Viewing blog entries in category: Short stories
This was meant to be submitted to a contest. But I misread the deadline and missed it by 12 hours! *The prompt was 'steampunk romance' and the suggested length was less than 1,000 words. I have a much longer version, a 'director's cut' if you will, that needs some polishing but I'll get it posted here eventually too. And yes, it is steampunk, its supposed to be full of cliche' and corniness. Enjoy
I implore you for comments and critiques.
With a powerful shove Andrea Cunningham was hurled from the airship. Her auburn curls whipped around her face as she fell. The emptiness beneath her feet drove her heart into her throat until her hand caught the edge of the gaping hole in the ship's hull. From the corner of her eye she saw the monocled man jump from the ship past her, parachute in hand. That instinctive glance was her downfall. She lost her grip and fell screaming vainly into the rush of the buffeting wind.
With a jolt that wrenched her shoulder a firm hand grasped hers and her descent stopped. Looking up she saw the dark locks and amber eyes of Mr. Hawkins, his entire body dangling from the ship, secured only by his robotic arm.
What had started as an innocent attempt to seduce and steal a pocket watch from a one armed man had landed her in the middle of a terrorist plot. Mr. Hawkins, fortunately for her, had proved more formidable with one arm than most men with two, owing a great deal of that to the marvelous brass and steel prosthetic that now anchored them to the ship. In the mere hour they had known each other she had saved his life once and now Hawkins had saved her twice. With surprising strength he pulled her up and allowed her to climb back into the aircraft, where she in turn helped him aboard.
They both quickly rushed to the bomb secured below the helm. Inspecting it closely, Hawkins looked up at her. “I'm afraid it’s no use Miss Cunningham, there’s not time. Without that key, yours will be the last face I look upon on this earth.* Though I couldn't wish for a finer sight.”
Andrea's heart fluttered childishly. She smiled slyly back at Hawkins and reached into her waistcoat pocket. “You mean this key?”
Hawkins' eyes widened. Being an expert pickpocket, not to mention escape artist did have its perks despite being wanted in several countries.
“What can I say, I'm a girl that likes shiny things,” she reached down and gently touched his mechanical arm.
Moments later the blinking lights and meters on the device dimmed and both Hawkins and Andrea breathed a sigh of relief. Turning to face her Hawkins drew Andrea close.
“Your an amazing woman Miss Cunningham, despite the bounty placed on you,” his tender voice was nearly a whisper and she felt her cheeks flush. “Would a woman like you ever be able to...”
“...land this boat on her own?”
“What!” Andrea exclaimed stepping away.
“Well I can't simply let them escape like that,” Hawkins appeared baffled, nearly offended at her resistance. He walked quickly to the gaping hole blasted in the wall and looked after the escaping terrorists.
“I'm sure you can manage, and the port will radio in to help you, I have no doubt.”
Speechless Andrea could do little more than watch.
“It was a pleasure Miss Cunningham,” Hawkins' adjusted his spectacles as he stood with heels on the edge.* “I do hope we meet again.”
He winked at her then jumped back from the ship and plummeted after the criminals below. Andrea rushed to the edge and watched him fall, watched him wait till the very last moment before opening his chute.
Her grimace of fury slowly softened as she pulled a gold object from her pocket. Mr. Hawkins’ pocket watch was indeed a fine specimen, and would fetch a handsome price.
Pulling the watch chain out fully, Andrea found a cord affixed to the watch chain.* It certainly had not been there when she had slid the watch from Mr. Hawkins pocket. Attached to the cord was a small card which read:
New Portland Square, September 15th 7 pm.
The dimples in her cheeks emerged as she grinned and tapped the card against her hand. It was a trap of course, Mr. Hawkins obviously worked for Her Majesties service. But the only thing that could be more exciting that escaping such a trap would be the chance of finding that it wasn't one. Besides, New Portland was lovely in the fall.
She found Tak’s shuttle near the edge of the camp. Tak was a plump man with knobby features and unkempt hair. His eyes widened above his puffy cheeked smile as he saw Andromeda approach.
