by CJ Reddick
Some steampunk I tried writing. "Adam and Eve" "The City of Angels" "The Lion of the Sea"
"Adam and Eve"
Eve wandered through the steam. The streetlights were barely visible anymore. Eve had not made it to the theatre before the nightly let-out of steam.
“I’ll never find my way,” she muttered. It was impossible to see anything in the steam. She would have to wander around the city until daytime.
Eve jerked her head up and was surprised to see a maskless man standing in front of her. “How can you survive without a mask?”
“What are you talking about? Of course I’m wearing a mask.”
Eve blinked and wiped condensation from her goggles. “Oh, of course. Apologies, there was fog on my goggles.”
“Apology accepted. Now, where is a fine young lady such as yourself going at such a miserable hour?”
“The Mark Beade Theatre. I have an… appointment.”
Eve refrained from mentioning the fact that she was on her way to a Tory meeting. The Tories and the Whigs were great rivals, and any information on the whereabouts or identity of any Tory could mean death to the whole party.
“Would this be the Meeting of the Tory Council?” Eve couldn’t tell for sure, but she thought she saw the man smile.
“Perhaps. Who is asking?”
The man stuck out his hand. “Adam E. Baker. Tory of the 1st Order.”
Eve let herself relax. She was with a high-ranking official of the Tory Party. “Eve Cassidy, Tory of the 3rd Order.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Cassidy. It appears you are lost. Would you like me to accompany you to the meeting?”
Eve stuck out her arm. “It would be my pleasure, Mr. Baker.”
Adam took her arm and they were off. Light conversation, mainly about the Tory Party, made the walk very pleasant.
“Did you know that Mark Beade was the founding father of the Tory Party? That’s why we meet there. However, I personally think it’s a bit obvious. You know he was murdered in that theatre. Surely that would be the first place the Whigs would guess to find us.”
“That’s what I always thought!” Eve smiled.
Adam opened a door and led her in. “Right this way, Ma’am.”
Eve entered the theatre, but was surprised to find it dark.
“Why are all the lights off?” she took off her mask. She gasped as her eyes adjusted. This was not the theatre!
She spun around as Adam shut the door. “What? Let me go, you dirty pervert!”
Adam shook his head and held the door shut against her fighting.
“I am sorry, Eve, you will see why I do this momentarily.”
Not three seconds later, an explosion rocked the city. Eve fell backwards.
“The theatre is gone. They are all dead, Eve, it is up to you to continue my legacy. The legacy of the Tories.”
The man removed his mask, and Eve gasped. With a sad smile, the man faded from sight.
Eve got up, her instructions clear. Mark Beade had saved her for one purpose: to continue the fight.
"The City of Angels"
The prescription was simple, but doing it was the most challenging thing Elise could think to do.
“She’s sick. She needs fresh air.”
“Fresh air? Where am I going to find that?”
The doctor looked towards the squirming baby in Elise’s arms. He leaned closer.
“There is a refuge above the clouds, only accessible by hot air balloon.”
“Above the clouds? But going up is… impermissible.”
“Sh! Sh! Yes, I am aware. But every week, the government allows the old scientist to go up and check the air composition. He’s an Aesclipian, and they run the refuge. Now, I’m not one for Caligonian revolutions, but Aesclipians do follow the same Hippocratic oath I am under, and I think it's your best bet."
"If it's an Aesclipian base, then why hasn't it been taken down?"
"No evidence thats it's anti-British. The government knows it's there, but they can't get a bug up there to prove it's Aesclipian. Shooting down a flying hospital, that'd be too big a risk of American Revolution II. Until they know it's anti-British, it is quite safe."
Elise frowned. "How high up is it?"
The doctor frowned and clicked his pen. "High enough. Why?"
Elise shuddered. "No reason."
The doctor nodded, looking at her like a patient with a curious new disease. From his pocket he withdrew a piece of crumpled paper. "This address is the home of the old scientist. His name is Albert. Ask him when his next flight leaves, and tell him I sent you."
Elise nodded and took the paper. "Thank you, Doctor. Cessily and I are grateful."
