24hrs With a Steampunk Aeronaut – Narrative Showcase
By Claire Stokoe
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction in an alternate Victorian era that runs mostly on steampower. The word Steampunk was coined by the science fiction author K. W. Jeter and takes a romantic and diverse look at the works of such writers as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, and Mary Shelley.
Chastity Featherstone woke to the exquisite sound of her harpsichord alarm clock, the burlesque tune invaded her dreams becoming more and more persistent with the passing seconds, eventually she clicked the little brass switch and the clock returned once more to a melancholy tick..tock.
Sliding out from beneath the antique silk covers, she smiled down at the young lady she had picked up in the airmans bar the night before. The younger woman woke from her slumber and met Chastity’s gaze, she was still wearing the leather airmen’s helmet and goggles
“Looks better on you” sang Chas pulling the goggles down over the girls blue eyes.
Chastity looked at herself in the goggles reflection for some seconds. She was looking old for her twenty eight years, the mischievous looks of her youth had all but gone.
“This is for an air taxi home OK” said Chas, and folded 4 gold sovereigns into the girls out stretched hand.
“Who says I’m leaving this bed” giggled the girl pulling the covers off her.
“Don’t tempt me” Scolded Chastity and opening the cabinet at the far end of the room she sneered at the creepy little assortment of dolls that had belonged to her ex Meredith.
“Creepy little bastards” she muttered closing the door.
Merry wasn’t coming back, the dangerous missions and the late nights had put pay to that relationship, but Chas kept the dolls anyway, just in case.
Walking across the cold wooden floor, the light from the big windows playing on her ivory skin, she waited to hear the woman in the bed give her an admiring whistle before quickening her pace towards the bathroom. Smiling back at the pretty young barmaid she opened the door and stepped in, petticoats and stockings lay scattered around the dark floor boards, a memento of the previous evening’s revelry. The lamp bulbs grew hot and orange as she started the generator and quickly lit the corner fire to warm the room.
While the bath filled, Chastity hunkered by the cracking embers that fizzed and popped in the fires big iron grate, she could already hear the engines droning overhead, the sound from a hundred plus Zeppelins congregating above London.
Casting her mind to the previous night’s mischief she lowered herself into the hot water, steam rising from her cold skin and once submerged in lavender bubbles she sighed and disappeared below the water’s surface. The ringing of the phone downstairs cut through the metal of the tub to invade her dreams, so she covered her ears and held her breath until it stopped.
Dressing in her typical buccaneer outfit of long cord jacket, scarf, halter top, hold ups and gun straps she emptied the tub and began to collect up the girls clothing. She was sure that she must smell like a brewer’s yard, but she did not much care anymore. Licking a finger she polished away a smear of what looked like blood and grimaced, “too many bar fights, too much liquer” she thought.
Catching her reflection in the mirror she sighed, years of engine grease had ruined her beautiful blonde hair, late nights and tight scrapes had seen to it that her complexion remained oddly pale and her once bright blue eyes had turned to a cold grey.
As she walked out she met the girl coming the other way “Looking fine there buccaneer?” she said grabbing her by the waist belt and pulling herself in.
Brushing back the girl’s hair she offered a low “I have to go” the phone ringing started up again and the two parted ways, rather more abruptly than the young barmaid had hoped.
As the coffee machine put-putted and gurgled, Chastity demolished a handful of cereal crackers and collected up the morning paper from the door step, the sky over London was dark, bloated storm clouds decorated with thousands of tiny aircraft hung above the house.
“Queen’s visit, that’s what all this fuss is for” she groaned at the front page, and poured her coffee.
Turning on the computer to check her emails she suddenly noticed a scuffling by her boot, and found her dog Chester staring up at her “I suppose you’re hungry?” the dog threw himself towards the door and she following his excitable gambolling back into the kitchen.
Suddenly her pocket began to vibrate and snatching up her phone she piped a cheery “Morning?” suddenly her tone changed to “No sir… I wasn’t ignoring you. No I did not hear the phone”
The angry tone of her boss Lieutenant General Merrill Langdale of the airship Ulysses, came spewing from the receiver, he was always in a foul mood, but today it was because he had left her a plethora of unanswered phone messages.
“Sky Admiral Griffin is in today Featherstone” he spat “so it’ll be a full inspection at 0930. Is that clear?”.
“Clear yes Sir, I’ll be ready” she mumbled
The doorbell rang three times and then her cousin Airship Designer Henry Packer walked in, he grimaced at the state of her clothes and then said “Don’t you ever wash?”
“Why do you always ring the damn bell” she spat
“Well given your leisure time, I’m never sure what I’ll find” he grinned “Let me guess, your landlady?” picking up a set of underwear he held them aloft.