“Ande’ my dear! I’m so glad you made it, how has that lattice I made for you been working?”
Ande’, as she was called by her friends, smiled but said nothing as she approached. She ducked under the canopy and proceeded behind counter littered with various tools of the man’s trade. She plopped a large dirty bag onto the only open space on the counter and stared as Tak reached for it inquisitively.
He started to open the bag, but the smirking woman shook her head slowly, and motioned below the counter. Tak nodded in reply and stooped slightly as he unveiled the hidden object out of sight of the busy street.
His gasp was audible as his hand contacted the smooth surface of the crystal.
“My stars Andromeda!” he gasped as he flipped the bag fully open, “Where did you find this!”
“On the outer rim,” she shrugged finally letting her beautiful smile fully escape.
“You’re still searching out there?” he said softly, looking into her soft eyes.
The smile vanished quickly, but Tak hardly noticed as his attention returned to the novel shard.
“It must be a level seven or, or more. I’ve never even heard of one this size, or hue,” His eyes were wide, “It’s more than a shard; its a discovery. Even with the cuts this will ensure that you never have to wander those ‘roids again! Well done Ande’, well done!”
“I want it harnessed Tak; I’m going back,” she was resolute and did not waver when he looked up at her incredulously, his many lensed spectacles raising high on his forehead.
“But Ande’ this is worth a fortune, I... I don’t even know if I can harness it.”
“You’re the best shard-smith in the galaxy Tak, the only one who could do it.” Tak’s eyes did not leave the heavy object in his hands as she spoke. It was true that he was an excellent shard smith. His role in these uncharted space territories was to refine the energy of the rough crystals brought to him by shard seekers. By technology similar to that of the tach-rods shard smiths harnessed the shards in delicate metallic settings redistributing their energies into an even aura.
“I suppose,” he muttered to himself.
“You can do it, I’ll pay you whatever it takes,” finally the shard-smith looked up, his hazel eyes meeting hers.
“No, no, I won’t take money for this,” he looked again at the shard as it rested in his large hands. It was bigger than a dinner plate, and had a massive weight which belied its density. To harness such a shard, to control its energy, would be an honor for the craftsman.
“Thank you Tak, I’ll never forget this,”
“Of course my dear,” Tak said absently as he turned and made his way up the ramp of his shuttle, never looking away from the large crystal in his hand, “If it can be done at all I’ll tag you when its finished. You can come and have it installed into your harness then.”
Ande’ watched him as he disappeared into his mobile workshop.
Andromeda looked above her. The subspace currents were outlined in her goggles, revealing one saving opportunity.
“There's a stray current four meters above us,” she shouted to Daniel, even though he could have heard her whisper, “It'll carry us right at Hawkens if we can catch it. On my mark I want you to cut defensive shielding and put all the fields from my suit into catching that current!”
Andromeda couldn’t afford to lose this match. She didn't wait for Daniel to reply. She swung her legs over her head in a flip that carried her upward. As she righted herself she gripped the remaining tach-rod in her good hand, and disengaged it from her feet.
“Now Daniel!” she cried as she directed a full strength field to form in front of the rod. She could see the soft glow of her suit fields between her and her tach-rod as Daniel submitted to her orders.
As predicted she caught the current and was carried rapidly towards her opponent. Andromeda cried out as she put every once of her energy into the assault and began to hurl bolts at Hawkens as she sped toward him.
Though Hawkens was quick enough he didn't attempt to escape her path. Redoubling his attack he sent a volley of energized arrows through his field as quickly as he could. The blows knocked Andrmoeda about threatening to divert her course, and pummeled her field as they rematerialized into dust on impact with her field.
A glancing blow finally skewed her trajectory exposing her vulnerable side. She felt a searing heat as a final beam of energy collided with her shard harness inches away from her shoulder blades.
“Your harness has been damaged. Auxiliary systems offline,” Daniel reported almost immediately. Ande’ tightened her grip around her tach-rod, but it produced no field.
“Daniel, we’re going down!” Andromeda flailed violently as she began to descend faster and faster toward the ground.