She backed out of the room and stepped through the foyer on to the street. Once they hit the unfiltered air, Cessily began to cough in her mother's arms.
"Why can't we have a let-out like the United States?" she muttered.
She stopped and looked around, hoping no one had heard her. Complaints of any kind about Caligon were not tolerated. And any one person could easily be a government informant. With the rise of the Aesclipians, tensions were especially high. Caligonian officials were more likely to suppress any and every complaint. But no one seemed to have noticed, and so she continued as if nothing had happened.
Cessily let out a moan again, and Elise pulled her closer. “Sh, sh, it’s fine. Mama’s going to get you what you need.”
That jarred her back to the paralyzing thought of going above the clouds. It wasn’t as if she was afraid of defying the government-- Cessily’s father had been an Aesclipian before he was killed. No, that wasn’t what scared her. It was the going up part. Great heights stole away her breath and put fear in her stomach. When she was first engaged to Byron, he had lived on the top floor of an apartment building. Elise had refused to marry him until he moved to an apartment on a lower level. Second or third floor was the highest she could tolerate. Many jobs had been lost because of her refusal to go up higher. In fact, she was running out of places to work. A few more lost jobs would require a move from Los Angeles, which Elise also dreaded.
I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now, Cessily needs fresh air.
Elise withdrew the paper from the pocket in her dress and brought it up to examine. Night had fallen while she was at the doctor’s, and she had to squint to read the writing in the hazy orange glow. The normal nine-metre visibility range dropped to a mere metre at night, when the street lamps increased the amount of steam in the air tenfold.
“Dr. Albert Einstein. 45 West 3rd Street.”
Elise stopped and swore under her breath. She had been walking the wrong way, towards her own home. She had added an extra twenty minutes to her walk! Hopefully, the old man would still be awake. The doctor had not indicated when the scientist would be making his next trip up, and she wanted Cessily up as soon as possible.
The next forty minutes of walking consisted mainly of Cessily’s coughing and Elise’s mental fret about heights. Finally, as the clocks neared midnight, she came to the written address. From the front of the man’s house, Elise could tell he was an Aesclipian. A gravel path snaked through a choking green yard to the front door. Most people had given up on keeping their grass green, but this man’s grass, though far from the vibrant green of the 1400s, was much greener than anyone else around. The man even kept a few pink flowers in a windowbox, defying the belief that the unfiltered atmosphere was no longer able to sustain flowering plants.
As she drew closer, piano music danced past her ears. Most Aesclipians were almost exclusively musicians, so this new development didn’t surprise her either. What did surprise her was that the piano was still playing when the old man answered the door.
“Hello! May I help you?” the man had a thick European accent and tornado-blown hair.
“Ahem… do you live in the city of angels?”
The man’s eyes twinkled. “Only on the weekends. Please come in.”
Elise stepped through the doorway cautiously. All of this had been written on the sheet, but it was still in her nature to be nervous. The man could always say no to her request.
“Please excuse the piano, I’ve recently perfected the clockwork piano player, and I am just too excited to turn it off. Can I get you some tea?”
“Tea would be lovely,” Elise nodded and rocked Cessily, who had fallen asleep.
The scientist retreated into what must’ve been the kitchen, and emerged a minute later with a tray and tea.
“You already had tea made?” Elise questioned.
“Well, in my line of work, there are many late nights. I am working on a steam-powered air purifier.”
“Rather oxymoronic,” she observed.
The scientist chuckled. “And so you’ve seen the thoughts of a madman. Tell me, why do you seek passage to the city of angels?”
Elise turned to the baby in her arms. “My daughter is sick, and the doctor says she needs fresh air. He sent me to you, in hopes that you would take me up, Dr. Einstein.”
“Oh, please, call me Albert,” he leaned forward and examined the sleeping baby.
“I am under an oath to protect the little ones. How could I turn down this one?
“So you will take me then?” Elise asked.
“Of course! We leave tomorrow morning, at dawn!”
The rest of the night was spent at Albert’s house. He refused to let her leave, claiming it was too dangerous at night. Cessily needed the rest anyways, he argued, and coughing from unfiltered air would just wake her up.
