Friday, April 5, 2013

A Spoke In the Gears - #FridayFlash #Steampunk


  Lord Tyndale hooked one sausage finger in his cravat and sighed. Steam was a godsend in many respects; he'd grown up when the majority of London homes were heated by fireplaces, not much of an advance from those savages in the Colonies, and he had never quite gotten the damp cold out of his bones. These urchins were blessed with comfort in a well-appointed workshop with equatorial heat. Too much so, he suspected; inventions had fallen off lately, and that would never do. Just last week, the Pennyfarthing Shop had launched both a steam velocipede and a steam aeroplane based on the Henson Stringfellow model. The Prince Consort had even paid them a visit.

     A black-haired child sat with tongue protruding in concentration, fixing a fleck of gold in place. Tyndale scrutinized the object. It was a finely wrought armature of silver in the shape of a rearing horse. From its ivory hooves to its glistening obsidian eyes, from the hundreds of gears interlocked and enmeshed so as to form metallic tissue to its proudly flagged tail, it was every inch a possible masterpiece. The boy looked up eagerly and remembered to slide his tongue back into its cavern.  Surely the Master would finally be pleased and allow him his freedom.

     He waited. Lord Tyndale sighed, looked up at the rafters in theatrical despair, and then nudged the boy with his foot. "Well, start it up, Walsh, er Wade...whatever you're called."

     "Wes, M'Lord. And...it doesn't start."

     "Ah, you need more time. Perhaps you can continue after the others leave. At least have the kindness to explain what it will do. A nefarious instrument for the War Board? An ornamental steering device for the new class of airships? We can certainly sell a few to those pompous Transit Captains."

     "It doesn't do anything."

     Tyndale wished he had his own relief valve as he felt the pressure rise in his chest. "Yes, yes, idiot child, I understand that it is currently not functional. But what WILL it do?"

     Wes picked at a bloodied cuticle on his index finger. "It won't do anything, sir. Ever. It's...it's...to look at, sir. Because it's beautiful. It's...Art."

     The shrieking whistle of the man they had to call Master reverberated through the workshop, down the steam and smoke shrouded alleyways, and might have shifted the Pride of Mayfair off course had she been any lower in the atmosphere.

     "So you fasten a few cogs to some wire and call it art. Art is beauty WITH FUNCTION! THERE MUST BE A PURPOSE! WITHOUT PURPOSE WE, AND EVERYTHING AROUND US, ARE USELESS!"
   
      He swept the majestic equine to the floor, mopped his brow, and struggled to regain his composure. Casting about for something, anything, of worth, he settled upon two shadowy figures in an opposite corner.

     "Briggs, tell me you've got something to salvage my integrity. Something...ahhh. Yes."

     The apprentice had swept a piece of canvas away, revealing a human-like object seated beside the worktable.

     "A clockworker. Wonderful. But far too delicate to work the mines or the looms, for that matter. It will need to be twice as substantial."

     Nathanial Briggs, already halfway toward a Class A freedom certificate, smirked at Wes and then adopted a suitably pious attitude.

     "M'Lord, it was built for the express purpose of replacing the striking matchgirls over at Bryant and May. Think of it, sir:  we would be saving thousands of women and children from fossy jaw and cruel working conditions by using these instead."

     Tyndale thought he might suffer an apoplectic fit. "You think that they will purchase mechanicals when they can hire otherwise useless human beings at a pittance? And what of the masses who will be turned out to starve in the streets? Great Machine in the sky, are you all without vision? Without a concept of consequences?"

     While he was speaking, Tyndale had been idly stroking the copper forelimb of the clockworker. Now this was art, beauty with function. It was both graceful and elegant, with smooth sweeping curves and a faint sheen of fine oil; it even seemed to exhale a warm metallic scent which tickled his aristocratic nostrils. There was just the hint of a breast, sloping gently down to a narrow waist...

     That evening the man known to some as the Master, to others as the fabulously wealthy Lord Tyndale, was seen hurrying through the streets with a cloth-draped object. To some, it looked like it might even have been a dead body, but no one questioned such things in the streets of London after dark.

     Several months later, the unfortunate young artist called Wes found himself sitting on a bench aboard the Aether Steam Transit Company's airship Pride of Mayfair, headed for penal servitude in the Colonies. The man chained next to him cleared his throat. Wes thought he looked vaguely familiar.

