Monday, January 30, 2012


I love adventure stories. I also love genre fiction across the board- noir period pieces, science fiction, fantasy, dystopian, historical fiction, the whole gamut. One of my favorite genres is steampunk. If you're unfamiliar with the type, steampunk essentially takes the coolest technology from the past, smashes it together with the coolest technology from the future, then attaches the whole thing to a brass and copper coal-fired engine.

I had so much fun with this steampunk story that I'd actually like to expand it into a full novel. I'll add it to the already mile long list of things I want to turn into novels.

Aaron Mathew Smith- January 30th, 2012
“Extend that sail, Harper!” Lieutenant Commander Douglas Windhelm barked at me, and I moved like the devil himself was on my tail. Careful of my harness, I dashed across the deck of the ship and yanked the lever at port. The sail unfolded like the wing of a colossal bat from the side of the ship and caught the wind immediately, causing the Romulus to pitch to starboard. 

The magnets in my boots kicked in, their connection to the ship’s gyroscope the only thing keeping me from pitching over the starboard side. I fought to stay upright as everything that wasn’t tied down clanged across the steel decking and crashed into the railing.

A localized hurricane tore past the port side, a blast of wind and searing heat nearly tearing my jacket off of my body. A split second later a thunderous explosion shook the steel beneath my feet and made my ears ring. 

Windhelm was screaming something at me, and even though I couldn’t hear him I knew what he wanted. Typical evasive maneuver; I yanked the lever again, folding back the sail and causing the ship to right. The magnets in my boots disengaged and I dashed across the deck to where two ensigns were seated at the starboard side lancers. Windhelm was getting there just as I was. 

The expanse of grey, cloudy sky was broken by flashes of yellow light as the cannons aboard the airship flashed to life. Their shells were wide and right, streaking past the ship and buffeting the Romulus with their passing. The surface of the balloon above our heads shuttered and rippled. 

The ensign on my right swung his lancer to bear, the machine itself looking like a huge steel easy chair with a battered cage across its front. There was a loud crack as the tension in the steel arms of the lancer released, flinging a projectile as long as my arm across the empty space. The pneumatics ground loudly as the lancer reset itself and another bolt slid into place even as the first fell short of its target.

“It’s no good Sawyer,” called Windhelm to the ensign behind the controls. “They’re at least four kilometers off. The lancer will never reach them. Don’t waste the bolts.” The teenage girl manning the lancer looked frustrated but didn’t argue. 

“Who are they?” I asked the Lieutenant Commander. 

“That’s a Champion-class vessel,” Windhelm said, raising a rangefinder to his eyes. “Flying the red, white and blue bars. Russians.” He lowered the glasses and squinted his clouded blue eyes. “There are Russians after us. And attacking us unprovoked is an act of war.”

“Windhelm?” I glanced at the hearty old soldier, his face almost totally obscured by his white beard, huge eyebrows and the cap pulled over his hair. “What’s worth so much to the Russians that they’d be willing to go to war over it?” When he didn’t answer, I said, “What was in that cargo box we picked up in Constantinople, sir?”

The Lieutenant-Commander’s beard bristled. “Harper, you’ll do well to remember the chain of command. We need you on deck, but another insubordinate word and after we escape you’ll be in the brig. Understand?” His tone left no room for argument. 

I bit my teeth together to keep from saying something I’d regret. “Yes sir,” I said. 

“Maintain evasive action! Lancers, if that vessel comes within three kilometers, fire at will!” Windhelm roared over the wind on the deck. I pulled the goggles on my flight cap over my eyes and moved to the starboard sail, ready to perform another evasive maneuver. I watched the Russian ship drift lazily across the grey sky, tiny brass flippers waving, its colossal cannon swiveling about again. They were readying another barrage.

“Starboard sails!” I cried into the brass microphone mounted on the deck railing, sending the message to the whole crew. The gyroscopic bridge would be fine- everyone else in the gondola would just have to hold on. 

I yanked the lever and the Romulus took another ride on an updraft, tilting wildly to port. Another shell whizzed past, the shrieking air that it displaced making my ears sting. As the thunderous gunshot followed and I swung the starboard wing back into place, my microphone crackled to life.

“Junior Lieutenant Harper, retrieve additional lancer bolts from the hold!” The voice of Captain Moriah Masters barked. 

I grabbed the attention of Hobbs and Anja, two of the other crew on the deck and passed off my sail duty to them. They didn’t seem too happy about the change in shift. As soon as my boots demagnetized I stomped to the short set of steps that lead into the gondola, my footsteps thundering on the steel. 

It was several flights down to the hold, and I had to stop once as the ship lurched beneath me and nearly dumped me to the bottom of the gondola. Maybe I’d made a mistake putting two ensigns on sail duty. 

The hold was cramped and tiny, but not as tiny as the crew quarters. I went to the corner where the weaponry was stored and began to wheel palettes of the bolts onto the tiny freight elevator that would carry them to the deck. I’d nearly finished when a peel of thunder shook the room around me, vibrating the steel beneath my feet and causing the lamps on the ceiling to flicker and sputter. I was tossed from my feet as the floor bucked beneath me.

The ship tilted again and I crashed against a huge wooden crate that had been pushed against the elevator shaft. I cried out as my shoulder went numb from pain.

A tiny shriek came from within the box. 

No, that wasn’t possible. I stood and looked at the crate. It was nearly as high as me and twice as wide, with words in a language I didn’t understand painted on the face. There was a dossier nailed to the wooden panel. I scanned it.

It was the parcel from Constantinople. And somebody was inside.

If I catch a stowaway, I’m in for a promotion! An optimistic side of my brain said. I slapped the elevator button and sent the ammunition to the deck, then carefully approached the crate. I’d cracked one of the boards near the top when I’d fallen into it. There was a crowbar nearby; I took it and went to work on the crate. In just a moment the lid was loose enough to lift. I climbed onto a box of lancer bolts, raised the crowbar like a bat in case whoever was inside came out fighting and kicked the lid away with the toe of my steel boot.

It wasn’t packed with straw, like most of our shipping orders were. The box was filled with plush, ornamental rugs and cushions. Huddled beneath them a tanned face with two large, brown almond-shaped eyes blinked up at me. 

My brain buzzed with a thousand things, all at once. How had she gotten in here? Did the captain know? More importantly, did the Russians know? 

The one thing I didn’t wonder was who she was. Because everyone in the whole world knew her face. I’d first seen it day before yesterday in an English newspaper that one of the men had found in Constantinople. She was the only thing anyone in Asia or Europe was talking about. 

She was the princess of the Persian Empire. The news said she’d been kidnapped three days ago. And somehow she was on the Romulus.  

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