This is written for the Picture It & Write prompt found here: http://ermiliablog.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/__picture-it-write-58/
Genre: Steampunk/Historical Fiction
Story begins after the image:
The Vacuum Energy Event
Nearly all the lights were out in the Polish hamlet of Waczny. Shadows grew long, flickering and moving across the wafts of rolling fog. Miss Goodsend felt vulnerable in the dank and foul street. Her elegant dress and expensive perfume told all that she was a Lady of means, and therefore a source of income, but she pressed on. It was essential.
She discovered him, not by sight, but by smell. Clearly he hadn’t washed in ages. Sensing him, she stopped and waited. At last he broke from the shadows and stood before her. His coat hung in tatters and his trousers were stained. His top hat, a vain effort at respectability, drooped beneath a coating of dust.
His breath smelled of whiskey and disreputable women. “Miss Holly Goodsend, I presume?”
Goodsend eyed him down her slender nose, and sneered, “You may presume nothing in my presence, my good…man.” She thrust her umbrella into his hands and began removing her gloves with jolting, impatient gestures.
“Jake Edmunds,” he said, attempting to placate her stern countenance with a gap-toothed smile. “I’m Dr. Zawadzki’s assistant.”
“How unfortunate for the doctor,” she said, no longer gracing him with her gaze. She threw her gloves at his chest and said, “What are you waiting for, you lout? Take me to him at once!”
The doctor was elderly, stooped, with graying, unkempt hair. The classic vision of a mad scientist, but the glee in his eyes was borne not of madness. It was elation that authorities finally recognized his work. “Ah, Miss Goodsend!” He tittered. “So good to meet you at last.”
“Yes it is,” she said, removing her hand from his clammy grip as quickly as possible. “Thank you doctor.”
The doctor gestured to Edmunds. “I trust you’ve met my invaluable assitant, Mr. Edmunds?”
“Yes. I’ve met the help,” she said, not bothering to look at the man. “The Ministry of Extraordinary Arms is anxious to verify your reports. Even the Prime Minister has taken notice.”
“Wonderful. Wonderful! Oh, would you like some tea?”
“I’m sorry doctor, I’ve little time and far less patience. I must see your creation at once!”
“Of course. Follow me.” The doctor led her, with Edmunds trailing, down to a root cellar filled with equipment and clanking steam piping. Electric lights, a rarity in Poland, brightly lit the curiously large expanse.
The old man waddled past worktables and clattering steam equipment to an open expanse surrounding a curious machine. It measured more than thirty feet long and nine high. Roughly shaped like a cigar with a blunt rear end and flat bottom, the machine, impossibly, hovered inches above the ground. “Three barbettes, armed with Lewis guns and one pilot make for a crew of four,” narrated Dr. Zawadzki. “It’s incredibly stable. Anyone familiar with a cart could safely pilot it.”
Goodsend looked on with wonder. “So it is an aeroplane, like the works of Octave Chanute?”
“It doesn’t operate under aerodynamic principles.” grinned the doctor. “As you can see, it hovers above the ground like a Zeppelin. Far easier to control.”
“What is it’s mode of power, doctor? Surely it is not magic which suspends it so.”
The doctor led her to hatch, which he carefully removed. A pulsing blue light emanated from within.
“Is this a development of Madam Curie’s work?”
“The woman is a genius, but no. It’s my own creation. It is vacuum energy! In every cubic meter of the natural universe, there is unlimited energy. My system collects the power contained within the very fabric of time and space. The capture system is actually quite small. What you see glowing is the magnetic bottle that contains the captured energy. This is the difficult part as these systems require constant cooling or they will fail.”
“So the cooling problem is solved?”
“Yes, it only requires maintenance and a careful eye.”
Goodsend nodded absently. “Show me the controls.”
Goodsend insisted on sitting in the cockpit while Zawadzki explained the controls. “This throttle is for fine control. You’ll use this far more than the other. The larger throttle controls larger gradations of speed. The system is capable of astounding velocity, so this control should be used with great care.”
“Is it fully fueled up?”
“It needs no fuel, my dear lady,” puffed Dr. Zawadzki. “It is always ready to operate.”
“Excellent!” Without another word, Goodsend removed a pistol from her bodice and shot the doctor squarely in the chest.
The old man tumbled to the ground, as Edmundson screeched and raced to his side. Holding the panting doctor in his arms, he looked up at Goodsend and wailed. “Why? Why have you done this? He’s just an old man!”
“You may call me, Dominika Sokolova,” she sneered. “Agent of the Czar. Soon, this incredible machine will be in his hands and with it, the Czars shall rule all the world for the next 1000 years! I and my descendants shall rest at their sides.” She laughed maniacally and aimed her gun once more.
Edmundson, though aptly described as ‘loutish,’ possessed a keen wit that helped him survive in the mean streets of London. He darted away as she fired, sobbing as he ran. He had loved the old man like the father he never knew. Dr. Zawadzki had trusted him and taken him in when Edmundson was at his lowest. The doctor had taught him his letters and gave him a title. That was why he dodged beneath the hull of the machine where Sokolova could not fire. But most importantly, he crouched beside the coolant release valve. A label he could read and understand because of the doctor. He opened it ever so slightly while the screaming witch above fired impotently. He could not save the doctor, but he would have something else.
Gun empty, Sokolova muttered, “No matter. He’s of no consequence.” She raised the machine up, her sharp mind understanding the controls at once, and piloted it expertly through the weak wooden walls above.
After raising up to high altitude at three miles, her face buried in an oxygen mask in the thin air, the ambitious woman rammed the large throttle forward. She was anxious to return home expediently and receive her ill-gotten reward. The machine jolted forward like a wounded horse fleeing the very devil himself.
In an age before powered-flight, the concept of Mach (speed of sound) was still quite unknown. Sokolova could not know that she had jolted the machine into the incredible speed of Mach 7 (5,323 miles per hour). After struggling through immense gee forces she didn’t understand, the pressure faded as acceleration stabilized yet velocity was maintained.
Without understanding the incredible speed at which the machine carried her, she possessed no understanding of where she flew. After a time she thought she might be at the Polish border. She actually had already passed Moscow long ago and flew over the Siberian province of Tanguska.
It was here that the cooling system, sabotaged by Edmundson, finally failed and the magnetic bottle restraining its immense energy, collapsed. 80 million trees within 2,150 square kilometres were obliterated, along with the dreams of a madwoman.
Edmundson had his revenge.
The Tunguska Event in 1908 is an actual occurrence in history. It is thought to have been an asteroid that blew up before impact. More info about it at wiki, here.
The prompt page may be found here: