Posts Tagged ‘Tags#FlashFriday’

Frank walked down the factory hall, through the clatter of the cotton gins, the whir of the spinning machines, the clack and hiss of the looms. Sweat ran down his neck, under the starched collar he’d put on specially for the meeting. It streamed from the brows of the human labourers, but not the automata. They worked without sweat, without variation, without hesitation, until their fires needed to be stoked.

He saw more and  more of the automata in the factories he visited. They were expensive to obtain, but once in place, they worked tirelessly and without complaint. Lots of employers thought they were the future. Frank feared that those employers might be right.

He walked into Mr Stewart’s office, with its mahogany desk and the painting of a woodland scene on the wall.

“What do you want, McGuigan?” Stewart growled around his cigar.

“Good morning to you, too, sir,” Frank said, with practised civility.

“I have to meet with union leaders, I don’t have to make small talk with them. Get to the point.”

Frank laid a pile of medical reports on Stewart’s desk. They made for unpleasant reading, a catalogue of lost fingers, crushed toes, and worse.

“Your workers need protective boots and gloves, Mr Stewart. It’s your responsibility to provide them.”

“My workers did fine without protection for years. I’m not bearing an extra expensive because they got sloppy.”

“It’s your new engines. Everything’s working harder and faster. That means more profit for you, but more risk for my members.”

“Your members.” Stewart snorted. “I’ve got plenty of workers that don’t need  to be coddled, McGuigan.”

Stewart rang a bell that hung on the wall behind him. An automata strode in, piston legs and arms hissing, and stopped next to Frank. He could feel the heat radiating from its belly boiler.

“Show us your hands,” Stewart said.

The automaton’s arms hissed as they stretched out. Its fingers were scratched and nicked.

“Same accidents,” Stewart said, “but no need for gloves. You want to look at his feet too?”

“Of course this thing doesn’t need protection, it’s a machine. But my people—”

“Your people are workers in my factory, same as this brass man. If some of them can take the working conditions but others can’t, I don’t have to pander to the weak ones, but I do have to treat everyone the same.”

“This is outrageous!”

“Everyone treated the same. It’s in your rules.” Stewart pulled his copy of the union agreement out of a desk drawer. It was surprisingly well-thumbed. “I checked.”

“So you’re going to wait until fingers start snapping off these things before you make a change?”

Frank pointed at the automaton’s hands. Worn as they were, they were a long way off breaking. The automaton let out a little hiss, and if it had been a person, Frank would have said it sounded mournful.

“If your people don’t like their working conditions, I can always replace them with more like him.” Stewart nodded at the automaton.

“You can’t sack people without cause.”

“Ah, but if they leave, when conditions are fine for other workers, then I can replace them however I want.” Stewart leaned back, grinning. “You try bringing a union into my factory when everyone here’s coal fired.”

“I’ll find a way to beat this.” Frank snatched up the medical reports. “You see if I don’t.”

“There is no way.” Stewart tapped the union agreement. “I believe that we’re done.” He waved dismissively at the automaton. “Get back to work.”

Shoulders slumped, Frank followed the hissing machine onto the factory floor. It went to its place by a cotton loom and stood for a long moment, hand raised a foot from its face.

An overseer prodded the automaton. “You get back to work.”

The automaton clacked, like gears were missing each other inside its head. The other automata looked up at the sound. They all stopped and raised their hands.

“I said get back to work,” the overseer growled.

When the automaton didn’t respond, the overseer belted it with a broom handle. The clang rang clear even through the storm of machine noises, but the automaton didn’t move. None of them did.

For the first time since he set foot in the factory, Frank smiled.

“Mr Stewart!” the overseer shouted.

Stewart stormed out of his office and stood glaring at the machines, hands planted on  his hips. “What the hell is this?”

“I think your workers want protective gloves,” Frank said. “Maybe boots too. They’ve noticed that they’re getting damaged, and they’re probably worried about what’ll happen when they’re too battered to work.”

“They’re just machines!”

“And buying them gloves will cost a lot less than buying new machines, though of course you’ll have to buy them for my union members too. Got to treat all the workers the same, remember?”

“You did this!” Stewart glared at him. “You’ve found a way to sabotage my automata.”

“Like I’d know how.” Frank laughed. “Let me know when you’ve bought those gloves and boots. You don’t want to break our agreement.” He strolled away down the factory hall. As he passed the automata from the office, he raised a fist in salute. “See you again soon, comrade.”

The automaton hissed. Though his face couldn’t move, for a moment he almost seemed to wink.

***

If you enjoyed this story and you’d like to read more, then you can sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook of steampunk short stories and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Dirk Dynamo is used to adventure. He’s chased villainous masterminds across the mountains of Europe, stalked gangsters through the streets of Chicago, and faced the terrible battlefields of the Civil War. But now he’s on a mission that will really shake his world.

