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Steven R. Southard

Steven R. Southard, Author of What Man Hath Wrought Series

    Growing up in the Midwest, Steven R. Southard always found the distant oceans exotic and tantalizing. He served aboard submarines and now works as a civilian naval engineer. In his stories, he takes readers on journeys of discovery in many seas and various vessels. Steve has written in the historical, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and steampunk genres.

    Visit Steven's new website at: http://www.stevenrsouthard.com/




Congratulations to Steven for being in the 2012 Preditors and Editors top ten
Short Story Romance and Short Story Steampunk Categories for
Against All Gods (romance) and The Six Hundred Dollar Man (steampunk) and 2013 and 2016 top ten in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Category (#2!) for A Tale More True and After the Martians respectively; 2014 top ten in Steampunk for Time's Deformed Hand and top ten in Short Story Other for The Cometeers.
2012 P&E Readers Poll Top Ten Winner 2012 P&E Readers Poll Top Ten Winner Sci-Fi/Fantasy 2013 top ten P&E Steampunk Category Top Ten 2014 P&E Short Story Other P&E 2016 Badge

New Title(s) from Steven R. Southard

Title(s) in The What Man Hath Wrought Series

The Wind Sphere Ship by Steven R. Southard Within Victorian Mists by Steven R. Southard Alexander's Odyssey by Steven R. Southard Leonardo's Lion by Steven R. Southard Against All Gods by Steven R. Southard A Steampunk Carol by Steven R. Southard The Six Hundred Dollar Man by Steven R. Southard A Tale More True by Steven R. Southard Rallying Cry/Last Vessel of Atlantis by Steve R. Southard To Be First/Wheels of Heaven by Steven R. Southard The Cometeers by Steven R. Southard Time's Deformèd Hand by Steven R. Southard Ripper's Ring by Steven R. Southard After the Martians by Steven R. Southard

Click on the thumbnail(s) above to learn more about the book(s) listed.

   

The Wind Sphere Ship by Steven R. Southard

   Heron of Alexandria, in the 1st Century A.D., invented a primitive steam engine he called an aeolipile, or “wind-sphere.” Persuaded by his friend Praxiteles, he used this engine to propel a ship. If his steam-ship could beat a man-rowed galley in a race, could Heron bring about the Industrial Revolution 1700 years early? The action never ebbs in this tale of friendship, technological vision, and one of history’s missed opportunities. Let the race begin!

                                                                                                    Excerpt
Word Count: 6000
Pages to Print: 25
File Format: PDF                  Price:
$2.99


     



Within Victorian Mists by Steven R. Southard     If the fog of time had lifted a bit differently on the 19th century, and you could mix a hauty Englishman tinkerer, a plucky American steam engine repair-woman, laser holograms, giant dirigibles, and ornithopters, you might just get one madcap steampunk romance. Strap on your brass-rimmed goggles to see what happens . . . Within Victorian Mists.



                                                                  Excerpt
Word Count:
6800
Pages to Print: 27
File Format:
PDF                  Price:  
$2.99
 
     


Alexander's Odyssey by Steven R. Shouthard Alexander the Great might well be on his way to conquering the world, but when he decides to explore underwater in a glass-windowed wooden barrel, he enrages Poseidon. The other gods may debate Alexander’s fate and make their deals on Olympus but the ocean deity is determined to frighten the young King out of the watery realm. Will Poseidon defeat Alexander and prevent future deep-sea exploration by mortals, or can a single clever Macedonian outwit a god?
                                                                Excerpt
Word Count:
7880
Pages to Print: 30
File Format:
PDF                  Price:  
$3.99
 
     


   
Leonardo's Lion by Steven R. Southard In 1515, Leonardo da Vinci built a mechanical lion to entertain King Francis I of France and his guests. Until now, no one knows what happened to this amazing clockwork creation. Over half a century later, when a ten year old boy discovers the lion in a royal storeroom, young Chev doesn’t know he will soon embark on a strange and dangerous mission. His quest will lead him many leagues through a French countryside devastated by religious war in search of Leonardo’s greatest secrets of all, hidden mysteries that could affect the future of all humanity.

Word Count: 8700                                                                  Excerpt
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File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 

       



   
Against All Gods by Steven R. Southard

In ancient Athens, trireme commander Theron and the woman he loves, Galene, have each earned the wrath of jealous gods. To marry Galene, Theron must voyage to all seven of Wonders of the World. At every stage the immortal gods test their love with all the power and magic at their command. While Galene suffers anguishing torment in Athens, Theron faces overwhelming challenges at every Wonder from Ephesus to Rhodes to Babylon. Theron and Galene may be devoted to each other, but it’s doubtful whether mere mortal love can survive...against all gods.

                                                                             Excerpt
Word Count: 13000
Pages to Print: 46
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
     


   
A Steampunk Carol by Steven R. Southard That stuffy Victorian inventor, Stanton Wardgrave, is back again, eight years after inventing holograms and meeting the American Josephine Boulton. Married now, with a son and daughter, he’s dealing with rather too much balderdash and poppycock this Christmas Eve. Conversing with his dead father? Expecting three visitors? It all seems so very Dickensian. But he knows he’s not at all like that Ebenezer Scrooge fellow...is he? What, this story asks, would Christmas be without a bit of steampunk in it?

                                                                               Excerpt
Word Count: 5700
Pages to Print: 26
File Format: PDF
Price: $2.99

Reviews

From Coffeetime Romance and More
 

       



 
The Six Hundred Dollar Man by Steven R. Southard Sonny Houston, cowpoke. A man barely alive. “I can rebuild him, make him the first steam-powered man. A darn sight better than before. Better, faster, and a heap stronger, too. I’ve got the know-how.” A century before any bionic man, a doctor in the Wyoming Territory attached steam powered legs and an arm to a man trampled in a stampede. Get ready, Pardner, for a rip-roarin’ steampunk adventure!

                                                                           Excerpt
Word Count: 7000
Pages to Print: 27
File Format: PDF
Price: 2.99
 
     

   
A Tale More True by Steven R. Southard Baron Münchhausen has been known to stretch the truth a bit, then tie it in knots, toss it on the floor, and stomp on it. But to prove him wrong, is it really necessary for Count Federmann to construct a gigantic clockwork spring and launch himself to the Moon? If the Count should do so, and if he should drag his trustworthy servant along, perhaps he’ll learn enough to tell . . . a tale more true.

                                                                            Excerpt
Word Count: 10500
Pages to Print: 37
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99

 
    

   
Rallying Cry/Last Vessel of Atlantis by Steven R. Southard


Two adventure stories packaged together! In “Rallying Cry,” an aimless youth meets two old geezers who spin bizarre war stories. They tell of a secret World War I regiment in France with ship-sized helicopters and mechanized walking tanks. Just as an inspiring shout can move soldiers to action, perhaps all Kane really needs to turn his life around is a rallying cry. In “Last Vessel of Atlantis,” a ship captain and his crew of explorers return to find Atlantis gone. While facing violent savages, braving fierce storms, and solving internal disputes, they must somehow ensure their advanced Atlantean civilization is not lost forever.

                                                                                   Excerpt
Word Count: 11400
Pages to Print: 40
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
    

   
To Be First/Wheels of Heaven by Steven R. Southard



Two intriguing historical tales packaged together! “To Be First” follows two space voyagers from an alternate universe as they return from the moon, in 1933. In their timeline, manned rocketry began in the Ottoman Empire, which advanced and spread. When these Ottoman lunanauts end up orbiting our comparatively backward world, they have a choice to make, one that will forever change their future and ours. In “Wheels of Heaven,” an arrogant Roman astrologer finds a geared Grecian machine for predicting the positions of celestial bodies. On the voyage back to Rome, he meets a sailor who dismisses astrology, an astonishing notion in 86 B.C. But when the sailor's prediction is right, and every one of the astrologers is wrong, he must question his most basic beliefs.

                                                                                         Excerpt
Word Count: 10350
Pages to Print: 37
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
    

   
The Cometeers by Steven R. Southard



A huge comet speeds toward a devastating collision with the Earth, but no one will launch space shuttles filled with nuclear weapons. It’s 1897. Instead, they’ll fire projectiles from the Jules Verne cannon and try to deflect the comet with a gunpowder explosion. Commander Hanno Knighthead isn’t sure he can motivate his argumentative, multinational crew of geniuses to work together. It turns out one of them is a saboteur. Then things get worse. Only a truly extraordinary leader could get this group to cooperate, thwart the saboteur, and jury-rig a way to divert the comet. Lucky thing Hanno brought his chewing gum.

                                                                                Excerpt
Word Count: 10500
Pages to Print: 37
File Format: PDF
Price: $ 3.99
 
     

   
Time's Deformèd Hand by Steven R. Southard




It’s 1600 in an alternate Switzerland, a world where Da Vinci’s mechanical automatons and human-powered flight almost work, thanks to magic trees. Long-separated twins, Georg the reluctant groom and Georg the clock thief, roam the clocklike village of Spätbourg, beset by more time and date errors than you can shake an hour hand at. Will Georg get married after all, and repair the town’s central tower clock? Will Georg—the other one—purloin more timepieces, or give up his pilfering ways? Will William Shakespeare lend a hand, and some iambic pentameter poetry, to reset the cogs and gears of this zany comedy? Only time will tell . . . or maybe not, in this ultimate clockpunk tale of mistaken identity and temporal mix-ups.

                                                                                 Excerpt
Word Count: 10100
Pages to Print: 36
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
    

   
Ripper's Ring by Steven R. Southard

 

In the East End slums of London in 1888, a carriage-man named Horace Grott takes a ring from a corpse. Not just any ring, it’s the one Plato wrote about, the legendary Ring of Gyges, which makes its wearer vanish. With this power of invisibility, Horace steals food, lives in mansions . . . and commits murder. Within Scotland Yard, Detective Wellington Bentbow works to solve a mystery only he can decipher, reaching conclusions nobody else would believe. Learn why the crimes of Jack the Ripper have never been solved, and ask yourself whether you could resist the awesome and ghastly temptations of Plato’s Ring of Gyges . . . Ripper’s Ring.

