Kings of Air and Steam – A Steampunk Story

 

What is Steampunk? – Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting, which typically features steam-powered machinery. It could be best described by the slogan “What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.”

The airship floated through the night sky, guided by its two large rear propellers which were in turn powered by a massive boiler deep within the bowels of the ship itself. For something so large, it was surprisingly quiet. No one on the ground hundreds of feet below heard it passing overhead. In point of fact had they been looking up at just the right time they would be hard pressed to even see the airship at night, it being painted matte black to escape such detection.

Captain Reuben Stoker-Brittlebank was in the pilot’s seat this evening; making sure things were running smoothly. He had a great responsibility to The Company. Any screw ups on the mission were considered his fault and he and he alone would pay the price of failure. He wore a grim look of determination on his thin oval face, his mouth set in a straight line under his immense handlebar mustache. A small man at only five foot six inches, Captain Stoker-Brittlebank made the best of things by wearing the best of things. He was dressed impeccably in the uniform of The Company, black knee high boots shined to a mirror finish, starched red trousers with black stripes down the outsides, pure white shirt over which was worn a red coat with black epaulets, all topped off with the officer’s sword. And of course everything that could be polished to a shine was. The only thing not standard issue from The Company was his right arm. It appeared at first glance to be a hodge podge of tubes, wires and gears. The medical division of The Company had it built for him when he had lost his arm on another mission a few years ago. He didn’t really know how it worked and he didn’t really like it, but it was either accept it or resign as a Captain because the fine print said you needed two arms for the job.

A nervous man by nature, if not by necessity, nothing escaped his notice. If there was one tiny thing out of place, one small detail missing in a report, there was hell to pay. So when the large red light indicating some sort of failure in the engine room started blinking, he of course was right on top of things.

“Private Dankworth!” he yelled.

“Sir!”

“Go see what’s happening in the engine room and report back to me on the double!”

“Yes Sir!”

As he watched Private Dankworth run off, he hoped whatever was wrong wasn’t too bad.
When Private Dankworth opened the door to the engine room he thought it was like walking into hell itself. There was heat and noise and screaming.

He grabbed the first airman he saw. “Where can I find the Head Engineer?” he hollered.

The airman pointed farther back into the bowels of the room.

“Just great,” he muttered, and headed the way he was shown.

The engine room was a maze of pipes and tanks and gauges, none of it making any sense to Dankworth as he hurried along. In a few moments he turned a corner around a particularly hot set of pipes and ran face first into an extremely large man. The man was so big that the collision between the two didn’t even faze him while it sent Private Dankworth to his ass on the deck.

The man towered over Dankworth at six feet six inches tall. He weighed just over three hundred pounds and none of it was fat. He had a large round bald head and a huge black beard that covered most of his chest. He was dressed in red coveralls with a black stripe down the outside. Overtop of those her wore a large leather apron covered in pockets which were full of all sorts of tools and scrap bits: screw drivers, bits of wire, hammers of all sizes and shapes, parts of hose, a magnifying glass, pliers, and much more.

“My apologies Head Engineer Thirsby!” said Dankworth as he struggled to rise.

Head Engineer Thirsby reached out a massive hand and helped Dankworth to his feet.

“No harm done son! You’re not one of mine, who are you and what do you want?”

“Private Dankworth Sir! I’ve been sent to check on the situation Sir!”

“Tell the Captain that we’ve had a pipe burst which threatened to shut down power to Propeller One but it’s been fixed temporarily and should get us through to the end of the mission. Unfortunately two of the boys got caught in the steam when it burst and got burned pretty badly.”

“I’ll inform the Captain at once Sir!” said Dankworth and hurried off in what he hoped was the direction of the exit.

Captain Stoker-Brittlebank wasn’t pleased with the report made by Private Dankworth but he also realized there was nothing to be done about it.

“Carry on!” he told him once he had heard the report. He watched the Private retreat to his position on the Bridge.

An hour later the airship had reached its destination and was hovering over the city-state of Hollensburg. This is where things were to get interesting.

The mission itself was a straight forward one: fly to Hollensburg, grab the cargo by any means necessary, and make it back with said cargo in one piece. It sounded easy, but it wasn’t. Especially since the cargo was Lady Rosa Pemberton, daughter of the ruler of the city-state. The head of The Company, Sir Andrew Lambert, had heard of Lady Pemberton’s great beauty and wanted to possess her for himself. And what Sir Lambert wanted, he got. He collected things of beauty, including women. Lady Pemberton would round out his set to twelve.