She sneered at him grabbing the undergarment from him and tucking them into her pocket “I have a life Henry, hard for you to comprehend I know”. Then before he could answer she pointed him towards the kitchen saying “Go drink coffee, and don’t speak!”
“Remind me why I have to give you a lift again?” he grimaced as he stepped over yet more discarded female clothing that lead up the stairs “Haven’t they fixed that ugly bike of yours yet?”.
She frowned at him “No i just love your company Henry, it’s good for my bowels” and then placing down her empty cup added “I had offered to phone a taxi”
“No.. no” his voice echoed through the kitchen “Mother wouldn’t have it”. Her aunt had been fussing over Chastity ever since her parent’s had died some eighteen years ago, only yesterday she had sent Henry over with a weeks worth of hotpots and dumplings and with the express instructions to “Eat something or else she’d fade away to nothing”
Chastity was missing her motorbike terribly and found the idea of travelling with Henry incredibly irritating, she was sure he suffered from a obsessive disorder, probably hereditary and so everything had to be clean and neat at all times.
But alas her bike had been in the shop for the best part of a week and since her usual engineer was on holiday and his nephew, who has a nasty habit of inventing things, was in charge. She guessed that her bike would be in the shop for a good few more days yet.
“We should go” said Henry sipping the coffee “This is marvellous coffee by the way, is it Columbian?”
“Yes, I believe it is. They make it with hemp you know” she picked up her laptop, in case she needed to access any files for that days mission.
“You are joking” he asked “Aren’t you?” as he walked out to his car.
She picked up her gun and holstering it and called up the stairs “Make yourself at home, i’ll be away until late”
Leaving the house and checking her watch, told Packer that he was running late and jumped in through the car window much to his annoyance.
All the way Packer talked excitedly of the Sky Admirals visit in an edgy and nervous tone, “She has the authority to get rid of anyone you know and I don’t mean sack, i mean shoot.. like bang”.
Chastity lit a cigarette “She’s got a fantastic arse, have you noticed. No I expect you haven’t!”.
After scolding her to open the window he continued to say that “The rumour is her visit’s connected with that mad man General Brewer, they he is plotting something against the Queen”.
Chastity smiled “How old do you think she is, the Sky Admiral?”
“Do you think of nothing else?” he snapped “The Queen could be in grave danger”.
She raised an eyebrow “Like them old, do you?”
They took main street towards to airfield, airships were filling the sky in readiness for the Queens visit, “Well whatever Brewer is planning, with this kind of noise, it ought to be big” she grinned.
They arrived at the airship at 0915
The Sky Admiral watching from the ships bough, Chastity shook her head as she left the car “Wish she’d sack me…” she mumbled.
“You might get your wish, here comes the Lieutenant” added Henry.
“Crap” she sighed and stamped out her cigarette
The entire crew were stood outside in full battle regalia; they looked like dirty storm troopers all glinting brass, iron and smelling of grease and testosterone.
To Chastity they all looked like pathetic little kids in gas masks waiting for the bombs to drop.
“Featherstone” the Lieutenant was red with anger, his cheeks all puffed out
“Damn fine turn out Sir” she cleared her throat. “Is that a new hat?”
“Where is your helmet?” he screamed at her, little flecks of spit hitting her cheeks,
Chastity nodded “Yes Sir, about that… I left it .. ” she suddenly realised it was best not to tell the truth so said “Lent it to a young sergeant sir, always think it’s good for moral to help the young officers”.
“Poppycock, I want you in my office in precisely 1 minute for debriefing” he looked fit to explode and suddenly screamed “NOW!!”
With a mocking salute she headed off towards to airbase entrance and the Lieutenant offices, if she was lucky she thought… the coffee will just have been brewed and ready to drink.
Patrick smiled and headed off to his office shouting “later cousin!”
The room was empty when she entered, so crossing to the chaise longue she sat.
The coffee machine in the corner of the room was bubbling away, tempted by the scent she moved to inspect it “Just one little cup of Espresso Con Panna won’t hurt eh”, taking a tiny cup she filled it with the thick black liquid and taking a silver spoon, scooped up a tiny mountain of cream and plopped it on top “Perfecto!”
“Chastity Featherstone isn’t it?” came a voice from behind her
Taken quite by surprise she saluted, knocking the coffee machine and spilling the thick cream across the Lieutenants desk “Yes, sir.. ma’am Admiral”
The Sky Admiral removed her hat and glanced up “Coffee fan are we?”.