                                                                                         Excerpt
Word Count: 15700
Pages to Print: 50
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
 
      

   
After the Martians by Steven R. Southard

In 1901, the Martians attacked Earth, but tiny bacteria vanquished them. Their advanced weaponry lay everywhere—three-legged fighting machines, heat rays, and poison gas. Now, in 1917, The Great War rages across Europe but each side uses Martian technology. Join Corporal Johnny Branch, a young man from Wyoming, as he pursues his dream to fight for America. Follow magazine photographer Frank Robinson while he roams the front lines, hoping to snap a photo conveying true American valor. Perhaps they’ll discover, as the Martians did before them, that little things can change the world.

                                                                                      Excerpt
Word Count: 14248
Pages to Print: 49
File Format: PDF
Price: $3.99
 
      

   
   
   
   
   
   

EXCERPTS

The Wind-Sphere Ship

     I see you’re playing with your toys again.”
    Heron started at the voice breaking the silence of the room. Candle flames flickered with the approach of the newcomer. Heron relaxed as he recognized the voice of his old friend.
    “Greetings, Praxiteles.” He returned to tinkering with a mechanism positioned atop a pedestal. “Have you come to torment me in particular, or do you generally go about frightening old men at night?”
    “I torment all old men who haunt the gods’ temples after dark,” rejoined Praxiteles, smiling, “so yes, just you.” They stood alone within a cluttered workroom at the rear of the Temple of Saturn.
Heron looked up into his friend’s eyes. Praxiteles possessed huge, wide-open eyes, eyes that missed nothing, eyes that seemed able to pierce fog and human deception. They had to be huge, to see around that nose, he thought, surely the largest eyes and nose in all of Alexandria. “Be so good as to hand me a candle, won’t you?”
    “What are you working on now?”
    “I’ll show you.” Heron said, replacing a cover on a cylindrical machine adorned with ornate decorations and taking the candle from his friend’s hand. “Drop a five drachma piece in the slot and cup your hands beneath the spigot.”
    “Oh, so my curiosity shall cost me, is that it?”
    Heron held up a finger and kept his face expressionless. “Just one pentadrachma. Pretend you’ve come here as a faithful worshipper of Saturn.”
    “That will take some pretending,” Praxiteles said.
    Heron smiled, knowing that his friend―a history teacher at the Alexandria museum―regarded religion as one of the forces shaping the larger human story, nothing more. Faiths come and go, as Prax would say, and in Alexandria these days one could find adherents to the Roman gods, Jews, and even believers in a new offshoot of Judaism who claimed their messiah had come. Heron himself, though a teacher of mathematics and physics by day, enjoyed his hobby of constructing automated mechanisms for the temples. Since people thought his devices were supernatural, Heron rather took pleasure in his role as the “god” behind the machine.
    Groping in a pouch dangling from his belt, Praxiteles found a coin and dropped it into the slot. From within the cylinder came a clinking noise followed by two soft bumps. Five tiny drops of water plopped into his hands. Prax wore a bemused expression as he looked up at Heron. “Saturn is not very generous this evening.”
    Heron glowered at him. “I was still adjusting the mechanism when you barged in. Before I’m through, it will fill your palms with enough holy water to cleanse your face.” He lifted the cover and reached all the way in to retrieve the coin. “Here, Saturn grants you your money back.”
    Praxiteles looked at the pentadrachma in his hand, then back at the machine. “It is a miraculous device, Michanikos.” He used his nickname for Heron―machine-man. “Worshippers will be awe-struck.” His face clouded then. “But I’ve been doing some thinking about these deceptions and amusements you create.”
    “Oh?” Heron, with his hand back inside the holy water dispenser, had resumed tinkering with the lever and valve linkage.
    “When do you plan to let your automata do something more?”
    “I told you, Prax, with some adjustment, this will provide enough water―”
    “No, no, I mean something different, something more useful.”Heron looked at his friend, perplexed. “I don’t understand.”                     
Back to The Wind-Sphere Ship  

 
Within Victorian Mists
    Hoping for success this time, Stanton Wardgrave threw the knife switch. Through smoked-glass goggles, he watched his apparatus, fearing another failure. On the laboratory table, an image began forming at the end opposite the gleaming mirrors and prisms. A reddish apparition shimmered there, a tall, glowing blob lacking any distinct features or shape of its own. A voice issued from the crimson ghost, Stanton’s own voice.
    “John, by the grace of God King of England,” the voice said, “Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls—”
    “The bloody devil take it!” Stanton said as he jerked back on the switch lever to open the circuit. The apparition vanished. Its voice ceased. Stanton stared at the arrangement of prisms, mirrors, and lenses, wondering what other adjustments he could make now. Nothing seemed to make a difference.
    “Sir, may I present—”
    “MacSwyny!” Stanton tore off his goggles to glare at his rotund, red-haired servant standing at the laboratory’s entrance. “I told you not to interrupt . . .” he trailed off as he saw other people silhouetted by the sunlight in the doorway behind MacSwyny.
    “Apologies, sir,” MacSwyny rolled the final consonant, “but ‘tis Tuesday. Two o’clock on Tuesday.”
    Stanton straightened up. “Confound it, man. My no-interruption rule remains in force on Tuesdays at two o’clock, and at all other times. Now, go.” Stanton dismissed him with a wave of his hand.
    “Sorry, sir,” MacSwyny remained stationary, but looked uncertain, “but ye had agreed to meet with your sister at this hour.”
    “Eh?” Stanton frowned, searching the backroom shelf of his mind reserved for social trivialities. “Amelia . . . Tuesday . . . ah, yes, I recall now.”
    “Oh, now you recall,” Stanton’s sister Amelia entered the laboratory, blonde curls bouncing beneath her pink bonnet. “After we’ve trudged all the way from the house to your dreary, dusty hideaway.”
    “Amelia, I’ll not put up with—”
    “And did you also recall that I was to introduce my friend to you today?” Amelia curled a gloved finger and a second woman entered the room. “She’s the one I told you about, whom I befriended during my trip to America. Now she’s visiting here.”
    This newcomer stood taller than Amelia, almost to Stanton’s height. Overcome by his foul mood, Stanton noted very little about her other than her shoulder-length brown hair and rather plain blue traveling garments.
    “May I present Josephine Boulton, from New York, in America,” Amelia said.
    The American stuck out her right hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Wardgrave,” she said, in a pleasant alto voice marred by a jarring Yankee accent.
Stanton was taken aback, being used to bows and curtsies at formal introductions.
    “Charmed, Miss Boulton,” he shook her hand, surprised at the firm grip. “I really must apologize for the condition of my laboratory.” With a glare at MacSwyny, he added, “I wasn’t expecting visitors.”
    “It’s your own fault, really,” said his sister. “If you concentrated on your social appointments as much as you think about this—whatever it is . . .” She waved a hand over the experiment table as if to sweep it away. “For some reason, when I mentioned your silly laboratory to Josephine, she actually wanted to see it, didn’t you, Jo? Well, I must go now. Entertain Josephine, won’t you, Stanton? And try not to bore her to exhaustion.” Amelia strode out the door with shocking swiftness.
    “What?” Stanton stared after her in open-mouthed disbelief. “Amelia! Come here!” He ran to the door, but saw no sign of her. No doubt she’d hidden among the hedges of his nearby garden. If he ran out to find her, she’d skip to a different hedgerow until they would both be scampering about, making them both look foolish. Stanton knew his sister’s games too well.
    So now Amelia was playing the matchmaker again. Stanton snickered at the thought of just how wide of the mark her Cupid’s arrow had flown. Not only was he uninterested in the burden of female companionship at the moment, but even if that had been otherwise—what on Earth would attract him to this Yankee creature?
    Still, the present situation wouldn’t be helped by undue rudeness to a guest. “I’m terribly sorry, Miss Boulton,” he cleared his throat as he re-entered the laboratory, “this is all most unseemly, you being here without a proper chaperone. We must locate my sister at once.”
    “Chaperone?” the woman looked up from the apparatus on the table, at which she’d been gazing. “Am I in danger, here with you and you servant?”
    “Absolutely not,” Stanton said. “It’s just . . . well, it isn’t done . . .” Did Americans not know the rules?
    “That’s settled, then,” she said, “and I’d very much like you to explain this equipment here.” She pointed, her finger almost brushing a mirror.
    “Don’t touch that!” Stanton snapped. Then, softer, “I’m sorry. Please, just leave the equipment alone. It’s delicate and much too complicated to explain to, uh, to . . .”
    “—to a woman?” Boulton frowned at him and crossed her arms.
    “Well, of course, to a woman,” Stanton said. “This is intricate machinery, well beyond the understanding of any—”
    “It’s an experiment in optical physics,” she interrupted, returning her attention to the table. “Here you use electricity from a voltaic pile to produce light. Over here you split the resulting beam, and there you guide the beams with mirrors and lenses to that end of the table. The light rays meet there at an acute angle . . .”
    Stanton blinked. This strange woman had somehow correctly guessed at the rudiments of his device. He found himself rather impressed with her powers of discernment. What sort of female was this?
    “. . . and from the noise you were making as we approached your laboratory,” she continued, “I deduce that this machine doesn’t work.”
    “It works, indeed,” Stanton struck a defensive tone, “just not as well as I would like. You see, this device with the ruby rod and the mirrored ends produces a powerful coherent beam of light. I call it a ‘dynaphoter,’ from the Greek for ‘mighty light.’ Where the separated dynaphoter rays meet again they form a picture in three dimensions. I call the entire apparatus an ‘Omni-Sim,’ from the Latin for ‘whole image.’”
    “You could as well have stuck with Greek and called it a ‘holo-gram,’” the young woman pointed out.
    Stanton would not admit that he liked that name better. “I’ve kept the Omni-Sim small,” he went on, “so that it can be packed up and carried in a briefcase.”
    “Can you turn it on and show me?” Josephine asked with a hopeful smile.
    “I really don’t think—”
    “I’d love to see it. The whole thing sounds wonderful.”
    Stanton sighed. “Ah, well. Please bear in mind that it is an uncompleted project. First, however, you must don goggles to guard against the hazards of the dynaphoter rays.”
    He handed her the goggles usually worn by MacSwyny when he assisted Stanton, and told MacSwyny to avert his eyes. The goggles featured brass frames, darkened round lenses, and leather straps to go around the head. Josephine removed her sky-blue bonnet and put on the goggles without hesitation, as if part of her daily wardrobe.
    When Stanton turned on the machine, the same vague reddish blob appeared, and the voice began speaking again.
    “It’s amazing!” Josephine studied the ghostly apparition from all angles. “And it speaks quite clearly. What is it reciting?”
    “The Magna Carta,” Stanton said, still disappointed in the Omni-Sim’s image quality and in his complete lack of ideas for improving it.           Back to Within Victorian Mists
 