When the sun rose, they were ready. The balloon on Albert’s old fashioned straw roof had been inflated, and Elise was crouched in the basket. Albert had told her she needed to remain hidden until after they were past the first layer of clouds. Constables were watching, he said.
A small crowd had gathered around Albert’s house, milling, talking. Going up was a privilege allowed to only one man in the city of Los Angeles, and it was quite the occasion when he actually did. Albert gave a brief speech to the watchers, and then ceremoniously untied the tethers. The crowd cheered and watched, unaware that Elise was watching them through a crack in the basket. Eventually, the cheering and people faded as they rose above the smokestacks.
“You may stand up now.”
Elise arose and stretched her back, cradling Cessily, who was still asleep.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, looking at the city rooftops. She wondered why she had ever been afraid of heights.
“Perhaps,” Albert sighed.
Elise decided she liked his answer better. It expressed the ambiguity of such a beautiful, dirty place as Los Angeles. With little else to think about, she turned her attention to the scientist.
“Albert, I notice you are European. What made you migrate to Caligon?”
The old man looked at the rising sun. “It was 1933, I came here on a visit to the Caligon Institute of Technology in Pasadena. When I came back to Germany, the Nazis had destroyed my cottage. I elected to leave then, sensing a war starting. I was right.”
“I wanted to go to the United States, but I had to pass through Britain. They re-routed me here, and I’ve been stuck in this godforsaken place ever since.”
Elise looked around nervously at the anti-British statement, but then remembered that no one was here to report them.
“The United States does seem better, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, but, after being in this county for twenty-two years that you can blame your misfortune on the United States.”
“It all began with that weak-livered Thomas Jefferson. After his policies forbade the expansion of the US beyond its original boundaries, he lost so many opportunities. The whole of this continent could be the United States, but instead it is split between the Americans, Louisianans, Texans, and British Caligonians. You know the Americans were actually here in the 1840s? After supporting Texas’s independence, they got involved in a war with Mexico. They took this city! But then they gave it back after the war! And Britain snatched it and the Oregon territory up, creating the hell we know and love today.”
Elise knew such talk would get him killed below. But up here, things were much safer. The air was clearer, and so was her mind. She understood the logic behind Albert’s reasoning, even agreed with it. But it made no good to blame the past.
“And now those goddamned Tory Wars are distracting the United States from the true plight of Caligon! Damn Eve Cassidy and her Tory movement!”
He became aware that he was shouting.
“I’m sorry. I just, get angry sometimes."
He looked over her shoulder. “There it is!”
She spun around, careful not to jostle Cessily. Her chin dropped.
The huge floating complex behind her glinted in the sunlight. “No steam?”
“100% run on clockwork.”
Four gigantic hot air balloons suspended the city in the air. It was not a true city, perhaps only the size of a football stadium. Four apartment buildings and one church were all that could fit. Even from this far away, Elise could see people running down the main street.
Elise smiled as they drew closer. She couldn’t imagine a better place for Cessily to recuperate. “Thank you, Doctor!” she yelled happily.
Albert laughed, but his laugh was cut off by an ominous boom.
“What was that?” Elise looked around. To her horror, a cannonball was coming up out of the clouds. With precise accuracy, it slammed into one of the balloons, popping it.
The screams pierced the air as the west corner of the city tilted down. One by one, people began to roll off the city and plummet down. Another crash sounded and another balloon popped. The city became perpendicular to the horizon as more people fell A third boom and the entire city began to plummet towards the earth.
“Albert!” she screamed.
“They must’ve finally gotten evidence!” he exclaimed, manipulating the balloon closer to where the city had been.
“I don’t know!” he yelled.
“Are we still safe?”
A fourth boom answered.
“Get down!” Albert yelled.
She dropped as Cessily screamed, having woken up at the first cannonball. A fourth cannonball came up and popped their balloon. Instantly, they plummeted.
Elise screamed and screamed, grasping to the basket to keep from flying away. The force was too strong. She could either let go of Cessily or let go of the basket. She gave one last look at the baby in her arms, and noticed the little device wrapped in her blanket. The doctor. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
And she let go.