“Commencing emergency field buffering,” came Daniels voice again. Andromeda’s shards dimmed briefly before returning with an intense glow that created an orb of light around her. Like a falling star she streaked toward the ground trailed by the glow of energy that bathed her.
The earth seemed to be speeding up toward her, and she had no more time react to the imminent impact. As her glimmering field reached the earth ahead of her, a loud hissing and rumbling could be heard. The ground cratered on contact with the orb and a burst of dust appeared within the field as Andromeda’s inertia was converted by the field.
Though much of her inertia was absorbed her impact was violent as her body fell into the large hole created by the shard field. Dust covered and bruised she crawled from the pit.
Looking up her cold blue eyes met those of her new apprentice standing above her in the sand as the words escaped her lips.
“How’s the weather Daniel,” Andromeda spoke into the air as she continued on.
“The space currents are strong today, and blustery, you can probably generate a de-atomizing field of fifteen percent before you start to get pulled by the tachyon currents,” came the reply of her A.I. that only she could hear.
“It must be very blustery; I’ve notice you’ve been having trouble maintaining a steady gravity sim’. This is going to make flying and fighting at the same time tricky,” she commented back.
“Agreed,” replied Daniel, “I will try to keep you steady by tuning your fields focused by your suit itself, but you will have to use the tach-rod fields with skill to keep upwind and get your shots off without being pulled off course.”
“That’ll be tough if the currents keep shifting,” Andromeda adjusted a setting on her goggles, and observed as the sub-atomic currents were visually represented to her vision.
“I’m glad you decided to show-up Ande’,” Donnavan’s voice disrupted her assessment. She turned to see the seedy rep from Charles Gateway making his way towards her followed closely by Aaron.
“So where’s your guy? You don’t expect that kid to take me, do you?” Andromeda motioned toward her intended apprentice.
“No, no my dear,” Donnavan replied. He turned to a crowd of rough looking shard seekers gathered on the edge of the nearby dueling field.
“Five hundred credits to whoever can best the young woman here!” he shouted. Several heads turned and men began to come forward.
“I’ll take her down for three hundred and a keg!” shouted a rider from the back of the group.
The crowd parted to reveal a dark haired man, average in build, in a worn and battered shard harness. He was well known to Andromeda, who cursed under her breath.
“Ah, very well Mr. Hawkens, 300 credits and the finest beer I can find! We have a deal,” Donnavan smirked.
Donnavan and the others moved back as Andromeda and her challenger approached the field. Each leaned their long rail guns against a nearby rock, close to the crowd. Andromeda checked her belt to ensure she had enough ammunition. As expected every spare inch not holding a satchel or holster held a tapered metal bolt. Hawkens meanwhile reached to the quiver on his back and quickly counted the long needle like arrows it held. He shrugged, apparently satisfied with the number, and spoke to Andromeda in a low tone as they both made their way out into the field.
“I heard about Ben. You still searching the rim?” Hawkens asked looking straight ahead as they walked.
“Whenever I’m not dealing with **** from Donnavan,” she sighed before continuing, “Your still a sucker for a keg I see.”
“What’s a boy to do?” Hawkens gestured his arms to the sides as he began to back away, pacing the distance to his starting mark.
“It’s nothing personal, ‘K?” Andromeda shouted across the field as she clipped a tach-rod to her feet.
“Never is Ande’, never is,” Hawken replied while attaching a cord to two of the opposing ends of his double tach-rod. He gave the bow string a pluck and smiled at Ande’.
“Ready when you are Hun’.”
“Cut the Grav-sim Daniel, just keep me steady and safe” she said quietly. Without another hesitation Andromeda leapt into the air as the two tachyon fields formed in front of her rods. She grabbed a bolt from her belt and hurled past her hand and the field in front of her, straight towards her opponent.
As the bolt passed through the glowing aura a hissing burst could be heard and the solid object disintegrated into a blast of energy. The explosion streamed along the trajectory of the vaporized bolt as though it were fired from a gun.
