Short story that can be great intro into steampunk campaign. Author: Lyn Brooks.
My chest was heaving as I drew in ragged breaths both from the foul stench, and the frenzied pace I had kept, as I ran along the corridors of sewage that snaked underneath the streets of North London near Hampstead Heath. I was trying to reach the Fleet Ditch, formed by the powerful coursing headwaters of the River Fleet; it was the only thing that would stop them.
Not that anyone would ever suspect, but if any person had known that I was down here, running for my life from a madman, and a herd of over-sized, rabid, black swine, most would have openly wondered what could possibly possess a seemingly respectable and sensible young woman such as myself to enter London’s sewers, especially given all of the now apparently true rumors of monstrous overgrown swine living beneath the city’s streets. Perhaps at some more opportune moment I might fully related the tale of how it came to be, but for the moment it will have to suffice that I impart to you this crucial fact about my own self, while for all intents and purposes I have lived an obedient and exemplary life on the outside, within the confines of my own mind, I have been anything but dignified or respectable.
I have always had what my mother and father called a “morbid” and “obtrusive” curiosity about things and what made them work. Being an only child of a family with means, for many years my family indulged the fantastic flights and imaginings of my brain. My dear father had often allowed me to accompany him on his inspections of his factories, and there among the metallic whirring of gears, the thunder and sighs of steam, my soul was in complete harmony with this music, it became muse to my imagination. At times charming, alternating with threats and cajoling when need be with the workers at my father’s factories, I enlisted them all in the production of my creations, the physical manifestations of my flights of fancy.
At first my creations were small. Animated, metal interpretations of things that already existed, wind up dolls, automatons, animated horses. Later, inspired by the toil and hardship of the poor around us, I created more useful things, to make life “easier”. I gained fame and notoriety of course, for my creations, and a good sized fortune of my own. Soon I learned that fame comes with a price, for notoriety attracts both what is best in man and what is most evil. That is when I met the one man most like myself in creative genius and temperament, the love of my life, Bertram “Bertie” Pye, the aforementioned madman that was chasing me through the sewers beneath London’s streets; a dark satanic-like horde of wild hogs between us.
I will never forget the eve that we met as I ran into him, literally, the gloam of the rising fog obscuring everything so completely but still, as our bodies collided on Fleet Street, the shocking blueness of his eyes pierced the darkness, straight into my soul. I cannot say what possessed me to ask him to accompany me back to the factory, this strange man, except that it must have been the instant, mutual recognition of our dark natures that drew us together.
At first we complemented one another well, and he became my assistant at the factory, working tirelessly night and day to help crank out my productions. My inventions became useful. My mechanized workers eliminated the need for children to crawl within the narrow confines of chimneys, damaging their lungs to clean out the muck. Additional modifications led to automatons that manned the looms and mills, so no workers died crushed beneath presses or asphyxiated from the plumes of fiber and thread. Sadly, what I had dreamed would lead to improved lives free of toil led to masses of people without hope of occupation and employment and crime skyrocketed. Not just ordinary crimes of petty theft or highway robbery, but truly grisly crimes of horrific nature. Every day reports of violent dismemberments filled the newspapers and all of London was afraid as even her majesty’s best men could find no clue as to who was behind the killings. I blamed myself.
In an attempt to make amends for the havoc I had wrought on my city and its populace, I became obsessed with finding a way to identify this vicious killer of these poor hacked apart beings. I began to haunt the inquests and hearings and finally the charnel houses where the body parts were brought. Interviewing the physicians and investigators there, and in time gaining their trust so that I was allowed to assist, I learned a great deal of human anatomy. In time the answer came to me and I began work on a device to both capture the image on the human retina and record the pattern of recent vibration along the ear canal. For you see the retina works much like the emulsion of a film, and if one could photograph the retina within a few hours of death one could capture the last image that the person saw as they died, and in much the same way, by examining the middle ear bones and positions of hair on the cochlea, it would be possible to recreate the last few sounds that the ears heard as they passed.