"The Lion of the Sea"
Johan didn’t believe in luck, but this was enough to make him a God-fearing man.
“Kill the engines,” he muttered to his first mate. Pontmercy nodded and made his way to the engine room. Normally, they would’ve rung the iron bell to alert the boilerman to halt, but silence was obviously necessary.
Before the Ambassador floated an ironclad. Not just any ironclad, though. It was a Whig ironclad. Johan could tell by the insignia branded on the side.
Johan hated that insignia. It held twenty-four stars, representing the union. Only Whigs would be pretentious enough to imply a competing party was un-American.
Then again, his own party was at war with them.
Johan shook the complex thought-provoker out of his head and brought himself into focus. The engines came to a halt, and the frigate glided silently towards its goal, using only momentum.
Johan snapped a finger and the sails were out. They approached slowly. Surprise was key. However, as the frigate grew closer to the ironclad, Johan realized that the ironclad would be an easier target than thought. At the bow of the ship slumped the watchman, sleeping. The engines were off. It was likely that the ironclad had stopped for the night and the trusted watchman had had one too many to drink. Johan smirked. This could be a clean job.
His mission was simple: disrupt any Whig ships that he might find off the coast of South Carolina. And here was one. They’d disable the crew, loot the ship, then brand it and leave with the goods. Perhaps a survivor to tell the tale of the fearsome Captain Johan Beade, Lion of the Sea. Johan wasn’t sure how merciful he was feeling today.
“Bring me Mr. Werner,” Johan turned to Pontmercy, who had just climbed back up from the engine room. The man’s face filled with irritation for a moment, but a raised eyebrow reminded him of his place.
Johan smiled as Pontmercy left to find the ship’s engineer. He’d spent two years with Pontmercy as a first mate, and though the man spoke perfect English, his “Yes, Captain” was always “Oui, Capitaine.” The Louisiana-born first mate refused to change this, despite his captain’s constant prodding.
The first mate and engineer made their way to him in the darkness as the ship finally halted a board’s length from the ironclad. “Good evening, Captain,” Werner greeted him.
“Good evening, Mr. Werner. It appears your Fortuna smiles upon us. I believe this would be the perfect opportunity to test out the Nebuchadnezzar stratagem. Is your device ready?”
The old man nodded. “Yes, Captain. I can bring it to the rowboat, if you’d like.”
“Please do so. And get some men to bring the oil, as well. If this goes as planned, we’ll be able to place it directly. Mr. Pontmercy,” he turned to the first mate, “you are going to stay by the wheel.”
“This is my stratagem, it will be my life on the line. I would not have it any other way.”
“But, sir, if the watchman awakens, if you are unable to…”
“We will handle it, Pontmercy. And if I die, captainship transfers to you. But that will not happen. You must think positive, Mr. Pontmercy. Always think positive.”
Johan smirked. “You mean ‘Yes, Captain.’”
Johan rolled his eyes and left the first mate at the wheel. He made his way down to the rowboat. There was only one on the steam frigate, and he was gambling it, his life, and Werner’s life on a risky stratagem with high rewards. If they were lucky, the ironclad would be theirs without having to fire a single shot. If the worst case scenario, the entire Ambassador would be sunk, the crew arrested or dead. But, Johan was confident that this plan would go off without a hitch.
The rowboat was lowered into the water, and he and Werner each took up an oar. It was but a few strokes to the ship, but Johan’s plan required that they encircle the whole of it, so a rowboat was necessary. They made their first stop, one of the cannon portholes, and Werner withdrew a large piece of iron. Then, he switched on his machine. Gears grinded and steam was emitted. Johan coughed.
“You couldn’t make it any quieter?”
The old man turned to him. “I had to cut my perfection time short to get this thing ready. Just be thankful it has a flame at all.”
Sure enough, a flame emerged from the tip. Werner pumped a handle and the flame became larger, and Johan felt the heat coming from the tip.
“I think it’s warm enough. Start welding.”