A pico-second later it reached its target and collided with Hawkens’ own field projected in from of his modified tach-rod bow. A spray of sand could be seen as the energy was harmlessly converted back to matter.
“You’ll have to do better than that!” Hawkens shouted as he too leapt to the skies and the crowd below began to cheer.
The pair flitted above the dune, spiraling about each other, getting a feel for the subspace winds and their opponents pace. Andromeda surfed gracefully on one glowing sail while steering with another in her hand held. Hawkens glided through the skies on his single larger hand-held field and used short field pulses from his boots to guide his path.
A blast of energy leapt out at Andromeda as Hawkens paused to release an arrow. He was faster in the air and could fight at longer range with his bow, but Andromeda had agility on her side.
Andromeda dodged the blast, and rounded to the east. As much as she had tried to avoid it the winds were against her already, she tacked in quick zigzags as tried to make way headway against the subspace winds.
Unable to both navigate with her fields and aim them at Hawkens, it was all she could do to dodge his blasts as they sped towards each other. Just at the point where the two would collide Ande’ dodged to the side and barrel rolled around as her opponent passed beneath. She didn’t have time to waste with Donnavan’s little game. She needed to end this quickly.
“Daniel, off,” she said as she watched Hawkens zip below with speed that would be hard to match. If she were going to catch him she would need an element of surprise, and a stunt that her faithful A.I would certainly interfere with.
Andromeda’s fields disappeared, and she flipped gracefully as she began to freefall headlong towards the ground several hundred meters below. The pull of the planets gravity accelerated her descent until she was plummeting to the ground at breath-taking speed.
In the sky above Hawkens was slowing to search out his target. Ande’ waited until she reached terminal velocity a mere few hundred meters above the ground before re-activating her fields. The sub-space winds caught her glowing sails and she was instantly ripped out of her downward trajectory. Large plumes of sand erupted behind her as she skimmed past the planets surface. The G-forces of her graceful arc threatened unconsciousness as she was slung back into the skies directly toward the unsuspecting Hawkens.
“Wake-up Daniel,” She was hurtling at her opponent now, and the speed she had gained from her freefall was too difficult to manage on her own. She could see Hawkens eyes now as he searched the horizon. She had him right where she wanted him.
An instant later they collided. The tach-field ahead of her faded as its energy blended with that emitted by Hawkens shard harness. Her outstretched fist, still clutching her tach-rod, struck him firmly in the stomach.
Hawkens doubled over with the impact and looked in surprise as his adversary continued to push past him. It wasn’t that she disliked Hawkens, in another setting she would have backed him to the death as any fellow shard seeker would. She just couldn’t afford to miss a shot, and besides, she had a lot of aggression to work out of her system. The promise of a black-eye was delivered with a second slug from her free hand as she continued past.
Andromeda, still carried by her momentum, continued upward as the disoriented Hawkens began to fall. Ande' quickly hurled a barrage of bolts at him as her upward ascent reached its peak. But Hawkens too experienced to remain dazed for long. He recovered quickly, blocking her shots and launched an arrow of his own at her as he fell.
The currents suddenly shifted as the blast of energy approached, and Andromeda reacted with her defensive sail to avoid being blown off balance. The mistake cost her. She tried to swing the field at her feet around to block the blow, but was too late. The direct hit threw her further into the air.
“****! Daniel, what happened!”
“I diverted as much of your suit shields as possible to de-energize the blow, however you have suffered some damage,” replied the familiar voice as calm and steady as ever.
Another beam of energy narrowly missed the girl now beginning to fall through the air. Andromeda reactivated her tach-rods and swung around to face her opponent. Hawkens was circling from a good distance, taking advantage of his greater accuracy at range.
Just then the rod in Ande’s hand began to shake. She gripped tighter but the shuttering grew worse. A snapping sound came from her glove and the tach-rod burst out of her grip.
“Damn it Daniel!” She bellowed at the disembodied voice.
“The pneumatics in your right glove have gone off line,” Daniel informed her.
Carried by its energy field the long pole blew out and away from her reach like a kite cut from its string. Unable to focus the energy emitted by her shards as it moved out of range, the sail-like field dissipated and the rod plummeted to the ground.
