Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Entries Are In for Our Steampunk Romance Contest!

Photo by AMG 123

I wanted to thank everyone who made this contest possible by taking the time out of their busy holiday schedules to write something fantastic and send it in.

I have posted the entries below anonymously, and you can find a voting poll in the side margins. Voting will close on Monday, January 18th at 8 am EST. You are only allowed to vote once, and though I know I need not say it, I ask that everyone participating please play fair. Of course, I'd love for you to promote the contest on your blog, but I ask that you let readers make their own decisions. I would not have even thought to bring this up, except that similar issues did arise during the first contest, and I want this to be an enjoyable and fair experience for all involved.

If you come across any problems, or if I did not receive your entry, please let me know! Also, feel free to leave comments about the entries. I'm sure the writers would love the feedback, especially since, for many of them, this is their first attempt at steampunk and in many cases, romance also.

Without further ado, I give you the short stories.

Entry 1 - Love, Lace and Gears

Ada looked at the thick heavy gear in her hand and ran her finger along the teeth. She surveyed the different sprockets and springs and slowly put the pieces together in her mind. Lost in the fantastical creation she jumped when a kiss fell on her neck. “Charles, you frightened me near to death!”

Charles gave her an amused grin, “What are you doing?”

“I’m looking at our work.”

“Our work?”

“Yes.” She said with a defiant tone and wry grin. “Even if I cannot speak of such things in public, it is our work.”

He slipped her small frame into his arms, “Agreed this is my work as much as yours, let us hope they approve the funding.”

“Of course they will. How could they deny this one? The applications are endless and will change the world.” Her face flushed with excitement making her eyes sparkle. Charles could not help, but steal a kiss.

“You truly believe you can convince your husband to help your lover?”

“This isn’t about love.”

He started looking a bit shocked.

Ada continued, “This is about changing the world, making Britain even greater. Besides he thinks you and I were done long ago.”

He slowly let his lips play across her neck, “How could I ever give you up, Ada ….you pulled me from a dark melancholy and help bring my dreams to reality.”

She grinned softly and ran her fingers through his hair gently touching the increasing grey. “It’s about politics, Charles.”

He gruffed softly and looked up from his adoration of her skin, “Why must it be about power and politics it is simply a machine to decrease error and improve life.”

“And those that have it can gain power over those that don’t.” He tried to pull away, but she held his arm tightly and she gently kissed him before checking the watch pinned to her bodice. “I must go.”

His mood had darkened, but he nodded softly and when she kissed him one last time his eyes sparkled back. She reached over, picked up her hat, “I will courier the final sketches once I complete them tonight.”

The light was dimming in Ada ’s reading room forcing her to crouch closer to the paper working out fine details, and perfect lines. She looked up as the door creaked open and a tall slender man stood in the frame.

"You missed dinner.” Her husband said. William’s face was gaunt and clashed against the brilliant red cravat tied around his throat.

She looked across to the clock slowly whirring on the mantle. “I’m sorry dear, but the servants brought me dinner.”

"I know I was the one who sent them.”

She smiled pleasantly, “That was thoughtful.”

He drew in a deep breath. “I thought you were done with this.”


He stared at the stacks of papers surrounding his wife with great malice.

She attempted to release a casual laugh, but it stopped half way, “William, it is what I do. It is what you in fact taught me and it is what I love.”

"It is no longer your duty to waste hours studying numbers and other people’s works. You are a mother, a wife, and a Countess. You have more important duties than numbers.

Ada’s temper stirred, “I do not lack in my duties, but I will not be denied my passion.”

“Your mother was right you are like your father where he got lost in verse you get lost in equations! She didn’t staunch the insanity she simply fed it a different drug.”

She looked away from William and slipped the manuscript she was working on into a leather jacket with lace ties.

“I will not help you.” that chill returning to his voice. “I know what you have been working on and with whom.”

"And what, William? Are you jealous? Like you were so many years ago?” Watching his jaw tense seemed to give her more courage, “My mother may have chosen my husband, but she did not choose what my soul needs. With you I feel as trapped and sickly as I did at home, but with him I am alive. My heartbeats in pace with the clicking gears of our creation, it may not be of flesh and blood, but it is made with the same passion.” A prideful smile spread across her face, but only briefly as a stabbing pain in her stomach caused her to drop the manuscript and cry out. She crumpled to the floor and while trying to fight the pain she watched his feet slowly move towards her.

“Did you really think you could sway me to help him? The man is a crackpot and will not waste her Majesty’s wealth on useless machines.” He picked up the servant’s bell and rung it loudly. Help scurried in from all quarters and aided the ailing Ada.

“Fetch the doctor, I fear the illness of her youth has returned and she will be sick for quite some time.”

To the servants merely listening to his words they seemed dreadful and worried, but William’s eyes coldly followed Ada as she was carried away. He grabbed the elbow of a young servant girl. “Burn all of the Mistress’s work. It has made her ill and must be destroyed.”

The girl nodded obediently and set to work. Hours later she tapped on her Master’s door. “Yes?” He asked without looking up from his book.

“It is done.” She softly said.


Later the girl gently mopped the sweat from Ada ’s brow and said, “It has been sent, Mistress, just as you asked.” Ada closed her eyes and once again heard the soothing click of gears falling into place.

A somber servant entered his Mistress’s chambers and set down a package wrapped in leather and lace. “Your Majesty, the item from the Countess of Lovelace.” She nodded and read the attached letter. She then glanced up and replied, “Send for Charles Babbage.”

Entry 2- The End

Marie’s eyes stared deep into Harvey’s. “Then…this is it,” she whispered, with a wry smile.

The corners of Harvey’s mouth turned up ever so slightly, the best smile he could manage. He kissed Marie’s fingers and gently dropped her hands to her side before taking two strides to the observatory door. He turned the handle and pushed it shut, silencing the sound of shouts already coming up the stairs from the vestibule. He turned the key three times, all the parts of his intricate lock design falling into place. He went to pull the key from the lock but realised there would be little point.

He turned back towards Marie. She had her silver locket held firmly in her clenched hands and was whispering something into them. Maybe she was saying a prayer, he thought. Maybe she was telling her mother to look out for her soon.

A loud shout from beyond the door startled Harvey. He leaned back to the oak panels and pressed an ear to it; the voices sounded close. He knew the acoustics of the building would have amplified the shout, but even so, he knew their time was short.

He strode to his desk and squatted down in front of it. He drew the small rosewood box close to the edge and shifted himself so as to allow as much sunlight onto the mechanical bomb as he could. He took a silver pin from the desktop and slowly pushed it into the centre of the largest gear. When it came to a stop after only a few millimetres, Harvey pushed against the pinhead with his thumb to force it through the paper-thin copper casing of the chemical funnel. With a click and a hiss, the device sprang to life; the four driving cogs began turning, quickly followed by the six smaller ones. Harvey breathed a short sigh of relief and leant back, taking a moment to admire his handicraft. As much as he wanted to, he had no time to marvel at the mechanics of his latest and last invention. He gently lowered the box lid, pushed up on the desk back to his feet and turned to Marie.

"It’s…begun,” he whispered, as he walked to her. “Marie, I needed…”

She stopped him with a firm kiss. “No more words” she whispered back. “Not yet. Later.” Harvey closed his eyes and leant forward, his forehead pressing against hers. He lifted his head again and kissed her softly on the lips whilst every sound in the room fell to silence, save for the ticking of the clock mechanism in the box.

After about five more seconds the ticking stopped. Then, after a short pause, the wooden box cracked.

The crack of the box casing caught Harvey off-guard; he’d been expecting the initial force of the blast to vaporize the box instantly and the sound of a muted explosion and sharp crack panicked him, albeit only for a fraction of a second. A dozen thoughts ran through his mind at once; had the chemical mix been right? Had the trigger mechanism failed? Had the device melted? During the course of his dozens of tests he had seen the chemicals erode the smallest of the cogs at a far quicker rate than he had anticipated. His eyes opened ever so-slightly at the sound of the crack, a subconscious reaction of his inquisitive nature that had helped him accumulate an abundance of awards, admirers and enemies across his thirty-five years of life.

However, within that same second, all of his fears were eradicated as the explosion kicked and tore through the room and through the lovers’ bodies. Realising that his focus had been momentarily drawn away by that crack and fearing that his lover may have noticed, Harvey squeezed his eyes shut and clenched Marie’s arms hard. His mouth pushed harder against hers, feeling her last hot breath billow across the roof of his dry mouth. He tasted her last tear as it rolled across her top lip and onto his tongue; the salty taste of it was bitter, yet strangely sweeter than he expected.

He felt guilty about bringing the love of his life to tears; he had never once seen Marie cry during their six years of their affair. She had been the perfect picture of luminosity and exuberance, of energy and hope. She had been, in every way, his muse. She had inspired him to create and build; she pointed out all of the good things he and his work had achieved. His life had been made perfect by her being part of it, and after today his afterlife would be too. They could be eternally together in love, free of fear and retribution from the evils that had relentlessly pursued them recently.

Harvey felt Marie gasp as white hot flames seared across them. All he could really hear was the sound of the flames leaping and billowing outwards. In an effort to try and visualise the sound, all he could picture was that it sounded like a steam engine falling down a well. He wanted to hear Marie laugh, he wanted to believe that that tear had been one of satisfaction that she had played her part in helping her lover elude the wrath of her father and his cohorts. He wanted to hear those gentlemen outside the room scream in pain as the red brick walls fell around them or as shards of glass from the windows rained down on them to the pavement below.