Werner nodded and began to weld the piece of iron over the porthole.
“Can you handle yourself here?” Johan asked. Werner nodded. Johan took that invitation and pulled himself onto the ironclad. Slowly, he approached the sleeping watchman. As he did, his foot knocked against an empty glass bottle. It rolled across the floor and the watchman started. Johan froze.
The watchman yawned and went back to sleep. Thankful, Johan walked up to him. Cautiously, he put a hand on the man’s shoulder. The man jolted awake and spun around. His eyes widened in fear, but closed again after Johan knocked him unconscious. Johan caught him as he fell into his arms. The man was heavy, but Johan managed to drag him to the rowboat, which Werner had moved to the second cannon hole.
“Make a friend, did we?” the old man asked.
“Of sorts. This is our designated survivor.”
“Yes, well, he’s not going to be cooked like the rest of them, at least.”
Johan made quick work of gagging and tying up the watchman as Werner moved on to the third cannon hole.
“Now I’ve just got to do the three on the other side and the door.”
“Excellent. I will begin with the oil.”
Johan moved to the back of the rowboat, where two barrels of oil sat. Johan smirked at the creative genius of his plan, and then grabbed the hose attached to the barrels. He unravelled it and stepped back onto the ironclad. He nodded to Werner, who turned the hose on. The oil came spilling out at a low pressure. As Werner rowed the boat around to the other side, Johan began covering the entire ship with oil. He was careful not to get any on the holes that still needed to be welded shut. After a few minutes, Werner finished welding everything. The ironclad was sealed.
Johan finished covering the ironclad with oil and made his way back to the rowboat. Together, he and Werner rowed back to the Ambassador. The rowboat was raised back up, and Johan slapped his captive awake. The man yelped through his gag, and Johan drew his sword.
“Walk to the central mast, if you please.”
The man turned and walked as told.
“Now, if you move, I will slit your throat. Understand?”
The man nodded. Johan waved to his men, who un-tied the man and then re-tied him to the mast.
“Now, my good sir, what is your name?”
The man spat at him. Johan flicked the spit off of his coat and smiled.
“You see, I’m a generous men, so I’m willing to forgive that. So long as,” he placed his cutlass against the man’s throat, “you tell me your name.”
“I do not share information with the pirate scum!”
“Pirates?” Johan turned to Werner, who was lugging his machine back to his workshop. “I don’t think we’re pirates. What’s the word, Mr. Werner?”
“Ah, yes. Privateers. You see, we don’t go looking for just anyone. Solely those with that little insignia on the side of your ship. Do you know what it stands for?”
“The one true party of the United States.”
“Hm… guess again. Try the scoundrels who started this war, and the scoundrels who blamed us for it. But, it’s pointless to argue ideology with you. Now, let me ask you this. Do you recognize this symbol?”
Johan slid out of his right sleeve and peeled back his shirt, revealing the tattoo on his shoulder.
The man’s eyes widened for a moment, but then his defiance returned.
“I do, yes.”
“Then tell me, what is it?”
“It is the mark of Johan Beade, the traitor, the…” the man’s voice trailed off and his eyes narrowed, “sea lion.”
Johan felt anger rise up within him, but pushed it back down. This man was obviously trying to get at his nerves.
“You’re close. The Lion of the Sea. But, who knows what they tell you these days? Now, I could have just killed you, or left you unconscious. But I wanted you to see this. This is your doing. If only you’d stay’d awake, I’d never had gotten to test out my Nebuchadnezzar stratagem. You see, your ship over there is made of iron. My good man Werner has sealed it shut, and I've taken the liberty of coating it in oil. My theory is that, if I ignite this oil, the ship will be turned into an oven. Do you want to take wagers?"
"Oh, but I would," Johan whistled and one of his men took a lit torch and tossed it onto the ship, which ignited immediately.
"Fire up the engines! Pontmercy, steer us away from the flames, please."
The men rushed about, getting the ship ready to move. Suddenly, screams erupted from the ironclad.
"What do you know? I think it's working."
"You monster! Pirate!" the man struggled against the ropes.
