Rated: ASR · Short Story · Steampunk · #2289430
Some inventions were never meant to be. 1st Place in StAG Firebox Contest, February 2023.
Fairweather Ransome’s is a long story and there is an urgency now that I tell it. Some elements of the tale will strain belief in the whole thing. But it must be told in the hope that such errors never be made again.
I always knew that Fairy, as we called him, was bound for great things. There was a look in his eye that spoke of dreams of strange things on other worlds and his conversation always led into dark back streets where danger lurked.
So it was no surprise to learn that he had built an airship. He invited me to his workshop to see it. Well, I say “workshop” because that is what he called it, but it was more like an enormous warehouse built in a far corner of the Ransome family estate. Inside was Fairy’s airship, a huge, grey balloon towering over the body of the vessel suspended below.
I was impressed at its size and learned enough from Ransome’s answers to my questions to learn that it relied upon the experiments of the famed Montgolfier brothers. But it was not the airship that proved the real reason for Ransome’s excitement. This I learned later, when we sat down in the ship’s lounge to discuss his plans.
Once we were settled in the enormous armchairs in the quiet atmosphere of the lounge, Ransome ordered drinks from the waiter who appeared at his side. This creature, tall and silent in his movements, glided away into a dark corner of the room, soon to reappear carrying a tray with a decanter and glasses. This he placed on the low table before us, then stood to attention immediately behind his master.
Ransome began to speak.
“Well, what do you think of him?”
“Of whom?” I asked.
Ransome indicated his servant. “His name is Quadrant and I’m rather proud of him.”
I transferred my gaze from the speaker to the face of the waiter still silently in attendance. He looked normal enough, although there was something about him that seemed a bit strange. Unable to discern exactly what was so slightly unsettling, I attempted an answer to Ransome’s question.
“He seems very well trained. And very economical in his movements. I have not noticed a twitch or change in his expression thus far. But I must say that your airship is a work of genius.”
Ransome waved a hand dismissively. “Nothing more than a dozen other men could have produced, considering the state of science today. Provided they put their minds to it, of course. But the fellow behind me, do you not see anything different about him?”
I looked back at the waiter. It was true that his face exhibited a certain serene disinterest in the proceedings. Not a flicker of expression crossed his features and he stared off into the distance without any indication of seeing anything noteworthy.
His complexion was a bit too perfect, however. It was all of one colour without a single visible blemish. Hardly a matter for comment, really, but perhaps the source of my feeling of unease. It looked almost artificial.
“He seems to be blessed with an inordinately perfect skin,” I said.
“Ahah! Your powers of observation have not deserted you, it seems. You are exactly right, my friend. His skin is the one attribute that I have not managed to bring to perfection. It is a subtle point but one that will not interfere with his purpose, I think.”
“You have not managed?” I was confused and mystified by his answer. “What possible concern could you have with the man’s skin?”
Ransome smiled. “You have not guessed, I see. Well, it seems that I have succeded in disguising Quadrant’s nature even better than I expected. He is an artefact, my friend, a product of my imagination and skill, a construct of my experiments in creating a machine to do all that a human can, even down to the way he appears. I believe that in the world he would be called a robot.”
I was astonished and confessed that I found this hard to believe. Ransome merely raised a finger and spoke to the man.
“Show him, Quadrant.”
The waiter moved forward, unbuttoned his coat and opened his shirt. His chest was revealed as metallic, bronze in colour, and possessed of a small window that revealed his inner workings. I could see gears and wheels turning, levers moving and a glow illuminating the scene as though from some furnace deep within his innards. A drop of oil oozed from a joint in his skin near to the neck and ran down over the smooth and shining surface of his body.
I was speechless and only vaguely aware that my mouth had dropped open. My amazement seemed to galvanise Ransome for he became very agitated and began to speak enthusiastically.
“Quadrant is the first of many, you see. Even now, I have several of my earlier experiments working in the workshop to produce more of these perfect mannikins. Soon I will have a whole army of such superb and magnificent beings. They will be unbeatable, requiring no rest and without weakness. Nothing will stand against them and soon the world will have to recognise my greatness.
“And that is why you are here, my friend. Join me in this grand endeavour and fly with me in this airship to conquer all lands. Together we will bring amazing things to the world!”
I understood now why he had let me into his plans. With a lunge, I leapt from my seat and ran from the room. Purely by luck, I managed to find my way out of the ship and to escape into the grounds of the Ransome estate.
I can hear the dogs and cries of his servants as they follow my trail and am leaving this note here in the hope that it might be found by the world before it is too late.
Word count: 994
For StAG Firebox - Now Open! January 2023
Prompt: Your Character has created his/her own clockwork minions. They may be used for good or evil…. which does he/she choose?