Alexander's Odyssey
     Poseidon wondered if the mortals were, once again, up to no good.
     The sea-god knew several ways to monitor their activities, but preferred appearing among them in human form. Mortals reacted in a more natural way, and revealed more, when among their own kind. Therefore, when he’d been informed by an alert dolphin about an odd construction project on a beach in the eastern Mediterranean, he had decided to investigate it himself.
     While walking toward the large, barrel-like object he thought it did appear most unusual. He frowned as he smelled a burnt, oily odor spoiling the salt breeze. Four humans worked on the upright cask, a couple of them standing on stools to reach its upper parts, their white clothes splotched with black smears. The barrel stood taller than a man and spanned three cubits at its midpoint, tapering to two at the circular top and bottom. Six square glass panels ringed its circumference one quarter of the distance down from the top.
     One of the workmen looked up at his approach. “Pelagios! We heard you were sick. You look well enough to work. Join us. There are extra rags.” He dipped his own cloth in a heated cauldron of tar and spread the black, viscid substance where some of the wooden barrel staves joined together, rubbing to work the sealant into the seams.
     “I’m feeling better now,” Poseidon said. During the night he’d come to the workmen’s tent and waved a hand over one of them, imparting a fever to the slumbering man. He’d then assumed the size and shape of that laborer, evidently named Pelagios. “I’m ready to work again. But first, friends, tell me the purpose of this barrel.”
     All four of them stopped daubing tar and looked at him. “What?” one of them asked. “Why, only yesterday you were . . . Ah, I take your meaning now,” he smiled. “He has a riddle for us, men. Very well, Pelagios. What is the purpose of this barrel?”
     Inside, Poseidon seethed. These humans were maddening! He felt like killing them all with a thought, but restrained the impulse. He needed the information he’d come for. “No, I have no riddle. Perhaps I’m not fully myself yet today. I must have forgotten about the barrel. If you wish me to help, I must first know what manner of thing I’ll be toiling with. It’s an odd thing, this cask with windows.”
     Three of the workers showed a mix of puzzlement, suspicion, and indifference. The other seemed more sympathetic, and spoke. “Mark well, Pelagios. Pretending forgetfulness won’t relieve you of your duties. You know full well the King ordered this special barrel—his Colimpha—built. He intends to weight it down with stones, get inside it, seal the opening on top, and then be lowered from a ship into the depths.” He paused to work some of the tar in at the edge of a square window, taking care not to smear the glass. “Now that I think of it, I don’t know if that makes us coopers, or shipwrights, or both, eh men?” He laughed and the others joined in.
     Poseidon did not laugh. Anger rose within him like the tide; this sounded like a new and different way for mortals to enter his realm. He struggled to keep the edge out of Pelagios’ voice. “Why is the King doing this?”
     The workman nodded his head to the southwest toward an island in the distance with high stone walls rising from its shores. “It’s said he wants to check on how our divers are doing.”
     “Divers?” Poseidon fought to keep patient.
      The laborer sighed again. “You’ve forgotten even that? We must remember to keep you and wine safely separated, or you’ll forget your own name!” The others chuckled at this and he continued, “The cursed Tyrians put obstacles underwater to impede our war galleys—jagged boulders and pointed spars. Divers are removing them.” He looked around, then leaned closer and lowered his voice, “I think the real reason for this Colimpha is the King wants to go beneath the deeper parts of the sea. You know how he loves to explore and conquer. I think he wants to be King of the fishes, too!” He laughed once again and the others also enjoyed the joke.
      The bitter feeling inside Poseidon kept surging like a storm-whipped wave. His jaw set, but he kept his tone inquisitive, curious. “Why would the King risk angering Poseidon?”
     The man smiled. “You and I would worry about that, but not Alexander. He’s not afraid of anything—man, beast, or god. I’ll wager he’s actually looking forward to tweaking the old seaweed-eater’s nose!”
     Poseidon felt his rage burst like a bubble. He glowered at the cask, then faced the sea. His eyes blazed, boring into those opaque, blue waves, into the dark fathoms beneath.
     In a few moments he heard a worker shout, “By all the gods, look!” Advancing toward their spot on the beach came a huge wave, its white crest towering fifty cubits above the otherwise calm waters. At its southern end, the monstrous wall of water tapered to nothingness, sparing Tyre and its teeming populace. As it neared the beach, its main peak dwarfed the Colimpha and the men.
     “Run!” the laborers shouted, and one paused to tug Pelagios’ arm. The man gave up and sprinted inshore across the sand.
     But Poseidon did not budge. As if fixed in place, he watched the mighty wave bearing down on him like a moving, blue mountain. He heard it now, a monstrous, deafening roar of gurgling, splashing, crashing spray and water. The sea-god smiled, admiring his destructive creation, summoned by his own command.
     As if drawn by a heavenly chariot, a large, billowing cloud passed in front of the sun. The sky darkened. In quick succession, four jagged lines of lightning lanced downward. Each bolt smote the immense wave, sending forth gigantic plumes of steam. A fierce, sustained blast of wind came from nowhere and whipped seaward, meeting the onrushing wall in a titanic contest between the elemental forces of air and water.
      Battered and beaten, the wave rushed on, much lessened in height. Reduced to a gentle roller, it swept up the beach and doused the fire beneath the cauldron of tar, then wetted Poseidon’s ankles and the bottom of the King’s Colimpha before receding back to the sea.
      Only one being could be responsible for preventing his destruction of the vessel, and the sea-god knew whom, if not yet why. Poseidon glared at the cloud as it moved past, allowing the golden sun to reappear. In a voice of fury, as loud as crashing surf, he yelled, “Zeus!”         Back to Alexander's Odyssey
 
Leonardo's Lion
With his good hand, Chev opened the door, eased through it, and stood with his back against the oak portal, panting.

“Mon Dieu!” An old man looked up from his desk. “A visitor, here? By all the Saints! I never get visitors. No one ever comes to see old Gaspard...” His creaky voice trailed off to a mumble.

“I’m sorry, Monsieur,” Chev interrupted in a whisper, unsure if he could trust the old man. “Please don’t tell anyone I’m here.” Since escaping the orphanage earlier that day, he’d been trying to avoid people, clinging to shadowed alleys, hiding in alcoves, and squeezing through wall cracks. Any adult who saw him, he feared, would turn him over to the authorities and he’d be back where he’d started.

“I won’t give your secret away, for goodness’ sake.” Gaspard stood and beckoned to Chev. “Come in, lad. Make yourself comfortable. I enjoy company, and that door so seldom opens. What’s your name, son? And how old are you? You look no more than ten. Very young to be running in fear...” He continued speaking in a low murmur.

“My name is Chev, Monsieur,” he began to catch his breath. “I don’t know how old I am.” Chev dared not tell him he’d come from the orphanage.

“What happened to your hand, young Chev?”

“I caught the holy fire disease,” Chev looked down at his right forearm to where it ended in a rounded stump. He would never forget the pain that day the monks cut off his blackened, withered hand while telling him it was necessary to save his life.

The man nodded. “I’m sorry for you. A terrible thing.”

Chev looked around at the room’s vast interior. “What is this place?”

Gaspard swept his hand in a jerky manner. “Welcome to King Charles’ Storeroom. Here go all the old, forgotten gifts and decorations, all the royal possessions from the Amboise palace no one bothered to send to Paris. These wine goblets, for example, were given to Louis XI in 1475. And this scepter...”

Chev stared in disbelief at the amazing riches stacked in haphazard confusion in floor-to-ceiling piles. The heaps included armor, tapestries, books, portraits, musical instruments, polished wood furniture, ornate boxes, tableware, and jewelry.

“...and with this sword, King Charles VI knighted Sir Ambroise de Loré in 1415,” Gaspard continued. “Notice this exquisite chessboard given to King Philip VI in 1345...”

While Gaspard droned, Chev wandered to where the fancy clothing hung, each garment featuring delicate trim and bold colors. He brushed some of the clothes with his hand, feeling the smooth fabrics, devoid of holes or rips.

A fearsome face stared out from behind some garments as he swept them. Chev fell backward to the floor and crab-walked rearward in horror. “A monster!”

“Monster?” Gaspard asked, frowning. “Hmm. There are no monsters on my inventory. It is here you found it, no?” He pointed to some of the robes and dresses.

Chev nodded. “I swear it, Monsieur. Please don’t—”

Heedless of the plea, Gaspard parted the fabric.

There it was! A menacing face, like some cat magnified to enormous size. But now Chev saw it did not move, not even its eyes. Carved from ash wood, its tan and black contours looked very real, but frozen in place. Chev sat up, a little less scared.

“Ah, yes, the lion,” Gaspard smiled at Chev. “Just a wooden lion, not a monster. I’d forgotten it was there. Here, help me pull him out from his jungle of clothing.”

Chev stood and came closer, still worried the huge beast might somehow come to life.

“You may touch it,” Gaspard patted the lion’s head. “I don’t believe it’s hungry.”

Together they worked to slide the wooden feline out from behind the clothing. It seemed very sturdy, yet light, for such a huge replica.

Old Gaspard was out of breath from his mild exertions, but kept up a steady, gasping monologue as they pulled. “This lion was built by a man named Leonardo and presented to King François I for his visit to Bologna to meet Pope Leo X in December, 1515.”

“Lion? Leonardo? Pope Leo?” Chev didn’t know if the man was joking with him and whether he should laugh.
Gaspard chuckled. “A coincidence of names. Also, he brought out the lion again later when the King visited Lyon!”

Chev did laugh with Gaspard at that, but then grew curious. “1515? How long ago was that, Monsieur?”

“Well, let’s see, this year is 1569, so it’s...well, quite a long time ago.” Gaspard continued, “Leonardo was an artist and entertainer, inventor and scientist, too. The King invited him to move here from Italy.”