Captain Stoker-Brittlebank had gone to the cargo bay himself to see the Special Forces disembark on the mission to retrieve the Lady Pemberton and was very impressed with what he saw. There was five of the elite squad, dressed all in black with exo-suits of black blast resistant armor on overtop their black fatigues. Armed with the latest model pneumatic bolt thrower and wearing a version of aviator goggles that The Company weapons division had altered to provide night vision, they looked ready to take on any obstacle in their way. Most impressive was the way they were to get to the ground and back – the three areothopters.

The aviation division of The Company had really outdone themselves with the invention of the aerothopter. Standing only five feet tall and being only ten feet long, they were the smallest of the helicopter designs. All tubes wires and gears, and of course blades, there was nothing in the design for the comfort of the pilot or rider. Just two simple seats, nothing more. Areothopters were designed for stealth and speed. They were perfect for missions such as this.

As he watched them start up, hover and fly out the cargo bay doors, Captain Stoker-Brittlebank hoped things went smoothly on the ground.

There was no warning when the first rocket hit the airship. Whoever was shooting on the ground knew what they were doing as they had targeted the rear propellers with the first attack. That first rocket took out one of the rear propellers and severely damaged the other.

“Report! What the hell is going on?” screamed Captain Stoker-Brittlebank on the bridge as the airship shook underneath him from a second attack. The airship began to list to starboard.

“We are being fired upon from the surface Sir!” reported Private Dankworth, looking out the starboard window. “More incoming!”

Captain Stoker-Brittlebank rushed to the window to stand beside the Private just in time to see two more rockets headed towards his airship. One was coming straight for the bridge.

Just before the rocket hit the bridge, Captain Stoker-Brittlebank turned to Private Dankworth. A thousand things rushed through his mind: his concern for his crew of one hundred and fifty men, how he’d never see his wife and child again, what was Private Dankworth’s first name? But what he said was, “How many girls does a man need?”

End

Note: Every week we choose from four topics to write about. This week one of the topics was “How many girls does a man need?” and I choose that.

Your comments and creative criticism are more than welcome.

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One thought on “Kings of Air and Steam – A Steampunk Story

  1. Criticism, eh? Well, you know where I live if I stray into the non-constructive sort.

    The pace of exposition in the first paragraph seems a little off; “…which in turn…” sticks in my reading craw. You’re hurrying to establish the steam-based nature of the technology, and unless you’re wrestling a maximum word count, why hurry? Likewise, the description of the actual mission could be a little more distributed.

    I also have a couple of problems with the cataloguing of the Captain’s uniform. Movement is an issue: we start at his face, then jump to his boots, creep back up to the epaulets… and topping off with a sword either drags us back to the waist or makes for a very whimsical hat. Also, while it’s tricky to give a quick description of the uniform without this sort of construction, it also arrests the flow. Consider how important it is for the reader to have the whole thing described, and whether elements of it can be worked into the narrative– “The flashing of the red light on the trouble board was drawn into long liquid rubies on the polished scabbard of his sword, flowing as he bent to check on nature of the failure.”

    I might also suggest steering clear of weights and measures in your descriptions of the characters. It’s quick, but it puts funny stresses on the disbelief’s suspension. I look at someone, and I think, “That bugger’s HUGE,” but I never think, “That bugger’s six foot seven, four hundred pounds”. Again, how important is it to the reader to know the height and weight precisely? If it does come up (is there any chance for Thirsby to escape in an aerothoper? What is the device’s maximum payload?), then it becomes a matter for the characters to discuss, but until then, leave it slightly vague, the way we do in life.

    “Aerothoper” is, by the way, wonderful. Just the sort of word for the setting.

    For really picky nonsense: “You’re not one of mine, who are you and what do you want?” wants either a semi-colon or a dash, not a comma. They’re a bit of a hassle to come to grips with (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon) but they’re a damned useful thing to having up your pen.

    I have an ill-formed issue with the juxtaposition of “cargo” in the mission description and “cargo bay” in the next paragraph. It’s not exactly overuse of a word, but it’s in that family.

    It’s all meant kindly, as you well know.

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