Category Archives: Steampunk Genre

The Gigantron

This is my gift to you all for your support over the past year.

 

Amedee Bollee's first 1878 steam-powered car

1878 Steam-powered Car

 

“Miss Stevens, your car is ugly.”

Renee rolled her shoulders to relax the tension sitting between them, and pretended she didn’t hear the comment. She didn’t bother looking up from her white wine. She was the only woman who frequented the bar – a known hangout for car enthusiasts – and she had earned a reputation for not taking shit from anyone. However, it had been a long day and she was bone-weary.

Alas, the man would not take the hint.

“Didn’t you hear me, girl? Your car is ugly.” He stood aggressively, with his fists on his hips and his chin thrust out, trying to look bigger than he was. Renee has seen a hundred men like him every day since she had started on her quest to build the fastest car in the world. They always managed to make the word ‘girl’ sound like a curse, rather than mere fact.

Renee suppressed a sigh. She said in a low voice, “I don’t recall being introduced, but since you know my name you must know of me and my car. I built her to be fast, not fashionable. You are not the first person to tell me that my car is not beautiful.”

The man was not the sort to be turned aside with gentle words. He snarled, “Are they the same people who tell you a girl shouldn’t build and race cars?”

“Yes, they usually are,” said Renee. She took another sip of wine and her mouth puckered; it was too dry and didn’t suit her mood. She needed a sweeter wine, something light and fruity.

“And they are right!” declared the man. “No woman has a brain that understands the mechanics.” He was short and dark, with a luxuriant moustache. No grease clogged his nails or the pores of his hands. He was too clean to be an inventor, engineer or mechanic. Most likely, he was a driver; they tended towards being highly strung.

Renee’s own hands were not as clean, even though she wore gloves when working on the Gigantron and took extra care to wash after work. She wondered if the man suffered ‘short man syndrome’ and saw the large size of her glorious Gigantron as an attack on his manhood. He seemed to be quivering with suppressed rage at her, and she couldn’t recall having any prior conversations with the chappie, so he couldn’t have a personal grudge against her. Pondering this, she said, “Really? If you are so interested in holding with traditional values, why are you picking on someone who is smaller than you?”

The quiver turned into a tremor that shook the man’s whole body. Renee concentrated on her wine. If he actually swung at her, she knew the entire bar would leap to her defence. As much as the other patrons might disapprove of a woman in their bar, they wouldn’t tolerate such ungentlemanly behaviour as a man striking a young lady, even if she was a peculiar young lady who invented and built automobiles. They weren’t to know that Renee had a spare wrench in her reticule for emergencies of all kinds.

“Your ugly car will not race,” growled the man, and he turned and stomped away. His spot was taken by a well-dressed, elderly gentleman with enormously expressive eyebrows dominating his face.

“How do you do, my dear?” said the gentleman, while a twitch of his eyebrows dismissed the rudeness of the short, dark man. “May I have a word with you?”

“You may,” said Renee. She smiled at the old gentleman. The eyebrows were clearly delighted at her welcoming response. The gentleman settled himself in the other seat at her table. Renee took the opportunity to study him. He was of average height, but was so thin he appeared to be tall and rangy; she imagined people often used the word ‘spry’ when describing him. His clothing was well made and well cared for, but fragile with age. His shoes were brand new and looked to be very expensive. Once he was comfortable, he smiled back at her.

He said, “Thank you, my dear. My name is Mister Erasmus Whittingstall. We haven’t been formally introduced, but I know your name is Miss Renee Stevens. You have a formidable reputation as an automobile inventor.” His eyebrows conveyed what an honour it was to make her acquaintance.

“How kind of you to say,” said Renee, and she meant it. People tended to use the word ‘bad’ whenever they mentioned her reputation. “How can I help you?”

“I would like to hear about your car, the Gigantron.”

“What do you want to know?” asked Renee.

“This might sound strange, but I have pretentions of poetry,” said Mr Whittingstall. He grinned and leant forward as if imparting a delicious secret. “I have seen you and your car in action. You will have the last laugh. Your car is a masterpiece. I can see how you have must have grown bones of steel and iron, and how you must sweat rust. I can see how you have rattled your teeth loose, suffered welding burns, and jarred your bones to splinters for your quest for speed. I want to capture your energy and enthusiasm in a poem; a poem to capture the zeitgeist of this new age.”

“Pardon?” Renee was taken back.

With a sympathetic swoop of his eyebrows, Mr Whittingstall explained, “I think your car is a great beauty, in the true meaning of the word ‘great’. Some automobiles seem to be airy-fairy filigrees of wire and chains. Your car is a warrior princess, a Valkyrie, big and powerful with sleek lines, breathing out smoke and steam and speed in return for your care. She looks like a rocket.”

“Like a bullet,” said Renee. “She is meant to look like a bullet.”

“Ah-ha. A bullet is another metaphor for speed,” said the Mr Whittingstall. He folded his hands across his chest and beamed.

“So how can my Gigantron and I help you with your poem?”

“I would like to pay you for a ride in your car.”

Renee relaxed. There was room for two in her vehicle. She could tuck the elderly gent behind her in the seat behind her driving console and chair. If she took it easy, he shouldn’t take any harm. She nodded and said, “You need not pay for a ride. I can take you with me on one of her test runs.”

The eyebrows jumped so high that they nearly disappeared into his mop of unruly white hair. “Oh no. You misunderstand me, though I appreciate the kind offer. I want to ride with you when you attempt to break the land speed record, and I am prepared to fully sponsor your attempt.” Mr Whittingstall nodded and continued, while his eyebrows dropped lower and lower, “I am quite wealthy. And I know how your expenses must be piling up. With my help, you can afford to best of everything.”

“And now I appreciate your very kind to offer, but it is much too dangerous,” said Renee.

“Now look here, Miss Stevens. I am an old man, but I still have a sound mind and a sound body. I promise not to be a distraction. One of the reasons I approached you is that I thought you might understand how it is to be constantly warned not to take risks. I am quite aware of the risks, and I have not discounted them.”

Renee couldn’t argue with his logic. He was certainly old enough to know his own mind. On top of that, she could use those extra funds. She made her decision.

“You will have to train with me. I must know I’m not endangering you, Mr Whittingstall. And some of your money will go to increasing safety measures on your behalf.”

The eyebrows danced with delight. “Excellent,” exclaimed Mr Whittingstall. “Come to my office tomorrow and we can make the arrangements. I’ll have my lawyer there so that no one can blame you for any mishaps. Though I’ve seen you drive, and I am sure I will as safe as in my own armchair. Then we can go visit my bank and arrange for the start of your funding.”

“Oh my,” said Renee, her voice rather faint.

“Let’s shake on it, shall we?” said Mr Whittingstall.

 

Two months later, Renee was polishing away the grease and grime that had condensed on the Gigantron overnight, and the car gleaming like the bullet she resembled. She whistled as she rubbed a shine onto every available surface. Some people might call the Gigantron ugly, but Renee knew beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Mr Whittingstall had taught her that.