“Very much Admiral” she smiles “My drug of choice” she lied “Good for soul”
“You are making quite a name for yourself Featherstone” she added
“I wasn’t aware of that, but thank you!” she sipped the coffee
Lieutenant General Merrill Langdale arrived angry as always “Yes, making a name for herself” he grunted “Mostly amongst the officers’ wives” then approaching Chastity swiftly said “You were informed of the Admirals arrival, and yet you arrive unprepared, this is un-accept-able do you here?”.
“Loud and clear Sir, I had a late night” yawned Chastity and smiled at the Captain “Sir…”
He then spied the cream and growled “Stealing my coffee?”
“Oh pipe down Langdale, no harm done, I am sure there’s a helmet lying around here and i’m a fan of coffee and cream myself”.
The Lieutenant picks up a helmet and thrust it into Chastity’s hands “Wear it!” he demanded.
Pulling on it on the leather helmet she opend the metal eye shields and she saluted Langdale “Won’t happen again Lieutenant” she was then handed a note containing her mission.
“The mission” said the Sky Admiral “is to retrieve and download the information from the central cortex of a weapon they are called the Iron Man. It’s being guarded by General Israel Brewer and his hired guns”
“We think he’s managed to commission around a thousand of them” added the Lieutenant
“I’ve faced those odds before” Chastitiy said “He’s planning an attack on the Queen?”
“We think so, yes” The Admiral nodded “Once the cortex is removed the weapon should be deactivated, but we need that information, its vital!”
“Yes Admiral” she sighed
“You’ll need a technical expert with you” started the Lieutenant
But Chastity shook her head “I only use my own men, I’m not getting killed over some egg heads screw up, Sir!”
“This man of yours, he’s the best?” asks the Sky Admiral.
Chastity nodded “Weapons specialist, fought with me before” and with a nod to the Admiral she was allowed to go.
“And Featherstone” comes the Admirals voice “Try to stay alive won’t you, so you can find that helmet of yours!”.
Chastity smiled and with a salute she left the room.
Contacting her trusted friend, code name – the Rat, to aide her in getting the plans to the General’s cloud base and getting inside. She then commandeered a vehicle and they made off towards the Generals ship.
The entire fleet led by Squad Leader Gaylord Harriden take off to face the General’s robot invasion, in case Chastity failed and the attack squadron if she succeeded.
The Sky Admirals vessel then headed out to raise her own fleet from the South of London
The Generals airbase was hidden behind a blanket of man made clouds, solider walked around the decks armed with steam rifles and flame throwers.
Moving the tiny craft upwards from under the airship, Chastity used a grappling hook and make it aboard the ship, and they entered via the galley kitchens.
The entrance hall was vast, light streaming in through the windows as the airship turned in towards the sun, the engines thundering through the halls. Nearby Chastity and the Rat can hear the creak of metal and muffled voices.
“Wait here” Chastity whispered and inching around the corner to the engine room spied a gigantic robotic animal moving across the corridor, almost eight feet in height it stretched it long neck and shaking it’s head, beared some three sets of razor sharp needle like teeth. As she watches more of these metal monsters assembled, and taking out her binoculars she read the writing above the door ‘War Room’.
“There is no way we can get in through there” she moved to the next corridor and beckoned her friend to follow, this corridor was lined with the faces of the half dead humans whose life blood fueled the machines, thousands of them eyes closed, breathing methodically in time with the boom of the airships great steam engines.
“Vile isn’t it, how he uses them” breathed the Rat
“They be a rest soon enough” Chastity nodded and issued them further down the hall.
Huge robotic spiders scuttled up and down the lines of copper piping, repairing flesh wounds in the humans skulls and eyes. Sewing them up like repairing their webs, cauterizing wounds and collecting any detritus that might have fallen. Chastity watched as they scurried back to their metal burrows, some ten feet up in the ships structure.
The engine room was down a small flight of stairs, as they descend they saw the Generals robot drones busy at work on the engines parts, the stairs creaked a little under foot and they soon timed their movement to the noise from the hundreds of pipes overhead.
Entering the ‘War Rooms’ amphitheatre by the roof access, they finally got a good look at the robot “Good god” exclaimed the Rat “It’s bigger than St Pauls”.
Chastity nods “I need to get to the head, you see the access panel on the side” then she added “We need to create a diversion. Any ideas?”