For centuries, the Great Library of Alexandria was thought lost. Now a set of clues has been discovered that could lead to its hiding place. With the learned adventurers of the Epiphany Club, Dirk sets out to gather the clues, track down the Library, and reveal its secrets to the world.

Roaming from the jungles of West Africa to the sewers beneath London, The Epiphany Club is a modern pulp adventure, a story of action, adventure, and romance set against the dark underbelly of the Victorian age.

Available in all good ebook stores and as a print edition via Amazon.

A pair of smoking chimneys
Image by cwizner from Pixabay

“You can see the whole city from up here,” Archie said, peering out of the control cabin, through the smoke billowing from the constructor’s stacks. “Yet in some ways, you can hardly see it at all. The faces, the clothes, the shop fronts, they vanish from view.”

“Isn’t that what we’ve been building towards?” Ramsey pulled a lever and a vibration ran up through their feet. “To see the big picture and make big changes. To transform the city, so that all those people can live better lives?”

“I suppose so.” Archie sneezed. “Sorry, it’s the smoke. Maybe we should have put glass in the windows.”

“I’ll fix that later.” Ramsey gestured to a big blue button. “Would you care to do the honours?”

Archie took a deep breath and pressed the button, a tiny gesture for a life-changing moment.

The constructor rumbled out of the inventors’ yard on wheels the size of wagons, a towering pillar of steam and steel, and approached a deserted row of back-to-back terraced houses. There was a whoosh and then a roar as vacuum pumps sucked up tiles, bricks, and timbers, then a rattling cacophony as mechanical arms started laying them back down, building cleaner, more spacious houses. Wretched slums became the beginnings of a bold new dream.

In the control cabin, Archie and Ramsey hugged, slapping each other on the back. They could barely make themselves heard over the noise, but there was no need for words. They were changing the world.

#

Archie clutched a handkerchief over his mouth as he stepped into the cabin. Ramsey stood at the controls, stiff-backed, staring out at the city. His hair had grown longer, dark with soot and grease. Archie tapped him on the shoulder and he jolted, then turned.

“Didn’t hear you coming in.” Ramsey raised his voice over the machines.

“I could tell.”

“Pardon?”

Archie took the cloth from his mouth. Smoke scratched at his throat, a reminder of why he didn’t come up often.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Ramsey stared at him with bloodshot eyes, as if he was looking at a gear that had inexplicably started turning backwards.

“I’m exultant. Look at what we’re achieving!”

A sweep of his hand took in the city. Some parts were a mess of irregular roads and cramped, slumping houses, dirty factories, dingy shops. Other parts, those the machine had been through, were neatly laid out, the houses sturdy and spacious, the shops well lit and the factories clean.

“About that.” Archie shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “We need to slow down. Not everybody wants their homes rebuilt, and some people aren’t getting out fast enough. We’ve upset a lot of people and destroyed some family heirlooms when they weren’t removed in time.”

“Things and feelings.” Ramsey laid a hand on Archie’s shoulder. “These will be forgotten once everyone has the space and shelter they need. Remember our vision: a better city.”

“I suppose…” Archie looked out of the window. It really was hard to see the people from up here.

“You get back down, calm the ruffled feathers, and I’ll keep us going. Trust me, this is all for the good.”

#

Wheezing even with a mask over his mouth, Archie stepped inside the control cabin. He stumbled, kicked the corner of a console, and Ramsey spun around, his smoke-stained coat flapping behind him.

“Archie!” Ramsey grabbed his arm and dragged him to the main console, which was shrouded in wind-blown smoke. “Isn’t it magnificent?”

Half the city had been transformed. Wide avenues, neat houses, matching shops, rail lines on viaducts so as not to break up the grid.

“It’s certainly impressive,” Archie said, blinking tired eyes. He cleared his throat. “But the thing is, we’ve run into some problems.”

“Problems?” Ramsey scowled. “Just explain our purpose to them. Whoever it is, they’ll stop whining once they understand.”

“Look.” Archie pointed to a district where smoke rose denser than ever from the old houses. “Our designs are good, but they don’t leave room for as many people as before, so they’re crammed in elsewhere. And some people want to keep their houses, even if they could have something better. Those homes matter to them. They need time to see the benefits, to accept what we do.”

“This is why we have to keep going, so that a new generation doesn’t grow up bound to the past.”

“No, Ramsey, it’s why we have to stop.”

“Stop?”

“Temporarily.” Archie turned to face his old friend, or what remained of him behind the soot and the scowl. “While we work out which houses to leave standing, and while we win people’s support.”

“They’ve got to you, haven’t they?”

Ramsey shoved Archie against the console. Archie coughed as more smoke billowed in through the window behind him.

“Nobody got to me. I’ve just talked to people, listened to them, seen things you’re missing from up here. Please, come down and see. You’ll understand.”

