New Story, SciFi

the Frankenstein Theory

Look! It’s Friday and I’m posting! It’s almost like I’m a competent individual! Aren’t you proud of me? :)

It has been a very long, writing-intensive week for me. Yesterday I got up at 8 AM and spent almost the entire day writing, until I went to bed at just past midnight. I don’t think I’ve ever done so much writing in one sitting (EDIT: yes I have. Damn you, NaNoWriMo!), but the result was that I finished the second chapter of my novel in only two days, which I have to say I’m pretty impressed with myself about.

But that is not what Friday posts are for. Friday posts are for creative things, and this week I have something that’s way, way, way outside my comfort zone. I’m calling it, “the Frankenstein Theory,” and it is decidedly steam punk. Who knew I could write steam punk?

It was born last night at my writing club, where Audra issued the following prompt: write about Legacy, within the context of an established genre (science fiction, fantasy, steam punk, AI, etc.). She picked the theme because it’s the subject of the next issue of her Speculative Fiction journal, and she wanted more examples.

I initially set out to write a science fiction piece, but my history of physics class decided to stick its nose in and completely take over the story. That said, I’m not exactly an expert in Victorian-era physics (yet :P), or really in any part of European history, so any corrections on factual mistakes would be much appreciated. Also, this is literally the first draft of this thing, exactly as I started it last night with about a page of additional material from this morning. It’s definitely an unfinished work in progress, and I haven’t decided yet how long it’s going to be.

Let me know what y’all think, whether you like it or hate it.

Steamily yours,
M.M. Jordahl

P.S. Some of you may recognize the character’s name. I’m a writer. I get to steal people’s names. :) And yes, Emil has been informed.

The Frankenstein Theory

Emil Rasmussen hunched in his laboratory, goggles haphazardly clamped over his bloodshot eyes as he peered into the depths of his steam engine. The compression chamber had a leak again, allowing precious caloric to seep into the air where he could never hope to recapture and harness it. This was the third time this week, and he was quickly losing patience with the beastly thing always breaking down and requiring re-welding. He wondered, not for the first time, if he should switch to a Watt engine, but quickly dismissed the idea once more. A low-pressure engine could never create the kind of power he was after.

With a heavy sigh, Emil paced back to his desk and flopped down on his stool, allowing his head to collapse into his hands. He was missing something. He had to be. But what?

As he wracked his brain, his eyes wandered across the desk to his battered, beaten copy of Marie’s novel, and he reached for it almost without thinking. The worn, dusty pages felt soft against his fingertips, and the book fell open to that enigmatic page automatically, as though it were reading his mind. A thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning. Life.

Marie could be excused for the drama of the scene, of course. It was absurd to think that uncontrolled caloric could unleash anything but destruction, but she had no way of knowing that. After all, she was only a woman, and a writer no less.

But still, she had created a tantalizingly vivid image that clung in his mind and plagued his dreams with white-hot flashes of electricity and the spine-scratching grinding of gears and the burnt, sweaty stench of freshly animated flesh and as he lay there, night after night, half-drunk on the power of his own imagination, he slowly realized that he was the only person in the world who could make it a reality.

~~~

He came from a long line of natural philosophers, with his forefathers stretching back to the dawn of Danish physics. Indeed, his great-great grandfather had been a classmate of Newton’s at Cambridge—the only Dane in attendance at the time. When Emil was a boy, he used to love to hear his father’s stories, passed down through generations, about how his own grandfather had helped Newton discover the laws of nature as they strode together across the school’s illustrious campus.

Of course, as he grew up and ventured out into the world himself, Emil quickly came to recognize these stories as pure fancy, and he resented his father for fooling him so as a child. To stunt his intellectual growth with that sort of lie, and about Isaac Newton no less, was unforgivable.

But nevertheless, his father had had the good sense to ensure Emil was thoroughly educated in the principles of engineering, sending him to live with Scottish relatives when he was a teenager so that he could attend Edinburgh university, and for that he would be forever indebted to the man. But it was not his father who had opened his mind to the vast, wonderful possibilities of the world. Indeed, if the old man had spent more time on education and less on fancy, Emil might have awoken to its true nature at a much younger age, and not lagged so far behind the other boys when he finally made it to Cambridge himself. But he did make it, and there he met the man who revealed to him his true purpose in life: Robert Crenshaw.

~~~

Emil was already 22 when he first stepped on English soil with only a suitcase and a small fortune to his name, and one small, very valuable piece of paper containing only a name and an address. Excitement coursed through his entire body, and it was all he could do to constrain himself long enough to locate Trinity college and deposit his luggage before rushing off to find the address in question.

The challenge of navigation proved to be a bit much for him, however, and he quickly became lost in the jumble of lawns and buildings and trees. After a long, embarrassing trial, Emil admitted defeat and was about to return to his dorm in humiliation when another boy stopped impertinently in front of him.

“Are you lost?” the boy asked. Emil shook his head vigorously.

“No,” he said. “I’m going to visit Robert Crenshaw.”

The other boy started for a moment, then smiled knowingly. “Well you’re going the wrong way, mate. Crenshaw lives on the other side of the river.”

Emil glanced behind him, suddenly feeling very foolish. “I knew that,” he lied.

“Course you did,” said the boy, laughing. “Tell you what. I’m headed that way myself. Why don’t I accompany you?”

Emil nodded slowly, recognizing a way out of his predicament.

“It would be awfully lonely to go all that way alone,” he conceded.

“Aw, it’s not that far,” the boy offered a hand. “I’m Levi Beaton.”

“Emil Rasmussen,” they shook. Levi grinned and clapped his other arm over Emil’s shoulder, pulling him along toward the bridge.

“Do you play football, Emil?” he asked. “We ought to get a game going later.”

~~~

Levi was right about the distance to Crenshaw’s house. He lived in the basement of a pub only a couple blocks from the bridge, with a solid wood door that looked as though it had no intention of ever opening again. But Emil had come too far to be daunted by a bit of chestnut, so with a little prompting from Levi he seized the knocker and let it fall.

At first there was no response, so Emil swung the knocker twice more before he heard a disgruntled voice muttering behind the door. The sound of rust scraping on wood and the reluctant groan of hinges announced their mission a success, and the door begrudgingly opened to reveal a small, bespectacled man with a shock of bright red hair perched atop his head and a face that was almost as forbidding as his front door.

“Well?” he demanded, his irritation clear even through his thick Irish accent. “What the hell do you want?”

“Um…” Emil glanced at Levi, who shrugged and pretended not to be listening. He was on his own. “Robert Crenshaw, I presume?”

“Unless you’re lost,” the man shot back. He started to turn as though to shut the door, but Emil shoved his foot in the way, brandishing the slip of paper before him like a white flag of surrender.

“I’m Emil!” he shouted.

Crenshaw blinked at him for a moment, studying his face over the top of his yellowing glasses, then rolled his eyes. “Well that’s all you had to say,” he muttered, and shuffled away into his house, leaving the door open behind him.

Emil glanced back at Levi, who shrugged and pushed past him into the dark doorway, leaving him no choice but to follow.

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