Pulling a tiny mechanical bird from his coat the Rat smiled “As a matter f fact… yes!” he says “The song emanated by this little beauty is programmed to confuse any kind of machinery, messes with their electrical output” he throws the tiny bird up and it hovers above them “If I can get those big metal buggers you described out there to act as our diversion, that’ll give you time”
“Lets do it!” says Chastity
“I’ll unlock the door so that they breech the room. It’ll only give you seconds to get onto that scaffolding” the Rat grinned
The tiny bird flew off and through the door via an air vent, once on the other side it circled down and perched on the first of the robotic cats, its song entered the robots operating systems in seconds, sending them into a rage. As the tiny bird flew off, it left thirty crazed metal beasts charging the walls, the door and snapping at each other. The Rat waited for his pet to circle back down into his hand before he hit the switch and blew the doors locks. For a few seconds the Generals guards in the ‘War Room’ stood, unaware of the danger, but as the first metal beast leapt into the room and tore into a man by the robots rigging, they all turned and ran for their lives. The Rat climbed higher as the men scattering like ants in a rainstorm, gigantic metal cats racing after them grabbing them in chomping steel jaws and devouring them, the sound of bones and body parts clattering into their empty tin can bodies.
Chastity was almost to the scaffolding when a voice in her ear screamed “Chas look out!”
She leapt aside just in time as a gigantic metal cat crashed into the side wall just inches away. “Remove the head” the Rats voice told her, she looked over to find him gesturing the putting on of a hat “The metal in the helmet, it’ll confuse them, give you more time!” he continued.
Using her sword she severed the head at the base and pulling it over her shoulders, she continued towards the robot. “So what now” she asked
“The helmets repelling them, Go go!”
Holding the heavy head, she raced off towards the robots feet “Thanks Rat. Stay safe!”
Quickly leaping up the scaffolding she kicked off two guards who are trying to defend the robot and when she reached the top she found a guard cowering near the robots head..
“Hands up” he yelled, his voice breaking as he looks down at the commotion below
“Put the gun down kid!” she raised her hands “I don’t want to hurt you!”
Shaking his head he held up the rifle shakily in her direction “I sssaid hands up!”
Reaching back she grabed a overhanging beam and swung it into his face, the boy dropped, knocked out cold.
The inside of t he robots head was all hissing steam and moving parts, as she squeezed through into the central chamber mumbled “If I were a central cortex.. where would I be?”
“Look for the weapons panel, it should be around there” came the Rats voice “It’ll be big, like a lighting ball”
Chastity found it sat between the robots primary weapons systems and its mind array, a huge metal ball flowing with tiny flashes of blue lighting.
Prising it off the rest of the panel Chastity tucked it into her belt just as an alarm begins to sound
“The robots systems are failing, get outta there!” came the Rats voice.
Fires soon start to break out all over the machines interior and Chastity leapt out just as the roof of the central control room collapsed.
Commandeering a small aircraft from beneath the robots feet, Chastity found the Rat surrounded by the Generals soldiers, and driving the aircraft straight at them, scattered them and pulled him aboard.
“What kept you” he laughed
As they make their escape, the General Israel Brewer watches from the ships main deck surrounded by his captains “Use the Robots override” he screams at the young men on the control desk.
“But that will destroy the ship General” one of the men questions
Taking out his weapon the General pulls the trigger, hitting the young man in the back of the neck.
“Override in progress General” shouts the other young man as he watches his colleague slump across his desk, blood darkening the back of his grey uniform.
“General Brewer” one of his captains approached him “Shouldn’t we give the order to abandon ship sir?”
Ignoring him the General orders the flight desk be uncoupled from the rest of the ship “I want it readied immediately”
The screams of the soldiers trapped in the back section of the ship come through the ships speakers “Open the gates” they screamed “Please sir the gates are shut, the place is on fire”.
The young man on the front desk looked back to him “What should I do Sir?”
The General frowned “Turn of the microphone” he snapped “and uncouple this damn ship or we’ll all go down!”
The Iron Man smashed through the back half of the ship, metal, aircrafts and men spewing out of the hole it ripped in the ships side, sending them hurtling towards London.
Within the tiny craft Chastity and the Rat get hit by turbulence and they are both almost thrown off, Chastity binds her hand to the ships wheel with her belt just in time as the Iron man collides with the tiny craft and knocks the Rat out into mid air. All Chastity can do is watch her friend fall out of sight as the robots evil face blurs her view and sends a death ray through the ships balloons, sending the aircrafts carcass hurtling towards the ground.
What is left of her craft crash lands on the roof of St Pancras station, and Chastity, bruised and cradling a broken wrist manages to scrabble down the clock, just as the robot crashes through the roof. Screams fill the station as the robotic levitation rips off the ceiling grabbing handfuls of commuters, hurling trains and throwing them about the place like pebbles.
Suddenly the Sky Admirals fleet are overhead and hitting the huge robot with everything they have, without its central cortex and at this distance from the ship it is no longer under the Generals control so has no mission, just pure distruction.
