“Are you finished yet Ari?”
There was a rare hint of enticement in the voice of Lady Alexia Laplace, and Aristophanes Brown was hoping that she had perhaps prepared him a rewarding concoction of gin or somesuch for finding the rare motivation to get his accounts and invoices done within a period of less than a week. But it was not a glass, or even a steaming cup of tea, that she had prepared for him.
She was holding some odd looking, brown pieces of card filled with holes and linear, yet irregular patterns.
“What are those? Looks like moths have been at the drinks coasters.”
Alexia sighed. “These are what I call tasks for your difference engine. A set of instructions.”
Aristophanes smiled, and looked down at the typewriter sized box of electrically driven cogs and wheels that Alexia had copied from a device found as flotsam in the Poincare machine. Next to it were the invoices he had been calculating for his various journalistic enterprises, and his outgoings for the warehouse.
“At this moment in time, my dear Lady Laplace, I suspect more instructions from you is not what I need.”
“Not like these. Slot them into the back, and let me know what you think. I’m going for supper at The Seven. Carina and the moon-a-muck will be back later.”
In a twirl on auburn hair and linen, she was gone.
Aristophanes cleared the hair from his eyes with his hand, and took up the cards. He inserted one marked simply “Monsters” in Alexia’s fair hand into the back of the difference engine, and hit the carriage return on the keyboard.
At once, the roll of paper that normally displayed numerical calculations stirred, and metal stamps etched inky letters onto its surface.
“I AM A CREATURE OF THE BLACK. I AM ABOVE YOU MOVING TO THE RIGHT. DESCENDING LIKE A NIGHTMARE UPON YOU. WHAT SHALL YOU DO?”
Aristophanes did nothing other than look confused.
“YOU HAVE A GUN, FOOL. WHAT SHALL YOU DO.”
Insight flickered across Aristophanes’ face, and with an amused smile on his face, he began to type.
There, though Aristophanes. That took care of you!
“YOU MISSED. I HAVE ALREADY MOVED FURTHER RIGHT.”
Aristophanes thought for a moment and typed again.
“MOVE RIGHT TO FOLLOW.”
Clunking and whirring of small gears, clanking of cranks.
“YOU MOVE RIGHT. I AM NOW ABOVE YOU, SPITTING FIRE.”
“YOU SHOOT AGAIN. YOU ARE TOO SLOW. MY FIRE REACHES YOU FIRST. YOU ARE IMMOLATED BEYOND RECONGNITION.”
“You insolent little machine!” muttered Aristophanes. All was silent for a moment, then the faint clattering began again.
“YOU ARE RECONSTITUTED IN THE SAME PLACE, REBORN FROM THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM. CONTINUE?”
Brown studied the keyboard.
“YOU FIRE AGAIN”
Another pause. The once again the tap of hot metal.
“YOU STRIKE THE MONSTER FULL IN THE CHEST. IT BURSTS INTO MANY PIECES, DESTROYED, REMOVED FROM EXISTENCE.
“Yes!” exulted Aristophanes. “The strange novel that writes itself shall not outwit me!”
Like a gentle clearing of a mechanical throat, the difference engine began to type again.
“72 ENTITIES RECONSTITUTE IN BEING DIRECTLY ABOVE YOU. MANY ARE EMITTING FIRE.”
Aristophanes slapped his face and cried out.
“Alexia Laplace, you swine!!!”
“WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHOOT, OR HIDE BEHIND THIS EMPLACEMENT AS IT SLOWLY DISINTEGRATES FROM ENEMY FIRE?”
Copyright Mulberry Lightning 23.11.14
Aristophanes Brown is a very new development with a very new character, but in my mind, and the mind of one or two others, is a debate.
Are the short tales of this fellow actually of the steampunk genre, or are they something else?
“Steampunk” you see is a very handy tag to hang around the neck of something. It helps develop you an audience, it’s a hashtag that has some jolly cool associations to go with it, and it makes you feel like you belong to a scene that Lincoln Asylum 2014 certainly confirmed to me was a highly wonderful one.
But when I write, I’m very conscious about some of the obvious tropes of steampunk style and writing, and am very definitely trying to avoid them, sometimes explicitly. There’s no airships of dirigibles, the wearing of goggles described by one character as a daft fad, and there aren’t wholesale displays of tea drinking and dreadnought blunderbuss deployment. It’s strange adventures in a Victorian environment. Not Steampunk.
If anything I feel like some of the gadgetry, for example, is highly influenced by Asimov et al and what I call the “Valvepunk” sci fi of the 1950s transported into the 1890s. I’m a great lover of the “New Worlds” type sci fi short story collections of the 30s to the 50s, where the writers seemed to have imagination to burn.
