s flashing green own.

“It is those creatures that power them, Grace, those beasts they call automata. They are wrong, ungodly, devils dressed in suits of lead and I intend to prove it.

When Headlock moved away, Albion’s fogged gloom followed, a little more ice filling the space he’d vacated.

Miss Grace Grace was not a girl prone to chills, but she did; she did not relish the sensation.

#VignetteSeries – Fair Enough

Author’s Note: From my WIP.

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“It infuriates!”

“I’m sure it does”

“Her sheer refusal to die flies in the ideals of God and nature!”

“Must you rant and rave so?”

“Yes!”

“Fair enough.”

Headlock flipped the pages of The Times open with such ferocity as to rip its central spine.

“Is there anything I can say to calm you?”

“I doubt it.”

“That was not a no.”

“Neither was it a yes.”

“Fair enough.”

“Do you have to say that? Is it now your signature sentence?”

“Why, do you find it infuriating?”

Headlock lowered his paper so dark eyes peered over its literary horizon. “Yes.”

“Fair enough.”

VignetteSeries – Universal Shores

Author’s Note: I still may use this, but as it stands have stripped it from an anthology I’ve just about finished.

We opened our eyes to endless night and a firefly vista of twinkling lights. We’d washed up between worlds, realities, time and space, those places parked in dreams and lucid nightmares. Our universe, or one of them, had cast us upon the shores of forever without map or compass.

They’d belittled Chambers, dragged his name through the mud, but he’d been right all along. We weren’t alone, never had been, and everywhere we looked the eyes of others, those ghosts and gremlins, spectres and alternate us, glimmered. They waited for someone to make the next move in that infinite nothingness that spider’s web of intertwining dimensions and burgeoning beginnings and I for one hadn’t a clue what to do.

“Hello, my name’s Grace,” said Grace.

Well, it was a start.