If only those naysayers knew Gigantron better. Her chassis was similar in shape to a rocket, a long cone that curved to a point at the front, was finned at rear, and with six massive wheels supporting her weight. She was powered by a variety of methods, rather than just by coal or kerosene. She had two radial aero engines, the same sort of engines found in an airplane, air-cooled with propellers and gel-cooled with a refrigeration unit. In conjunction with these, Renee had added a magnetically-propelled motor, which could only work when the other engines are running at full bore. When she reached her maximum speed, she was as mighty as an avalanche or a tidal wave.

Stopping and turning when at full speed, on the other hand, was something of an issue. Newton’s Law of Motion and all that…inertia could be a killer when your car massed as much as the Gigantron. She wasn’t just a lady made of iron, she had an iron will. The lady’s not for turning. She could be the fastest car on the planet, but she wasn’t manoeuvrable.

Because of her lack of a turning circle, the Gigantron couldn’t race on a circuit. She needed a straight road, as smooth as you could make it. Renee had considered giving her a track like a locomotive, but a derailment at high speed would mean certain death. With Mr Whittingstall riding with her, certain death was not an option.

Today was going to be his first ride.

Renee was hoping for an uneventful day.

Mr Whittingstall turned up just as Renee was going over her checklist.

“How are you today, my dear girl?” called out the elderly gentleman.

“Are you talking to me or to the Gigantron,” said Renee, turning to meet him. It was quite the sight that met her gaze. Mr Whittingstall was dressed in the driving clothes of an earlier era, with a woollen coat, gaiters, heavy driving gloves, goggles and a leather aviation-style helmet. It was all Renee could do to suppress a laugh, but she felt safe enough with a smile.

“I think your outfit is quite wonderful, Mr Whittingstall,” she said. “Did you buy it especially for this occasion?”

“Well, no,” said Mr Whittingstall. “I own quite a collection of automobiles. This is just one of my driving outfits, one of my favourites, to be truthful. I think it looks dashing.”

“I’m glad to see you have dressed with safety in mind,” said Renee, and meant it. She was dressed in a padded leather boiler suit, and also sported gloves, a helmet and goggles. Even though the canopy of the Gigantron was designed to protect them from the wind, a stray draft would be dangerous at high speeds, driving dust into their eyes. To be driving blind would be fatal. Goggles were an important part of any driving outfit.

A couple of assistant mechanics came over to help load the two of them into the Gigantron. The car was too tall to get into without a stepladder. Mr Whittingstall had to go first, as his seat could only be reached while the driver wasn’t occupying her seat.

The old man gamely climbed into the car without too much trouble. He really was a spry old duck. The assistants carefully strapped him into his seat, a seat designed with a superior suspension to minimise any rattles or sudden jerks. As well, Renee has added padding to any hard surface around Mr Whittingstall’s seat, in case of a sharp stops or turns. Old bones were brittle.

It wasn’t just because he was her sponsor that she was taking such care. You had grown quite fond of him. He was a cheerful and undemanding mentor, asking intelligent questions. Renee had been expecting the poet to be much less sensible and more of a nuisance. Indeed, Renee found his enthusiasm for her Gigantron refreshing and inspiring. She had even stopped frequenting the bar, as she no longer needed to drown her money worries over a drink or two. Mr Whittingstall had been true to his word, and signed cheques without a peep of protest. It had made her life so much easier, being able to afford the proper equipment and staff to do things right. One of those things she made sure was right was Mr Whittingstall’s comfort and safety.

Renee climbed up the ladder and into her own seat. Her assistants buckled her in, making sure she was almost part of her console. Her back was immovable; only her arms, feet and head were unrestrained. Both her and her sponsor’s chairs were custom-made to their physical specification, to minimise jolting and bruising. The canopy was lowered and bolted down.

The Gigantron surrounded them like a fortress.

“Now remember your training, Mr Whittingstall,” said Renee. “You can halt this test at any point right up until I start our final acceleration. Once we are at top speed, we can’t stop quickly.”

“I understand. Mainly because you’ve told me this about a hundred times, Miss Renee.”

“And I will probably tell you a hundred times more,” said Renee, but the poet could hear the smile in her voice. “If you are all settled and ready, I’m starting her up.”

Renee flicked several switches, and with each switch a different part of the Gigantron roared into life. Other men spoke of growl or purr of engines, using the imagery of lions and tigers to symbolise the power of their motors. To Mr Whittingstall, it sounded like a hundred different drums beating their own individual rhythms and yet all coordinated into creating a heartbeat; this was mechanical teamwork at its very best.

The poet Whittingstall could hear the patterns within the engine noise, like when a child is learning to speak, and it repeats the same word over and over. The language spoke of cog and gears, of forces harnessed, of woman and machine working together to make a dream come true. Humanity has always pined for wings, and speed gave the illusion of breaking the bonds of gravity. Had speed become a metaphor for flight? The poet believed the urge to fly was really a search for higher things … like truth and beauty. The thought pleased him immensely. He knew that Renee was a pragmatic and sensible woman. It enchanted him that she might be secretly as big a dreamer as he was; so secretly she herself didn’t know it.

Unaware of Mr Whittingstall’s train of thought, Renee was carefully driving the Gigantron out to the especially prepared track. It was two hundred kilometres of perfectly straight roadway constructed to support the weight of the Gigantron without buckling. Today was a test of the track more than it a test of the Gigantron. Either side of the track was lined with bales of hay and bags of wool, for a softer ‘landing’ in case of a spinout. Renee was taking no risks with her car or her mentor.

From her seat, Renee could see approximately twenty-one kilometres down the track. There were no obstacles. She had already driven the entire track the previous evening to check, using a motorcycle of her own design. Twenty-one kilometres should give her plenty of time to stop at the speeds the Gigantron would be travelling today.

Renee waved to the watching staff, signalling she was ready to go. They waved back.

“Righty-o,” said Renee. “We are all set to go. Comfortable?”

“Immensely. I really should get a chair like this for my study.”

Renee grinned. “Get two. I’m certain Mrs Whittingstall would like one as well.”

“Oh my. Of course. She could use one for her knitting chair.”

“She knits?” asked Renee, while she straightened the Gigantron so that she was lined up between a series of white marks on the bitumen. Even though Renee had a steering wheel, it was safer to reduce any chance of trying to turn at high speed.

Mr Whittingstall said in reply, “She is a terrible knitter. But she likes to show willing. In fact, I believe she is knitting you a present.”

“Something to look forward to, then,” said Renee, her mouth running on automatic. She was concentrating; two hundred kilometres was a long way and even a small deviation from the straight would mean the Gigantron might end up veering off the road.

“How kind of you to say,” said the poet. He fell quiet as Renee went through her final checklist. She was letting the motors run to warm up and ensure that the lubricant was coating everything. Then she started the Gigantron down the road.

Mr Whittingstall admired how the Gigantron shone, nearly sparkled, in the sunlight. Every surface that could be polished on the car was polished. But – as much as Renee might refute it – the Gigantron was an ugly car when compared to the confections decorated with wood and brass you could see on the roads and byways. But those little toys just puttered along, thrilled to make even a hundred kilometres an hour; they were earthbound. Renee’s invention might look more like a train or a rocket than a car to the ignorant, but mere rails were not her natural environment. The Gigantron only looked clumsy because she spent most of her time out of her element, like a seal on land, and yet the seal was an athlete and an acrobat in the water, while the Gigantron’s natural element was speed.