Ultimately, or course, to me the debate doesn’t matter, and it probably doesn’t to many other people too. Yet I get the impression that there are some “keepers of the flame” that are rather precious about what is and isn’t Steampunk.
But to me, the key thing is to write, and write well. And if you can’t write well, write creatively!
Cryptozoology is mainly nonsense, but I love it when something is discovered that really feels like something out of Jules Verne.
This is the big fin squid, an 8 metre deep sea giant very sketchily known to science, and until recently never filmed…
Feel the cold grip in the inky inky depths…
Lady Alexia Laplace stood alone in the main machine room of the dockside warehouse she and Aristophanes Brown shared for work purposes, swept clean of dust and the reinforced floor gleaming. She checked her pocket watch, dropped it back into the pocket of her heavy cotton trousers, and stood impassive. Expectant.
A bulb lit up fizzily on a slightly untidy looking wire ridden console in the centre of the room. The signal.
She advanced across to the console, and threw a large dipole lever. At once the air crackled between a large steel platform in the centre of the room, and a sort of inverted lightning rod affair suspended from the high Georgian ceiling, illuminating the room with a faint blue glow. As the glow illumination got stronger, the crackling subsided to silence.
In the corner, Carina the cat burglar sat on her best behaviour, face lit with a cyan glow.
The glow got brighter, and suddenly there was a violet flash midway between the rod and the platform. The world was flooded with the glow of an eerie spring, and then, normality. Normality and nominality.
Alexia took her hand away from her face and opened her eyes. Carina sat and concentrated on the after images flashing before her retinas, shaking her head.
Upon the platform sat the dull silver Poincare machine, as silent as the moon a metallic box sheathed in what looked like transformer coils. Then, in the one featureless side of the cube, a door opened downwards, and a silver and copper sphere rolled down a rail affair in the back of the door. A round door opened, and out stepped Aristophanes Brown, beaming broadly and looking quite the dapper chap in his broad striped suit. He was carrying two boxes, one of which he awkwardly waved at Alexia.
“Here you are Lady Alexia. VOI trousers just like you requested, in heavy cotton. So much cheaper than in London. But by heaven, the crowds in New York! It was like a frost fair. The haberdasher’s looked like it had been set upon by hyenas!”
Alexia took the box while helping Aristophanes down from the platform. “I suspect it looked like that after just you had been through it, if your flat is anything to go by. Did you get anything for yourself?”
Aristophanes toted the other box. “Managed to get myself the baragraph cylinders I was after. Verdi at the Met, Mozart. Again, so much cheaper than here. It’s a scandal, I tell you. Has the lady been behaving?”
Carina looked up, Alexia looked across at her. “Yes I think so. I think she wishes to avoid being a diving bell test pilot again.”
“Good good! We’ll make an selectively honest woman out of you yet, Carina!”
Carina smiled a little sourly under her thick obsidian hair. Aristophanes gave Alexia a friendly pat on the shoulder.
“Good show on the transport! Any problems?”
“No Ari, all well, got you back first time of asking. Does the machine attract any attention in New York? Or is our landing ground secure?”
“In a quiet warehouse in the upper class docks. I’m not steerage after all!”
As they talked, Carina grew wide eyed, staring at something on the platform. Alexia saw her first, then Aristophanes, then both turned to see what had alarmed her so.
“Oh my!” excalimed Aristophanes. “More flotsam!”
The creature emerging from the Poincare cube was built along similar lines to a beaver, but with silvery grey fur like the ash of anthracite. It had powerful front paws, like those of a badger, and large dark eyes set beneath some very saucy lashes. As it emerged onto the platform, the animal could be seen to be about four feet long, with a broad, flattened tail.
But what was most startling about it was its face. Rather than a mouth, it had something akin to a beak like the strange creatures of Australia. Only this was more like a horn, or trumpet.
It padded down from the platform, silver as a squirrel. Carina stiffened into her corner, but it paid her no more than a friendly sort of glance as it trotted across the floorboards like a graceful crocodile, light on its feet as a pigeon’s feather. It snuffled around the walls, evidently in quest of something it could smell.
“What is it after?” asked Aristophanes.
“I have no idea Ari. The feeding habits of unfamiliar otter like creatures captured randomly in transit by a multi dimensional transportation device are not my strongest point,” answered Alexia flatly.
“Never mind what it wants,” quavered Carina eventually. “Doesn’t anybody know what it is?”
The creature pottered around for a moment or two longer, before with an excited sounding hoot, it found a bucket of alum crystals on a bench that Alexia had been growing for an experiment. Some were as large as lumps of coal, and upon jumping up surprisingly easily onto the bench, the creature sucked a couple of these down its trumpet mouth, before giving another couple of hoots of appreciation.
“Well, we know what it wants at aany rate,” stated Aristophanes.
