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Author Topic: Of Pyrates and Scallywags --- my first steampunk fiction  (Read 977 times)
swizec
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« on: April 27, 2007, 05:22:24 pm »

The story goes that a revolution happens in the monarchy of Britannia,
which will later be shown to encompass all of Europe, and becomes
more favourable to the common man. Later the new ruler discovers
the error in his ways and is forced to form leagues of pirates
in secrecy to pillage and plunder his own land to provide money
for his treasury. Widespread panic and skirmishes with the pirates
ensue and when the Americas see what is going on in Europe they
see it a fitting moment to instantiate their own invasion in a
hope to demolish the world of taxless life in fear of a similar
revolution within their own borders. At this point the hordes of
European pirates are transformed into paramilitary units bent on
protecting the continent from the invador.
 
Everything goes on in a steampunk world set in circa 1887 with
actual events and people from the era sprinkled into the mix for
intertextual means, because I feel readers like to discover
little bits of reference in literature here and there.


Here's the story thusfar:
Quote
Of Pyrates and Scallywags
by Swizec

Chapter I
Or how a revolution began the path to nothing.

He was standing in the light invading through the window, as he finally noticed the beginning of his demise as the single monarch of Britannia. Five thousand men were tearing down the wooden gates of his thirteenth century castle and all he could do was to stand there in silence and enjoy the show. There was nothing more he could do to avert disaster and he accepted this. He did not fuss, nor did he panic.

He observed calmly as the gate shattered with a great roar of army brutes, he did not flinch as he witnessed his own men perishing in pools of blood. They were fighting against all odds. A half starved army of personal guards, a cohort at best. He could have called them off, instructed them to retreat and limit their losses. But he didn't, what would be the point anyway? They would only get slaughtered mercilessly later, without honour.

The secret tunnel to his chambers opened with a hush scratching of the hearth against the floor and the minister's head reared in. With a calm wave of the hand he dismissed the poor fellow and told him to shoo. He would go down a man, not a coward, it was the least he could do to show the people he was still his old self. They would probably see it a cowardly act of a man who wouldn't fight for what is rightfully his, but he didn't care about such matters anymore.

His hands clasped behind his back, eyes gazing out the window at the beautiful blue skies with only some perfectly white clouds strewn here and there across the background, he thought to himself what a beautiful day this was to die, for surely he would perish before nightfall. He decided that instead of running he would rather enjoy his last moments with the sights dearest to him. So he observed the soft light falling in shiny spikes through the puffs of white and at the dark green grass covering the horizon - only recently trampled by the attacking army, yet still enthralling as ever.

The army now broke into the castle itself and left the courtyard in ruins. It was his favourite part of the abode but he knew he would not miss it where he was going, he would not miss anything. At least that was what he hoped, but as any lowly peasant, even he could not be certain of it. He listened carefully to the noise coming from the large hallway and he knew it would all be over soon.

Slowly, with a bowed head, he stepped away from the window and into the dark of his chamber. There was business to attend to before his rule was over and he withered away in a pool of gurgling blood; it has always been the tradition to slash fallen despots like pigs, a symbolic gesture really, to show the coup's despise for what used to be a leader. There was a large oak desk in the middle of the large chamber, save for the soft bed and the two comfortable chairs, this was the only thing occupying the room.

He has always been a workaholic, the thought of not being able to work right up to the point of exhaustion troubled him and he could not understand the motions of his people for fewer working hours and laws prohibiting capitalists' exploitation of the commoner. It was only natural he would not hear any of it and used to simply shrug it off. Now it was all coming back, the years of his dismissal were going to ruin him. All for the better probably, the people were ultimately what mattered and if his being alive was in the way he would not fight against what needed to be done.

He put the yellow parchment, he's just been shuffling to find in the drawer, onto the desk. It was the deed to the monarchy and he would sign his resignation of it under pain of imminent torture - rather than enduring that he simply signed it now, before the door was even been broken down. He has seen what a slow death will do to a man -  it was not to his liking.

"For the people!" George shouted as he jumped in, sword raised, armour covered in blood.

The king simply nodded in response without even looking up at the now victorious army, the coup was a success.

"You will now ask for the kingdom and my head, I wager" he said in a calm voice without granting his captors even a drop of sweat.

