Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Steampunk Writing Competition: Other Entries

Here, in the order in which I received them, are the other seven entries:

Eyes in the Dark
Excerpts from Professor H. Farnsworth journal
Felipe Vasques

I still don’t know what they want. Since I found the City, I was pretty confident no one could survive the conditions of such environment. The lack of communication with the surface doesn’t allow me to prevent the second team of these new findings. Are they friendly? Are they angry at my invasion? Are they plain alien? It’s all so exciting!

Their visage is quite remarkable, obviously adapted for these conditions, another proof of Darwin’s writings. I could observe them from my hiding spot very well, even with my light conditions being far from ideal. Although of humanoid form (a completely different branch of the Homo genus?), bearing a heavy and bulky frame, their heads are completely inhuman. From the top of their heads, a crest of sorts (would they be reptiles?) rises, with a flexible luminescent antennae, very bright, in front of it. They have two of the largest eyes I have ever seen in a creature, completely black but curiously reflexive (would these be of insect origin? Would they be a wondrous evolutionary chimera?). I couldn’t see much of a forehead, undoubtedly indicating low intelligence… a sprout in their faces, no discernible mouth, and two black proboscides growing out of two well-distinguished lateral nostrils, apparently connecting to their shoulders. From the nostrils, I can hear a heavy breathing sound, not unlikely of my own, reason to be very careful when they are close. I think something is not right with my equipment, but I can handle this later. They have broad shoulders, suggesting enhanced strength […]


They have isolated me from the Mole, I can’t reach my vehicle anymore without risking being caught. Contacting them proved dangerous, they tried to grab me. They found my hiding spot, I am using these ancient ruins to hide myself. For I could see them closer, truly inhuman they are, I say! Emotionless faces bearing those gigantic lidless eyes gazing right through me, dark markings across a rough leather-like hide, will they be natural? Tribal keloids of some sort? […] oddly, they don’t seem to know the City better than I do.


I sleep just to wake up in the verge of screaming […] nightmares with these savage beasts of abyssal [eyes?], trying to grab me to unspeakable ends, [Yesterday I?] lost my watch, I don’t know how much time my oxygen […] at any moment, they can find me!


They have found me! […] Their eyes, damn their eyes! Helen, please forgive [me?]


The professor was delirious when found, probably due to the long exposure to gases from deep beneath the Earth. His protection gear was faulty, in a last irony, since his rescuers, described with such acumen and fear, were dressed up with the same gear he himself had invented and worn. I urge you not to allow publishing these last pages, in order to keep the memory of our beloved colleague and teacher of us all, as well as to protect his family.

The Explorator
Kim Lakin-Smith

He spotted the thing below an outcrop of amethyst quartz - a snaggletooth of cankered metal sticking out the tunnel wall. Usually the stream of acid-reflux halfway up his waders would’ve dissolved the anomaly. But it had lodged under the quartz like a sliver of fruit skin stuck to the roof of the mouth. An understandable aggravation.

Dervine McKellar sloshed forward. His shoulders pendulumed as he moved, and he was grateful for the light construction of his latest item of field kit, a Banwell Helmet. Feeling about the helmet with his gauntlet gloves, he located the comb of black rubber plumage up top alongside the silver disc of his headlamp. He redirected the torch beam and leant in.

His goggles were darkened against flash fires in the reflux but the insectile lenses let in enough light to see it was a chunk of weathered bronze not dissimilar in colour to the rust shades of his leather helmet. A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead; he shook it free of an eyelash and reached to his lower back where a lever protruded off the oxygen tank backpack. He cranked the release; oxygen siphoned through the connecting hose and flooded the helmet’s snout. The rasp of the helmet’s respirator valves soothed him. Just concentrate on the blockage.

The anomaly was a couple of feet across. Dervine inched fingers under it and pulled. A great roar swept along the passageway, vast and eerie like the sound of a giant metal ship warping in sunlight. Dervine lowered his head and nodded. He’d one shot at this.
Retrieving sparking wire, pliers and two packs of dynamite from a tin-lined holster at one hip, he worked with deft precision to wire a pack either side of the anomaly. Then he spooled off the wire, allowing it to sink into the acid stream until he reached a cleft fifty feet back up the passageway. He pressed himself in and double-checked the rivets at the helmet’s neck seal. Time to find out if a Banwell Helmet was worth the investment.
A strike to the rock face lit the sparking wire. Dervine watched the ember move beneath the acid stream like a rubied spider. Three two one…

Copper dust burst out in a radial. The ground reverberated. The noise when it came was a soul-curdling drone that tore at the ear drums. Dervine caught a last glimpse of the cleared fissure beneath the quartz outcrop before the acid bubbled up and he was completely immersed. Cocooned in the air vacuum of his helmet, he was buffered on the viscous tide until he hit ground again in one great burst of expulsion.