As the car went faster and faster, Mr Whittingstall was expecting her to start rattling. After all, he had ridden in other cars and had suffered the shaking they gave his bones. The Gigantron didn’t rattle. The road was smooth, and the machinery beautifully made and balanced. It was more like riding in a sailing boat than in a car. Trains had a constant clackety-clack. Even airplanes made more noise than the Gigantron, and he knew the car had two airplane motors.

Renee broke into his thoughts. She said, “I’m about to switch on the magnetic propulsive engine, as we are now at a speed where it can be useful. This is your ten second warning.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Oh no. It is well insulated from the other motors. But we should speed up even more …now!

A new voice was added to the chorus, and the poet felt himself gently pushed back into his chair. A glance outside confirmed the car was going faster; even middle-distance objects were quickly falling behind them.

“How are you doing back there?” asked Renee. “Are you feeling any aches or pains? Feeling breathless?”

“I’m feeling nothing but inspired, my dear,” said Mr Whittingstall.

Then I am pushing her up to 300km an hour,” said Renee. “That is just under the current land speed record, but should be well within the tolerances of the Gigantron. Then I am going to run her for five minutes at that speed, and then start the braking process.”

Everything went according to plan. The car made a smooth transition to 300km and back without the motors straining at any point. At the end of the track, Renee had invented a special rotating platform that turned the Gigantron 180 degrees, so that the car could set off on her trip back to base without the bother of trying to steer her.

They were halfway back to base when the unexpected happened. As they approached one of hummocks of sandbags and straw bales, it seemed to collapse and fall onto the road.  It left an obstruction in the middle of the road. Renee’s heart stuttered as she saw the problem.

“Hold on! We’ve got a blockage on the track!” she shouted to Mr Whittingstall.

The old man peered over her shoulder, straining to see.

“Sit back and brace yourself,” ordered Renee.

This time he did as she asked.

Renee thought quickly. Should she risk trying to brake and possibly send the Gigantron into a spin? Should she try to make for a break in the barrier and risk the rough ground?  The Gigantron was a heavy car, her wheels sturdy, and she was pointed at the front like a cow-catcher … it was probably best if they tried to bully their way through the barrier. And the faster she was going, the better. If the barrier was enough to stop them, they would die anyway.

So, Renee hit the accelerator.  The Gigantron surged forward. The barrier seemed to take a leap to meet them.

Renee could hear someone roaring like a berserker, and realised she was the one making the sound. It wasn’t a scream of fear; it was a warrior shout of challenge. She kept the noise up as they hit the barrier. She forced herself not to flinch or close her eyes.

The Gigantron didn’t even slow down. She hit the barrier in a flurry of sand and straw and … blood. A splatter of it bubbled and slid across the front windscreen while Gigantron bounced like she was a plane hitting turbulence. Then they were through the barrier and on their way again.

Renee finally stopped roaring long enough to take a breath. She carefully re-started the slowing down process and made a slight adjustment to the Gigantron’s direction.

Then she gazed at the smear of blood with mounting horror.

“Are you all right back there?” she asked.

“I am fine,” said the old poet, and Renee was relieved to hear his voice was unruffled. A couple of trickles of blood were being pushed and battered by the wind along the windscreen and down the sides of the car. Mr Whittingstall could see them. He continued on, “I gather we hit a rabbit or some such?”

“No. I’m sure this was an attempt at sabotage. There was a wall of straw bales and sandbags across the road. It had to be deliberately built to damage or destroy the Gigantron,” said Renee.

“But … the blood,” he said. “Where did the blood come from?”

“I think the saboteur was standing behind the wall,” said Renee, and gulped down a sudden rising tide of nausea. “We hit at least one person. We may have killed them at this speed.” The horror overwhelmed the nausea. “Oh god! I’ve killed someone!”

“Well, it certainly wasn’t your fault,” said Mr Whittingstall. “You weren’t to know someone was hiding behind that obstacle.”

“But still…”

“And you don’t even know if what you hit was the saboteur. It could have been a goat or any wild animal. And you can’t know for sure what you struck is dead. Don’t borrow trouble.”

Renee took a deep breath and let it out slowly to clear her head and calm her nerves. “Thank you for your sensible advice,” she said.

“You have nothing to thank me for. I should be thanking you for saving my life by keeping a cool head. As well, you won’t get into any trouble for this even if you did kill some idiot trying to damage the Gigantron. I was a witness to the whole event. There was nothing you could have done differently. You might as well say the fool committed suicide.”

Renee still felt shaky, but her brain agreed with Mr Whittingstall’s assessment.

“I’m just so glad you are safe,” said Renee, and meant it. She returned to concentrating on her driving,

 

As it turned out, a man had died under the Gigantron’s six wheels. What little wasn’t laminated to the bitumen was identified as Lorenzo Wheeler, another car designer who was also trying to develop a fast car. The local authorities took the same view as Mr Whittingstall; the man had brought his fate upon himself. They were also certain that only Renee’s cool head had saved her and Mr Whittingstall.

“After all this fuss, did you get any ideas for your poem?” Renee asked Mr Whittingstall as they walked out of the hearing.

“Actually, I did,” said the elderly poet. “In fact, this unfortunate incident just adds more grist for my mill. Speed is a beautiful thing, but like fire and knives and electricity, it can kill just as easily as it can help humanity.”

“I guess this means you don’t want to take another drive with me?”

“You would then be guessing wrong, my dear. You have proved to me that you are the safest driver, with the best car. I seriously doubt that any other jealous individual is going to make another attempt to wreck your car.”

Against all propriety, Renee gave the poet a bear hug. “You are brave, Mr Whittingstall,” she declared. “I have to admit, I never thought a man of words would be so stout of heart.”

“My dear! Poets are always brave. We have to see things as they really are, and often the truth is quite ugly.”

“As ugly as the Gigantron?”

“Only a dimwit would consider your stately Gigantron as ugly. And I will make certain that the world grows eyes to see how lovely she really is.”

“Well then, we’d best go and plan our world-breaking speed attempt.”

The eyebrows of Mr Whittingstall bristled with glee. “I think that sounds like the most sensible suggestion anyone has had all day.

The Gigantron did make the world record for speed, that remained unbreakable for eleven years. And it was another woman who broke Renee and Mr Whittingstall’s record … but that is a story for another time.

 

 

 

 

 

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News of my latest Steampunk story

Harvey Duckman Presents Volume 2

Harvey Duckman Presents... Volume 2: (A Collection of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Steampunk and Horror Short Stories) by [Hayes, Mark, McQueeney, Ben, Hallam, Craig, Collyer, J.S., Buxton, A.L., Martin, Peter James, Watts, A.D., Hartless, Jon, Darqueling, Phoebe, Green, Lynne Lumsden]

I have a Steampunk story in this anthology. The link is above.  As a teaser, let me tell you that the story was inspired by Shakespeare.