"Why yes my dear Edward I shall ask of you just that, for surely as you have done it those fifty years ago and your cousin had done it two months prior, you must realise it is what has to be done, it is destiny."

"No, destiny it isn't, but law it is."

"Be it whatever you may wish, it is about to happen. The deed is already signed?"

"Yes, for as you know what would be done to me if it wasn't so, I knew it too and signed the thing without useless need of pain."

"Excellent, and now you die!" George exclaimed as he slit the throat of the former king Edward the Fifth and watched him bleed like a slaughtered pig under the butcher's hand.

It was done, the succession was a success and a new dawn shone upon the land in expectancy of change and prosperity for the common man. Immediately the new king set himself to work and dismissed all other matters pertaining the coup to the second in command - an elderly chap almost too much beyond his prime to take part in this event. He would not be denied participation.

There was much still to be done and it should all have been the king's work but he had more important things to attend, as he claimed. Laws to write, changes to commence and most of all, ransacking the old king's desk. He loved ransacking things and he would take any excuse he possibly could to indulge in this selfish act of discovery. It never occurred to him why actually he loved doing this so much, perhaps it was the voyeur in him peering into other people's private business, or maybe it was just plain old natural curiosity. Whichever it was, it was having a blast right now with this spacious desk full of papers and wax and pens and ink.

John, the right-hand man, the second in command, had his hands full as well. The first thing on the agenda was getting this bloody, still twitching and gasping, corpse out of the room. He didn't want to honour it with a proper burial, it didn't feel right, the plan was simply to throw it onto the pyre with the rest of the battle corpses. Two men were ordered to drag it down to the courtyard and create the pyre on top of it, the gasping king would be the last to die in the fire, he would get to slowly cook in the heat of the boiled blood dripping on his body, slowly creating a sauce in which to cook him.

Of course another two men were instructed to always clean what mess the dragging would do. Defiling the hall with this putrid blood would be an act of deepest heresy. The moral laws have always dictated that pathways of any kind should be clean of blood lest the spirit of those who walk on them be maddened.

Within an hour a large funeral pyre of the defending army reached as high as the castle wall. Tar was smeared all over the heap to make it burn quicker and more complete – ash disposal was a big problem because the castle had been around since before the revolution and there were no ash cellars built that long ago.

Ever since the rabid development of the steam engine in the twenties, ash cellars were being built on farms and in town dwellings, but the ruling class saw such things beneath them and almost never installed steam power within their castles.

The heat was blowing in from the blazing pyre through the large eastern window. It was like a furnace in George's new quarters and even as John stood beside him, nearly melting, he barely noticed the heat. It was his obligation, as coup leader, to quickly make beneficial reforms.

The first and most important, he thought, was the promised tax abolishment. His idea was that a tax free nation, coupled with steam technology, would make for a flourishing economy and wellbeing of even the commonest man. It has always pained him in the past when he had to step over famished corpses and rotten beggars on the way to the market. Anywhere he went in London death was lurking and disease spreading.

The new sewer system created after The Great Stink, that drained sewage with the help of steam down at the Abbey Mill at least helped make the streets clean and almost odourless. At least some deaths were prevented, but the monarch's high taxes still killed thousands every year.

In his mind the Britannia of tomorrow was clean, death free and filled with automations and flying machines of all kind. The horizon would be shaped by factories with high, very high, chimneys churning out nothing but white steam. His patent on ash preserving devices would make sure of that, in fact, he thought, I'll make using it mandatory for all machines.

So far it has only been installed in small home engines because it conserved fuel and lessened running cost on top of discarding the need for building high chimneys, which was too expensive for most homes.

The idea was to install a filter in the smoke stack that would pick out most of the particles from the smoke and feed them onto a tray. This tray is carefully calibrated to drop the ash into a pipe when it's full. The pipe then leads to an ash cellar or some other collector, where the collected ash is later used in the creation of fuel croquets that burn almost as efficiently as coal.

Loud cheers from the crowd gathered in castle Anglia's courtyard woke George from his well deserved slumber. It was a week after the revolution and he had been toiling for seven days without rest on the new laws. All along small skirmishes have been erupting twixt his and the old royal army. More men were lost in this time than in the whole coup, but the old army has been eradicated and they would no longer be a problem.