Light flooded in from a distant sky. Dervine stood, bile water streaming off his shoulders. Removing his helmet, he gave it an affectionate pat and tucked it under an arm. Then he stared into the colossal granite eye of the Mountain King.

“I’m delighted to say the surgery was a complete success, your Majesty.”

Craig Hartel
Dawson Creek
BC, Canada

Stuart Canary was no ordinary young man; as a young lad his father, Stirling, was tragically lost along with over a hundred other miners in the Wainright Coalmine disaster. Most of the men survived the initial explosion and collapse; however rescuers were unable to reach the men because of the lack of breathable air and the inky blackness which made it almost impossible to work.

Young Stuart worked every odd job he could find to pay his way through school and eventually he graduated from Sir Francis Devonshire University with a degree in Geological Engineering. He went on to found the Canary Mine Rescue Company and began to develop the tools necessary to aid rescue workers cast into the dangers of a mining catastrophe.

Canary’s first major product was the Model H2009 Rescue Helm. The helm was constructed with heavy leather, giving it flexibility and durability needed for rescue work. It was easily repaired if damaged and each helm could be custom fit to the wearer. It also featured some of the very latest technological features, such as a removable respiratory assistance mask which was normally connected to an oxygen supply tank worn on the rescuer’s back, or slung over the shoulder. The mask featured one-way valves on either side of the face to easily facilitate the exhalation of dangerous off-gasses created during breathing.

The head of the wearer was also protected by a hardened comb which protected the wearer from injuries from bumps and falls as well as falling objects or debris. Additionally, the comb served as a mounting point for the headlamp system which was one part of the most technologically-advanced vision systems ever developed. In concert with the goggles supplied with the helm, the argon-bisfulate headlamp intensified available light particles in most any environment. The goggle lenses were coated with a revolutionary new neon-parlambulate film that both hardened the lenses and picked up the intensified light particles created by the headlamp proper.

Although to the naked eye of the layperson the goggles looked dark and would seemingly be impossible to use in the darkness of a mine shaft, the patented two-part combination of the Ab Headlamp and Np Goggles allowed a rescuer to see in even the darkest places under the ground.
This was one of many pieces of equipment invented by Canary, and in later years, he started other companies where he developed dozens of ideas to serve commercial, industrial and military needs.

The Canary Mine Rescue Company was Stuart Canary’s monument to the memory of his father.

Ian Kong

The air reeked with desolation. Everything from Ford’s vehicles to the children’s playground at the state school was in a pandemic state of decay. Nothing moved by its own accord. Only by virtue of the wind can discarded trash appear to be animated. It was not an epidemic. Neither was it a cataclysmic event, a la meteor that precluded the much feared millennia doomsday saying. It was Man. The author of his own demise…

Arnold Van Lutheridge checked the seams of his helmet. Despite being fabricated out of scavenged leather and forsaken found materials, the fact that he was wearing it meant the difference between life and a slow, agonizing death if exposed to the surrounding air. He took in a deep breath and exhaled. A protracted wheeze emanates from the twin regulators on both sides of the snout. At least the respirator is working this time around. He did not want another episode of almost choking to death due to a clogged up rubber hose connected to the oxygen canister. Swiveling the head lamp as he checked his steps, he gingerly ventured into yet another abandoned mine. He had to find another harbouring point for the rest of the survivors. Survivors of the Mecha Blip. A tongue-in-cheek term coined by Riesen Banwell, his mentor and master craftsman. He was the one who constructed the helmet in the first place. Arnold remembered having to expose himself on land to gather the necessary materials, sawing leather off expensive cars that no longer need such commodities, breaking into Earle’s Eyewear stores to obtain frames that would be installed as the helmet’s goggles… And then blank.