It took many experiments, but finally I had made a working apparatus to capture the impressions of both and a viable head with eyes and ears intact was finally collected. Fearing the humiliation that would follow should I fail in my invention, I had kept my research and work a secret from everyone, even my beloved Bertie. Continuing my work in secret I made my fateful discovery that led to this path. Yes, my beloved Bertie was a vicious, despicable, vile, evil creature.
At first I did not want to believe it, so I began to follow him, to find out what possessed him to do such utterly horrific things. Perhaps it was jealousy, the need to outdo the woman that loved him in discovery and inventions. That is when I discovered you, Evelyn.
I paused for a moment to see if the young woman I had been dragging along with me in the sewers understood what I was saying. She obviously did not yet fully comprehend the magnitude of my words.
She too was panting from our exertion as we had been running, almost nonstop, for quite some distance now in the sewers as I had related my tale to her. “What do you mean Leonora? What can you possibly mean, that is when I discovered you, Evelyn?”
I placed both my hands firmly on her velveteen, puffed sleeved shoulders. Thankfully, after he had assembled her parts upon the frame of my most advanced automation, and reanimated her, he had kept custom with my personal taste when dressing her and dispensed with the evil whalebone, hoops or bustle of our time, making her as sensibly attired as I, with only a loose corset, knickerbockers, stockings and boot underneath that did not restrain, or we would have been caught by now. “My dear Evelyn, what are your earliest memories?” I asked her.
“Why, I have always been with you and Bertie, I…” Her voice began to falter as the horrible truth struck her. “You are not saying…”
“Yes,” I whispered softly, nodding my head as she began to wail. “But how…” she managed to gasp in between sobs.
“I am not exactly certain,” I confessed to her, as her sobbing grew louder, “but you are truly our creation, the work of my mechanizations blended with his horrible butchery and yet artful and cunning animation. In a very real sense, you are indeed our very own child, the work of both our hands.”
“I am a monster!” Evelyn screamed, as I took her hand in mine and forced her to resume running.
“You told her!” I heard Bertie scream over the squeals of the mindless pig minions that were quickly closing the gap between us.
It didn’t matter now as we had reached the headwaters of the Fleet; it was crashing all around us and would prevent the pigs from following us out of the sewers. I firmed my grip on Evelyn’s hand as we plunged beneath the murky, foul waters to cross the other side and exit onto the Heath near the outlet of the aqueduct.
Both of us were exhausted and could hardly breathe much less speak, but I knew we only had moments before my demented Bertie would make his way out sans hogs to confront us.
“Evelyn, dear child, “I began softly, taking her sweet cheeks between the palms of my hands, “listen to me, I have one last invention, and whether it is for good or ill I do not know, but in a few moments I will go to the opening and confront your ‘father’ for his devilry. I cannot allow him to continue, and you cannot stay here.” I trust the small velvet pouch that I had concealed in the volumes of my dress into her hands.
“What is this,” she asked, as slowly she untied the strings of the purse and pulled out the device. It resembled a pocket watch, but with many more hands and levers along the base of the dial.
“I have not had a chance to test it properly, but by moving the various hands and levers, and once set, pulling up on this knob; it will enable you to travel to another time and place, if it works, “I said.
“…and if it doesn’t work?” she hesitated.
“Perhaps nothing, perhaps an explosion, I am not certain, but it is your best chance to go away from here, away from both of us so that you have a chance to discover life untainted from our influences and the horror of your creation.” She nodded at me as I got up and walked closer to the point where we had exited the sewers.
Bertie came rushing up out of the waters as I met him and extended my arms to him. For a slight moment he caught me as if to embrace me, but as the first pang of heat and pressure slid into my side, I knew by the look in his eyes that he had been thinking just as I; we both withdrew our knives and fell together on the ground in each other’s arms, our blood flowing onto the muddy bank by the river as a dazzlingly bright light filled the air above the space where our “daughter” had just been standing.
“Adieu Mon Cher,” I whispered as much to Bertie as to Evelyn, as I felt my life force seep from me and into the ground.
“Bon Voyage mon petit mal faiseur,” my love whispered back.