Harvey let out one final breath as the flames consumed him. The heat was so fierce it disintegrated the lovers’ flesh within seconds. The pain was so intense that even before nerves sensed the pain, they were dead and gone. Harvey had been expecting the blast to launch them out of the room, but the explosion had been so much fiercer than previous experiments there was no physical part of them left to launch.

Entry 3- Untitled

He pulled her into his room and she embraced him. Even as their lips touched, she heard the faint sound of gears whirling and rotors turning. Curious. What is that? The ambient hum matched the throb beneath her ribcage.

She reached for his belt, but he stepped back and pushed her away.

"I love you," she said.

"I know," he replied.

"Then why won't you let me in?" She batted his hands away. "Stop this game. You're breaking my heart."

An impious fire ignited in his eyes. "I musn't do that. I need you."

"If you only you'd open up, I'd give myself to you."

Unbuttoning his oxford, he nodded. She stared at the small metal plate grafted over his muscled chest. She reached to touch it, but he gripped her wrist.

"I don't understand," she said. "What--"

"I need you, Christine. If I only had a heart." The needle seemed to erupt from his forefinger.

She screamed.

"This will only sting for a moment," he said.

Entry 4- Evangeline

It was at Sir Blackmoore’s house that I first saw her. He is one of our most brilliant scientists. Invented the engines that power our air navies. Also gave us the system for sending a load of explosive miles away. Not sure how happy I am for that one, actually.

I was standing with Lord Strathington when Blackmoore appeared. His vest was of a strange material I’d never seen before. It shimmered with the light, danced in the most amazing ways. His chronometer chain was more extensive than the last time I’d seen him. However, the man himself appeared pensive. Occupied.

And I could understand why. There had been a terribly attempt on his life, and it was his daughter, his dearest Evangeline, who’d paid the deepest price. There is a group operating in London, sympathetic to the enemy cause. This group sent Lord Richard a package: an explosive device devised to go off as the outer wrapping is removed. Diabolical contraption. Diabolical people! They meant to destroy one of England’s grandest minds, and one of her greatest military and scientific assets.

Only, Sir Richard never received that package. He was in his laboratory. Evangeline only meant to denude the box from its outer wrappings. The blast nearly killed her. Poor child lost her right arm. No one saw Sir Richard for some time after that.

Yet, here he was. Pensive, as I said, however I thought I could perceive a certain amount of excitement in the man.

The clock struck ten. Chimes rang out, echoing throughout the large, marble-floored room. Sir Richard walked to the grand door that led to the entryway and turned to face the crowd.

“My dear friends,” he began, “allow me my deepest thanks to you on this evening. Although our country is locked in bitter struggle with forces far from home, we gather to celebrate the future. We look forward to a time when a man who has lost a leg in battle will once again be able to walk. When a soldier who once lost an arm, will be able to hold his loved one in his arms, and give them a great embrace.” Here he cleared his throat, then continued. “As you know, my darling daughter, Evangeline, was the victim of a cowardly attack by the enemies of our fair country. She survived. Not only because she is Blackmoore, but because she is English. Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome my beloved daughter, Evangeline.”

There was a hush as Evangeline entered. She was radiant. The lady wore a satin evening gown the color of the sky at sunset. Her alabaster skin was luminescent. Her hair was the color of honey upon which the sun shines. However, her eyes held a veiled sadness. Like a sun hidden behind clouds.

However, all this paled in comparison to her arm. Yes, her right arm. Where before it was flesh and blood, now it was brass and silver. It was made to be an exact replica of her left. It was perfect. But then, oh dear God, but then… it moved. She waved to the stunned crowd; a shy girl waving to a group of strangers. The fingers worked as normal digits. I could see no hinge work. No seams. Nothing. Her father handed her a glass of wine, and she took it. Again, there was no hesitation in the way the arm moved.

“Let us have music!” Sir Richard called, and one of our latest war songs came over a hidden amplification system. A crowd formed around Evangeline, as was to be expected. I received a drink from a passing butler and made my way to the large balcony that overlooked the grounds. I stared north, towards London. There was a glow, just on the horizon line. Orange. I wondered if the terrorists had set the town ablaze again.

I heard a whisper of fabric behind me, and then she was there. I turned to see Evangeline move to the railing, to gaze up at the moon.

“Your father is a brilliant man,” I said to her, not knowing what else to say.

In response, she looked down at her metal arm. She brought it up, holding it as if she were making a toast with a ghostly goblet in her hand. The moonlight reflected off the brass. I noticed then that the nails were of bronze. They glittered like polished stones. “Yes,” she finally said, “he is that, sir.”

I indicated the doorway with my glass. “I suppose this is a bit much, for your first party? It certainly would be for me.”

She nodded, and then did the most amazing thing. She held out her mechanical arm to me, palm upwards to the sky. “Please, good sir,” she asked quietly, “would you hold my hand?”


“Please?” And I noticed there were tears in her eyes. Sadness, in those beautiful eyes.

I moved to her, and gently took her hand. Again, I marveled at the warmth.

As if reading my thoughts, she said, “My father, O brilliant man that he is, has harnessed the sun. It is that which powers this metallic, mechanized appendage of mine. Father says that steam is the way of the past. The sun, the god Sun, is the way of the future.”

I gazed down at her arm. It was a thing most beautiful. Sublime, really. “How does it… move?”

“It moves,” she replied, “due to the surgeries I had to endure this last year. The muscles in my shoulder are tied to mechanisms in the arm. Mechanisms calibrated to an almost impossible fraction.”

“It’s a truly wonderful thing he has invented. It will help thousands soldiers readjust to civilian life once this dreadful war is over.”

Then she looked at me. Those eyes. Those beautiful, sad eyes. “Would you stand here with me, Sir? Stand here with me, and hold my hand?”

“I can think of no other thing I’d rather do, dear Evangeline,” I replied.

Entry 5- Breaking Barriers

She had waited over a year for this moment, and now it had finally come.

Eleanor Hodgson stood in the doorway, her arms stiff as boards, as she peered into the hidden room in her father's basement. Lit only by the glow of the oil lamps that lined the stonewalls, and not the broken electric lanterns that had been fitted between them, the room teetered on the line between life and death, light and darkness. Each flicker within the lamps cast moving shadows over the hunks of machinery that littered the floor, dancing like ghostly waifs before they retreated into the recesses of the lab.

And away from Charles Butler.

An average man, he was neither handsome nor homely, but carried the stench of hard labor in his oily clothes. Lost to his tinkering, Charlie--as he liked to be called--hunched over a metal contraption, one of her father's unfinished experiments, which rested on a small mahogany table. She still felt the loss, yet knew that her father's work was in capable hands. He hadn't recruited the former garret-master without good reason.

Her attention returned to the broken lamps.

"Blew them out," Charlie said, answering her unspoken question. He turned and offered a lopsided grin, the smudge of forgotten soot highlighting the lines on his face. "Come right in, Ellie."

"Miss Hodgson," she said. She tightened the pin that held her hair and stepped into the workroom, closing the door behind her. "Remember your place."

Charlie gave a lazy shrug and smiled before returning to the mangled mess of valves, pipes, and tubes that comprised the heart of the monstrosity. A typewriter rested in front, connected to the steam turbine by copper wires. Brass plating lined the sides of the typewriter, giving it a haunted gleam in the dim light.

Her father's spectregraph.

A machine to reach the other side. A gadget to change the world. That had been her father's last invention before his untimely death, one he had never been able to finish on his own.

She glanced at Charlie.

He handed her a spare pair of goggles. "It'll help see through the steam."

She accepted the goggles and waited for his mark. A spark of mischief danced in his blue eyes as he pulled the lever and hopped back. An abrupt hiss signaled the start. Steam pushed through the valves, while the typewriter trembled from the pressure.

A crack of electricity charged the air; Eleanor took Charlie's hand and squeezed.

All the same in death: her father's final words. He had once told her that his inventions would help revolutionize not just London, but the world. He had told her they would break down every last barrier.

He had told her that one day she would need to let go.

She had waited a year to ask him what he'd meant.

Eleanor held her breath while the keys clinked one by one. As the bars pounded the paper beneath the brass plating, she couldn't stop her excitement from getting the better of her. Her father, and now Charlie, had managed to create something extraordinary.

She approached the typewriter. The paper was damp from the steam, but the ink was legible. As she leaned closer, she felt Charlie's unwelcome hand on her back.

Today, she didn't stop him.

She read the print: As should be in life.

The words meant nothing to her. She frowned and shot an accusing glare at Charlie. He kept smiling, his good-natured flare shining through the darkness that shrouded the spectregraph.

"What do you find so amusing?"

"That'd be him, Ellie."

She ignored his indiscretion. Her father had always been a man of few words, but words that held an immeasurable weight. But was this really him? Not some parlor trick or demonic ploy? Was that all the spectregraph could accomplish? Mere bits of esoteric phrases would do nothing to revolutionize the world.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "What barriers? What must I let go?"

The typewriter punched out a few more words.

You know, they said. You know.

Eleanor trembled.

"Maybe he's talking 'bout different barriers than you're thinking," Charlie offered.

It wasn't a remark filled with scorn or conceit. Charlie's voice was warm and compassionate with a hint of sorrow. She found the comfort of his hand on her back more reassuring than ever.

She took off her goggles and stared at the dying spectregraph as the last of the steam sputtered through the pipes. While the results could have been created by a wayward spirit, a psychic ruse, or by other supernatural entities, in her heart, she knew that Charlie was right. She should be happy that her father's machine worked.

Instead, she was miserable knowing there would be no more midnight rendezvous in the dark room. No more long lazy summer evenings where the two of them would debate the morality of her father's wishes, test and experiment his gadgets, or pore over his feverish notes.

There would be no more Charlie.

She had never understood what her father had meant. Yet, as she stood with Charlie and stared at her father's final work, she finally understood his simple words. She had been a fool.

Charlie knew it as well. "I guess that's it then," he said, his voice low.

"I suppose it is." Eleanor paused, considering her future, her past, and what the present could hold for her and Charlie. "Though, I wonder… My father would never have settled for merely chatting with the dead. He would have wanted to communicate with a full manifestation."

Charlie arched his eyebrows, barely noticeable under his raised goggles, though she could see the knowing smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I wouldn't want to let Mister Hodgson down."

Eleanor pulled the pin from her loose bun, and after giving her hair a hearty shake, she turned to Charlie. "Then we have much work to do." She snapped on her goggles and grinned. "Shall we?"

Entry 6- Keep Going

The revolver clapped twice in quick succession before the alchemical silver bullets spun from the barrel. As they traveled through the heat-soaked air, they flung little pieces of themselves in all directions. They might have dissolved into nothing if not for the short trip between the gun and the leathery hide of the demon.

Part gargoyle and part zombie, the creature had been lunging for Jacob's throat when the bullets burrowed into its chest. It shrieked in pain and fell to the pine deck of the airship. One tight fist of only three clawed fingers pounded on the wood while the other clutched at the wounds. In front of the man's eyes, the creatures veins bulged through skin that resembled slate. They grew and grew until rupturing. Black ichor, wreaking of sulfur, splashed over everything including Jacob.

He puked.

Another flock of the smaller demons bounced off the invisible shield that surrounded the airship. These creatures, varied through all the colors of a burnt rainbow, couldn't pass through like the larger ones did. Still, with each impact, Jacob could hear the glut of mason jars in the hull rattling. The vacuum-sealed prayers powered the protective bubble. He knew the yellow glow in the jars had dropped below the halfway point and that the protection would run out eventually.

He had expected them to last longer and to protect him completely. Neither of those things had turned out to be true. Just two weeks in to his journey through the bowels of Hell and Jacob had encountered more demons than he ever thought possible. They kept him awake all hours without rest.

Wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve, Jacob stumbled over to the wooden steering wheel. That same hand ducked into the pocket of his vest and pulled out a small bottle. He gave it a shake and found that it sounded mostly empty. His thumb flicked the cap off and he emptied the white tablets into his mouth. His friend and dentist, Lloyd, had given him the cocaine toothache drops in case his pesky molar acted up during the trip. Surprisingly, that was the one part of him that didn't hurt.

Suddenly the ship lurched as the bow raised high in the air. Jacob turned just in time to see a huge metal hook cut through the air. He ducked, managing to avoid getting gouged but the chain that hung from that hook caught under his arm. It picked him up and then dropped him like a marionette with cut strings. The revolver flew through the air and over the rail. He knew it was gone; it had surely been consumed by the lava flows below.

Standing on the back of the deck, its horns pressed into the balloon stories above, was a massive quadrupedal demon. The hook-and-chain weapon was grasped between two arms that jutted out halfway between the front legs and a grotesque head. From his perspective, Jacob couldn't see anything but gnashing teeth.

He hadn't seen a demon this large before. So far, the biggest ones had been man-sized, although they looked much more imposing given their huge wingspan. This toad-skinned abomination didn't have wings and Jacob wondered how it boarded the ship. There wasn't an outcropping of rock nearby and he certainly hoped the forces of darkness didn't have their own airships.

It was moments like this, the fifth or sixth of this adventure, that caused Jacob to do two things. First, he soiled himself. He had gone through the bulk of his luggage thanks to his body's natural reactions to the demons. And he certainly wasn't going to waste his limited steam and drinking water on cleaning.

The second thing that Jacob did during these attacks was to doubt the journey. His friends had told him it was a fool's errand to tear in to Hell on a dirigible but he hadn't listened. They eventually relented and assisted in whatever way they could. Better to send him off prepared, they had said.

The brute spun the chain around, clipping one of the ropes that held the ship to the balloon. Before Jacob could calculate how many of those ropes he could afford to lose, the broad flat part of the weapon descended towards him. He rolled to the side moments before the weapon splintered through the deck.

Laying on his stomach in front of the steering wheel, Jacob looked up. Tacked to the wooden pole was a picture of a gorgeous woman with hair that could teach the lava a thing or two about being fiery. She was posed with one foot up on a steam boiler, showing off more of her leg than was appropriate for a lady. His family, the neighbors and even Lloyd had called her a superfluous woman. After her death, they told him to simply forget her.

But how could he? Every time he smelled the potpourri made from her perfume and the dried flowers from her grave, he remembered. He remembered the nights they spent together in the brothel and then the days in his shop. She was as handy with a wrench as she was with, well, his other tool. He'd have made an honest woman out of her if not for her untimely death.

Summoning up all the strength in his weary body, Jacob lunged forward to grab the lever for the airship's fire suppression system. With one strong tug, the valves open and water rained down on them. Water was precious commodity in the inferno but it was also blessed by Father O'Leary. The hulking brute screamed in agony as flesh was flayed from it. With a powerful lunge that shook the whole airship, the creature careened over the railing.

More ropes were torn in the escape but they could be fixed. Jacob shut the water off before draping his shaking hands over the steering wheel. He quickly put the craft back on course.

“I'm coming, Elle. I'm coming.”

Entry 7- Mutual Admiration

Elva had hoped the pleasure obtained would be worth the time spent piling her lifted petticoats underneath her as a cushion to raise her hips to the correct level. It was.

She edged her still-quaking body away from the machine, letting its phallus pull out of her. Her elbows lost the will to prop her up, and she collapsed flat on the coarse blanket covering the barn floor. Panting, Elva had barely enough strength to push her skirts back down over her thighs. She closed her eyes and thought to herself, What could Stephen expect, with all that talk of pistons? Her breathing slowed to its usual pace, rather than the one set by the apparatus, hissing and grinding as it pumped its prosthesis into the open air, as if searching for something else to fill.

Elva did not notice Stephen, partially obscured by shadow, standing behind a post. When she heard his tentative steps forward and saw his dropped jaw, Elva quickly sat up and folded her legs underneath her skirts, summoning just enough strength to shout over the din of her apparatus, "I beg your pardon."

Stephen immediately averted his eyes. "I heard machinery. I heard you crying out. I thought you might--"

"Might, what?" Elva demanded, bringing her knees to her chest. She scanned the barn floor around her trying to find the drawers she cast aside.

"I apologize. For intruding...." Stephen backed away a step, and stood transfixed at Elva's machine. A look Elva hadn't seen for her in a long time.

"Forgive me. Please," he said. "I don't blame you--"

"Nor should you," she said.

"I'm just...surprised."

"You were expecting to find me here with a stable boy? Some ranch hand? A Negro rail worker, perhaps? Would you have even cared?"

"I won't dignify that." Stephen crouched by Elva's machine and wiped his forehead on a rolled-up shirt sleeve. "You built this...yourself?"

She nodded. "You were so absorbed in your work, I decided turnabout was fair play. Not that you noticed."

"I did notice," Stephen protested.

"You noticed the occasional missing part, perhaps."

"I noticed your random questions about pressure variables and valve sealant." Stephen smiled.

So did Elva, though she quickly suppressed it.

Stephen ran his fingers along some rubber tubing, along the wheel-crank thrusting the piston out and back, until he found the lever controlling the speed. He shifted the lever back and forth and watched the machine's response. "This control alone must have taken you months," he said.

"A fortnight," said Elva.

"It would've taken me a fortnight just to calculate the scale."

"I know," Elva said. "Doubtless, the only reason you tolerate my presence."

"I'm not allowed to appreciate your intelligence? You told me that was what attracted you to me." Stephen knelt down and inspected the engine more closely. "This is brilliant," he said.

"Don't patronize me."

"I wouldn't dream of it." He picked up another section of tubing, inspecting its snug connection to a small valve. "You're brilliant. And beautiful and wonderful and woefully neglected. And I hope, forgiving?"

Elva eyed her engine's thrusting piston. "Yes, I am brilliant, aren't I?" She raised her petticoats above her waist and laid back. She inched down, reaching a foot toward the machine's speed lever. "One would almost wonder why I need you."

"That's just cruel," Stephen said. Slowly, he rose and turned to leave.

Elva nudged the lever to the off position. With one long hiss, the piston stopped thrusting. "Almost wonder," she said, holding out her hand to him.

Entry 8- Withdrawn after contest

Entry 9- The Envoy

The Envoy stood before the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister was afraid. Sweat prickled his brow and the chamber felt suffocatingly warm. The Envoy bowed stiffly in a series of small jerks, its glistening black carapace making the movement difficult.

He could smell it clearly despite the incense placed judiciously throughout the chamber - a sour metallic tang that hung high in the air like bad music. It straightened again, spreading two of its limbs wide and rearranging several of its facial orifices and mandibles in what the Prime Minister had been assured was the equivalent of a smile. Then the bristles around its upper set of eyes quivered, the spiricles along its sides gaped open and closed like a row of hungry mouths and its chest-plates thrummed as it began to speak.

"Has her Majesty come to a decision?"

The sound was a suprisingly rich baritone, with only a faint buzz. The Prime Minister's heart hammered in his chest. He was fairly sure the Envoy could hear it. Every natural instinct within him was howling at him to run and hide, to get away from the unspeakable thing that stood and glistened and drooled before him. But he was Prime Minister for good reason and he was a consummate diplomat above all else, so he swallowed the sour fear that flooded his mouth and forced his voice to remain level.

"She has."

"And her answer?"

"Her answer is yes."

The Envoy gave another careful bow.

"Then my Masters will be most pleased. Please extend my congratulations to her Majesty. She has made the right decision and Great Britain will soon be unmatched amongst the great powers of the world."

The Prime Minister shifted uncomfortably.

"And we have your utmost assurance that they will not be harmed?"

"Again, you have our word that none of them will receive anything but the very best treatment. No harm will come to them, physical or mental."

The Prime Minister stood then, his face ashen.

"Our thanks to you, then. May this be the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship."

"I have no doubt of it. But before I take my leave sir, I have brought this small token of our respect and appreciation for her Majesty. It is a mere trifle, really, but one that my Masters earnestly hope that she will enjoy."

The Envoy turned towards the doors and gibbered and chittered something in its own language. The doors opened and another, near-identical creature entered carrying a small, highly polished wooden box which it handed to the Envoy before leaving. The Envoy turned to the Prime Minister and opened the box.

Inside was a brass nightingale, lying still and silent. Its small black eyes were bright and glossy, its feathers perfectly arranged.

"It is merely a simulacrum" said the Envoy, "An artificial copy, but so close to the real thing as to be indistinguishable. Not only will it sing on command, but it will speak when her Majesty chooses to speak to it. We trust it will make a fine amusement as well as a most charming companion."

The Prime Minister was acutely aware of how close the Envoy was standing and he realised that he'd been holding his breath. He forced himself to smile and accepted the box from the Envoy, but made absolutely damn sure not to touch him in the process.

"Her Majesty will be delighted by your generous gift, I'm sure."

The Envoy looked at him with all of its eyes and gave its obscene parody of a smile again.

"It is the merest trifle, as I say, but also an indication of the scientific possibilities that will soon be yours, sir. And with that I must beg my leave - my Masters will be most eager to hear the wonderful news."

The Prime Minister had no doubt that they already knew, but he nodded again and wished the Envoy a safe journey. As soon as the heavy oak doors of the chamber had closed behind him, the Prime Minister collapsed back into his chair and covered his face with his hands. He shuddered and gasped for breath, but the air still seemed tainted. He didn't think he'd ever get the taste of it out of his mouth...

That night he lay in bed, listening to the dark. His wife moved softly beside him.

"You're still awake, aren't you?" she said.


"Shall I ring for some tea?"


"Some laudanum then?"


There was a pause then, the only sound the distant clopping of a hansom cab carrying someone safely home.

"You did the right thing, you know."

"Did I?"

She rolled over to face him, her eyes wide and earnest, her skin smelling of warmth and lavender.

"You did the only thing you could do, Charles. You put put the good of the Empire first. No-one can ever say that you didn't."

"And what of the price, Mary? How can I sleep ever again knowing the price we've agreed to pay - the bargain we've made with those...things."

"They said they wouldn't hurt them."

"We only have their word for that though, don't we? What if their concept of harm isn't the same as ours? We don't even know what they want them for!"

Mary pursed her lips.

"In time," she said softly, "if people ever find out, they will understand. History will not judge you harshly Charles."

"The hell with history! What of Louisa? What of my own daughter? Will she judge me harshly? Will she ever be able to look at me again when she learns what I've done?"

"He's my flesh and blood too, Charles. Don't think I don't feel it just as sharply, but when all's done, it's only five of them. What are five children compared to the good of the entire Empire?"

He said nothing.

Eventually he put an arm around her and they held each other close in the dark. He turned to look out of the window at the stars above. There were more than he could ever remember seeing, and they shone so hard, so bright. Like a million knives poised above the world.

Entry 10 - Untitled

Perhaps when observing someone it would benefit the observer to be in the same room as their target; however, when one is spying on a person who has closed the door behind them, squinting through the keyhole is the best option available.

Mr. Bennett had given them all strict orders to stay away and stay quiet for however long his guest was inside the manor. Even the cook was forbidden to bring out tea. This just made Irene even more curious than she usually was and since she had never missed an opportunity to spy on her uncle's guests since her arrival at the manor after her father's death, she decided that tonight should be no different. She lifted her skirts just high enough to kneel comfortably on the wooden floor outside of the study and pressed her face into the cool metal.

At first, all she could see was her uncle standing stiffly be the fireplace, but with a slight shift of her head she caught sight of the visiting man’s fingers tapping unconsciously on the armrest of the sitting chair. She cursed her luck for only being able to see the back of the chair and for it being so large. All she knew was that he wore no band on his wedding finger. What good was that information if she couldn’t even tell if the man was greying like her uncle or young like cousin Amelia’s new husband?

Mr. Bennett spoke softly, disdain clear in his expression and posture. His caller’s emotions were obviously not as controlled: his arms began to flail about and his voice got louder. Irene could finally make out sentences such as “he had a duty to fulfil”, “you can no longer provide adequate protection”, and “neither you nor I have a say in the matter”. Mr. Bennett turned to the fire and used the iron stroker to poke at the burning logs. The man’s voice lowered again but his finger was squishing its tip into the red material of the chair emphatically.

Mr. Bennett spun around quite suddenly, waving the stroker and jabbing the hot tip forcefully towards the man. There was a loud squawk and Mr. Bennett jumped, swinging the rod at the table beside the chair. There was a tiny creature hunched on the table, hissing at Mr. Bennett.

It was unlike anything Irene had ever seen before in all her nineteen years. It looked like the illustrations in one of her books, the one about dragons, but different somehow. Its metallic scales did not sparkle like diamonds as her book suggested, instead they reflected the light from the fire dully, and the membrane of its wings looked more like the material of her boots than anything she would have associated with a dragon.

It backed away from the stroker and spread its wings in defence. She pressed her face harder into the door. If it was a machine, how was it able to function so freely?

The man reached out to soothingly pet the creature and as soon as Mr. Bennett put the stroker away, it relaxed and leaned into the man’s touch. The two men continued their conversation, but Irene was longer interested in them. She watched the creature as it stared at Mr. Bennett until it seemed satisfied he would not try to attack anyone with the stroker again. It snorted, two miniscule puffs of smoke escaping its nostrils, and turned to look around the room. She couldn’t believe it. This machine was, for lack of a better word, alive. How was that even possible?

It reminded her of Danny, the boy who used to live down the street.

One time when they were children, her cousins had teased her about the two of them getting married someday and she had cried for hours. Of course, that was when she still believed boys were infected with cooties. After a few years, they all matured and became close friends. The girls loved to annoy him by going on about boys and fashion, and in turn he would bore them with talk of science and his new inventions that never seemed to work. Danny would have loved to see this creature. Unfortunately, it had been a few years since any of them had last heard of him: on his fifteenth birthday, he had moved out of the city to become an apprentice for a wealthy inventor.

The creature’s gaze stopped on the door. It tilted its head and squawked. The man looked over the armrest at his pet. He was a rather large man with a plain face and his grey hair tied at the back of his neck. The most distinguishing feature was a black patch over his right eye.

Irene gasped and pulled back from the door, staring at the keyhole in shock. She had seen that man before. That was the man rumoured to be the cause of her fathers’ death. That was the man Danny had gone to work for. That was the man they called The Inventor.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I've been tagged!

I've just been tagged in a blog game! The fantastic Jemi Fraser has snagged me, and I'm IT! This means I get to answer several interesting questions about my writing. Stuff you were all dying to know, right? So here goes!!

1)What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
The last thing I wrote would be part of the current manuscript I'm working on. As for the first thing, it was a murder mystery/romance that I never completed. Maybe someday.

2) Write poetry?
Not unless forced to.

3) Angsty poetry?
Definitely not.

4) Favorite genre of writing?
I always incorporate romance into anything I write, but steampunk is my all-time favorite. It's just far too much fun.

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?
I try to avoid annoying characters, though I definitely have dislikable ones. The most dislikable would be Victor, an English Lord who uses his influence to get his way and is anything but nice.

6) Best plot you've ever created?
The plot for Viridis has a few twists and turns that I don't think most would expect. That was a lot of fun to write.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
It might have to be sticking my poor main character with two husbands.

8) How often do you get writer's block?
Sometimes my writing will slow as I try and figure out where my story is going, but it rarely stops completely. If it does, I know I've written myself into a corner and need to back track and take the story in a different direction.

9) Write fan fiction?
I'm afraid not.

10) Do you type or write by hand?
Definitely on my laptop. I'd get nothing done if I had to write by hand. Not to mention, I move text around too much.

11) Do you save everything you write?
Since it's all on my laptop, it's easy enough to save.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Yes, but with changes.

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
I'd have to say Viridis, again. I love the characters and there's just so much happening.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?
There aren't too many people that have read my books from start to finish, though I have a few critique buddies that have gotten through most of two seperate stories. I think Viridis would probably win out. The other was a paranormal romance with a snarky main character. She was a lot of fun to write.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
I love writing romance, but under no circumstances would I write angsty teen drama. Sorry. Maybe it was those years as a seventh grade science teacher.

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?
For me, it's more about the characters and the story. The setting could easily change and not affect the story very much.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Sanctis, the sequel to Viridis, still needs to go through final edits. In the mean time, I've started another story, unrelated to the Viridis series, but that is still at the beginning stages.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?
I don't really enter competitions, so I'd have to say no.