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Filed under Anthology, Australian Steampunk Author, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Writer, The Writing Life, Writing Career

Anthology Kickstarter for ‘Once Upon a Future Time’

Link to ‘Once Upon a Future Time’Once Upon a Future Time

Want to see a fabulous anthology with me in it? Want to get in on the ground floor for discovering a new publisher? Here you go!

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Guest Post by Karen Carlisle

The Department of Curiosities: The Aussie Connection

Karen Carlisle

WARNING… Some SPOILERS Ahead.

I started writing The Department of Curiosities in 2013. The story was set in busy, 1883 London, with very English heroes and villains. London was an easy choice of setting; just about everyone has either been there, read about it or seen versions of it in movies or on television. Most readers have developed a mental picture of Victorian era London. It’s crowded, noisy, full of mystery and potential danger. I could tap into that picture.

Like I said, it was easy to set The Department of Curiosities in London.

Image supplied by Karen Carlisle

But there weren’t many steampunk stories set in Australia – and I really wanted to write one…

But Queen Victoria plays a significant part in the story, and she never came to Australia…

But I really wanted to write Australian characters. Perhaps I could set some of the story here in Australia?

At the time, I kept reading articles bemoaning the state of Australian fiction: ‘readers weren’t interested in reading books about Australia.’ This annoyed me. A lot. I’m an Aussie author and I wanted to write Australian stories.

That was 2013.

In 2018, I picked up my (almost completed) original manuscript for The Department of Curiosities. I had a few ideas and plot snags to add, but I was still happy with the main story. After setting my last book, Aunt Enid, in Adelaide, I was determined to make The Department of Curiosities a more Australian story. Perhaps if I started the first book in England, and then transported the characters to Australia…?

I did some research. (Did you know South Australia has many scientific, medical, political and inventive ‘world firsts’ in history?) and decided to make Adelaide the ‘world hub’ for mechanical research at the time. Everything fell into place – a steampunk adventure that would take our heroine half way across the world, and back again!

Though most of the action in The Department of Curiosities is set in London or countryside England, there are several connections to Australia. Firstly, there’s Tillie.

Matilda (Tillie) Meriwether was born in Australia and spent her young childhood in Adelaide with her father. We first discover this when the General (Director of The Department of Curiosities meets Tillie for the first time and mentions her (almost lack of) accent.

Imaged supplied by Karen Carlisle

“I was aware Meriwether’s niece was Australian; I expected a Colonial accent. How long have you resided in England, my dear?” [said the General]

“Fifteen years; since I was a young child.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

Tillie bit her lip. No one usually bothered to check on family in the Colonies. She wasn’t sure how curious the Department was, and how exhaustively they would search.

 

(Until this time, most of the story is told in Tillie’s POV, and she wouldn’t notice her accent, would she?)

As we move through the story, there are more hints of Australian accents and connections, including The Department of Curiosities itself! Various discoveries suggest Tillie will find answers to her father’s secrets in Australia. This leads our heroine and her companions on a voyage to the other side of the world to Adelaide, South Australia. Much of the second book in the series will be set here.

 

In my steampunk/alternative history world, the word ‘mechanicals’ is used to describe any technology such as gadgets, contraptions, steam powered machines, clockwork machines. The use and ownership of mechanicals is regulated by Royal decree as Queen Victoria feels it isn’t in the Empire’s interest for the population to have access to such potentially dangerous items.

When Tillie arrives in South Australia, she discovers South Australia is a ‘new world’, full of gadgets, mechanicals, and few restrictions on their use and ownership. It’s home to The Conceptualisation Co-operative – a sort of think tank for ideas and inventions – attracting inventors, engineers and creators from all over the world. (We’ll find out more about this in the next book.)

And of course, the photographic work for the cover, social media cards and book trailers are all shot in and around Adelaide, including historical buildings such as The Largs Pier Hotel, who let us roam around their halls for a day of filming.

Image supplied by Karen Carlisle

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Three Men in a Submarine – to Say Nothing of the Vampire

After nagging you all about writing Steampunk narrative, I thought it might be nice if I finally shared one of my Steampunk stories with you.

NAUTILUS was a 21-foot military submarine, by American inventor Robert Fulton

NAUTILUS was a 21-foot military submarine, by American inventor Robert Fulton. The vehicle in this story resembles this, but but not exactly.

 

Three Men in a Submarine – to Say Nothing of the Vampire

By Lynne Lumsden Green

 

“The Strategic Advantages of Submersibles

  1. ‘Tis private: a man may thus go to any coast in the world invisibly, without discovery or prevented in his journey.
  2. ‘Tis safe, from the uncertainty of Tides, and the violence of Tempests, which do never move the sea above five or six paces deep. From Pirates and Robbers which do so infest other voyages; from ice and great frost, which do so much endanger the passages towards the Poles.
  3. It may be of great advantages against a Navy of enemies, who by this may be undermined in the water and blown up.
  4. It may be of special use for the relief of any place besieged by water, to convey unto them invisible supplies; and so likewise for the surprisal of any place that is accessible by water.
  5. It may be of unspeakable benefit for submarine experiments.”

John Wilkes, 1648

One of the founders and a lifelong member of

The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge

 

 

 

Somewhere in London, on the docks, 1814

 

The workshop was busy, even at this time of night, choked with steam, noisy, and blazing with heat, with at least a dozen men hard at work on various projects. The smithy tolled like a great bell, while a fountain of sparks sizzled as they rained down from the hammering that accompanied the welding. The room was surprisingly well lit, thanks to a profusion of Faraday electric lamps, but the flashes from the welding created strange shadows on the roof and walls. Everything stank of the death of metal: coal, hot iron, burning tin, and singed copper. Something had to suffer and die in the creation of a new invention.

The man-powered submarine dominated the centre of the room, for it was nearly 13 yards long and 10 feet across the beam. It was highly polished and its sides gleamed like fish scales – the only piscine attribute it appeared to display. As the supposed pinnacle of British engineering, the vehicle didn’t look splendid or inspiring.

To Sir Joseph Banks’ eyes, it looked like someone had taken the hulls of two boats and glued them together to form an enclosed space, and then clad them in copper plate, brass beams, and rivets. It looked lumpy and graceless, and very unlike a fish of any description. He had been expecting something less clumsy, with the sleek lines of a pike or a shark.

“I can’t imagine anything that looks less like a predator,” said Sir Joseph, president of the Royal Society. He felt angry, rather than disheartened. He banged the armrest with his fist to emphasise his remark. “This is a monstrosity. It looks like it will sink like a stone.”

Mr George Caley, botanical collector (retired) and currently Sir Joseph’s assistant, was pushing his employer’s wickerwork chair. He twitched to see his employer turning puce with excitement. “Remember your health, sir,” said Caley, retaining his faint Yorkshire accent even after so many years abroad in the antipodes and further years spent living in London, “or your good wife will be having my guts for garters. Mistress Banks will also pour harsh words in my ear, and that is not the soft option.”