People all around Chastity are taking pictures of the monster iron man as it shatters the buildings around it and demolishes half of London in its effort to escape the hail of bullets from the overhead onslaught.
Chastity is recovered from the scene by an air ambulance, and once back at headquarters the information on the robots central cortex was downloaded onto a drive and handed to the Sky Admiral. By 2.15pm the robot was destroyed and the General and his army were nowhere to be found, the back half of the ship had broken up in the secondary explosion, wreckage strewn from North London to Tate Britain.
After more than four hours in the hospital ward, Chastity was brought in front of the Sky Admiral and a selection of her peers, her broken wrist set in plaster, stitches and bruises covering her face and arms.
“Well done Featherstone” commended the Sky Admiral, a note of pity hazing her eyes
“Thank you Admiral” she winced, sitting gently
“I am aware that you lost a colleague in this mission and I am very sorry. But the information that you have brought us on this stick” she held up the device “Will set the General back years and will have saved millions of lives”
“I’m happy for you” she added
The Lieutenant stood up as if to object to her insubordination was was slienced
“I understand that this was a hard mission” the Admiral nods “and because of it, I think you’re in-line for a serious promotion after this..isn’t that right Lieutenant Langdale?”
Langdale sneers “It is?”
“And some well deserved R&R, eh Featherstone” pipped up Group Captain Rickchard “We’re recommending a month’s paid leave, does that sound good?”
“A few days will be fine Captain” she nodded
“Don’t be silly man, you’ve been through the wringer, you’ll take your leave” spat Group Captain Rickchard
“May I go Admiral?” she asked
The Admiral nodded
“Then you are dismissed Featherstone” adds Langdale “We’ll see you back here on the 19th of March”
With a nod she left the compound, ignoring all the cheers and congratulatory back slaps as she makes her way out of the building.
“Need a lift” asked Henry who was stood on the steps
Shaking her head Chastity walked past him towards a waiting sky taxi, and climbing in she reeled off her address and sat back into the dirty leather seats. Looking down on the city from this height, London almost looked beautiful she thought.
“It’s been bloody chaos today” the driver shouted over the humm of the engine
“Yes, i know” she mumbles, the sun was falling over the horizon and all the buildings were taking on the look of clean black silhouettes.
The driver continued “Had a bloke in here earlier who was a right bloody mess, covered in scratches, said he’d landed in a tree… think he was two bloody sandwiches short of a picnic”
Suddenly a message showed on Chastity’s phone “Sorry we got separated, wings took me West of river, are you alright. R”
Chas smiled “Crazy bastard” she thought to herself, her face aching as a smile appeared
Chastity’s apartment was deathly quiet when she arrived, and as she hung up her jacket she stood and listened to the tick of the big hall clock for a few seconds. The generator had kept the fires burning so it was toasty warm and Chastity quickly poured herself a large measure of burbon, patted the dog and slumped down in sofa to sleep off the pain killers.
Suddenly a sound from upstairs disturbed her and grabbing the pistol from the sideboard she made her way up to the top floor, the sound of gun fire and the far off screams and voices coming from her room. Edging open the bedroom door a millimetre with her gun’s muzzle she looked in, then with a sigh she lowered the pistol and relaxed at the sight of the two young woman, the barmaid from that morning and another red headed girl wearing one of Chastity’s flight jackets, both were sat on the bed engrossed in the game.
The dark haired barmaid suddenly spotted Chastity and leapt off the bed “Oh my god, what happened, are you OK?”
“I got into a fight” Chastity answered, nodding to the other women who had stopped the game “Don’t you have work?” she asked the girl
“I hope you don’t mind” the barmaid added “everything got so crazy that I phoned in sick. I asked Ally to come over and keep me company until you got back”
“I can see that” Chastity limped across to the sideboard, then placed down the gun and grabbed up a bottle of dark rum and a glass.
“You’re not angry are you?” cooed the dark haired woman touching Chastity’s arm “Please don’t be angry, I was worried”
“I’m not angry, it’s just been a hard day” she sighed
“You have a gun and everything” giggled the redhead leaping off the bed and running across to look at the gun “Do you kill people with it?”
Picking up a glass Chastity poured another drink “Only bad people” then added “I thought you girls were playing a game” she noticed that there were clothes all over the floor “Have you been playing dress up?”
The dark haired girl walked back over to the bed “Well we thought you might like to play with us?” she grinned glancing over to her friend “Didn’t we Ally?”
Chastity raised her eyebrows “It’s been a really long day” but as they both began to pull her towards the bed, Chastity threw back another few pain killers and allowed the game to begin.