Chev had never seen a real lion, but held terrifying notions of them from stone statues he’d seen and hair-raising stories told late at night by older boys in the orphanage. The animal before him looked like someone had spent a lifetime carving its details. Even the wood grains imitated a living creature’s fur. Teeth and claws appeared as sharp as sword blades. Overall, the statue showed more power, pride, and grandeur than anything Chev had ever seen. “It’s wonderful,” he shook his head in awe after circling the beast.

“It’s not just a statue,” Gaspard scratched his gray goatee. “Let me see if I can recall how it works. I think perhaps I first do this.” He grasped the long, graceful tail and raised it up in an arc.

Chev heard a metallic clicking noise, like the sound of winding the mantel clock at the orphanage.

Gaspard worked on the tail, moving it up and down a few times until he gave up, breathing hard. The man then examined the back of the lion’s proud, upraised head. The mane’s hair curved down in real-looking locks. Gaspard’s bony hand felt along this mane, feeling one of the locks in the center, low, where the mane ended. “Watch now,” he said as he lifted the lock up, then pushed it back into place.

The lion began to walk, and Chev almost fainted.

Its gait was slow and stately. As the beast moved, its head swiveled from side to side, its mouth opened and closed, and its tail swished with its stride.

In delighted amazement, Chev overcame his dread of the animated lion. He rushed to it and marched alongside. As if pacing its realm, the creature strode down the narrow aisle formed by towering piles of royal belongings.

Gaspard talked the whole time, in his creaky, babbling voice. Chev ignored him, so intent was he on the marvel of a moving wooden feline beast.

Without warning the lion stopped. It lowered its hind end to sit on its haunches. It faced forward, head held high, mouth closed. Its chest began to open up, like the twin doors of a cathedral. Chev looked at its chest. The open “doors” revealed only an empty compartment. A moment later the breast plates closed and the beast returned to its standing posture.

“...the festive reception when King François I met the Pope,” Gaspard was saying, “Leonardo had put lilies in the lion’s chest, and they fell out upon the floor. Lilies are in the coat of arms of France, as well as that of the city of Florence, Italy. Florentine dignitaries were also in Bologna for the celebration, and the lion itself is a symbol of Florence. Ah, think of the impression this machine must have made on everyone present that day.”

Chev cared nothing for court noblemen at some long-ago celebration. He wanted to see inside the lion. Scrambling underneath and looking up, he saw the outline of a second rectangular opening farther back from the chest area. This one had two small metal latches Chev could move with his hand. The panel swung down on hinges.

“What are you doing down there? Be careful not to break anything.”

“I’ll be careful, Monsieur.” It took a moment to see anything in the lion’s dark interior. Then details became clearer. Metal gears and springs and rods and wheels, like those of the mantel clock at the orphanage, filled the animal’s insides. But this machinery looked far more complicated than the clock. Everything connected to something else—rods attached to wheels, gear teeth meshing, springs wound on axles.

Except one item.
                                                                                                                                                     Back to Leonardo's Lion 
 
Against All Gods

Piraeus Harbor near Athens, 7th day of Hekatombion, Year of Archon Lysitheides (253 B.C.)

Galene loved Theron and—equally wondrous—knew he loved her, too. When he went on his voyages, she missed him each day until his return. This separation would be for several weeks, but when his ship came home this time, they could marry. Yet even that knowledge didn’t cheer her. Her sweet Theron would soon sail away from her again. She brushed away a tear before he could see it.

They stood together on a pier in the Athenian port city of Piraeus. Moored sailing ships rocked with the lapping waves; sea-birds swooped among the rocky crags of the shore; and a salt breeze wafted out of the evening sky. Behind them, servants of her father watched both her and Theron, ready to report to her father anything inappropriate such as holding hands, embracing, or—worse—kissing.

Avoiding such contact required all of Galene’s self-restraint. She’d been pursued by, and resisted many men, but this one, Theron, stood out like a horned buck among wild boars. She adored his personality, a pleasing combination of kindness, commanding presence, and wit. His handsome face framed with curly black hair and beard, his broad shoulders and powerful chest, had not escaped her attention either.

“You’re being brave,” Theron spoke in his sonorous baritone. “You grieve, but do not cry.” He smiled with warmth. “Still the most amazing woman I know.”

Gazing at his blue eyes, Galene didn’t know how much longer she could stay her tears. By the gods, she would miss him so much. “Please, just don’t speak about leaving,” she said. “I’ve cried enough about it already, alone at night. Speak only of your return when we’ll be together again. Here, I made this for you.” She held out one of her arrowheads with a leather cord to go around the neck. “Wear it and remember to return to me.”

Theron smiled and took the gift. “I will wear it always, though I need no arrow to remember my huntress. Here, take this and never forget me.” He handed her a small, spiral sea shell on its own leather cord.

Galene could hardly wait to put it around her neck and thought it looked beautiful.

“Don’t forget,” Theron said, “When I return, we can get ma—”

She felt a sudden gust of wind, strange on such a calm day. More than that, it felt as if something large had flown past her.

A tall figure appeared before them. Clad in winged helmet and winged boots, the messenger god Hermes held a golden caduceus in his right hand. He towered over them both, their heads just even with the god’s chest.

After the gusting breeze of his arrival, no other sound reached her ears. Waves and birds had halted in mid-motion. The servants appeared frozen as well.

Galene started to kneel out of respect and fear, but Hermes gave a laugh.

“Rise, Galene, daughter of Hypatos and Photine,” he said. “Theron, son of Dareios, I bring tidings for you both.”

Galene looked behind her. “Swift Hermes, what has happened to—?”

“Fear not for them,” the god smiled, showing boyish dimples. “My words are for you two alone. When I depart, all will return as it was.”

Galene had never seen a god before, and until this moment had held doubts there were any. She doubted no longer.

“There is much talk of the two of you on high Olympus among the other gods and goddesses,” Hermes said, and Galene thought she saw him smirk.

“Talk of us?” Theron asked.

“Each of you has angered a deity in recent weeks.”
Galene couldn’t believe it, and saw Theron looking at her with a puzzled expression.

Hermes smiled as if relating a joke. “Theron, you spurned Hera when she came to you in human form.”

Theron frowned, and then rubbed his beard. “There was a beautiful woman who seemed interested in me, but I turned her away, for I love Galene.”

Hermes pointed at Galene. “You rejected Zeus himself.”
Back to Against All Gods
 
A Steampunk Carol

Stave 1

To begin with, Stanton Wardgrave was dead. At least, Stanton Wardgrave III was dead, a fact known for certain by Stanton Wardgrave IV ever since 1867. This established truth rendered it all the more disconcerting for the younger Stanton to see the deceased man standing before him now.

“Father? No! It can’t be you!” Stanton gaped in terror and astonishment. The background behind the elder Wardgrave was ephemeral and indistinct, but Stanton was too shocked to notice.

“Why not? Don’t you believe your own eyes? Your own ears?” The deep, ringing voice could not be mistaken.

“I’m asleep. I must be having a dream,” Stanton pinched himself. “That’s the very thing. I drank wine after dinner, and I’m dreaming about you now. Yes! There’s more of wine cask than pine casket about you.”

“Clever, but in this case precisely untrue.” The elder Wardgrave didn’t smile.

Stanton took a closer look at his father. This must be a dream, or nightmare, and his brain must be quite well pickled by drink not to have noticed it earlier. “Father, you’re shot with holes!”

Two sections of the elder man were missing, large circular swaths cut from his body. The left side of his chest and the right upper quadrant of his head were gone, with the cloudy gray background visible in the gaps. Yet the man stood without apparent discomfort.

“Oh, that,” the partial man looked down at his breast. “I removed those parts of me while I lived. I daresay I didn’t even notice them gone at the time, let alone miss them. I certainly miss them now, wandering the afterlife with the ethereal wind gusting through my ribs and chilling my skull.”

At that moment, a breeze picked up and the older man winced. Stanton even heard a whistling noise as air sped and swirled through the crevices.

“But that’s beside the bloody point,” the father said, aiming a finger at Stanton. “The same sections of you are missing too, son.”

Stanton looked down in alarm and felt his chest and head for wholeness and continuity. Everything seemed connected and in place.

“You don’t see it now, of course,” the elder man chuckled. “You’re still alive, more or less. But I’m here to advise you this state of affairs is unacceptable. Something must be done. As to that, you will be visited by three beings this night.”

“Three . . . beings?” Stanton snorted. “You mean ghosts, Father?”

“Not ghosts, confound it all! Entities. Personages. Call them what you will. You will receive three visitors.”

“Three visitors,” Stanton repeated. “This all sounds rather familiar. It’s like the famous yarn written by that Dickens bloke. What the devil was it called?”

“Charles Dickens, the writer chap? Oh, he’s now with us; the dead, of course. But he wrote fiction, son, and you’re living a real life. Each has—or should have—elements of the other, but surely you know the difference.”

“See here, Father. You’ve cast me in the most unsavory role of that Ebenezer Scrooge bloke. But I’m no miser, as you know full well. I give sizeable sums to charity.”

“This isn’t about money.”

“What, then?”

“The visitors will make it all clear, my son.” The senior Wardgrave began to fade from view, becoming dimmer with each passing second.

“Father!”

“Listen to the visitors, son. Listen.”

He vanished.

Stanton blinked and tried to sit up. A wave of nausea seized his stomach, and his head pulsed with pain. By minimal degrees he found he could attain a sitting position, though he swayed a bit.

What the devil am I doing in my laboratory? Soft moonlight streamed in the windows and gave the tables and equipment a dim, silvery appearance. On the table sat his holographic apparatus. Stanton winced, partly from his headache and partly from recalling how hard he’d struggled to improve the device. True, the public loved holograms, and he’d earned a second fortune from selling the machines. But holograms worked only with the Stanton’s patented focused light dynaphoter rays aimed into a mist, like steam or smoke. He’d not yet discovered a way to form a holographic image in the open air.

On the table before the couch on which he sat rested an empty bottle of 1868 port. Stanton groaned. He must have drunk the wine while puzzling over his hologram dilemma and fallen asleep.

Asleep. Asleep to dream the strangest . . . no; a nightmare, it was. Father was there, he thought. Warning him. Some Dickensian nonsense or other.

Well, no harm if I lie down a bit longer . . . three visitors, indeed . . . balderdash and poppycock. . . .
Back to A Steampunk Carol
 
The Six Hundred Dollar Man

Doctor Rudolph Wellburn looked up from his workbench as Red dragged the trampled man through his door.