“Come down, so someone can come in while I’m gone, switch of the constructor, kill the momentum carrying us towards our vision?”

“Your vision.”

“Our vision!”

“Not any more.” Archie swatted Ramsey’s hand away.

“Why you…” Ramsey shoved Archie again. He didn’t mean to push him over the console, but anger multiplied his strength. Archie cried out as he fell through the window, terror gripping him for the length of a single short scream before he hit the street with one final, fatal thud.

Ramsey grasped the console and stared down at the tiny dot that was his friend’s body. Then he whirled around and bolted the door shut. It was a shame what had happened to Archie, but he couldn’t let them stop him because of that. There was a bigger picture here, a better city for everyone. They would understand that once he was finished.

He turned a dial and the sounds of the engine intensified. Smoke blew in through the window. Beyond, the city sprawled. He could see it all from up here: the big picture, and none of the distracting little details.

***

If you enjoyed this story and you’d like to read more, then you can sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook of steampunk short stories and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Dirk Dynamo is used to adventure. He’s chased villainous masterminds across the mountains of Europe, stalked gangsters through the streets of Chicago, and faced the terrible battlefields of the Civil War. But now he’s on a mission that will really shake his world.

For centuries, the Great Library of Alexandria was thought lost. Now a set of clues has been discovered that could lead to its hiding place. With the learned adventurers of the Epiphany Club, Dirk sets out to gather the clues, track down the Library, and reveal its secrets to the world.

Roaming from the jungles of West Africa to the sewers beneath London, The Epiphany Club is a modern pulp adventure, a story of action, adventure, and romance set against the dark underbelly of the Victorian age.

Available in all good ebook stores and as a print edition via Amazon.

Image by Benjamin Balazs from Pixabay

The ground fell away and I fell up, conflicting gravities hurling me in unnatural directions, twisting my spine until I screamed. I scrabbled at the wall of the laboratory, trying to cling to solidity, and instead grabbed a single loose stone. To my left, Victor gasped as his body expanded, contracted, expanded again. He opened his mouth, and the sound tore the world in two. Where he had stood there was a gap in reality, and I fell straight through.

~

Then it was three days earlier and the lake lapped at my ankles as I tossed a stone up and down. I pushed aside the nameless dread dragging at my mind and flung the stone. Ripples slid across the still water. Here, half a mile above the accelerator, birds sang and the sun shone on the trees.

Another stone, flung by Victor this time. Its ripples intersected with mine in the lake, made taller peaks and deeper troughs, a complex and compelling pattern.

“That’s the purpose, you see,” he said, flinging another stone. “Not to see what rules a new big bang gives its universe, but to watch how they intersect with our own physics, to find out the meta-rules.”

~

A ripple in those rules scooped me up and forward in time. I’d grabbed a wrench and slammed it into the accelerator’s control panel. Shards of glass flew, only to be swallowed by a darkness inside the machine. That darkness was distorting the world around it, ripping panels from the walls, sucking in air, bending light and sound and turning one into the other. It tugged at me.

“Run!” Victor shouted.

“Where to?” My voice soared and plummeted through the reality wave. “You think anywhere is safe?”

The wrench melted like ice in an inferno, then became a wall of screeching sound, and I tumbled through a gap in time.

~

I was back by the lake, in my lab coat, watching the sun rise. A gentle breeze stirred the water and ripples ran all the way to the shore. They caught a fly buzzing too close to the surface, swallowed it whole.

“Come on, Frank,” Victor called from the entrance to the facility. “We’re going to fire her up.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked. There was a stone in my hand, but I didn’t remember picking it up. My back ached and I didn’t know why, though I was sure there was something to remember.

“It’s going to change our understanding of the world. Of course it’s good. Now come on…”

~

Another ripple. They were coming quicker, shorter, closing in on a single moment.

~

In the lab, the machines had started, lights blinking and motors humming. Victor’s triumphant smile faltered as the console shook.

“This isn’t meant to happen.” He stared at the black orb spinning in the centre of the accelerator. “The energy field should hold it in.”

“The energy field only works as long as the law of physics do,” I said. “We have to shut it down.”

“I tried.” Victor flipped a switch back and forth. “Frank, I think I fucked this up.”

The orb pulsed. Our broken reality tossed me back.

~

I was in the corridor, following Victor to the accelerator. Dread closed around my heart like cold fingers around a stone.

“Please, Victor,” I said.  “I have a bad feeling about this. We should wait until another day, run through the theory again, work out what we might see.”

“Why run the theory when we can see the reality?” Victor flung a door open, shaking the frame. “Science is based on observation, Frank, and we need something to observe.”

The ripples were closer now, so close I could see over them to the looming disaster. There was a stone in my hand that I hadn’t picked up.

I grabbed Victor, but he shook me off and flipped a switch. The accelerator hummed into life.