The animal jumped down onto the floor again, before making its way to a pot of slightly tired looking flowers sat in the brightest corner of the room.
“They are sickly enough as it is without that thing emptying its bladder on them Ari!” scolded Alexia.
Aristophanes began to move to shoo it off, but before it got the chance, it began to sing.
Sing at the flowers.
The song was warbly and mellifluous, at one moment like an owl, at others with the more talkative tones of a whale. It was a beautiful, haunting sound, tuneful and melodic to earth ears, but at the same time not of the earth. Aristophanes and Alexia were captivated, and Carina began to relax.
A shaft of sunlight sliced the room through a high window, picking out the odd mote of dust.
Something strange was happening. As the creature sang further, the flowers began to pick up in brightness, their weary petals to unfurl, fuschia and late rose to blossom. Their leaves became greener, uncurled, and their stems straightened, proud as a soldier.
Evidently satisfied with this, this most musical of animals trotted off, and sat in front of Alexia, resting its head on its forepaws.
A moth flew across in front of Aristophanes Brown’s face. “We shall call it a “moon-a-muck”. I’m sure there is more it can do than sing to flowers!”
“Even if it couldn’t, that would be enough, Mister Brown.That would be enough.”
The moon-a-muck raised its head, and looked at Carina with understanding in its great dark eyes.
Copyright Mulberry Lightning 16.11.14
Gosh, this was longer than I thought, took two hours or more. Verging on not flashfiction. The moon a muck is a creature long on my mind, and these stories seem an ideal home for it, somehow.
It was midnight, and a mist was rolling across the smooth black waters of the Serpentine to the makeshift raft upon which Aristophanes Brown, and his engineer and mechanical muse Lady Alexia Laplace were sitting. Both were dressed head to foot in black, and Alexia had taken the liberty to apply dark make up to their hands and faces.
Secrecy was the order of the day.
“Tell me again why we are doing this,” murmured Alexia from amidst the mizzle in the darkness. “I’m not sure of the economic gain.”
“My dear Alexia,” said Aristophanes as he lit another cigarette, “keeping this little show on the road is a financially onerous operation, as you know. Using this bathyscapic device, lucrative salvage on sunken vessels like HMS Camperdown may well be possible, assuming this machine works.”
“It works” said Alexia confidently. “Everything from the support structure above” – she indicated to black painted iron beams raising up from the deck – “to the drop chain and oxygen supply” – both of these fell in a series of lazy kinks from the top of the arms to the surface of the water – “to the sphere itself are perfect, I assure you.”
“Speaking of the sphere” muttered Aristophanes over the gentle thrumming of the air pump, “let’s raise it up and check it.”
Alexia threw a lever on a slightly lashed together control panel, and the chain being to crank slowy up on to a drum above their heads. Both looked anxious as they heard the sound, and scanned the lakeshore for any passing constables, but there was nothing. They began to feel calmer as the black painted silver steel sphere broke the surface.
Alexia used a gaff hook to snag the assorted mechanised arms and pipes protruding from the top third of the dully matte machine. She pulled it in close to the side of the raft, and reached over with both arms to open the hatch at the top of the device, which was barely three feet wide at the top.
The hatch swung open, to reveal in a dimly lit interior the angered face of Carina Cartena, cat burglar and private contractor, as caught by Aristophanes at the theatre.
“Ah my dear Carina, that’s an hour. All good so far?”
The raven framed face glared up at him. “Brown you swine, what are you doing? Why have you imprisoned me in this wretched box? I demand you release me!”
Alexia began to lower the hatch again.
“And tell your harsh faced friend that when I get out of this thing, her life won’t…”
Alexia slammed the hatch closed. Aristophanes flicked his lighter, and knocked on the porthole just visible above the waterline, as the chain began to lower the machine again.
“One more hour Carina, then we’ll be sure it works. You are doing very well!”
Carina’s voice was dulled behind the glass. “You swine! You brigand! You bast…”
And below the water she went.
“Well Alexia, there’s no issue with her oxygen supply! I’m pleased with progress, you’ve excelled yourself!”
Aristophanes lit another cigarette even though he hadn’t actually finished the one he was smoking before.
Written in 20 minutes, inspired by my Futurelearn Oceanography course
“Evidently.” said Alexia thoughtfully, auburn hair as coal in the dark, blowing across her face on the faintest breeze. “Another hour, yes?”
Alexia Laplace consulted her fob watch by the light of Aristophanes’ cigarette.
Copyright Mulberry Lightining 06.11.14
This wonderful device is used for the accurate prediction of the timing of tides, and their level. It incorporates 30 different harmonics to make its predictions, and features in my Oceanography futurelearn course.
Straightaway, I thought of the Antikythera mechanism. This film has a very hypnotic quality.