Sir Joseph rolled his eyes, but ceased his protests. His wife was not a woman to be crossed, and nor was his sister. He was an old man; exposure to the chill night air made his bones ache, and those aches tended to make him grumpy. At least it was warm in the workshop and his pains were fading to twinges. He found it quite easy to give into Mr Caley’s admonishments when the man had his – Sir Joseph’s – best interests at heart. To be truthful, Sir Joseph was regretting that he had agreed to this outing.

Sir Joseph Banks was, as a favour to the Crown, supervising any scientific research relating to the war effort. He might have declined the honour if he had known it would mean sneaking off to covert, late-night meetings. It wasn’t in his nature to be secretive. He was a firm believer in Science being separate and above political differences, and encouraged communication between scientists no matter what nationality they were, even the French. Proper science was meant to take place during daylight hours with lots of witnesses, not the other way around.

It never occurred to Sir Joseph that he could have delegated any late night meetings to one of his colleagues in the Royal Society, or that he could have sent Mr Caley in his stead. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust others – certainly, Mr Caley had proved himself to be dependable and able to work without supervision – but Sir Joseph had always taken the motto of the Royal Society to heart: ‘Nullius in verba’, which Sir Joseph took to mean ‘take nobody’s word for it’. He’d found that nobody could replace the knowledge gained by firsthand observation and experience. Being confined to his wheelchair by gout was not going to prevent him from doing his duty.

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, recently made the Duke of Wellington, patted Sir Joseph on the shoulder with his fine-boned hand. His long face might have looked severe with his high cheekbones and thin mouth, except his features were generally lit by a merry smile, and the expression in his eyes was always kind. Sir Joseph privately thought the Duke looked too good natured to be a proper soldier. When the Duke spoke, his voice hinted of his childhood spent in Ireland, though the lilt was being eroded as he cultivated a plummy, English accent.

“I know it doesn’t look like much. It is a work in progress. But Napoleon has encouraged great strides in science, and we can’t be left behind,” said the Duke.

Sir Joseph shook his head and said, “Napoleon’s scientists abandoned this design. And Fulton had already tried to get our government interested in his man-powered submersibles before going home and forgetting about the project entirely. I believe he is now working on designing steam-powered ocean-going ships, and good luck to him. So why did we build another vessel based on Fulton’s designs? Why not copy the design of one of the other submersibles?”

“To be sure, the British research on Fulton’s design stopped because of our victory at the battle of Trafalgar. It took away our main motivation to continue. But our London office still had copies of Fulton’s designs,” said the Duke. “I feel the man-powered submarine could be very useful in gathering information.”

“Spying, in other words,” said Sir Joseph. “All that secret poking about leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I’m afraid.”

“I don’t see it as spying. I see it as gaining information that might save the lives of my men. And maybe the lives of some of the French navy as well.”

“Isn’t it a tad underhanded using Napoleon’s own submarine design against him?”

“Not at all,” said the Duke. “Isn’t it the stated goal of the scientific community to have a free exchange of ideas and information over and above the mere shackles of politics?”

“Fiddlesticks!” exclaimed Sir Joseph. “You are parroting one of my speeches. Don’t throw my own words back at me.”

The Duke gestured to some of the other inventions around the workshop, cannons and guns and such. “Isn’t it better to see science used for spying rather than making weapons?”

Sir Joseph was about to make a sharp retort…

Mr Caley cleared his throat in a respectful manner. “Milord,” was all he said, but the reproach in his voice was the leash for Sir Joseph’s temper.

At this point, one of the welders appeared to finish his task, for he set his tools to one side, climbed down a stepladder and started making his way over to the visitors.

Sir Joseph noted with approval the welder’s goggles and leather cap, heavy leather gloves, even heavier leather apron, and extremely robust leather boots. He trusted a man who took his work seriously and dressed appropriately.

The apron was gently smouldering from the constant flow of sparks, and the welder removed it before approaching the visitors. Under the apron he wore sensible overalls, and this revealed a surprisingly slim, almost boyish physical frame; it didn’t seem muscular enough to have handled the hammer used for banging away at red-hot rivets. Then he took off his gloves and cap and goggles, revealing a cheery grin with too many sharp teeth and a luxuriant flow of red curls. The welder was a female! And a vampire!

“Who is this?” spluttered Sir Joseph. “I don’t recall any vampires in the employ of the government.”

There was a softly muttered curse from behind him. Sir Joseph subsided. He hadn’t used to be so curmudgeonly, but being confined to a chair soured his temper, for he was constantly reminded that his body was no longer as active as his mind.

Mistress Liùsaidh Lesley – known as Lucy to her friends – smiled at the Duke of Wellington. With her red hair, white skin and green overalls, she resembled a Christmas decoration or a peppermint candy cane, most appropriate for the coming winter season. She turned to the Duke.

“Good evening, your Grace. I’m assuming you didn’t warn them?” Her voice was a warm contralto, also accented, this time with a Scottish brogue from the Borderlands. Sir Joseph guessed she originated from Berwickshire or somewhere close to it.

Am I the only native to London here? he thought privately. Ah well, all the brightest and best in the Empire end up in the capital eventually.

The Duke smiled back at the young-looking mechanic. “No. I didn’t have a chance. Sir Joseph insisted on accompanying me to this test dive.  He was most persistent.” He turned to the elderly man in the wicker chair and said, “Sir Joseph, may I present Miss Lucy Lesley, our chief mechanic and engineer. Mistress Lesley, this is Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society and his assistant, Mister Caley.”

Miss Lesley bobbed, in what approximated a curtsey in her overalls. “I am honoured,” she said.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” replied Sir Joseph, bowing his heavy, leonine head in return. Miss Lesley looked about twenty, but to be an engineer – and most certainly since she was a vampire – she had to be much, much older. Sir Joseph wondered how she had become interested in the science of machines and engines, and how long she had been working for the British government. He turned to the Duke and asked, “Arty, how did you come to make Miss Lesley the head of this project?”

“Miss Lesley comes from a tradition of Scottish engineers. She is a master craftsman in the field,” said the Duke. “The Crown was approached by a group of British vampires who offered their skills in return for a promise of recognition as citizens; the vampires want to have the same rights as the living.”

Miss Lesley nodded. “Being declared dead can be an awful bore. I’ve had a dreadful time retaining my ancestral home, because my cousins keep threatening to take me to court, just because they believe they should inherit the place since I am ‘dead’.”

The Duke continued on, “The Crown saw an opportunity to benefit the war effort and it was decided to give them a chance to prove themselves. Miss Lesley had some very clever suggestions and so she was given charge of building and operating the Nautilus II. And, due to her nature, she is very good at keeping secrets.”

“I heard what you said about her looking clumsy,” said Miss Lesley to Sir Joseph. “A swan looks very clumsy on the land, too. The Nautilus II will prove her worth once we get her wet.”

“My dear, any engineer worth their salt is never going to say their project isn’t workable,” said Sir Joseph, but he smiled to take the sting out of his remark. “It might need more time, more money, more research, more equipment and more manpower, but an engineer will get it to work in the end, or die trying.”

“That’s where I’m ahead of the game,” said Miss Lesley, with a tiny shrug, her smile both wry and rueful.