“This is it!” He grinned in triumph.

I flung the stone, aiming straight at the glass. Victor caught it out of the air.

“Calm down,” he said. “Everything will be fine.”

~

Forward a fistful of seconds, to his first look of doubt.

~

Then back to this moment, as he dropped the stone and shook his head.

“You’re such a drama queen.”

“You don’t understand.” I squeezed something cold and hard in my hand. “Once you throw a stone, you can’t take the ripples back.”

“Good. I want to change the world.” Victor looked through the glass as a pinprick black point began to expand. “This isn’t what I was expecting. What do you think it means?”

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Image by David Shepherd from Pixabay

A rumble emerged through the howling wind off the sea. Half a mile down the coast, the cliff face fell, ancient stones tumbling as waves surged up and swallowed them.

Eamon’s fingers trembled as he tapped at his tablet. Rain ran down the screen, down his face, down the road in rushing rivulets that grew stronger by the hour. This storm was the worst yet and it was still rising.

A swarm of insectile robots scurried across the new sea defences, the ones Eamon had raised after the harbour was abandoned. The signs of his failure appeared and disappeared as the waters rose and fell: the broken walls of houses, the shattered windows of drowned shops, even the stumps of wind turbines out to sea. But this time he wouldn’t fail. He couldn’t fail. This was what he did. He was Eamon, and he saved the town.

“Eamon, we have to go!” Hannah grabbed him by the shoulder. Behind her, a lorry stood outside their house, one of the last to be evacuated. A neighbour was climbing into the cab, while another slammed the rear shutters down, and a third started up the car.

“No.” Eamon shook her off. “Giving up is how we got here.”

He squinted as the storm blasted his face, and made another adjustment to the robots’ instructions, sending them to reinforce the new sea wall. As they moved, a wave rushed up and snatched two of the robots away. A third landed on its back, legs twitching broken in the air. Eamon ran towards it, but Hannah grabbed him around the waist, and others joined in, dragging him back as a chunk of concrete blew out of the wall.

“There’s nothing left to save,” Hannah shouted over the wind.

“That’s my house!” Eamon said. “Our house. And Sammy’s house next to it. And a dozen more. We can still save them!”

Rain ran down the road where he had played as a child, carried away the dirt of his father’s flower beds, streamed across the front step where his mother had sat with him every summer morning, talking about what the town had been back in its fishing days, about what it could be again.

“One day, you’ll save this town, Eamon,” she had said. “I believe in you.”

Now his parents were gone, along with everyone else buried in the cliff top parish graveyard. But the house was still here, as solid as his mother’s faith in him. If it fell, that would be on Eamon.

“I love this place too,” Hannah said, tears running with the rain down her cheeks. “You think I would have come back to teach in our old school if I didn’t? But the town’s like that school, half into the ocean and the rest about to follow. You have to accept that. Better heartbreak than death.”

“I saved us once,” Eamon said. “I can do it again.”

Down the hill, waves crossed the broken sea wall and thrashed against the front of the souvenir store from Eamon’s tourist boom, against the arts centre whose funding he had found, against the estate agency he had coaxed back as house prices rose. His mother had been so proud.

“I knew you could save us,” she had said.

This was what he did. He had studied economics to drag them out of their decline, then engineering to save them from the rising seas. Everything he had ever been, everything he had ever loved, was here.

He tapped at the screen, sent the robots swarming to the gap in the sea wall. They clung to each other to stop the waves washing them away, while some extruded polymers to close the gap, to hold it together until the storm passed. They became a single mass, a part of the wall that buckled but didn’t give way. They were Eamon’s spirit, bending but unbroken.

Further down the sea wall, the concrete cracked and the water poured in. There were no robots left to plug that gap. The tablet hung in Eamon’s hand, a cold dead weight of useless electronics.

“I’m sorry.” Hannah wrapped her arms around him. “But please, for me, you have to come. You’re all I have left of this place.”

“I failed,” Eamon whispered.

“No one could have—”

“I failed!” The words were a howl of anguish. The tablet shattered as it hit the ground.

“Yes, alright, you failed here! But look at how much you learnt along the way. Imagine how much more you can achieve if you start working with others instead of trying to do everything on you own.”

“But this is what I do. I save the town.”

“Not this town. Not any more.”

The waves were surging up the street. The wall of the souvenir shop collapsed and its roof followed, tiles and solar panels sliding over each other into the water. Another chunk of the sea wall fell, taking Eamon’s robots with it.

“As long as we live, so will this place,” Hannah said, pressing her hand over his heart. “And who knows what other towns you could help save.”

Feet dragging, Eamon let her lead him to the car. As they drove away, he looked back through the window, watching his house disappear into the haze of a rain-drenched twilight. He remembered his mother on the doorstep, on her sickbed, in her coffin. Eamon trembled, and finally began to cry.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.