“I brung him as soon’s I could, Doc,” Red said, looking around the office. “Whereabouts should I—”

“Set him up on the table over there.” Doc pointed and rushed to assist. “Don’t unstrap him. Just lift the whole thing.” The man had been bound with ropes to three tree limbs lashed together. From the way the ‘foot’ end of the limbs had been worn smooth and stained grass-green, Doc figured Red must have dragged the tow-haired young man for miles behind his horse. Blood had run down the logs in a dozen places. Together they lifted the stretcher onto the table.

Doc leaned over the patient’s chest and listened.

“Reckon he’s alive, Doc?”

“Barely alive.” Doc sighed. “He’s the Widow Houston’s boy, isn’t he? What in tarnation happened?”

“Thunder spooked our cattle and they started in to stampedin’.” Red was still breathing heavily from his ride. “Sonny lit out after ‘em a’fore we could stop ‘im. Then a lightnin’ flash spooked the herd agin and they turned right into Sonny, poor devil. Can you fix ‘im up, Doc?”

“Can’t rightly tell, yet.” Doc glanced up from his examination. “Go fetch the Widow.”

After Red left, Doc worked by the light of oil lamps, untying the ropes, stripping off interfering clothing, and cleaning the wounds. He kept checking to ensure the young man still breathed and had a heartbeat. So many bones had been broken in the stampede, Doc knew he’d have to amputate three limbs. Only the patient’s head, torso, and right arm remained uncrushed.

“Sonny, you messed yourself up something awful,” Doc murmured, pausing to wipe his brow. He sighed and gazed out the window. The earlier storm had passed and now the moon bathed Cheyenne with a dim, silver light.

He glanced over at his workbench with its pile of papers showing drawings of pistons, crankshafts, flywheels, and boilers. Should Sonny be the one, the very first to get it?

#
“Looks like this stump has started in to healing, too,” Doc said as he peered at the knob where Sonny’s left arm had been. Doc sat in a chair next to the straw-filled mattress on which Sonny lay sleeping.

The interior of the Houston’s shack looked plain, but clean and well kept. A single room served all purposes, with a wardrobe and dresser near two straw mattresses, a table and chair along the back wall, and a coal stove for supplying heat and cooking food. Liberty Houston sat at the table, looking at Doc, her brow knitted with worry. At thirty-nine, she’d weathered almost as many years as Doc, but her gray, wispy hair made her look older. Only a tough woman can deal with the death of a husband and the crippling of her only son.

“I’ve got to talk to you, Libby.” Doc began putting instruments back in his black case. It had been a week since he’d amputated three of Sonny’s limbs. Sonny spent more time awake each day now, though he still winced a lot from the pain. His mother had cried a good deal, and fretted over her son, and asked Doc how she was supposed to work the farm and care for Sonny by herself. “I might be able to make Sonny walk again,” he said, “and have the use of two good arms.”

Libby’s eyes filled with hope. “How?”

“There’s a chance I can rebuild him. I can put new limbs on him to make him a darn sight better than before. Better, faster, and a heap stronger, too. I’ve got the know-how to fix him up.”

She frowned. “You gonna give him someone else’s legs and arm? Like that monster Doctor Frankenstein made?” She shuddered.

“No, Libby, no.” Doc shook his head. “I can strap a steam engine to his back and use it to power mechanical legs and an arm.”

“A steam engine?” Her face showed puzzlement and shock. “Like a . . . like . . .”

“Like a Union Pacific locomotive, that’s right.” Doc nodded and turned his chair to face her better. “Only this engine would be much smaller.”

She looked about to swoon.

“Stay with me, now, Libby. Stay strong for Sonny.”

She breathed deeply, fanned herself, and appeared to recover. “Steam powered,” she murmured, then looked up. “You ever heard that song, ‘The Steam Arm,’ Doc? The one about that feller got himself a steam powered arm? That arm went plumb crazy. The feller ended up tearin’ his house down, hurtin’ his wife, and clobberin’ policemen. What if—”

“Now don’t you worry,” Doc said. “Sonny’s iron limbs would be under his control and will only do what he wants them to.”

Her worried look returned. “It sounds plumb expensive to me. How much does such a contraption cost?”

Doc knew the parts would cost close to six hundred dollars, and also knew Libby couldn’t pay, not with the farm just getting by. “Don’t you fret. I’m not fixing to charge you a penny. I wouldn’t build it for the money.”

Her eyes widened in curiosity. “Why on Earth would you do this for us? For Stephen?”

Doc frowned, his memory dredging up horrific scenes too ingrained to forget. “Back in ’63, I was an Army surgeon with the Union side. At Gettysburg, scores of lads were getting limbs blown off. All I could do was saw their bones, patch up their stumps, and tell them they’d never walk again. Even so, plenty of those fellers died. They hauled all the wounded men off in a steam train. As I watched it chug away, I got to thinking.” He squeezed his eyes shut but his mind’s eye still saw each wounded soldier. “I’ll build this for Sonny because of all those boys at Gettysburg whose limbs I couldn’t save. Maybe someday when someone loses a leg, they won’t end up crippled; they’ll be made better.”
Back to The Six Hundred Dollar Man
 
A Tale More True

No one on Earth could detest Baron Münchhausen more than he did. Count Eusebius Horst Siegwart von Federmann felt certain of that.

As he sat watching Baron Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Münchhausen, the Count’s loathing of the infernal liar magnified in intensity. The Baron hosted this evening’s dinner party, and all the nobles in the town of Bodenwerder and the entire Electorate attended. Not wanting to miss the evening’s highlight, they’d gathered in the enormous parlor on upholstered walnut Rococo chairs with maple veneer. Münchhausen sat on his chaise longue; hands sweeping with dramatic effect; his beaked nose pointing at each person; his mouth drawn up in a smile that lifted his waxed mustache; his high-pitched nasal voice squeaking like a child’s viola.

Yet he captivated the crowd, just as the Count had seen Münchhausen do at dozens of other elegant parties. His falsehoods couldn’t be more obvious, but the party-goers clapped and laughed in appreciation. He claimed to have felled over seventy birds with a single rifle shot, to have killed a wolf by turning it inside out, and to have survived in the stomach of a large fish for many hours. How could anyone believe such nonsense?

Adding to the Count’s vexation, all the beautiful, young, single women sat transfixed, hanging on the Baron’s every farcical word. Were these maidens so easily swayed? How could the buffoonish Münchhausen—that misshapen man with the door-hinge voice, a man already married—hold every fräulein’s admiring attention? Had this been a world where true justice prevailed, the maidens would be listening to the eligible bachelors, the handsome, smooth-toned ones, such as the Count himself.

Not only younger than the Baron, he ranked higher in the nobility hierarchy, was arguably better looking, and possessed a deeper voice. True, he’d not served in any military capacity, but the Baron’s actual combat experience had little to do with his popularity. People flocked to his parties, gathered around him, and sat in attentive silence for the sole purpose of hearing the man’s outlandish lies. Münchhausen might well be the most accomplished and successful liar in Europe, or even in all of history, the Count thought.

Seething with hatred, Count Federmann kept his facial expression neutral, not joining in the laughter or applause. Neither did he call on Münchhausen to provide proof for his assertions or otherwise humiliate the lying Baron. Still, he knew, something must be done.

                                                               ~~~~
“Dante should have reserved an additional circle of Hell for liars like Münchhausen,” the Count said as his manservant removed his overcoat. His rage had only worsened during the carriage ride from the Baron’s manor house to his own, and now he needed an outlet. “The Baron would have us believe he saw a whale half a mile long, and the beast pulled his ship by its anchor chain at a speed of no less than twelve knots. Utterly preposterous!”

“Not even a very gifted liar, Illustrious Highness, to stretch believability by such outrageous exaggeration.” The manservant spoke with a French accent, surely the worst possible assault to the German tongue, in the Count’s view. The servant, a short man with bright eyes and a sharp taper to his face that emphasized his pointed beard, had come into the Count’s employ only the previous week. Going by the name Fidèle, he had arrived in the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg to escape what he foresaw as a coming time of troubles for his native France.

The Count cared little for what might happen to the Gauls, but had told Fidèle he could not abide the offense of lying. On that matter he made himself quite plain and desired to be clearly understood, since he’d had to dismiss his previous manservant for speaking an untruth.

Count Federmann’s fixation on truthfulness stemmed from his formative experiences. His mother had died in childbirth, and his father had loaned the infant to a childless couple in the village. He’d ordered the couple not to tell the growing boy about his noble blood. The young man grew up believing himself a commoner. Apprenticed to the village clockmaker, he showed significant prowess in the craft. In his eighteenth year a messenger had arrived, taking him off to a vast manor house and informing him his father had died, leaving him as the new Count.

He’d hated his father for the deceit, for hiding the truth from him, for maintaining a secret others knew when his own son didn’t. His father had wasted the time of his youth, forcing him to grow up as a mere commoner, rather than learning the skills and manners of the nobles. He found it hard to imagine an evil more vile than abandoning a child and letting the boy believe a lie.

And now, to hear that scoundrel Münchhausen spinning his far-fetched yarns, and getting away with it!

“The Baron is most fortunate,” Fidèle said as he followed the Count to the drawing room, “no one has challenged him to a duel to defend his honor.”

The Count laughed. “He has no honor to defend. He would have to refuse any such challenge.” He thought that was true, but knew another fact. Baron Münchhausen had served in the Russian Army, and was undoubtedly more adept with sword, pistol, or any other weapon than was the Count. Proving the Baron wrong was important, but not worth certain death.

Only the silver radiance of a full moon slanted in through the parlor windows until Fidèle lit some lamps. The Count had come to perform the most relaxing activity he knew, the only balm to ease his angry mind. He took down a mantle-clock, one of sixty clocks in the residence, and began disassembling it.

He sat at a work table in the large drawing room. Tools, gears, and springs lay scattered across the table. Purple velvet fabric hung from the walls, setting off the paintings, the wall clocks, the busts on their pedestals, and the Federmann coat of arms. Bookshelves lined one wall and several books lay open on a stand while newspapers spilled across a reading table. Fidèle stood nearby, refreshing the Count’s brandy as need be, holding a candelabra to ensure proper lighting, and bringing clean rags or the bottle of whale oil when asked.