Hours later he awoke from a coma remembering nothing more than pulsating lights, swooping movements and a deadening mechanical crunch. Riesen told him it was prolonged exposure to Nanovarmint, a sick combination of nanotechnology and genetically modified viruses released by Tekrion, the world’s first industrial plant since The Industrial Revolution. How ironic. The structure once served as a hallmark for progressivism, the dawn of the machines, but now it was the reason why the sky is coated with an atmosphere of rust. Nanovarmint induces severe hallucinations that inevitably lead to self-harm. And now, the technochemical was beginning to dissolve in water pooling in the underground where they were taking refuge. And that was why Arnold needed to further explore the recesses of the mines. And that was why he needed the helmet…

The Mecha Blip is an anachronistic and fictional technological arms race. Its core aim was to fuse the mechanical with the organic. This led to morally gray experimentations such as the union of robotics and the humans (cyborgs) as well as nanotechnology. The intense build-up and the thickening air of suspicion, kudos to the Cold War, eventually erupted into wars between the USSR and the United States of America.

Tekrion – a fictional industrial plant turned biochemical weapons research center during the period leading to the Mecha Blip. An accidental sabotage by USSR spies had severe repercussions when Nanovarmint was unleashed onto a then unprepared America.

Subterranean Exploration Helmet, also known as The Lidenbrock helmet Mark IV
Aron Gameyell

When Professor Lidenbrock returned to his home in Hamburg in the fall of 1863 with strange and wild tales of his underground expedition he was hailed as a hero of science! Tales of his adventures with his nephew and their native guide were told and retold throughout Germany and finally throughout Europe. Crowds lined up to here him speak of what he had seen and hear of his discoveries.

While the professor had always expressed joy that he and the others were able to escape with their lives he also said that he regretted he could not have done more scientific work. It wasn't long before such sentiment spread throughout the scientific world and soon he was contacted by other scientists who shared his feelings and thus The League of Subterranean Exploration was born.

The league's members pooled their resources to prepare for such expeditions and design equipment to help the men survive and work in the world beneath their feet.

Lidenbrock, with some help from a few colleagues, began designing a helmet for underground use. The first model was made of solid steel with a pair of glass goggles for the eyes, it proved heavy, bulky and expensive. The design was dropped in favor of laminated leather which would be lighter and cheaper.

The Mark II helmet was made from thick laminated leather and was equipped with an electric light. The glass for the goggles was darkened and made thicker to offer better protection to the eyes. While superior to the Mark I it still did not address the problem of oxygen.

The Mark III helm did address this problem with a simple air tank connected with a rubber hose to the mouth piece. It proved to be a workable design but extensive testing in various cave systems all over Europe showed that the tank could only last a few minutes at most. A respirator was attached that extended the time a person could survive but was prone to malfunctioning which could mean death by suffocation for the wearer.

Finally all the problems wore sorted out with the Mark IV. It carries a slightly longer lasting tank on the shoulder or can use an even larger one on the wearer's back. A refined respirator allows the wearer to stay cut off from the outside air for much longer and the mouth piece is detachable in the event of a malfunction. The goggles are detachable in case of damage or if you just want to look without them. The electric light has been completely redesigned allowing it to last several times longer then before and is now completely adjustable.

It was with this helmet, and a bunch of other special equipment they had designed, that The professor returned to Iceland with another expedition in 1875 and was able to descend much further then ever before and a similar expedition descended into the caverns beneath New Zealand in 1881.

Underground Amazon
Romeu Martins
Translated by Ludimila Hashimoto

Percy Fawcett told me he still felt he’d die in the Amazon. If I didn’t find a way to help him, that would be the day: the young explorer would be sliced by the man hired to guide him in the forest. Torres was a slave hunter before slavery abolition in Brazil. I never trusted him, but did not expect the bastard would blow up the tunnel right after he left the cave, leaving me unarmed and isolated. Thanks to a helmet I survived the landslide.

Rocks blocked the cave mouth, leaving just a gap through which I saw the traitor threaten the boy outside. A damn time for J. Neil Gibson to come up with the idea of the expedition! The American became a millionaire when he was young and found gold in the Amazon. But he wanted more. He used money to get the English adventurer to search for new precious resources under the jungle. Now the Brazilian slaver was doing the same, using a knife instead. He was forcing the boy to tell him the location of a diamond streak.