Sir Joseph coloured up. “Please forgive my rudeness. That was an inexcusable thing to say.”

Miss Lesley shook her head making her curls bounce in a lively jig. “No need to apologise. I could see it wasn’t meant in a nasty way, which makes for a refreshing change.” She turned to face the submarine, and her expression softened into maternal pride. “I do believe, gentlemen, that since you are here to accompany me while I take my treasure out for a short excursion, you can soon decide for yourselves if she has any grace or not.”

“Will all of us fit?” asked Sir Joseph. Even though the Nautilus II dominated the workshop, it didn’t look like it would be spacious on the inside.

The Duke rubbed his hands, anticipating his comrade’s reaction. “It isn’t as comfortable as a clubroom, but I think you are going to be pleasantly surprised.”

There was a certain amount of fuss to get the portly Sir Joseph into the submarine, since he was no longer trim or limber. At first, he suggested that he could climb the ladder up to the conning tower, where the hatch was. After all, he had once scooted up trees and clambered over cliff faces in search of rare plants.

Gritting his teeth with determination, Sir Joseph stood up, with the faithful Caley hovering at his side. Sir Joseph shook off his assistant with a gruff, “I’ll be fine.”

Stop treating me like an invalid, he fumed silently.

He gripped the ladder for support, ignoring the pain in his feet. He went to pull himself up to the next step. The pressure of the step on the joint of his big toe felt like some creature was savaging his foot. Humiliated and betrayed by his own infirmity, his arms couldn’t support his weight, and he felt himself slipping.

Mr Caley jumped forward – followed closely by Miss Lesley – and grabbed him before he fell. “Thank you,” Sir Joseph said, gruff nearly to the point of rudeness.

In the end, Miss Lesley and Mr Caley had to carry him up the ladder and then lower him through the hatch in the conning tower. He came embarrassingly close to not fitting through the hatch.

“It looks like his coat is catching on the edges,” said Miss Lesley. “It might be best if you take it off, Sir Joseph.”

Mr Caley was very red in the face as he helped Sir Joseph out of his coat. He was a rangy fellow with a surprising amount of strength, but Sir Joseph was not a small man.

“I’m regretting all those puddings,” said Sir Joseph, as way of an apology.

“Not as much as I am, milord,” muttered Mr Caley.

Sir Joseph allowed Mr Caley the impertinent remark, since his assistant was trained as a botanical collector, and not as a nursemaid. Mr Caley duties were meant to be more those of a secretary and research assistant. Neither Sir Joseph nor Mr Caley had ever imagined that Mr Caley would have to try and carry Sir Joseph into a tin fish, and certainly not with the able help of a lady vampire.

Overall, entering the submarine was not an experience that Sir Joseph enjoyed; it was so undignified to be slung around by someone who resembled a slight, pretty girl, even if she was much, much stronger than any man. It also galled him that the entire episode was being witnessed by the Duke of Wellington. At least he knew the man wasn’t a gossip.

Once inside, he was settled into a comfortable chair in the main cabin. The chair was upholstered in leather, and it was fastened to the floor by a screw so that the chair could be swung to face in any direction, and then there was a lever that could fix the chair in place when you didn’t want it to swing. Sir Joseph took the opportunity to catch his breath and inspect his surroundings.

His chair was one of five in the cabin. The cabin itself was small but as luxuriously appointed as the chair, panelled in oak with polished brass fittings and elegant scrollwork decorations, so that it looked more like an office than a craft of war. It smelt very strongly of beeswax and oil. The submarine had only a few tiny portholes, so heavily glazed that he only caught a dim, obscured view of workroom; he wondered how anyone was supposed to steer with such a view. Behind him was another hatch which led through a bulkhead into the propulsion room.

This hatch was open, and Sir Joseph caught glimpses of several people busily working pedals and gears, oiling them and tightening screws, as far as he could tell. The Duke took the chair beside him, and Caley sat closer to the bulkhead. The chair closest to the front of the cabin, and closest to a desk set with switches, dials, levers, wheels, and gauges, was taken by Miss Lesley, after she had sealed the main hatch.

“Where is the captain?” asked Sir Joseph.

“That would be me for this jaunt,” replied Miss Lesley in a severe manner that brooked no argument, as she toggled switches and pumped a lever.

“May I ask you a question, Miss Lesley?”

“Of course, milord,” said Miss Lesley, and she tapped a glass-covered dial. “Ask as many as you like. I can’t promise that I’ll know the answers to all of them, but I’ll do my best.”

“I’ve actually seen a copy of the plans for this vessel. Isn’t there supposed to be a false sail attached behind the conning tower, to make the submarine resemble a sailing boat?”

“Ah! I know this one. That false sail created more problems that it solved. The Nautilus II isn’t meant to dive very deep, but it is still meant to be able to dive under the keels of ships. The original Nautilus did manage to dive to below ten fathoms. We can’t dive with the sail up, and getting out to lower and unstep the sail negates any attempt at secrecy.”

“Oh. That seems obvious now that you’ve explained it,” said Sir Joseph.

“May I add to Miss Lesley’s answer?” asked the Duke.

“Of course!” said Sir Joseph. “After all, this is your project. Fulton’s plans would have been forgotten, languished, if you hadn’t pushed to see this submarine built. Personally, I don’t like to see any research discarded before its full potential has been explored.”

“I am pleased you see it that way,” said the Duke. He gestured to the ceiling and the walls surrounding them. “Originally, these man-powered submarines were meant to have a bomb or two on board. The sailing ship disguise was to obscure the submarine’s function and let it get close enough to an enemy vessel to blow a hole in its hull. Miss Lesley adapted the design to make a silent and hidden vessel that can make sorties into enemy waters and spy out the lie of the land and the location of troops and camps.”

“I see. Very clever,” said Sir Joseph. “It reduces the risks taken to obtain information.” As much as Sir Joseph disliked spying and sneaking, he did prefer spies to bombs.

Miss Lesley turned to the Duke and said, “Your Grace, we are ready to launch. Do you want to do the honours?”

The Duke shook his head. “The Nautilus II is yours to command.”

Miss Lesley rewarded him with a charming smile. She shouted into a large shell shape hanging from the ceiling. “Chocks away!”

There was a clanging noise and a bump. The submarine started to tilt nose down. Then there was the sensation of movement, of falling. When Sir Joseph glanced at one of the portholes, he could see blurry objects moving past the glass. The vessel tilted further and gained speed. Then there was a tinny splash, foam and dark water danced past the portholes, and the Nautilus II slid into the water.

We must be on rails like a steam locomotive, thought Sir Joseph. But I don’t remember noticing rollers or wheels.

Since it was night time, once they were submerged it was like diving into an ink bottle. The lights inside the submarine could only illuminate the water for a couple of yards. All Sir Joseph could see were anchors and chains looming out of the dark for a moment before they disappeared back into the murk behind them.

“I would advise everyone to hang on to something,” announced Miss Lesley.

There was series of clanks and clicks, as catches released their hold on the Nautilus II. Then the submarine jerked as it bobbed away from its moorings. Sir Joseph – gripping his armrests for all he was worth – was grateful for the warning, as he might have been propelled from his seat otherwise. The hull beside his head hummed a deep note, sounding like a gigantic tuning fork; soon the humming was replaced by rather alarming creaks and groans as the hull adjusted to the pressure of the water.