Clock repair always calmed the Count, restored a semblance of control to his life. He didn’t know why. Perhaps it took him back to the secure times of his youth as a commoner, and his apprenticeship. Gears and ratchets and cams always obeyed his commands without tiring, performed in a harmonious manner, and in all ways behaved unlike people.

“You say, Renowned Master, this Baron is able to attract a crowd of young ladies to listen to his lies, is that so?”

“Yes.” The Count adjusted the position of the escapement.

“That must arouse the jealousy of the other young men at the party, no?”

“Hmm? I suppose this is true. Now hold those candles over my other shoulder. Ah, there.” The Count reached in the clock casing and removed a ratchet. What is Fidèle getting at? Then he realized his wily servant was attempting to find out if his own motive was jealousy. Outrageous even to think it! “Perhaps some of the other young nobles feel that way,” he said. “But for those of us more skilled in all matters of courtship, there is no cause for jealousy.”

More skilled in courtship? Did that hint of a smile on Fidèle’s face suggest his French servant was wondering why, then, there was no Countess Federmann?

“Some of us,” the Count went on, “are more interested in the truth. This is the Age of Reason, after all. Do you know,” he said as he pointed a tiny screwdriver at Fidèle, “what the Baron’s most bald-faced lies were?”

Fidèle shook his head.

The Count inserted the tool into the case and motioned for better light. “He claimed to have gone to the Moon. The Moon! Not only once, but twice! Just think of it. For his first trip, he would have us believe he climbed a very tall beanstalk, the far end of which was fastened to one of the horns of the Moon. He made his second trip by supposed accident when a hurricane lifted his ship from the water and blew it up to the Moon.”

He laughed, and Fidèle joined in. Then he frowned, for a mounting screw within the clockwork mechanism was being stubborn. He tightened his grip on the miniature screwdriver and resumed working. “One cannot climb to the Moon, nor get blown there by a storm. We know from the astronomers how distant the satellite is, some two hundred and fifty thousand miles away. And Sir Isaac Newton tells us we must overcome Earth’s gravity to get there. That requires great speed.”

He grunted, twisting the tool. “What is needed for a Moon trip, in truth, is some means of storing up energy, then releasing it when desired.” The stuck screw came loose, freeing the maintaining hook. The clock’s mainspring jumped from the casing, flew across the room, and rolled under a mahogany desk.

The Count would not be distracted. “If only I could think of such a mechanism.”

“The spring, Eminent Highborn!” Fidèle shouted.

“Yes, yes, I saw it. Go get it and bring it here. You don’t expect me to go crawling about the floor, do you?”
Back to A Tale More True
 
Rallying Cry/Last Vessel of Atlantis

                                                              Rallying Cry

Kane Jones felt like he’d entered a video game set in some bygone era. Two geezers looked up at him from where they sat, each in a wheelchair, playing cards at an old oak table. Each face bore more wrinkles than Kane had ever seen on just two people. He wondered whether dinosaurs had manufactured their radio: a wooden box with large knobs and a bent coat hanger sticking out. A news program blared from its speakers. A film of dust covered the TV on its credenza as well as its remote. Few decorations adorned the room, except a number of framed family photographs.

“Maintenance,” Kane repeated loudly. He’d used his key to enter the room only after knocking and shouting for several minutes from outside the door. “Someone called about a leaking sink faucet.”

“Eh?” the old fossil on the right asked. He looked like he might once have been stocky, but that was before time had collapsed his body.

“He’s here to fix my sink!” the one on the left shouted at him. That man’s face and body looked too thin and cadaverous to be alive, but Kane decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Less than a month into his term,” the voice on the radio said, “President George W. Bush spoke today to troops in Fort Stewart, in Georgia . . .” The man on the left switched off the radio.

“Are you Mr.—” Kane checked his clipboard and frowned. “Loiseau?” He pronounced it Louie-seeow.

The man on the left nodded. “I’m Loiseau.” He spoke the name as Loo-zoh with a fluid French smoothness Kane knew he’d never master.

The room had a dry staleness to it, as if the air was seldom used for respiration. Kane felt he was aging by the second, as if he would walk out ten years older after a half hour in the room.

“I’ll be as quick as I can, sir,” Kane said, and really meant it. His last job of the day, only Loiseau’s sink stood between him and many hours of playing Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. He took his toolkit into the bathroom.

. . . And laughed. In place of the sink’s cold faucet knob, a rusted pair of vice grips clamped the valve shaft. Ugly, but serviceable, Kane thought. Beneath the sink, layers of gray duct tape coated the hot supply pipe’s shut-off valve. While he watched, a drip formed on an edge of the tape, then dropped into a half-full bucket on the floor.

The old coot had tried to fix it himself, Kane thought, amused. Then he realized something. Most of the fifty residents of the Excelsior Nursing Home in Baton Rouge called Maintenance from time to time. Indeed, Kane suspected two old ladies of breaking things on purpose just to watch him work. But there were two rooms he’d never been in during his three years on the job. This was one, and next door was the other. The other card-playing fogy probably lived there.

A whirring sound startled him. Kane turned to see Mr. Loiseau sitting in his motorized wheelchair, blocking the bathroom door.

“Admiring my work, are you not?” His smile accentuated his facial wrinkles. His voice sounded like Jacques Cousteau must have on his deathbed.

“Out of the way with you, Marin,” the voice of the other man came from around the corner. “I can’t see the boy at all.” His French accent was even thicker and more filled with gravel.

Great, Kane thought, and sighed. So that’s how it’s going to be. Both old codgers looking over my shoulder.

With their wheelchairs, they jockeyed into position so the near-deaf one could look past Loiseau to see Kane’s work. Kane knew better than to ask if they had something better to do. With no polite way to avoid their scrutiny, he set to work. Since his toolkit contained spare faucet knobs and shut-off valves, Kane anticipated a quick repair.

After a period of silence, Loiseau spoke. “You have a knack for this. Are you a professional plumber?”

Kane shook his head. “Nope. Just licensed for general maintenance.”

“Ah,” Loiseau nodded. “That is good, your ability to repair many things. With such skills, you will have a bright future.”

A bright future, Kane thought. He’d never given any thought to the future. Too uncertain; anything could happen. No point in planning for it. “To me, the future means a fixed sink,” he said as he wrapped Teflon tape around the replacement valve’s threads, “me out of your way, and you two getting back to your card game.”

“Eh?” asked the one behind Loiseau.

“He said,” Loiseau winced as he turned his head, “his future is as limited as ours.”

“Now, wait. I didn’t say that,” Kane looked at Loiseau. He must think I’ll amount to nothing.

“Not so?” Loiseau gave his wrinkly smile. “Tell me, young man, what is your name?”

“Kane. Kane Jones.”

“Tell me, Monsieur Jones, about your plans. Where will you be in five years? Ten? Will you be in charge of all the maintenance men here? Will you be manager of the Home?”

Kane frowned, unable to understand. Five years? He shook his head. “No, no. I’m not gonna still be working here. It’s just a job; I’ve gotta have money, to . . .” To keep hitting the bars and buying the latest video games, he thought, knowing how lame that would sound out loud.

“You have a goal in life, no?” Loiseau’s eyes searched his own. “A passion for something?”

Kane didn’t appreciate the prying tone and didn’t feel like spilling out his life story to these ancient strangers. Not that there was much to tell. He tightened the valve in place with his wrench. “Look, no offense, guys, but I’m twenty years old. I don’t need goals or passions. You probably don’t remember what it was like to be my age, but . . .” Right away he regretted putting it like that, but they’d annoyed him and he wanted to end the conversation.

“It’s true I am old now. I never thought I’d breathe the air of 2001. And yet I still have the memories of being young, memories as clear as a glass of white wine.” Loiseau seemed to be staring across decades. “The Great War was on, and I served in the Regiment.”

A gasp came from the other man, who’d cocked his head so his ear was near Loiseau. “You’re not going to tell him about the Regiment! They ordered us to keep it secret forever.”

Kane had heard old men telling war stories before, but such tales were never as good as the video games. He tested the hot water flow and checked for leaks.

“What can they do to us now, Yvet?” Loiseau asked. “Send us into battle again?” He laughed, which led to a short coughing fit. “Monsieur Jones might just benefit from hearing it.”

Fishing around in his toolkit, Kane found a matching faucet handle. He checked his watch. “Look, I’ll be all done here in two minutes. You don’t have to—”

“Very well. Tell him if you must,” the one called Yvet said as he crossed his arms.

“But I warned you against it. It’s plain the lad doesn’t want to hear it. Moreover, he’ll never believe you.”

Loiseau put a hand to his chin. “It was July seventeenth of 1915. I served in the Jules Verne Regiment aboard the French aeronef Albatros.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Machine gun shells whizzed around me. Some bounced off the iron shielding, but most lodged in the wooden hull. From above came the monstrous humming of thirty seven propeller blades, each mounted atop a long shaft. The shafts differed in height, taller ones amidships and along the centerline, with shorter ones at bow and stern and outboard along the sides, giving our vessel a passing resemblance to an ocean-going clipper. Instead, these propellers kept her aloft. Albatros cruised as a clipper of the clouds.

I manned the number three gun mount on the starboard side, pouring all the ammo I could into a gigantic German Zeppelin. The enemy airship had appeared just as we’d completed our bombing mission against a German armaments factory. I had a poor angle for shooting, since our helmsman steered toward the enemy airship. I aimed at the Zeppelin’s gunners when they came in view, and also at the gas envelope when that was all I could see.
Back to Rallying Cry
 
To Be First/Wheels of Heaven

Wheels of Heaven

Athens, 86 B.C.

The star-signs decreed it an ordinary day for routine matters, but when Drusus Praesentius Viator saw the box, he knew his world had changed.

“What is this device?” General Lucius Cornelius Sulla stood nearby with arms crossed. “Something related to your craft?” After conquering Athens, the General and his officers were inspecting the art and treasures of the Greek city-state, selecting items to send to Rome.

Viator, the General’s personal Astrologer, turned his gaze back to the box with his good right eye. A patch covered the left one.

The small wooden box sat on a waist-high pedestal, looking dull and ugly among the museum’s bronze statues, marble sculptures, and ceramic urns. Looking around at the Grecian artwork, Viator wondered how some of the museum’s delicate pieces would remain undamaged after being lifted onto carts, pulled by draft animals over rutted roads, and unloaded at Rome.