The blasts from Hawkens were still coming. Andromeda swung her feet repeatedly using the only remaining field at her feet to deflect the blasts. She threw a couple bolts of her own between her boots, but it was no use. She couldn't hit him at that distance.
“Daniel,” she cried after another blast from Hawkens nearly hit her, “I'm a sitting duck out here. We need to get in range!”
These still need a lot of work but I'll make some edit them up soon:
Ande streaked over a mountain range surfing through the air at breakneck speed as she was propelled by the currents that billowed against her two tachyon fields. She spotted her target as she rounded a tall spire of stone that stood above the ridge like a watchtower.
Down on a level field on the planets surface a flurry of activity was taking place. As she approached she could make out the shapes of a variety of ships and shuttles littered about like a small village. The makeshift streets were bustling with people, and other solar riders could be seen coasting through the skies on glowing sails like bees hovering about a hive.
She made her approach and landed just outside the busy camp. Many others outfitted in shard harnesses greeted her as she passed. Others kept close to their shuttles as they called out the value of their wares to anyone who might be listening. The rendezvous was like a mobile market catering to shard seekers such as her.
“Have you seen Tak?” she asked one of the more quiet shop keepers who sat with his chin propped in his hands.
“Ahh, Andromeda, good to see you’re still alive! Your a bit late you know the rendezvous started two weeks ago. I believe Tak arrived last week sometime. He set up shop on the east side,” the grubby old shop keeper commented.
“Thanks,” Andromeda replied turning toward the direction of his gesture.
“Oh, have you heard? Both Charles Gateway and Phalenx Co. have cut their rates by a third. The other buyers have cut by nearly twice that.” called out the trader as she walked.
“Damn,” she muttered as she continued walking without looking back.
She spent the rest of the day buying and trading. Her pod sold for a fair price, and with the addition of some of her savings she picked up a two-man pod with more cargo room and greater agility. She planned to be deepspace for a long time on her next voyage. She also gathered a number of other supplies to sustain her in the barren void.
Next, Andromeda stopped in to the Charles Gateway Trading booth to sell off her other shard crystals. She stood haggling with the dealer when a familiar voice interrupted from behind her.
“I thought we contracted you to find shards, Miss Cunningham,” the voice was smooth and cruel.
Andromeda turned around to face the man. He was clad in a clean new vapor suit with a blue cloak that hung from his shoulders. His finely groomed and curled mustache mirrored his wicked smile.
“From what I hear you’ve been gallivanting about the far reaches of the outer rim and only have a handful of shards to show for it.”
“I’ve done enough to fulfill my contract with you people. Charles Gateway doesn’t own me,” she had little patience for the company representative who knew nothing about star travel, shard collecting, or what it was like to lose a partner.
“A mere thirty shards just barely covers your contract. When we hired you I was under the impression that you were the best in the business.”
“Maybe you should spend less time listening to **** on the street and more time getting your hands dirty like the rest of us,” Andromeda retorted.
“Tsk’, tsk’, my dear, we all have our role to play, and mine is to make sure you mangy vagabonds bring your returns back to Charles Gateway,” the man approached the attendant to whom Ande’ had been dealing and inquired about the trade.
“Go to Hell Donnavan, I’m done here anyway,” Andromeda turned back to the glaring sands of the market.
“Not so fast Ande’” Donnavan called after her. His smile had faded; he was no longer interested in games. “You may have brought in enough shards to keep your contract, but that doesn’t fulfill all of your obligations with Charles Gateway.”
The younger woman stopped in her tracks and cursed under her breath.
“You haven’t yet taken an apprentice,” he continued.
“Not now Donnavan, I can’t have some wet behind the ears green-stick tagging along with me. I don’t have time for this,” she turned again and started to march away.
“Seven hundred credits is hardly enough to get you back to the rim, not to stay for any length of time anyway.” Donnavan’s devilish smile returned.
Again she paused. He was right. She had spent her savings on the new pod and the first part of her supplies, but it only bought her three weeks on the rim at best.