The point of the man-powered submarine was to make the craft as silent as possible, for the sound of an engine could be heard for long distances through water. As well, an engine has exhaust fumes, smelly and hard to eliminate. Sir Joseph wondered if the Nautilus II was that much quieter, with the whirring and clanking that was coming from the propulsion room. He looked around at his fellow submariners, who were stirring in the seats.

“Might I suggest some sort of safety harnesses for the chairs,” said the Duke of Wellington. “Just as a precaution.”

“An excellent idea, your Grace,” said Miss Lesley. “I tend to forget mortals are easily bruised or broken.”

In the soft light of the cabin, the vampire looked … more sinister. More alert. Sir Joseph thought her canines seemed sharper and more prominent.

Miss Lesley noticed his expression. “You need not fear me, my lord,” she said. “I would never harm anyone under my protection. But I must let my more monstrous nature assert itself while we are under the water, so that my senses are much more acute and my reflexes are faster.”

“Well, that is just using good sense then,” remarked Sir Joseph. “I had heard some rumours to that effect.”

“Indeed. These days, we tend to use vampires for all our risky tests,” said the Duke.

Miss Lesley nodded and said, “Of course I would never endanger you or his Grace. This isn’t the first time the Nautilus II has been fully submerged. Most of the problems have been fixed.”

“This is only meant to be an inspection, isn’t it?” asked Sir Joseph. He looked nervously at the walls, almost expecting to see them leaking. Then it occurred to him that his assistant was being very quiet – much too quiet for the garrulous George. He swung his chair around to check on Mr Caley.

Mr Caley’s skin was nearly as pale as Miss Lesley’s complexion, his eyes were squeezed tightly shut and he was shaking, slumped in his chair like a sack of grain.

Sir Joseph said, “Good lord, man. Whatever is the matter, Mister Caley?”

Mr Caley opened his eyes with reluctance. He gulped and rolled his eyes, and said, “Well, your lordship, I was never a good sailor at the best of times. And I’m not overly fond of tiny, enclosed places, since I’ve spent most of my time out-of-doors under a big sky. I’m sure my nausea will pass.”

“I never took you for a pansy, Mister Caley, for all your botanical skills. Buck up! Show some backbone.”

“Yes, milord,” said Mr Caley. He sat up in his chair, but he gripped the armrests with desperate strength.

“Don’t be too hard on Mr Caley,” said the Duke. “Bravery comes in many forms. I wouldn’t have liked to trot off into the wilderness of New South Wales to look for plant specimens, with nothing but a backpack and hat, with that entire great unknown before me.”

“Hah! I’ll bet you’ve never had a fearful moment in your life!” said Sir Joseph.

The Duke looked thoughtful. “Once my blood gets up, I am like that boy in one of Mr Anderson’s fairy tales, for I lose all fear. If I’m afraid in battle, it is not for my own safety, but for my soul. I’m afraid of becoming a butcher and killing men unnecessarily.”

Sir Joseph thought for a moment before he spoke. “That seems unlikely. Your interest in the success of the Nautilus II would indicate it isn’t in your nature to seek unnecessary death.” He looked at poor Mr Caley, as white as a baker’s best flour. “This excursion can’t be too long, anyway. We need to keep the Nautilus II a secret. So we have to have her back at the dock well before sunrise.”

Sir Joseph glanced back at the open door to the propulsion room. “Can we trust the men manning the pedals?” he asked.

“Yes. Sir Joseph,” said Miss Lesley. “For the same reason you can trust me. They are all vampires and used to keeping secrets. But, if that isn’t secure enough for you, the crew are all vampires that I have personally converted. They are my coven, my family. They cannot speak, because I have ordered them to not to.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Sir Joseph. “Did I hear you correctly? Is that the specific reason why you chose them for crew? Because they can keep a secret?”

Miss Lesley smiled, and then stopped when she realised her expression wasn’t particularly reassuring. “Well, in a battle, a submarine is very likely to be damaged. Vampires can see very well in the dark, and it gets dark a few fathoms under the water even on the sunniest days. All vampires have extraordinary strength and reflexes, so they can keep pedalling the ship for a lot longer than mortal men. They don’t really need to breathe, and they can’t be killed by drowning or pressure.”

“Goodness. It’s a wonder that all our troops vampires,” said Sir Joseph. He didn’t look impressed; quite the opposite, in fact.

Miss Lesley stopped smiling and shifted in her seat as it has suddenly grown too small for her, but she answered honestly all the same. “Well, in a battle, vampires can die just as easily as anyone else, from untipped arrows, wooden pikes, or having our heads cut off by swords. We can’t fight during the daytime, of course; this is why all the portholes in the Nautilus II are made from a special safety glass that filters out the dangerous elements in the sun’s rays. And then, there is a lot of blood in a battlefield. It would send most vampires into a frenzy and make them rather useless as soldiers, to be honest. They might end up killing men from their own side.”

“Ah. I see,” said Sir Joseph. “Certainly, I can see the advantage of an entire crew of vampires in submarines.” As he considered how they might recruit such a crew, he felt concern, and then anger. “However, I hope these are not British sailors purposely converted to being vampires just to man this vessel? I could never condone such an act!”

“I haven’t ‘recruited’ these men. They were already members of my coven, and since I have agreed to assist the British government, well, that gains their assistance as well,” said Miss Lesley.

“These man-powered … vampire-powered submarines are just for short voyages. Sabotage. Spying,” said the Duke. “That is why I pushed for the government to fund the building of the Nautilus II. I know that the French abandoned the project, but the French didn’t have the genius of Miss Lesley to call upon.”

If Miss Lesley could have blushed, she would have. “You’re too kind, your Grace.”

Sir Joseph decided he should make up for his harsh question and said, “Well, Miss Lesley, I see that you have plans to become a mermaid. You will make a particularly beautiful one.”

“Thank you, Sir Joseph, for the compliment, but can I point out that mermaids traditionally lured sailors to their deaths by singing beautiful songs. I’m afraid singing is not among my accomplishments,” said Miss Lesley. “However, we four could always have a go at a barbershop quartet.”

“I’m not certain Mr Caley is up to singing,” said Sir Joseph. “However, if he gets his sea legs-”

It was then, by sheer bad luck, that an anchor from an unseen ship was released on top of the submarine. Everyone in the cabin heard the splash and rattle, and then suddenly the whole vessel rang like a bell as the metal anchor struck them. Because the Nautilus II was moving at a fair clip, the anchor dragged its way over the top of the hull, scraping the copper plates and catching at the ribs and rivets. It then became entangled in the structure around the rudders.

The Nautilus II began to bob and jerk like a fish snared on a hook, as the ship and anchor began to drag it along. Mr Caley turned a sickly green.

Sir Joseph knew a bit about the history of submersibles; he knew that the Spanish Ictineo I had been scuttled in an accident with a cargo vessel. The German Brandtaucher, another prototype submersible that had been powered by human beings rather than an engine, had sunk during diving trials. It looked as if the Nautilus II was going to suffer a similar fate.