“Well?” Sulla asked. “I can’t spend a whole day on this matter.” The port wine stain birthmark on his face made him look angry even when he wasn’t, and he rarely wasn’t.

“I’ve heard of such machines, my liege, but never seen one,” said Viator, and never imagined they could be this small. The box stood no taller than the length of a man’s forearm, about as wide as a man’s hand was long, and one hand-width deep. A large metal dial with a projecting handle adorned the front face. Two similar dials dominated the back side, one above the other. Grecian inscriptions covered all sides of the wooden box and all three dials. No doubt the General saw the star and zodiac symbols and sent for me.

The machine’s dials showed a date in the Grecian Calendar, which Viator converted to the Roman equivalent, the Nones of Quintilis. He touched the handle and found it turned with ease. When he did so, concentric outer wheels turned as well, as did dials on the back of the box. “I think it is a device for showing the positions of stars, sun, and moon for any date.”

“Would it be of any use to you?” asked the General in an impatient tone.

“Yes,” Viator said. He didn’t want to sound too eager, but feared Sulla was losing interest and would turn to other matters. He gazed at the box with increased admiration for Greek mechanical skill. If this machine was accurate, it would save countless hours of computation time. “I believe it is worth further study.”

“Fine.” The General walked away and spoke to one of his men. “Have the box loaded aboard ship with the artwork and other treasures. The Astrologer will sail with the machine to Rome.”

Viator decided he would test the mechanism, see if it truly indicated celestial positions, and then—

Sail? Aboard . . . ship? Viator looked up at the receding General and his officers. “Wait! General! My liege!”

****
Viator’s heart sank when he arrived at the Piraeus quay, just southwest of Athens, and saw the tiny ship he would ride. Even just thinking how such a craft would roll in the waves brought on a pang of nausea.

He’d been given no chance to avoid this trip. General Sulla had ignored his pleas and his caution that the General should not march with his army all the way to Rome without the services of his astrologer. Years before, Viator had ridden a warship and well recalled getting seasick, but telling the General even this failed to reverse the decision.

He boarded, along with one of Sulla’s officers, the Decurion known as Metunus. Metunus supervised the loading of cargo, including Grecian artwork and the celestial prediction machine, into a hold beneath the main deck.

From Viator’s limited experience with vessels, this one looked odd. In contrast to the warship he’d once had the misfortune of riding, this ship held no oarsmen. Only sails moved her along. Even odder, a huge, wooden replica of the graceful neck and head of a swan jutted upward from the stern deck. Twice the height of a man, this white-painted swan gazed aft at the ship’s wake.

“Welcome aboard the Prospectus,” said an old man who came up to him. “You must be the Astrologer they told me about. I’m the ship’s captain.” Except for his pinched and wizened face, he could have been Neptune himself, complete with flowing, gray hair.
Back to To Be First
 
The Cometeers

This crew couldn’t figure out how to shoot a pop-gun, much less save the world, Commander Hanno Knighthead thought. As he chewed a stick of gum, Hanno wondered how he was supposed to lead such a mismatched and argumentative group, but knew if he didn’t, thousands of people would die when Comet Göker struck on September 9, 1897, just eight days hence. Just now, more bickering had broken out.

“No,” Sutton Woolsthorpe said with a snarl, “my preliminary calculations show we should fire cannon number three in five minutes, but I require time to refine the analysis.” He went back to turning gears on his portable Babbage Machine with pudgy fingers.

“There’s no time for calculating.” Gotzon Voegler’s rich German accent emphasized each consonant. “You must trust my judgment and fire the number three now.”

“Based on what?” Woolsthorpe asked, “The ramblings of a witch from a Grimm’s fairy tale?”

“No. Based on rules of thumb formed from decades of explosives experience.” Voegler held up a thumb. Prosthetic fingers made up the remainder of his right hand.

“A rule of thumb?” Woolsthorpe laughed. “But all your other fingers were blown off in an explosion.”

When Hanno saw Voegler cocking his other fist for a blow, he said, “That’s enough, gentlemen. Voegler, I’m siding with Woolsthorpe’s recommendation this time. Prepare to fire number three on his mark.”

Voegler grumbled, but then spoke aloud to Woolsthorpe. “One day you won’t have time for your calculating machine. On that day, you’ll have to trust my thumb.”

Hanno and his crew travelled within two identical, bullet-shaped vehicles, each quite cramped, being only twelve feet long and nine feet at the widest diameter. Once in space, they’d attached a short connecting tube to join the two projectiles together, allowing three men to sleep in each one. Hanno realized he’d soon have to rearrange the berthing arrangements to lessen the chance of brawling.

“What’s this?” asked Konstantin Golubev, pointing at some wires leading from a switch. “Someone tampered with my electrical system!” He glared at Hiroto Takahashi as he spoke.

Hanno had known a multi-national crew of experts would be a mistake for this mission, and had argued against it, but had been overruled.

Takahashi wore a mechanical, prosthetic right arm, and now used its screwdriver attachment to fasten his Buddha shrine in place near his bunk. “Not tamper, improve.”

“How dare you do that!” Golubev shouted, his voice reverberating in the enclosure. “I designed the system myself using minimal wire exposure for safety. I’ll also remind you it was Russians who invented our air purifier, our plumbing system, our—”

“I improved your design,” Takahashi shrugged, “by adding more switches to safely cut out sections in case of fire.”

“But just look at this loose wiring! I’ll have to re-route it all.”

“Leave the system alone for now,” Hanno told Golubev. “And Takahashi, no more improvements to the system without checking with Golubev first.” He hadn’t figured on treating geniuses like children, but that’s how they behaved.

The two manned projectiles travelled through space, linked to seventeen others of the same size, but those seventeen contained only gunpowder. After each projectile had been launched from the ground-based cannon, the crew had joined them together in orbit, linking the manned ones with an access tube, and the seventeen others with ropes. They’d installed small cannons on the exterior of the projectile cluster, and Hanno hoped the cannon they were about to fire would put them on a close path around the moon, increasing their speed and flinging them out toward their real target, where they could accomplish their mission, God willing. If they didn’t kill each other first.

“Upstart Japanese,” Golubev said, shaking his head at the wiring.

“Arrogant Russian,” Takahashi said to his Buddha statue.

“Reckless German.” Woolsthorpe watched the bulkhead chronometer.

Voegler rolled his eyes. “Haughty Englishman.”

And it never takes long for nationalism to emerge, Hanno thought, like the squalls that had often spoiled the fair weather days of his seagoing career. Only months before, Hanno had been serving as captain of a U.S. Navy torpedo boat. When in port, he’d followed with increasing interest the news of Comet Göker, named for its Ottoman discoverer. Astronomers had at first claimed this body would put on a spectacular show, visible even by the naked eye. Concern had become worry when orbital calculations showed it would pass quite near the Earth. This had given way to alarm when later observations confirmed a collision to be inevitable. Scientists could not say where it would strike. Most likely it would impact at sea, causing no harm, but it could strike a city instead. Experts had been clear about the date, however, and the comet would keep its unsought appointment on September 9th.

“Mark,” Woolsthorpe said, “Fire cannon number three.”

“Firing cannon three,” Voegler said as he moved the handle of the electrical switch.

Hanno heard a muffled report, and the walls of their vehicle shook.

Woolsthorpe brought out his handheld telescope and peered out a window, “I daresay that nudge should be enough.”
Back to The Cometeers
 
Time's Deformèd Hand

The clock in the tower overlooking the town of Spätbourg struck five, though several minutes late. On this sixteenth day of June in 1600, Heinrich Jäger descended toward the center of town, having flown over the Alps using a set of rented daVinci wings. Twelve narrow streets radiated out from the circular courtyard, and a curved outer street circumscribed the whole town. Soaked in sweat from flapping the aerial contraption, he turned it in to the daVinci Wing Exchange office. From there he walked straight to the local municipal building. Hoping he wasn’t already too late, he’d come to warn yet another village about his son.

Five minutes later, Heinrich had introduced himself to the Wachmeister—the local constable—and sat across from him at a desk in the police office.

“My son is a thief. He may already be in your town, or will arrive shortly. It’s my sad duty as a loyal citizen of the Swiss Confederacy to warn you about him.”

Wachmeister Baumann looked up, nodded, and then twisted his moustache, which jutted out to both sides in large waxed spirals, ending in tapered points. The moustache made his face look like a clock stopped at nine-fifteen. He dipped his quill in ink and let it hover over the paper on which he’d begun taking notes. “To open this case, I shall require all the partic . . . particles. Why do you think your son is a thief?”

Heinrich sighed. “It’s a long story. I’m partly to blame, I’m afraid. It was difficult to raise a child all by myself, especially when my job as a clock merchant took me to so many places. Not a proper upbringing for a boy.”

“What happened to the child’s mother?”

Heinrich shut his eyes and hung his head in painful recollection. “About twenty years ago, we were travelling together, my wife and I, on our way to a hamlet where I had to make a sale. I should never have agreed to take her such a distance while she was with child, but she insisted, and I did not fully appreciate the dangers. In those days, people did not simply fly over the Alps. I had bought two identical clockmen—I called them Chrono AM and Chrono PM—to carry us on the journey.” Heinrich realized Baumann might think him a very rich man to have bought two of the giant clockwork automatons, though the purchases had consumed all his savings.

“Clockmen, Herr Jäger? Did you buy these clockmen new?”

“Yes, except for their minute hands.”

“And how did you acquire their minute hands?”

“Second-hand.”

“Hmm. Got the minute hand second-hand,” the Wachmeister mumbled while he wrote, then looked up again. “To afford clockmen, you must have been wealthy.”

“Business was good.” Heinrich no longer felt pride in his accomplishments, long since overwhelmed by the familial shame of his criminal son.

“Please continue, Herr Jäger.”

“We had stopped to camp on a mountain ledge. My wife’s pains became worse and she gave birth, there on the mountainside. Twin boys.”

“Twins, did you say?”

“Yes. A pair of healthy little boys. While sitting by the fire, I held one babe wrapped in a blanket and my wife cuddled the other. She told me she wanted one to be named Georg when—” he stopped to wipe tears from his eyes. “I’m sorry, Wachmeister.”

“Perfectly understandable. Please continue when you can.”