„The crowd is demanding to see their new king, my liege“ John gasped as he raced in from the balcony.

„So the time has finally come then?“

„To show your face to your new people. Yes, sir, and be quick about it, they are getting restless. Sandwich is worried they might riot and tear the walls down!“

„Very well then. Hand me that coat“ George said as he pointed to his exquisitely cut black silk coat embroidered with gems so it sparkled in the sun.

The crowd roared – wanting to be heard to Bromley, no doubt – as king George stepped onto the balcony with hands reaching for the sky and gaze peered to the clouds. With a sharp snap he looked down on the crow and stopped. They gasped in befuddlement. Pure silence – everyone watching, listening.

The new king was everything the old one was not. He did not dress in flashy mink or wore a flaring crown. His coat did not drag on the floor and his hair was not a mane of curls. In fact, there were no hair at all, his head was shaven bald. His face was crowned with close fitting darkened spectacles and his attire was utterly like everyone else's. Frock coat, a shirt and pressed trousers – only his seemed to sparkle and possessed a subtle panache unlike any other.

„People!“ the king exclaimed sending the crowd into a roar.

„For long have you been exploited,“ he continued once the crowd settled down, „for long have you worked and sweat without gain! Your lord made you work the land when he was bathed by beautiful women! Your industrialist made you work endless hours in the factory for mere bread!

„Your children suffered in the mines! Your children suffered between the looms! Your children suffered guiding the metal ox! And your children suffered without time to play!

„Your wives suffered at home working their magic on the poor food! Your wives suffered as countless children died from diseases they would rather have caught themselves! Your wives suffered without their man when he had to work all day and still bring nothing home!

„No more I say“ - the crowd roared - „No more exploitation! No more suffering! No more wasteful labour!

„Countless centuries of exploiting the commoner for the lords' gain have been quite enough. The industrial brood will no longer be free to silently rule. Henceforth I give you regulated workdays! Sick leave! Paid vacation! Schooling for the children!

„The farmer will own his land! The wife will see her children and husband! The man will see the factory for what it is – a place of work, not a second home!“

Hats flew high into the air as the crowd cheered and rejoiced. The king was basking in worship with a bright smile on his face. He had always liked being worshiped. But he could see the rich and the powerful were not pleased with the changes. He knew they wouldn't be, but he had more in store. Raising his right again, the crowd quieted down.

„But wait, I can see the frowns on the lords' and counts' faces. I can see silent threats in the eyes of the factory owners, who want me dead in a nameless gutter somewhere. They blush now and hide their faces, but I do not resent them their thoughts.

„Naturally they fear for their very survival. The counts have always lived off of payments for the land. Industrialists make great profit by exploiting cheap labour. What will they do now when all this has been abolished?

„Fear not my darlings, for all tax has been abolished as well. You have nothing to give to the royal treasury anymore. Production will be even cheaper, resources almost free. The lords can build factories on all the land they still possess, or they can find some other form of profit than the people.

„I want to see a countryside of factories and machinery! A countryside of moving, working buildings! A countryside where steam automata do all the work and the farmer is only a mechanic rather than a sweaty labourer!

„I want to see cities that are clean and free of death. People dying on their way to the store will not be tolerated! Whole towns emptied by death from filth will be abolished!

„I will have a healthy and clean and rich Britannia and you are all to help!“

With this George took three steps back and disappeared in the darkness of his chamber. The crowd cheered and all were happy -  the new king would truly make a difference and they were all looking forward to the new Britannia. Everyone would dream of the future tonight.

By eve the courtyard was empty and desolate again. The crowd was gone and only litter from the partying remained as a reminder of what had been achieved that day – a union between the rich and the poor.

King George sat alone under a tree in the dark. Quietly he observed the stars and listened to the leaves shivering in the breeze. He had been pestered by powerful men all day while the partying went on outside.

They all wanted to be exempt from this rule or that, under one pretense or another, but he stood firm. He was faithful to his changes, but not as certain anymore of the outcome. Too much resided on the people and their ability to truly change their ways.

He knew the rich and powerful would need a lot of subtle persuasion and he could provide that. But will the commoners be able to change their ways? Won't too much freedoms turn them all into hooligans?

There was, indeed, much at stake.
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