     "What's the sentence, lad?"

     "Ten years. Deliberately and willfully wasting company funds on work of no particular value. Courtesy of Lord Tyndale. You?"

     The man roared with laughter.  "Lifetime banishment for surgical malfeasance. A certain wealthy Lord had an embarrassing mishap with a clockwork mechanical. And though we've advanced to the point of various gear- and piston-driven limbs, even the best inventors in our world have yet to create a working prosthetic for certain parts of a man's anatomy. He's managed to get me out of the country so that word doesn't spread of his lack of function."

     Wes grinned. "Perhaps we could work together in the Colonies. I believe that we could create some remarkable devices together."

     "And adventures, lad. We'll have adventures. Dr. Robert Liston." He smiled ruefully as he tried to extend his hand but was brought up short by his chain.

     "Wesley Broward. At your service."


This is my very first attempt (and a bit rushed this week) at Steampunk flash fiction. Gentle critique is always welcome.

    

     

    

    
    
    

    

    

24 comments:

  1. Love the details you put into this, and what a great start!! The aesthetics of art can not be appreciated by everyone. Looking forward to more!!

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    1. Thanks Stu. I was trying to bring out some of the conflicts going on during the Industrial revolution - such as form vs function, art vs utility, etc.

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  2. I'm not going to even ask what appendage didn't function!

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    1. I didn't feel it necessary to go into detail;-)

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  3. Loved this. Its been so long since I visited Friday Fiction. :)Edge of Your Seat Romance

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    1. I haven't been visiting anywhere near the sites I used too. :-( I'dlike to get back to posting at least twice per week. one of these days....

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  4. Great details without going overboard to describe everything and I enjoyed reading this piece. Nicely done!

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    1. Thank you - that's one of the goals in flash fiction, glad it worked in this piece.

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  5. Ha! I don't even know why I chuckled at the conclusion, perhaps just because there was such a strong proper attitude after what had transpired. Lovely work, Lisa.

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    1. Thanks John - I wanted to maintain a bit of the Victorian attitude and speech pattern!

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  6. Sounds like Lord Tyndale got what he deserved! This felt like the intro to a longer piece, and it would be fun to read about their adventures in the Colonies.

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    1. I'm wondering myself if I could turn this into a serial.

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  7. I can't imagine whatever you might mean by "A Spoke in the Gears." :)

    This was lovely in the sketching of the background to their world - just enough for the reader to fill in the details.

    Wickedly funny.

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    1. I can't imagine what you're imagining...glad you were amused tho ;-)

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  8. Li- this was fabulous- had the exact feel and I was in a steampunk wonderland- thanks for the chuckle- great piece!
    Lxxx

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    1. Thank you Laura - I've only recently started to delve seriously in Steampunk, and so I was a little nervous about it. But, practice makes (somewhat) perfect, so I'll probably pursue a few more.

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  9. I love a good piece of literature set in the past. Nicely done, I loved the funny ending.

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    1. Thank you Dee! I love any sort of historically based fiction as well.

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  10. Love the bit of humor at the end. The world you created felt very much like a Steampunk universe!

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    1. Thanks GE! I think i might pursue it!

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  11. I've never read Steampunk before but I thought it was good. Loved the ending :D

    KC @ The Occasional Adventures of a Hermit & Oh Frog It

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    1. I've just begun by reading a few anthologies. I am a history buff with a nice library of Victorian histories, so I do have that background to work with. It's been fun so far!

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  12. Wow! That blew me away!

    Firstly, hello, and thank you for introducing yourself! I'm so happy to have met you and now discovered this amazing blog of yours.

    The detial in this peice, both the visual and emotional, was stunning. It felt to me like thr first chapter of a much longer story set in a an already flesheing-itself universe. I don't know if you have plans to make this a serial but it seems like it's dying for it, to me.

    I will definately be checking out your other stories, and will be following the blog.

    Thanks again!

    Beverly

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  13. Hi Beverly, nice to meet you! Thank you for the kind words, and I hope you enjoy what you find to read here. I've enjoyed browsing through your posts, and I'll be seeing you around the Friday Flash crowd. Good luck with A to Z too!

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