"Not a pirate. This is war, man!"
The fire burned hot for about an hour. One by one, the individual voices died off. Eventually, the fire stopped.
"Well, I'd say that was a success."
"What are you going to do with me?" the man's face was tear-streaked, and he had lost most of his bravado.
"Don't know yet. I was feeling generous, but you're being quite rude. I may just kill you here."
Johan approached menacingly, and the man squirmed. "Wait! Don't! I can pay you!"
"With what money?"
"The money... in that ship."
"Yes. It's full of a million dollars in gold. We were charged with transporting it to Florida to buy more supplies. Our engines died. You can have it. Just let me live."
Johan stared at the man. It would be a pain to reopen the ironclad, but the man's words had a ring of truth to them.
"We will check to ensure this is true, and, if it is, I'll consider sparing you. Werner!"
Werner appeared on the deck. "I need you to reopen the ironclad. There may be gold in there."
Werner nodded and retreated to grab his tools. "In the meantime, I will relax in my cabin. Report to me with any findings, and be sure to brand the ship either way."
Johan sat at his desk, pondering what to do with one million in gold. If the captive was telling the truth, it could mean a big boom for the Tories. But, was it worth it?
The Tory War was a lost cause. Everyone knew it. And yet they were still fighting, dying, one by one. Johan had previously estimated that he would last another month before he was captured and executed. But, one million in gold was a good fate-changer.
"Captain," Werner entered the room.
"Yes, Mr. Werner?"
"The captive speaks the truth. There is gold in the ironclad. The men are in the process of transferring it to our ship. We await your command as to what to do with it after that."
"Very good, Mr. Werner. Go take the wheel from Mr. Pontmercy and send him to the mast."
The engineer nodded, and they both made their way up. Johan strolled to the captive, who stared.
"I have been thinking about what you said, dear captive. You've been very useful to me. And, I've decided that you are right."
Johan drew his cutlass and slit the man's throat in a second. "I am a pirate."
Pontmercy approached from behind. Johan turned to him.
"Do you trust me?"
"Are you loyal to me?"
"Do you want to outlive the rest of the Tories?"
The man paused, unsure.
"Then strip to your undergarments."
The man's brow raised, but he did so. Johan guided him to the rowboat.
The mate climbed in, eyebrows still raised quizzically.
"Inside is enough food and water for five days. Make your way to shore. Tell the Tory Council that while the Ambassador did capture a fortune in gold, a storm hit and the ship sunk. You are the only survivor. Understand?"
"No. Why would I lie to the Tory Council?"
"Louis, we aren't going to last another month. The Tories are losing badly. Do you want to live?"
"Then do as I say. We will take the gold to Newfoundland. After you have delivered your message, join us there. We will be waiting."
Johan raised a hand and the rowboat began to sink towards the ocean.
"Goodbye, Pontmercy! You remember my orders?"
Pontmercy looked up, eyes wide.
Johan's eyes drooped a bit, but he nodded firmly as Pontmercy began to row away.
After Pontmercy was far from sight, Johan turned to Werner.
"Is the gold on board?"
"Good. Hide it in our rations barrels. Plot a course for Florida."
"Florida, sir? You told Pontmercy..."
"I know what I told Pontmercy!" Johan leaned forward, fingers placed on his eyebrows.
"Pontmercy is one of the best men I have ever known. Far better than any of us here. He is very loyal, and I am not sure if his loyalty lies with me or with the Tories. As much as it pained me to do so, I had to lie to him, in case he decides to tell the Tory Council of our treachery."
"And if his loyalty is to you?"
Johan didn't answer.
"We will purchase a ship in Florida, then sink this old girl. A ship by the name of Ambassador cannot be found anywhere but the bottom of the ocean. We will then go to New Orleans and sail up the river. Understood?"
Werner stared at him.
He turned to leave, and Johan made his way to the wheel. Before he disappeared below deck, Werner turned back.
"You know, lions are supposed to be loyal."
Johan's eyes did not meet Werner's. He stared at the horizon, where the sun was just becoming visible.
"I know, Mr. Werner. I know."