I’m bringing back this lovely steampunk short that I originally wrote for the #DirtyGoggles Blog Hop (circa May 2013) at a friend’s request.
The Girl in the Glass
by Stacy Bennett
The ghostly image flickered inside the glass tube as Thinman spun dials and flicked levers.
“What kind of ‘werk is it?” Jasper asked, picking dust off Thinman’s jacket. The black tailcoat did little to hide Thinman’s skeletal bronze frame or the steadily whirling flywheels within.
“What’s its function?”
“It’s a girl, sir.” The mechanical voice was almost patronizing.
“It’s, … she’s human?” Jasper’s heart slammed against his sternum, notably lacking the click-whirr-hiss that pervaded the rest of his world.
“I can’t refine the image further, sir.”
Jasper leaned closer, lifting his goggles to his forehead which forced his black hair into a spiky plume.
There hadn’t been a human on Portalune since the Exodus. Except for Jasper, of course. Stowed away on the first rocket to land, he’d been asleep, unnoticed, the night everyone disappeared. Thinman said war had called everyone home, though the blue-green orb remained untroubled from Jasper’s vantage.
Pale lips moved inside the dirty tube, silently pleading. “Where’s the message coming from?”
A hiss of steam and Thinman rose with a smooth swish of joints to check indicators and gages. “Triangulating location.”
Jasper thumped his cane impatiently while Thinman’s inner abacus calculated, click-ping-whirr. “Three kilometers beyond the Tunnels.”
Fear curled its icy fingers into Jasper. Evil lurked in the Tunnels, those bloody bastards that had taken his leg. Looking again at the ghost-girl, his loneliness was suffocating. He loved his clockwerks and, in their own way, they loved him. But, she — she was warm, breathing flesh. She could laugh.
He swore and paced the concrete bunker, cane and metal foot rapping in syncopated time as fear and need warred within him. He stopped suddenly and swept his top hat from the rack. Drawing his goggles down over his eyes, he announced. “We have to help her.”
Thinman turned so fast Jasper could have sworn he was surprised. “But your orders…”
“I know what I said. Set coordinates by your secondary gyroscope.”
Jasper pulled open a drawer and withdrew a belt that holstered single-handed crossbow loaded with iron spikes and a miniature Gatling. He strapped it on and slipped a folding knife into his garret. Pulling a shotgun off the wall, he thrust it at Thinman.
“In case of Slinkers.”
Then Jasper strapped on knee-length spats and picked up two oil cans, praying there weren’t many soggy places along the way.
He didn’t wait for Thinman but yanked a torch from the cupboard and strode out with all the inevitability of a man running downhill. Through Portalune’s concrete halls, gears and pistons flanked them. They dropped down wrought-iron ladders and across cagey catwalks over boilers, among smokestacks and down again into the sewers where his path paralleled row upon row of copper pipe and wire. And everywhere a haze of steam obscured the dingy world illuminated by yellow flickering lamplight.
The diggerwerk named Bernard crouched at the entrance to a vaulted brick atrium that extended into darkness. Bernard’s large iron treads were covered with dried chalky moon-dust from its efforts to explore and expand the base, retired since the unpleasant discovery of some pre-existing tunnels and the warren’s vicious inhabitants. Jasper shivered in memory though it had been years ago.
His torch’s thin beam stabbed the dusty steamy darkness which replied with angry squeaking. Jasper hesitated. Then, a creature rushed out of the dark at him. Its lanky hairless body slithered on short legs. It had long claws, a serpent tail and a reptilian head, and it stood no taller than his shin.
“Careful, sir. Slinker.” Thinman’s articulated hand grabbed his arm tightly.
The creature stopped, hissing impotently at them. “What? That? Slinker’s are much bigger.”
“You were very small.”
“But my leg.”
Jasper turned back and unceremoniously shot the Slinker which dropped like a wet rag. “Bloody anticlimactic,” he muttered.
“This way, sir,” Thinman shuffled into the darkness, their way illuminated only by the tiny torch and Jasper’s desperate hope that the girl in the glass was real and was still alive.