19) What are your five favorite words?
Five words? I don't know. They tend to change with my mood, but the only one that I've always loved is coagulate since I think it immediately puts a vivid visual in one's mind. Rent (as in "to tear"), maybe riot. I also love words or slang specific to a geographical area, like banjaxed, bollocks or ken.

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?
I think all my main characters have little pieces of me in their personalities, but you'd probably have to combine all my characters into one, and then tone down or ramp up certain aspects to get a close representation.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
I have no idea. They just come to me. If I do manage to plan out a character, they usually end up being completely different to what I had envisioned once they are written. They never behave.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?
I don't tend to remember my dreams, though if I do, they are sometimes influenced by what I've been writing.

23) Do you favor happy endings?
Writing romance, you sort of need a happy ending, though my characters have usually gone through so much by then, the ending tends not to be anything sweeping and sappy.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Always. Dangling participles are the bain of my existence.

25) Does music help you write?
Music helps me think about the plot and the story, but I can't write with music on. On rare occasions I'll try something instrumental but it doesn't last long.

26) Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.
"Is it always so... ready?"

Be sure to check out Jemi's blog since she brought us this fun game!! Now it's my turn to tag a few people!!

A must on the list is the funny yet mysterious Robert K. Lewis, the energetic and quirky Jean Oram, and the sweet and fun Don P. Be sure to check them out!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Steampunk Short Story Contest

Photo by Orla

It is officially here!! Our second Steampunk Short Story Contest. The first contest was a great success and a fantastic way to launch my blog. Since it was so much fun, I think it's time for another! There's nothing better than a short story to get your creativity going.

Though the first contest didn't have any sort of theme, this time around, I'd like to try for one, and since I write steampunk romance and I'm evil, you guessed it! Now, I can already picture all the guys cringing, but WAIT! I'll make this easy for everyone... it just has to be a hint of romance, not necessarily the theme of the story. Hell, I'd even settle for a simple sultry look in another's direction or a bit of chemistry or flirting between two characters (or three!), and have that be the entirety of the romance. I'm an easy girl to please. If you want to take it to the other extreme and submit steampunk erotica, I'm game for that too.

So hear are the rules:

* All entries must be emailed and received by Dec. 28th, 8 am EST. Please send to
* Your story must be original, and have a MAXIMUM of 1000 words.
* There must be steampunk elements and also a romantic element, though I'll be a bit more lax on the latter (see above).
* Entries will be posted so that readers can vote on them. The winner will be the entry with the most votes.
* There will be a prize. I have no idea what it will be, though I am open to suggestions (and no, I'm afraid it is not in my budget to steampunk your house or car if you win).

So there you have it. I think I've covered everything, however feel free to comment or email with any questions. Can't wait!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adding Some Heat Between the Sheets

Though I love coming across a steamy hot sex scene in a story, I can honestly say that, for me, a sex scene is by far the hardest thing to write. I agonize over every word. But no matter the difficulties, when done right, I think an intimate scene can add a lot to your story if you choose to add one in. Here are a few things I've found have helped me...

* Avoid repeating yourself.-- Often, easier said than done, in this type of situation. You need to make sure that things aren't getting repetitive, not only in what the characters are doing, but also in your choice of words. And that is where some of the difficulty comes in, since there are only so many ways to refer to ones anatomy. Once you add the additional constraints for what was in use during a certain time period, you're left with even less words in your arsenal. However, some things can be assumed. If you've already referenced a particular bodypart, and the action has not strayed too far, then you can often skip another reference. Another way is to reference a different area in close proximity, as long as it's clear where the action has now headed.

* Think about the small details. -- By doing this you pull the reader into the scene. I'm not normally one for a lot of details, but this is where you need them. How does her skin feel to the touch? Does he taste of whiskey when he kisses her? Can he smell her perfume? Is his stubble rough against her soft skin? Does the firelight cast a golden glow across her skin? Does that same light catch the planes of his muscular form? The details will help your reader visualize the scene and pull them in. Even if you choose to remain pretty vague about "the act" itself, by including the little details you still keep the scene intimate.

* Use their thoughts and emotions.-- Sex is an intimate act (even if your characters are not necessarily intimately involved) and there are bound to be thoughts if not emotions. Too often you come across a sex scene and it's just the physical act. By adding thoughts and emotions, we again keep the reader involved in the scene.

* Make sure the scene is not confusing.-- I think this very important. Too often when the writer tries not to get too explicit or if the writer is trying something a little "creative" *ahem* things can get muddled in the process. Nothing pulls a reader out of a scene faster than having to figure out what just happened, or trying to account for all the body parts during an acrobatic feat. This can be especially difficult to do if there is more than one person of the same sex involved, since you can no longer say his/her or he/she and have it be clearly understood.

* Be creative.-- I know this goes without saying, but it can be easy to start repeating things. Try for a little variety, especially if you have more than one sex scene. A quickie or a long night affair, slow and sweet or fast and rough, fun or tender. Even within the one scene, change things around a little.

* Take into account the character's personality and history.-- This is something that will keep the reader involved beyond just the sex scene, as it can add insight and often lend a bit of surprise. Is your character normally shy and timid, but a fierce and dominant lover? Or do they stay true to their personality? Did something happen to them in their past that causes them to react a certain way when intimacy is involved? All these personality quirks will lend depth to your characters.

I hope this helps. Any other suggestions? Do you write sex scenes into your stories or is it something you completely avoid?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

History Repeating

It is very difficult to ignore one's past since our experiences in life tend to shape who we are. I have found that my past, my personality quirks, and even my likes and dislikes, seem to weasel their way into my manuscripts and into my characters.

I tend to write what I know and feel comfortable with, and think this is often the case with most writers. Not that we don't stray off the beaten path! But there is a reason my characters drink whiskey and tea, are slightly claustrophobic, more than a little stubborn, know how to ride a horse and are a half decent shot with a bow and arrow. There will often be something Gaelic, a hint of something pagan, and more than a little mischief and romance to be had. And you guessed it, those are all a part of my history and who I am.

I also find that when adding in something I've actually experienced, the details tend to be more intricate and crisp, and therefore the scene tends to come alive with those details-- details you would not necessarily add or think of if you had not experienced them.

In the next month or two, I'll be sitting down to write a new story, and as I figure it all out in my head, it seems like more than ever, my past is playing a greater influence. In some ways it's a very comfortable feeling, like putting on a favorite comfy sweater. And though my story will still be a completely new world and experience, I take comfort in knowing there will still be a bit of the familiar.

What about you? Do you draw from your own experiences in life? From your own personality? Your likes and dislikes? Do these things influence your writing? Do you find it easier to write what you know or do you feel like you're exposing a part of yourself? Inquiring minds want to know.

And in case anyone is indeed wondering... yes, that is a picture of me and my past. I'm sure it all makes a little more sense now. No?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Introduction to Steampunk

My apologies since this is LONG overdue. I have found that though steampunk has experienced a recent explosion in popularity, there are still plenty of people who are not familiar with what steampunk is, though they may have heard the term before.

There is a bit of difficulty in explaining steampunk as a genre, since it really is quite adaptable and flexible, and extends well beyond a genre of fiction to an aesthetic in clothing, art, and everyday items. As a result this is just a brief overview of steampunk as I see it.

Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative science fiction, that usually takes place during the Victorian time period, or in a world where Victorian aesthetics and ideologies are dominant. However there is the very important addition of technological advances- often steam driven- that did not necessarily exist during the time period and may be far more advanced than even our current technologies, but are always in keeping with the aesthetics of the time period. The technology is often used to try and better the lives of the people and erase the inequalities of society that were so dominant during that time period.

Steampunk, at its earliest, was influenced by writers like H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Mary Shelley, since their works included many fictional technological inventions and prominent elements of science fiction. Though steampunk is often set in Victorian England, you can easily find many stories set in other countries and areas, some settings altogether fictional.

Because there is so much more to steampunk than what I've covered, I encourage you to check out Wikipedia and Tor for more information. Also check out the great postings Tor put up for steampunk month in addition to a great source of all things steampunk via NaNo WriMo.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

To market, to market...

With the current state of the market and the economy, first time authors are having to get creative about marketing and promoting their own books. I am still a long way from seeing my novel in print, and have become quite adept at typing with my fingers crossed in hopes that it will indeed happen. Yet, I do not think I am being premature in starting to build a network now onto which to launch publication news if and when it does happen.

Networking and building a following online are the easiest routes to self promotion, and there are many sites and forums that can help you accomplish just that. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are just a few, making it quite easy to reach a large amount of people. Coupled with a personal website,a blog and participation in online forums, it becomes quite easy to build an online presence.

I do think it is vital, and feel it will give me a head start when the time comes, and yet I often find myself networking rather than writing, and have found that maintaining a balance has been difficult at times. I am still active on Twitter and the writer's forum I frequent, yet have let some of the other forums and Facebook fall to the side. As is evident even here on my own blog, I unfortunately do not post as often as I would like.

I have no idea if all this networking will indeed make a difference when the time comes. However, it certainly cannot hurt and I'd rather start now and take my time in building a following, rather than panic and attempt to build it overnight.

With all that said, check out my new website!

So, do you have a strategy, and if so, what is it? I'd love to hear!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Matter of Words

I've always loved trivia, but have recently developed a bit of an obsession for the etymology of words. It all started simple enough... I was writing my steampunk romance and was not sure if the word I was using would have been accurate for my time period. In my search I stumbled across a fantastic website, Online Etymology Dictionary. Now, I don't know how I ever lived without it.

By avoiding modern day words, and also using words common during your time period, it is an easy way to set the mood and feel for your manuscript. Most often than not, reading other works that are either set or were written during that time is the easiest way to pick up on a feel for the language and develop your vocabulary. Of course, there are several websites that have compiled lists, so here are a few I've come across that you might find helpful.

The Victorian Slang Dictionary
The Victorian Dictionary
Canting Dictionary (Thieving Slang) 1736
Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
How to Speak Proper

Please feel free to share any sites you have found helpful.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Catching Up on Summer

Terribly sorry I've disappeared as of late. It seems the end of the summer is always a chaotic time as the children prepare to go back to school and we try to force all our summer plans into the weeks remaining. Even the publishing industry seems to take a bit of a break in August. I guess we all need to recharge before fall gives way to the dark cold winter.

The next months also promise to be fairly busy as I wrap up my edits on Viridis, finish the sequel Sanctis, and, with luck, pitch to publishers. Exciting times lie ahead.

I have also recently discovered Twitter. Now I know it's been around for ages, but I never gave it much thought, thinking it would be nothing more than a long list of people's moment-to-moment activities. I now find I was completely wrong and happily surprised. It would appear that it is an excellent way to find other writers and to pass on great articles and information about the publishing industry. Who knew? Here's a great little article by Debbie Ridpath Ohi on hashtags to get you started.

I promise to post more often and will have a new contest dreamed up for you sometime next week. Until then, happy writing!


Monday, August 17, 2009

Putting Some Steam in Your Punk

Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic, but I love reading stories that have a bit of romance woven through them. Indeed, I can never resist heating things up between my characters, and there's nothing better than a steamy bit of steampunk.

In my own novel, I've freed my main character, Phoebe, from the puritanical constraints and ideologies of the time, thus allowing her to explore her sexuality. Not to say her forward thinking doesn't cause its share of problems.

Steampunk as a genre seems to lend itself not only to a romantic element, but the more erotic. And yet it seems as though there are very few full length steampunk novels that have included any romantic plot or subplot (if you know of any, please share).

With the demand for steampunk romance increasing, I can't help but be excited. So do you plan on heating things up in your own steampunk work to meet the demand? Does your writing already have romantic leanings?

I wonder if the addition of romance will be the thing that catapults steampunk into the mainstream. It certainly seems as though its time has come.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth

The truth is sometimes a difficult pill to swallow, especially when it comes to something so personal as our writing. We've devoted time and energy to getting our words on paper, and have spilled our hearts and souls into our story. Now, unless you've written your masterpiece for your eyes only, there will come a time when you will turn it out into the world.

And with that, often comes the truth. If you are lucky.

Don't get me wrong. It is often devestating to find that your labor of love may fall a tad short of perfection, and when you receive the first honest critiques of your work, it can truly feel like a knife to the heart; a personal attack. These people must be mistaken, right? They must not know what they're talking about. After all, all your friends and family loved it!

And so we come back to the importance of truth. For the truth will set you free.

If you are lucky enough to be part of a good critique group, then you will often be confronted with opinions that may differ from the praise your friends and family lavished on your story. Now, granted, these are just opinions (I guarantee they are not personal attacks). However, in my experience, the honest opinion of fellow writers is an important tool in improving your writing. That's not to say you should follow every suggestion. After all, no one knows your story like you do, but a fresh set of eyes will often see what you are too close to notice, and what friends and family are either too nice or inexperienced to point out.

With that said, I feel critiquer's also need to deliver their opinions with a bit of tact, especially if they know a writer is new to critiques. Critiques I receive now without batting an eye, would have probably crushed me when I was first starting-- hell, some did. But I'm a far better writer as a result of those honest words, so it was well worth the pain.

Being open to other writers' opinions of your work can be an invaluable tool. So I recommend you don your thick skin, and listen to what others have to say, finding the truth in their opinions, so that your story will still be your own. Only better.


Monday, August 3, 2009

And the Winner is...

I wanted to thank everyone that participated in the first short story contest. Every single entry was imaginative, well written and thought out. I also wanted to thank everyone who voted.

Without further ado, I'd like to congratulate Stewart Hemingson for his entry Construct. Honorable mentions go to Brian Hook for his entry Difference Between Moments. And again, a huge thanks to all that participated. I'm hoping to make the contests a regular part of the blog, so please make sure to check in.

Stewart, please contact me at with your details so I can mail you your pin.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Our First Contest

Fantastic!! Not only am I impressed by the amazing turnout, but I'm also blown away by the entries. I've posted them anonymously below and have included a poll so that everyone can vote. Be sure to leave comments for the stories, too, since I'm sure everyone would love feedback.

The polls will close a week from today, on Monday at 8 AM, EST, August 3. To try and make this fair, you may only vote once.

Happy reading!!

Entry 1 — Untitled

“Michael!” came a harsh whisper from around the corner. The street was quiet, the alleyway dark as pitch, and the whisper was louder the second time through to be heard over the rain’s sotto voce.
“It’s me, Charlie.” Was the reply a little ways off in the alley, and Charles strained to peer into the dark. Light crept in around Michael’s face as he drew a breath on his cigar, a beacon of red that lead him closer.

“Michael, have yeh got-” Charles began, but was hushed with a hiss.
“Don’t say it aloud. Not safe, bucko. It’s inside.”
Michael’s voice was draughty and hard, different to Charles, who had a sing-song melody in almost everything he said. East, he supposed, as opposed, to West.

Directly to Michael’s right, a door that Charles was just starting to see cracked open, and the dim oil lamp glow skirted around the lip. Michael’s wife stuck her head out.
“Hello Charlie. The lads are in bed, now, it’s safe to come in.”

They came in; and the still-warm stove from supper was a relief from the bitter-snip dizzle. Charles felt his nose coming back into life, and Lucy chidingly asked if he’d been down the Plague Rat already that evening.

She sat them down at the rickety kitchen table, made them tea, and Charles had it Irish. Michael wanted it Irish too, but Lucy thwacked the back of his good hand with a spoon and told him he’d had his Irish plenty not two nights ago. Then she left the room, at her husband’s request, and Michael slid the package out of his pocket. It was ever so small, Charles thought, as he handled the brown-paper wrapped parcel.

“Don’t just stare at it, bucko.” Michael urged, and Charles unwrapped it. There was a bright green glow that bothered his eyes, it out-shone the lamp, and he closed it back up again and winced.
“That’s it?”
“That’s it. Straight from Peru. The Heart-Stone, they called it. Fabled to charge up, and store, vast quantities of… Aether.”

Charles paled and leaned back heavily, the wooden chair creaking under him.
“Real Aether?”
“Real as you an’ me. That’s why it ent safe, everyone wants it, an’ as far as I can see, no one should have it. Scotland Yard is on full alert, an’ every dirigible that enters and leaves London is to be searched.”

The little rock- more a rough-cut gem, sat squarely in Charles’ palm. It was warm, and- holding still, closing his eyes- he could feel it thrumming like a tiny, quiet engine.

“That there little rock could power the whole of Britain fer an age, they said.” Remarked Michael, cool as crisp snow, nursing his tea while Charles dared to peek inside the paper again.
“I’m no scientist, Mikey, but that sounds like codswallop.”
“It’s not important, what it can an’ cannot do. What’s important is that everyone wants it. The Military, the Monarchy, Parliament… anyone who holds this has the potential to take over the Empire as we know it.”

Charles downed his tea, whiskey and all, and shuddered.
“Who do we give it to, then?”
“No one.” Michael replied, and when Charles choked, he raised a dismissive hand. “It’s to be buried and forgotten.”
“Couldn’t there… Isn’t there someone, somewhere that could use it for good? Unlimited power, why… I could fly around the world non-stop!”
“And what would you do wi’ that power, except viciously guard it from every Tom Dick an’ ‘Arry that wanted it for hisself? That’s the catch, Charlie. It’s no good to no one; Whoever has it is cursed, not because of some heathen Gods, but by the world’s greed to have it for themselves.”

Charles began to rattle off locations.
“Back to the jungle, then?”
“That’s the first place they’ll look.”
“What if I drop it in the sea?”
“Have yeh seen them new boats? Submersibles are the cuttin’ edge. They’ll find it.”
“They’ll send a team, with readers an’ scanners.”

The pained expression on Charles’ still youthful face made Michael pause.
“It’s up to you, an’ your crew, to save Britain from herself. Hide it, Charlie, so it can ne’er be found.”

Entry 2 — Pilgrimage to the Past

"I am at home here among the scent of books, their dusty pages may be disquieting to some, suggesting rot and ruin. But to me, they signify the past, all the more glorious than the present as we continually close our eyes on substance. I sit here among the books and their yellowing pages, and the candles whose light illuminates the disarray. I sit and listen to the bustle of many a man and lady out for a stroll among the shops. For eons I had wished to find a place amongst them, but there seems to be no place in this world for someone of my tastes.

If you knew what those tastes were, you might shudder, or give a small shake of the head in disapproval. I have seen it all before as the graceful women and stately men enter my book shop and glance upon me, dust on my jacket and trousers. As of late no customers have entered, either to browse or to purchase from my small shop. The only thing I can currently hear is my pocket watch ticking out the minutes, and my fingers ticking out on this typewriter, worn with age, some of the keys sticking.

It seems like death in here, perhaps that's what keeps the noble society away. They enter and they are reminded of age, of the progress of all things, and of death. Do they not know the value in that which has passed? Of the marvelous inventions that, while constantly being replaced by newer models, still run with more efficiency than those models ever could. They seem oblivious, but I, in this dust, in this quiet, am transported back. Back to a place where I am comfortable, back to a place where sanity first breathed its breath. Care to step into my world pilgrim?"