Heinrich composed himself. “The avalanche came suddenly and with great force. A sea of snow swept me right off the ledge. For a time I could not breathe. I must have passed out from all the tumbling and rolling. When I awoke, I found one baby in my arms, with one of the clockmen shielding us. That machine saved our lives. When it dug us out of the snow, I called for my wife, but never found a trace of her or the other baby. That clockman bore us both—me and the one living son—to the nearest town. I named the boy Georg to honor my wife’s wish.”

“Georg Jäger is the lad’s name, then?” Baumann looked up from his notes.

“Correct, Wachmeister. Please understand, I did my best to raise him right. I even gave the clockman to him. But somehow along the way he went wrong. In recent months I’ve learned his patterns enough to anticipate his moves as he travels from canton to canton, town to town, stealing merchandise and reselling it elsewhere. I only hope I can find him here in Spätbourg and convince him to stop robbing people, to rewind his moral clock, if you will. In any case, I felt it only right to warn you, sir.”

“Please describe your son.”

“Well, he looks something like me, if you could turn back the hands of time. My height. My hair color, though his is rather thicker and less gray. The same facial features, but without so many wrinkles.”

“Nor quite so many birthdays as you either,” the Wachmeister said with a laugh.

“Not nearly so many. He’s had only five birthdays.”

“Five?” Baumann looked up from his notes. “He’s a little boy, then? I thought you said he’s about twenty years old.”

“He is twenty. It’s just that—”

“Now see here, Herr Jäger.” The Wachmeister frowned and twisted his moustache.

“If I am to apprehensivate your son I need accurate information. He cannot be both five and twenty.”

Heinrich sighed. In his anguished state, he’d forgotten how people often got confused by this calendrical enigma. “Georg was born on Leap Year Day. He has a birthday only one year in every four.”

“Ah, I see.” The Wachmeister placed his quill pen back in its holder. “Thank you, Herr Jäger. I sense this was not an easy thing for you. Don’t worry, I’m good at tracking down such men.” He twisted his moustache. “It comes from being smarter than they are, from knowing their modus operetta.” He tapped his temple. “You know, there’s a wedding tomorrow afternoon at the Church of St. Eligius. The whole town will be there. Perhaps your son will make an appearance, too.”

“Thank you, Wachmeister Baumann,” Heinrich stood up to leave, “I may visit, though I doubt Georg would be among a crowd in daylight. He’s a thief of the night.”
Back to Time's Deformèd Hand
 
Ripper's Ring 

From his pocket, Horace Grott pulled the gold ring he’d filched earlier. He set it on his rickety nightstand, atop a yellowing, year-old 1887 copy of the East London Observer he’d never bothered to throw away. The ring looked old—bloody old—smooth on the sides from wear, but scratched and dented in other parts.

He sat on his bunk scowling at the ring, alone in the tenement room he shared with three other men. Working-class men of Whitechapel; one worked at the Thames docks and the other two on the Tower Bridge construction site. Horace worked at a mortuary, driving the horse carriage to haul corpses from the hospital or from people’s homes. He hated both the work and his boss, but better that than the back-breaking jobs of his roommates.

Looking at the antique ring, he wondered what he’d get from hocking it. The thing looked like something a blacksmith made with hammer and chisel. It bore a triangular top of dull metal, iron maybe, rather than a gemstone. No jeweler had crafted this. Such a plain design and large size marked it as a man’s ring. Still, the ring itself looked like gold, so it had to be worth something. Pawning this clunky thing wouldn’t make him as rich as Queen Victoria, but he might at least buy a proper suit of clothes and perhaps get a job as a clerk. Much preferable, that, to carting dead bodies around London at all hours of the day and night.

This ring might be my ticket out o’ this slum.

It sure wouldn’t have helped the dead bloke whose finger he’d swiped it from. You can’t call it stealing, Horace figured, when you take it from a corpse on its way to the morgue. Most often, families removed jewelry from bodies before turning them over to him, so he’d gotten lucky this time.

No ’arm in me tryin’ it on, he thought.

As he slipped it on his right ring finger, several strange pictures filled his mind. Weird images flashed, one after another, as if Horace was being shown daguerreotypes, each in color and perfectly clear.

Blackness . . . a furrow in the ground . . . a hammer striking metal . . . a hand turning a ring’s stone . . . a man’s arm vanishing . . . a sleeping woman getting closer . . . a knife slicing a man’s neck . . . bags of gold coins . . . someone holding a crown . . . blackness . . . more knives slicing skin . . . spurting blood . . . more blackness. . . .

Panicked, he yanked the ring off. The pictures stopped, but his breath came fast and heaving for another minute before he could calm down. The ring had caused the visions, but how can a ring make a man imagine things? This was no ordinary ring.
Back to Ripper's Ring 
 
After the Martians

Wishing the thrill of danger and power would never end, Johnny Branch guided the huge fighting machine across a burned-out olive orchard.

“Yee-Haw!” he whooped. He remembered training on the machines back in the States, but back then he hadn’t felt this giddy anticipation of real battle.

Seated to his right in the cockpit, First Lieutenant Henry Wagner twirled one end of his wide moustache. “Just keep your eyes open, Corporal. Stay in formation.”

Other machines in Crazyhorse Troop marched abreast with Johnny’s, spaced a quarter mile apart. Each one-hundred-foot tall machine lurched in an alien, three-legged gait among the blackened tree trunks. In this sector of Alsace in eastern France, a broad, once-cultivated valley spread before them. Only a few miles ahead lay the Rhine, the border recognized by the Allies. That border was in dispute, and the Central Powers claimed this area as German territory.

“I don’t reckon my eyes have ever been more open, L-T. I’m just a little excited, I guess.”

Sixteen years earlier, in 1901, Martians had attacked Earth, and then succumbed to terrestrial diseases carried by microbes in the air and water. But their technology remained. Astronomers kept a wary eye on the red planet, but so far the Martians had not sent a second invasion force.

“Don’t you ever feel that way, sauntering along in these things?” Johnny had to control each of the machine’s hydraulic legs individually, using Martian knobs and switches. The aliens had managed with just one creature per fighting machine, and the control panel had been designed for their tentacles. But two humans were required, one for machine movement, and the other for weapons, leaving the cockpit quite cramped.

“Maybe back when I started,” Wagner answered, “but I guess I just got used—”

“Hold up, L-T. I just hit something solid.” Johnny stomped one fighting machine leg on a nondescript stretch of dirt. He heard a metallic clang. “Lemme see . . .”

Metal hatches, Johnny knew, often concealed underground bunkers. He bent the machine’s ‘knees’ to lower it and seized the controls of one of its dangling metal tentacles. He stretched the tentacle down to brush dirt off the metal plate beneath them. The use of heat rays in this war had made above-ground structures vulnerable. Each side now focused on discovering and destroying the enemy’s underground dugouts.

Without warning, a dozen German-made walkers rose from concealed underground locations, surrounding them.

“Sound the alarm.” The lieutenant spoke in a flat, professional tone, “and spin the carapace.”

Feeling his excitement grow, Johnny pulled a cord to trigger a loud series of odd, warbling sounds. “Aloo, aloo, aloo!” resounded from the klaxon, a summons for the rest of their platoon.

He caused their cockpit to rotate, while Wagner sprayed rounds from his Hotchkiss machine gun at the walkers around them.

Americans used Martian fighting machines, since the aliens had abandoned so many there, all in good working order. Germans built their own fighting machines, the walkers, with boxy carapaces and four legs. Their machines could run, and were brand new.

“Rays! Get us out of here,” the lieutenant ordered.

The walkers had trained their heat rays on the American fighting machine. The air shimmered and hissed where the beams passed. A heat ray could burn wood and kill men on contact, but had to be held steady for several seconds to melt metal.

Johnny moved their machine in evasive and unpredictable directions. He’d trained for this, and loved it. His hands moved with sinuous swiftness, like alien tentacles, over the controls.

As they moved past one walker, it tried to turn in place. Seeing it off balance, Johnny lashed out with one of his fighting machine’s long tentacles, grasped one of the walker’s legs and used his own momentum to tip the walker too far sideways. It teetered and fell, colliding with another walker and toppling it to the ground. The impact blew the Germans’ gunpowder magazines, ruptured their poison gas canisters, and broke open their fuel tanks. Each walker exploded in a massive fireball.

“Ha! Did you see that? Take that, you—”

“Pipe down, Corporal! We’re still in trouble.” Wagner kept firing from the Hotchkiss, swiveling in his seat to aim, and seeking out the few vulnerable areas of the remaining armored walkers—cockpit windows and leg joints. Already two more German machines had trouble walking and another just stood inert, out of action.

“Damn!” Wagner yelled. “Duck us down, quick!”

Johnny bent the fighting machine’s three knees. As soon as their carapace descended, a walker on their right opened fire with a large nose cannon. The projectile streaked just overhead and slammed into a walker to Johnny’s left, sending it staggering backward before it crashed to the ground.

“Wow! L-T, that was great.” Johnny grinned.

“Yeah,” the officer nodded. “Now, let’s beat it.”

Johnny stood the fighting machine back up and moved them clear of the walkers just as the rest of their platoon arrived. The number of American fighting machines now matched the German platoon. Heat rays sizzled through the air, cannon fire and Hotchkiss gun shells whizzed nearby. Smoke clouded the scene, making it difficult to see.

Reveling in the danger and excitement, Johnny weaved their machine in and out of the melee while Wagner wielded the heat ray and machine gun. Johnny kept them moving so no heat ray could be held on their machine for long. At last he was doing what he’d signed up for, what the war posters urged him to do, what President Hughes expected him to do.

In half an hour, they’d stopped the walkers and killed the pilots, losing only one American fighting machine. Johnny relocated the metal plate he’d found on the ground. He wrenched the hatch free of its hinges.

A hundred yards away, another bunker hatch opened and people streamed out, running headlong across the seared plain to the east. Johnny guided the fighting machine toward them and swiveled the carapace to give his pilot a clear view. From this height, the fleeing people looked like insects.

“L-T?” Johnny questioned after a few seconds. “Those Krauts are getting away.”

“Civilians, Corporal. If I see any wearing uniforms, I’ll cook ’em.”

Johnny realized he’d been too caught up in the moment to see the people as individuals. Wagner was right. Civilians weren’t targets. The pair watched for five more minutes as dozens more climbed out of the hole and ran away.
Back to After the Martians
 
 
 
 

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