“Bloody hell,” exclaimed Miss Lesley and swung her chair back to face her panel of instruments. Her hands were frantically busy as she tried to stabilise her vessel.

Sir Joseph tried to brace himself in his chair, so that he wouldn’t be tossed around the cabin like a ball. However, he could feel his hands and legs weakening.

Bloody gout! thought Sir Joseph.

Mr Caley was starting to moan and looked as if he might throw up. The Duke was firmly gripping his armrests, but his expression was rather cheery (to Sir Joseph’s surprise).

Near the ceiling hatch, a damp patch appeared. It grew rapidly, and water started dripping from the ceiling and running down the walls. It took only a minute for the floor to be awash with half-an-inch of water which continued to rise rapidly. It sloshed around everyone’s boots and smelt strongly of rotting fish, sewerage and the ocean.

I guess this is my time to die, thought Sir Joseph. Well, I never did want to die quietly in my bed.

He was surprised at how calm he felt. He supposed it was due to the full life he had led, and his constant battle to bring the light of rationality to the world. He liked to think of himself as the candle maker, helping others to shine against the darkness of ignorance. When a man has done his best all his life, he has few regrets at the end of it; well, maybe he had just the one … that his wife had no children or grandchildren to comfort her after he was gone. He gave himself a mental shake for such grim thoughts.

But what about the Duke? he asked himself, glancing over to his colleague. Arty is an essential part of our war machine. And poor George came back to England, thinking he would die safely in bed between clean, white sheets.

A quick glance at Mr Caley showed him to be manfully containing his nausea. Sir Joseph wished he could take back his hard words about his servant’s fortitude. With all the tossing about, even Sir Joseph was feeling ill.

Against all common sense, the Duke was looking happier as events advanced. He was grinning like a maniac as the submarine bounced him around, enjoying the experience just like a small boy on a carousel. Sir Joseph supposed that a soldier would enjoy the danger inherent in the situation; you didn’t become a professional soldier because you liked things safe and cosy. However, someone had to take charge of the situation. Miss Lesley was too busy fighting with the controls to think.

Dash it all, thought Sir Joseph. I might be old but I’m not dead yet. Time I put my much-vaunted intellect to work. We need not die here.

“Lucy! Take her up! Blast any pretence at secrecy. We must save the Duke at all costs!” ordered Sir Joseph over the din.

“Aye, milord,” said Miss Lesley. She shouted into the shell again. “Emergency! All hands prepare for an emergency release of the ballast.” She turned back to her passengers. “I know you’re all already hanging on. Be ready for an almighty bump!”

Lucy dragged at a lever and the Nautilus II rolled and yawed and spun. There was a sudden blast of bubbles past the portholes as the submarine sprang to the surface like a frolicking dolphin. Sir Joseph was pushed back into his chair by the force of their rapid ascent and felt his ears pop.

Everyone was jolted out of their seats as the Nautilus II rebounded from her leap into the air. Sir Joseph was flung into the ceiling and then the side of the cabin, to land in an untidy heap with the Duke and Mr Caley on top of him. For a moment, no one stirred, waiting for more gymnastics, until Sir Joseph groaned. The other two men hastily crawled off him, and Mr Caley helped him back into his chair.

“Milord! Are you unhurt?” asked Mr Caley. “Mrs Banks will strangle me if you are injured while you are in my care.”

Sir Joseph took a cautious look around. The submarine was still dancing a lively jig, but the action was smoother and water was no longer seeping through the ceiling. Most of the lights had been doused during the accident, but two lamps were still flickering. He felt a sore patch on his bottom lip, where his teeth had cut him while he was being tossed around. He put his hand to his mouth and came away with blood on his fingertips.

He looked up towards Miss Lesley, who had kept her seat. Their eyes met, and they both looked down to his fingertips. The vampire woman’s eyes gleamed very red, nearly as red as her glossy hair, and her teeth visibly lengthened as he watched. He felt his fingers tremble.

Miss Lesley jumped out of her chair and onto the ladder to the conning tower hatch. Her fingernails elongated into talons, as she grimly unscrewed the door fastenings. As soon as the hatch opened, there was a sudden gust of chilly fresh air into the cabin; Sir Joseph hadn’t noticed how stuffy the air had become. Then Lucy climbed out into the night faster than the eye could follow.

Sir Joseph nearly collapsed with relief.

It was but a moment later that the men heard the crunch and groan of metal being rent. And the Nautilus II ceased its frantic dance.

Sir Joseph looked to Mr Caley. Poor George was muttering curses or prayers under his breath, but he no longer appeared to be close to vomiting. He bent over Sir Joseph and helped his employer to his feet.

Pulling himself back onto his chair, the Duke looked rather disappointed that the wild ride was over. When Arty saw Sir Joseph looking at him, he grinned.

“I think we can say the excursion was successful,” said the Duke. “No one has died.”

The sounds of complicated destruction were still coming from the region of the rudders.

The Duke added, “And I do believe Miss Lesley is doing some on-the-spot structural modifications.”

“As one does,” said Sir Joseph. He wondered if it was appropriate to send flowers to a woman for not eating you. Maybe a nice cameo or a bracelet? He would have to ask Lady Banks … then again, thinking of his wife’s face as he tried to explain the circumstances, maybe not.

Mr Caley settled back into his seat and cleared his throat. “May I ask a question, milord?”

“Certainly,” said Sir Joseph. “At this moment, I believe you can ask me anything.” Sir Joseph prepared himself for a request of termination of employment. And he couldn’t really blame George. He rather felt like resigning his position with the government himself.

“This is meant to be a weapon for use against the French?” asked Mr Caley. His expression was earnest, serious.

“Yes? Your point being?” asked Sir Joseph, bewildered.

“Well, sir, I can see that it will be a very effective way of demoralising their troops,” said Mr Caley. “But how are we going to convince them all into taking a ride?”

The Duke of Wellington roared with laughter…

 

1892 wooden submarine Detroit

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Photos from the Launch of ‘Return’

Launch night 03

Most of the authors with Councillor David Morrison of Ipswich (our local member). Missing is Jo Sparrow (who was working) and Susan Ruth (ill health).

LAUNCH NIGHT

A better picture of Jo Seysener without my head in the way.

Readings

Reading a paragraph from the anthology from my Steampunk Story. What you can’t see are the pterodactyls dancing in my stomach.

Authors are: Aiki Flintheart (also editor in charge), Megan Badger, Ted Johnson, DA Kelly, Caitlyn McPherson, Jo Seysener, Belinda Messer, Geogia Willis, Melanie Sienkiewicz, Susan Ruth, Jo Sparrow, and yours truly.

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Filed under Anthology, Australian Steampunk Author, Book Launch, Bookface, Personal Appearance, Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Author, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Writer, Uncategorized

Latest Anthology with a Steampunk Story by Me!

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This anthology will be launched on the 7th of December. I will put up the link to purchase it then.

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Filed under Anthology, Book Launch, Bookface, Steampunk, Steampunk Author, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Writer, Writing Career