Entry 3 — Construct

From what I have learned since that day, I am the only one to have seen the Knoxworths before they quit the city of Portal-Whitesmith. The name Knoxworth may be familiar to those that followed the work of the great construct designer, Desmond Knoxworth, also known for a sudden death surrounded by controversy. Before I took my leave of this city to study abroad in Albionoria, I was a casual acquaintance of their son, Clarence and had met the mother, Gwendolyn, once or twice. When I returned, I reestablished contact with the family. Desmond had passed away in the four years that I had been gone. Mrs. Knoxworth requested that I help move out some of the old constructs that laid around the place. Not having steady work, I took this job.

The house was old and musty. Mrs. Knoxworth seemed to be living in the garden, surrounded by overgrown rosebushes and a rounded construct with spidery arms that squatted beside her wrought iron garden furniture, and whirred near the endless stream of tea and tobacco that the old lady consumed. She chatted pleasantly, if inanely, apologizing for the odd absence of Clarence. She claimed him to be ill, and infectious at that. The entire third floor of the house seemed shut off. I strove to listen for sounds of him, but the whole house creaked and groaned with sounds that both baffled and unnerved me, so I could not determine if the boy even still existed.

One day, late in the afternoon, the Daymoon looming over the city's spires, I came to find the front door locked. I was alarmed, knowing that Mrs. Knoxworth had no appointments. I clambered over the garden wall, pricking myself on the roses as I found the back door ajar. I slowly walked inside, calling but receiving no reply, meeting only the silent host of brass effigies that still resided in the various corners of that house.

I ascended the stairs slowly. I was concerned. And this is the point where I opened the door and saw what I now report, though I doubt my words can capture it. How can I describe Clarence Knoxworth -what was left of him? A porcelain mockery of a face, painted white, with black straw bangs, a body that was but a shell of brass and wood. Skeletal arms and legs splayed on the bed, chest opened and the leather sacks heaving inside as they took in blood, from the arm of Gwendolyn Knoxworth, her arm placed in that semblance of a mouth, with it's sharpened teeth, the red life dripping down the throat of the thing that was not Clarence, to power the functions that only barely made it living: small, shaky gestures in it’s prison bed.

But I was wrong about it’s weakness, a mistake that may have cost lives. I rushed to pull Mrs. Knoxworth from the hellish device that was her son, prying apart the steel jaws to take her shrunken arm out. She screamed, struggling, telling me I did not understand. I looked at her to see desperation. Then I collapsed as a heavy weight hit my head, knocking me flat to the floor and to darkness. The last thing I recall is two terrible glass eyes, flickering with the few candles in the room, observing me as the thing that was not Clarence creaked to a sitting position in the bed, half supported by, and half supporting his hysterical sobbing mother.

When I awoke, they both were gone. As far as I can tell, they are no longer in the city. A watchman claimed to have spotted an old woman carrying a thin figure wrapped in cloth out the south gate. That means they went into the forest.
Mrs. Knoxworth is old and sick – the forest, I suspect, will kill her within a month or two. But Clarence -what can stop a thing like that? And when his mother’s blood ceases to fuel him, where shall he get his driving force? The forest holds even more horror for me, knowing that the brass vampire must soon stalk its boughs. Was that where Desmond ended up? Is that the immortal life he chose?

Entry 4 — The Mesmerist’s Curse

I just can’t compete with her. She is so beautiful, and clearly very good at what she does. She always peaks at the perfect moment, and by the time I have picked up steam, its all over and done with, and I feel so useless. My performance could never match hers. Oh well, the audience seem happy, the applause seems to get louder and louder with each show. It used to be me that got that applause, and now it is her. She does deserve it, she is the most talented woman I ever “mesmerised“, a great actress. I make a few passes in front of her face, close her eyes, and she disgraces herself in front of the crowds for a penny a head. The great unwashed love her. But I have the talent, I’M the one with the power! It feels so frustrating, knowing that this harlot does nothing but remove her clothes seductively, and yet gets more applause than me! I suppose it’s only matter of time before my name is erased from the advertising posters altogether, not longer “The Marvellous Mesmerising Morvo, and assistant”, but “See the beautiful Vanessa be mesmerised!”. What happened? Somewhere along the line, my dark art has become a mere joke, a bawdy night out for the idiotic masses pouring out of the gin dens and workhouses. Where did it all go wrong? I know the answer to that, as much as it pains me to admit it. I used to be the chief anaesthetisist at Eliotson’s Mesmeric Hospital, I earned more I could spend in a year, my medical and scientific contemporaries adored me, and my future was mapped out. I would make a few passes over the patients, and put them into the deepest of trances. The doctors could perform their surgeries while the patient was out, and they would come to with no pain, no sleepiness or nausea. It was fool proof. I witnessed limb amputations, childbirth, the removal of tumours from the deepest recesses of the inner human body. But then one day there was some….unpleasantness. I found myself the hospital library between surgeries. I had no idea why I was there, I rarely ventured far from either my theatre or the courtyard, the matron was a fearsome woman and not a force to be reckoned with, but I felt drawn to this room I had never seen before. All at once I felt the familiar ringing in my ears, the pounding pulse in my temples that only a mesmerist would recognise, I felt as if I was being called. I closed my eyes, walked around the small space, and my hand fell on a book. Truly it was meant for me. It was hidden at the back of a shelf, behind a number of dusty bibles and other religious texts. I don’t know what drew me to it, but I read a few passages, and it became clear this book was pure evil. It was written in some heathen Eastern script and peppered with illustrations of hideous demons, and although I did not understand the language on he page, the words stung me, the pain was excruciating, as if the devils from hell themselves were burrowing into my eyes! I slammed the book shut, and hurried back to my theatre, I was to mesmerise another childbirth, a young woman giving birth to twins. I don’t feel I can discuss what happened next, but there were some unexpected side effects I never wish to relive, all I can say is I hope the poor woman had the love of God in her soul. I was immediately expelled from the hospital. And now, here I am, with a blonde nymph I scooped from a brothel in Whitechapel, who pretends to be mesmerised by me in front of these cretins. And I could, I could mesmerise her, I could make her do whatever I want. I have more power in my littlest finger than every other mesmerist in London put together! But I am frightened, far too frightened, what happens if it happens again……?

Entry 5 — The Fall Over Chicago

You know of the many adventures of the Professor. I have dedicated my life to their retelling, and have profited in no small way from my time with that man. It is his final battle with his arch-nemesis the Count that is the most famous. But there is a secret to that story I have kept these long years.

The mad Count von Bluchenwald had come to Chicago, his cog-work soldiers ready to descend from his dirigible fleet and destroy the city. The Professor had hastily designed and built an energy projector powered by the inherit static electricity of Lake Michigan. But even as the beam lay waste to the dirigible fleet, the Counts flagship was untouched, protected by his Lightning Shield.

With a canny use of the Professors glide-wings, we made our way aboard the flagship, the Shields useless against slow-moving natural materials.

As you well know, the cog-men were helpless against the Professors improved pulse gun. I easily disabled them with sonic pulses as we made our way to the control cabin.

“Careful, old chum,” the Professor said. “Who knows what madness lies beyond this door. I had best go first,” he said as he pushed me aside and threw the door open.

“Get them,” the Count screamed. The remainder of his troops steamed forward. The Professor slid through the cog-men with his customary cat-like grace, leaving me, once again, to do the dreary work of cleaning up. As he and the Count dueled with their super-heated steamblades and pithy quips, I was left to deal with the machine-men like some drudge.

“Careful, old chum!” The Professor said, slicing the head off the last of the mechanical soldiers, as if here were doing me some grand favor. Off he spun, blade twirling as he drove the Count back against a command console, pinning him down with a flurry of attacks. He shouted over his shoulder, “Smash the shield generator!”

It was as if he thought I were some simpleton that could not be trusted to be out from behind the skirts of his nursemaid! Without out a word or glance at the two men prancing about the front of the cabin, I walked to the crystalline gears churning in the center of the room. The gear-works were crafted of some opalescent substance known only to the Count and encased in a translucent dome. It generated the field that deflected any projectile or beam of energy away from the ship.

With my pipe wrench, I smashed it to fractal shards.

“Well, done!” the Professor cried, as he bludgeoned the count into unconsciousness. He grabbed the steering wheel, and locked the ship to a course headed straight out over the lake. “All according to plan, my friend. Now,--“ I hit him in the back of the head with my wrench. He crumpled to the ground like a paper mache man.

He had his plan. I had mine. I caved the Counts head in to be thorough.

I jumped from the craft, the glide-wings turning my fall into a slow descent. No one followed me. I reached into my jacket and pulled out the flare. The original plan was to use it to signal when the Professor and I were clear and the shield destroyed. I fired it without hesitation. It shot up into the sky, a murderous red star.

Without the shield the beam cut through the ship like a knife slipping between a mans ribs, igniting the hydrogen chambers inside. The dirigible was engulfed in flames in a matter of seconds. Undaunted, the great ship struggled against gravity and the hell raging in its own belly. The skin melted away, exposing the skeleton to the world. Again the beam of light lanced out, piecing the flaming aircraft. The ship exploded long before it reached the ground.

The shock-wave sent me plunging towards the ground like Icarus. Luckily, I suffered only some small injury to my body. The worst of which has caused my now famous limp. Of all the scars that I bear from my time with that man, I find the limp bothers me not one whit.