How did I get myself into this? Luckily or not, I met Gibson two decades ago. I had just entered the Brazilian police and saved his life in Rio. My reward, twenty years later: he decided to take me on the expedition. He is a U.S. senator, influential in the court of the Brazilian Empire, so I came against my will. Everyone calls me John Steam. Not my real name: my mother delivered me in a steam train in England. I am Fawcett’s fellow citizen, but I came from a village called Wold Newton, whose only memorable event was a rock falling from the sky, 45 years before I was born.

The thought of the meteor gave me an idea. The explosion had disarmed me. Except for the underground exploration helmet, I only had a pickaxe. Not enough to break through the rocks, but I had my tricks. The engineers had added an oxygen canister to the helmet so that I could breathe in closed environments. Though it was not the case in the gallery, the accessory would be useful. I took it off my back, detached it from the hose that connected it to the mask and placed it in the hole.

Without that opening I would be in the darkness if it weren’t for the electric candle adjusted to the helmet. Thanks to the artificial glow I could lift the pick and strike the safety valve on the canister. Not enough. Just caused sparks that would have pierced my eyes, if it weren’t for the goggles. Torres had certainly heard the clap. My second blow had to be precise.
So it was: the seal was opened and the compressed oxygen released. As if it were a Chinese rocket, the canister took off. My makeshift projectile only stopped after breaking the assassin’s spine. Percy Harrison Fawcett’s omen of death in the Amazon would have to wait.

Annotation of References
Percy Harrison Fawcett (1867 – 1925) was the English military officer and explorer who inspired the creation of Indiana Jones and the book Lost world (1912). He disappeared in his last expedition to the Amazon rainforest.
Torres is a creation of Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) for the book La Jangada - huit cents lieues sur l'Amazone, published in 1880, whose story is set in 1852.
J. Neil Gibson is a creation of Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) for the short story “The problem of Thor Bridge” (1922), whose story is set in 1900.
Wold Newton is the name of a city in England where a meteor has actually fell in. The fact was used by American writer Philip JosĂ© Farmer (1918 – 2009) to write the fictional biographies Tarzan alive (1972), and Doc Savage – His apocalyptic life (1973).
John Steam is a character of mine that appears in a short story for a Brazilian steampunk anthology.

Subterranean Steam
Victorian, aka DreamSteam

Staring into the pile of dirt before him that marked the last known entry point of his client’s very pricey excavator, Elom raised his right hand and lowered his protective goggles somberly, as the final action before a possibly very final mission.

Underground recovery work had its’ perks, but also had more than a few dangers. Many “money-moles”, as the rare few who did this had become known, did not live to spend the extravagant bounties that companies would pay for pilots to delve in search of drilling equipment that was “lost” deep below the surface. But Elom was better than most. The best. He knew it. That was what would get him back topside alive -- that, and a good bit of respect for the earth. Those who did not respect it… well….

He shook off those thoughts, and decisively turned the activation key to start the digger’s massive engine. The cold steel machine sprang to life with a colossal rumble of gears and steam. Elom switched on the headlamp atop his helmet, making sure it illuminated the complex control panel in front of him when he looked in that direction. Bright and clear. Good. Most importantly, the cool breeze flowing past his mouth and nose told him that the oxygen canister strapped to his back was functioning properly. The pod had two days' worth of breathable air, but the oxygen canister would supplement that supply in case of emergency -- like crushing amounts of earth leaking into his machine, or engine failure with subsequent encasement in a filthy grave, or… the unimaginable.

Elom pointed his craft’s drill cone down to touch the ground, and revved it up to speed. A hole formed in the surface faster than one would expect, mostly due to the modifications he had made to an already superior recovery vessel.

As the descent continued, the air in the pod warmed to a dangerous level; the vents on Elom’s helmet automatically kicked on to activate the respirator apparatus’ cooling process that would keep his lung tissue from getting singed. Elom took a moment to mentally give thanks for the smelly leather monstrosity on his head. It had a respectable covering of sweat, oil and dirt, and had saved his life more than once when things went bad.

This time, everything seemed to be going smoothly -- or at least as smoothly as a jarring traverse through solid earth and rock could go. At a depth of two thousand feet, Elom saw his quarry on the detection grid. Bingo! He drove the vehicle as close as he could safely get to the errant piece of machinery, and activated the pod’s deployment arm to push a marking transmitter through the dirt towards it. A recovery transport would have to come back for this, another day.

Satisfied with a job well done, Elom pointed his vessel towards the surface, and pondered what he might do with the reward money. Maybe he would add more gadgets to his helmet….

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