“You know I can adjust that for you. Let’s say I gave you full price on those shards you just sold us, forget about the cuts. That would buy you an extra four weeks at least.”
“What’s in it for you,” she scowled. Corporate traders like him were scheming bastards out to line their own wallets.
“I have a very special apprentice for you, my cousin Aaron here,” as he spoke a man approached him in a brand new shard harness. His equipment was top of the line, but didn’t fit him well, making him appear clumsy. It was immediately clear to Andromeda that he had never gathered a shard in his life.
“Go to Hell Donnavan,” Andromeda replied again as she walked away.
“What’s the matter dear, still mourning that poor sap you left behind out on the rim?” before Donnavan finished speaking he found himself racing backwards as a glowing energy field pushed him violently through the market. On the other side of the field the enraged Andromeda tightly gripped her tach-rod as they both sped through the crowds, knocking over tables and pushing aside small shuttles.
With a violent thud Donnavan’s back collided against the side of a massive cliff well outside the market. He could see the rage of the young woman through the glowing energy field that pushed against him, pinning him to the rock. Aaron few up from behind using a pair of short hand held tach-rods.
The glowing field disappeared. Donnavan looked up just in time to meet Andromeda’s fist as it collided with his face.
“Wait, wait,” he cowered. The rookie landed with a thud behind her and grabbed Andromeda’s arm as she readied for another blow. She threw the boy off with ease as his balance was poor in his oversized suit.
“Ande’ wait, lets make a deal,” Donnavan pleaded again.
“Why would I deal with an asshole like you?” she replied backing off slightly as her temper cooled. That first punch had felt really good.
“For one, this little outburst could cost you your contract, and another, I know how badly you want to get back out there. But I’m not letting you go off without fulfilling your obligations.”
“You’ve got five seconds,” she replied coldly glancing at the youthful amateur as he struggled to get back on his feet.
“What say we settle it the way you shard seekers do, with a friendly contest,” Donnavan rose to his feet still holding his bruised chest and checking his rapidly swelling eye, “I can’t compete with you, obviously, but I’ll provide someone who can. If you win you can trade your shards at full price plus a thousand credits and be on your way. If my man wins you get the same only you take the boy with you when you go.”
Andromeda glared at the man.
“Have your man meet me on the east plane at noon.”
As the sun began to reach its peak on the desert planet Andromeda made her way to the east end of the trading camp. She glared at the ground as she walked. There were many more important things she could be doing than a stupid duel, but if it got her out of the tight spot she found herself in, she would give it a shot.
On the plain several make shift stations had been set up for shard seekers to test their skills. She passed a rifle range where several men were showing off. Three men stood side by side holding rifles nearly as long as the men were tall. Their targets could not be seen in the distance but each concentrated as they aimed through the small scopes attached to each rifle.
A brief whir broke the silence followed by the deafening ring of de-atomized matter. The sound coincided with a brilliant flash at the muzzle of two of the rifles and two brilliant streams of energy that blazed into the distance.
“What the,” the third man shouted sounding somewhat inebriated.
“Helps if you turn your shard field on,” one of the others called to him chuckling as he loaded a steel bearing down the four rails of his rail-gun. He and his companion laughed while the misfiring drunk grumbled and checked his equipment.
“I’ll go check the targets, maybe he actually hit it with the bullet itself! HOLD FIRE!” the third man cackled and shouted as he charged his tach-fields and skimmed off down range.
“Morey, didn’t your A.I. tell you your field was off?” the remaining man asked the drunk.
Morey grumbled something about ‘turning the @&% A.I. off’ and continued to check his gun and shard harness for some imaginary defect.
The other key property of the fields that could be generated from the radiation of shards was the way in which they altered matter and energy. The tach fields, as they were called always faced the shards from which they originated. In a peculiar trick of physics energy moving into a field towards the shard would be absorbed and converted to matter. Conversely, matter pushed through a field away from the shard would be converted into pure energy. These were the fundamental principals by which all weaponry, both defensive and offensive, were based.
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