Entry 6 — Kenna’s Dream

“This will not work,” Kenna shouted, slamming the book shut. “How will I find the answers I need, if they, themselves, have not a clue where to look?”
She leaned back in her chair, watching her lover, Elsbeth, struggle with the sewing contraption a friend brought over for her to try.
“This is to make my job easier?” Elsbeth questioned as she pumped the the pedal under the table with her foot.
“Supposed to.”
The machine whirred and sputtered as Elsbeth struggled with the thread coiling around the metal beast. It is quite ingenious, Kenna thought as she watched the shaft move up and down with each press of Elsbeth's foot.
An idea began to surface.
She scooted across the floor on her hands sand knees, crawling under the table, looking for the finer details of how the machine worked.
“Maybe--,” her voice drifted off as she ran out the door to the carriage house.
Kenna pressed the buttons on the metal box beside the door and waited for the deep click of release. As the steam pressure built, the door eased open allowing Kenna access to her workshop in the back.
Hours passed as she drew out her plans, watching as they sprang to life on the faded parchment roll. Across the top she scribed, in her best calligraphy, Blood Purifying Machine.
She signed and dated the bottom of her plans before slipping them into a solid tube for safety. Tomorrow she would bring them to Lord Ashton, and together they would bring her plans to action. But, for tonight, sleep called to her, stretching into her soul, pulling her back to her resting place.
As Elsbeth pulled open her coffin lid, Kenna's heart began to beat. She stretched the sleep out of her unyielding limbs before climbing over the edge of the mahogany box.
Within an hours time she stood in Lord Ashton's home to work on her idea of progress. He was not as taken by this idea of hers, but would do anything for her, his true love.
Together they worked, each knowing what had to be done. Before long it was done and they stood, each admiring their work in silent awe.
Copper tubes wrapped around many glass jars, each one having a specific purpose. The smaller one on the right would hold the non-purified samples. The one to the left would hold the herbal and salts needed to cleanse and stabilize the blood. The larger of the jars sat just below the machine where the finished product would be stored till needed. Around each jar was a metal tub, large enough to hold the ice needed to protect the blood from spoiling. To the back was their idea of a modified sewing machine, minus the needle and thread. It would drive the machine to mix, heat, and control the amount of blood flowing through the tubes at any given moment.
All that was left was to try their tinkering, so Kenna headed to town to gather the blood needed, while Lord Ashton brought the machine back to her house.
The town was still, most at home for the night. Kenna continued to the tavern on the edge of town. A man stood, leaning against the side of the building watching as a woman climbed into a carriage alone.
Kenna moved in the shadows till she stood just behind the man. The smell of malt liquor and hard work made her stomach retch, but at this late hour there would be no other choice. Kenna walked up behind him, looping her arm in his, pulling him into the shadows between two buildings. Before he had a chance to shout she pulled him to her chest and sank her teeth into his neck.
Tonight she would not have time to savor his life as it ran down her throat, nor repay him for his generous donation. She gathered what she needed into a metal flask, leaving him passed out in the shadows of the bar.
Kenna smiled as she hurried home. No matter if this worked or not, she was now one step closer to her dream—to be human again.

Entry 7 —(Removed at Author's Request)

Entry 8 — Breaking the Eyes

There was a firm knock on the door. Pat had been waiting for this. He
stood up and grabbed his bag. Another impatient knock made him move to the
door quickly. With a last glance behind him, he said a silent goodbye to
his wife and children, who were sound asleep.

The moon looked reddish in the midnight sky. The knocker coughed in the
damp air. Pat could barely see his companion. He knew it was all caused by
the dirt that was blast into the air from the chimneys of the factory. The
air was polluted and sometimes seemed thick as a brick.
“Let´s go, Ned,” Pat whispered.
“You brought the gear?” Ned pointed his lantern at Pat.
He shook the bag. There was clearly something made of metal inside.

They headed to the valley. Their target was situated on the banks of the
Mercey. From a distance, it looked like a dragon, crouching in the dark.
Pat hestitated. He entered the jaws of the monster every day in order to
feed the belly of the beast. He had been angry, but never afraid in
daytime. However, now, close to midnight, with the glowing red from the
boiler room and the low frequent droning of the engines, it felt
uncomfortable to see the brick cathedral with the fire spitting chimneys.
The cogwheels screamed like banshees to be oiled.
And it was, Pat thought, as if the factory was looking at him. He held his
“Come on,” Ned whispered. “We have to do this. In name of humanity and the
Pat did a step forwards. The tools he had in is bag made an aweful noise.
He held that uncomfortable feeling. Was their action still secret or were
there people lurking in the bushes? He shrugged to get the impression of
eyes sticking at his back from him.
It was his first time out with Captain Ludd. He had heard stories from
other workers, how they lost their jobs and joined Ludds army. How they
smashed the engines of the factories they used to work in. Investors were
forced to hire traditional craftsmen. That was good for the villages
filled with craftsmen, and better for the environment.

Ned Ludd had reached the outer fence of the factory. A shadow fell over
him. The light of his latern moved with the Captain when he climbed the
fence. It was clearly visible, now the moon hid behind the darkness. He
crossed the darkness behind the fence, swift and elegant.
Pat followed the Captain. He threw his bag over the fence, which made an
aweful noise in the silent night. It was followed by the loud beating of
Pats heart. He climbed the fence and let himself drop. He had to search
for his bag.
The red moon had looked spookey, Pat thought, but it wasn't half as bad as
the darkness. That single bloody eye had something comforting, but the
eyes looking at him from the darkness made him shiver once again. Yet the
only thing he could see was the lantern the Captain had in his hands. He
hurried towards the light.
The bag in Pats hand was heavy with metal tools. But when he got closer to
the factory, the bag seemed to be of less weight. Just when Pat thought it
was his more positive approach, he felt the bag actually pulled his hand.
"What the...?" he uttered in surprise. He fastened his grip on the bag. It
definitely pulled at him, in an upwards direction.
He pulled back.
The bag wouldn't let go.
Pat clung his other hand to the bag too, only to feel how his feet lost
connection with the earth.

Lord Cunard watched how the airmen took in the Luddite. They released him
from the strong magnet, so he could stand on the deck of the airship. A
smirk attached itself to Lord Cunards mouth. He had just found himself
another member for his transatlantic airship line. He had something to
offer the Luddists couldn't: a bright and shiny future. And the craftsmen
were an easy catch in the sea surrounding the factories below. One just
had to observe.

Entry 9 — Difference Between Moments

The rattle of a triple-piston steambike echoed across the pavestones of the desolate main street. The flicker of light from the dying gas lamps danced on the oversized lenses of the stranger's elaborate goggles.
The stranger halted the bike before a young man crossing the street.
"Good evening, young man," said the stranger as he tipped his plush purple top hat. The laced cuff of his wool overcoat accented his affluent tone.
"Evening, sir," said the young man.
"What calls you out at this hour, lad?"
"I'm a coal whipper, sir."
"A bit late for unloading the ships, is it not?"
"It was quite a payload, sir."
"I've lost something," the stranger blurted. He took a breath to collect himself. "So long as we're well met, I suppose you wouldn't mind helping me find it." He rocked himself from the steambike and stuffed his hand into a leather saddlebag. He brought forth a rather modern camera.
"This here is true magic, lad." The stranger twisted a brass knob on one side of the device and cogs mingled on the opposite side. Tiny geared wheels influenced one another to create a curious clatter within the box.
"Is it not a camera?" asked the young man.
"A camera? No, not in the least." He stopped twisting and a hum rose in the air. Soft, at first. Then, vibrant and alive and filling the space surrounding them. "But what I have lost has been captured by this as would a face in a photograph."
The stranger set the queer device on the steambike's seat and returned his hand to the saddlebag. He brought out two thin iron plates set in worn cherry frames.
"The object of my desire has been deconstructed and delivered to another...moment."
"You mean it's lost in time?"
"Precisely." The stranger held flipped the two plates under the young man's gaze as would a magician demonstrating that his cards were true.
"This plate represents a moment in the past," said the stranger as he jiggled the plate in his right hand. "This other plate represents this moment."
"Which moment?"
"The 'now' moment."
"You mean, right now."
"Precisely." The stranger gave the plates to the young man with explicit instructions. The idea, the stranger explained, was to retrieve the object as it passed between then and now.
The young man held the two plates as instructed and waited. "What, exactly, are you trying to intercept?"
At that moment, a voluminous airship crept above the meager skyline. From it, that omnipresent hum reverberated.
"Nevermind the dirigible," said the stranger. "Concentrate on the plates."
An audible crack broke the monotony of the hum. The stranger groped at the hole that appeared in his chest.
"Sir!" The young man helped the stranger as he crumpled to the stone street. "You've been shot!"
"Indeed," said the stranger.
The hum warbled louder and the young man looked behind him to find the airship closing the distance between them.
"Lad," gasped the stranger. "The difference between this moment and the last is all you need."
"Take the box," said the stranger as he pointed weakly over his shoulder. "It will bring you...."
The old stranger exhaled the last of his breath, and he slipped into eternal rest.
The airship let down a steep ladder. A man fit for military occupation stepped out of the airship by way of the ladder. He carried a beast of a rifle.
The young man gathered the plates and the device and headed around the corner of a coffee house. He turned the device over in his hands and found two slots that could hold the plates. He slid the plates into the device, unaware of which needed to be where, and he pulled the lever on the top.
The gears turned and the hum became a screech and then a loud pop blew it all away.
The young man stood in the darkness of the shadows cast to the side of the coffee shop. He recalled that he just left his shift on the docks, unloading coal. Then, he heard something familiar.
Again, the rattle of a triple-piston steambike echoed across the pavestones of the desolate main street.