The Vacuum Energy Event: Picture It & Write #58

This is written for the Picture It & Write prompt found here:

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:

About EagleAye

I like looking at the serious subjects in the news and seeking the lighter side of the issue. I love satire and spoofs. I see the ridiculous side of things all the time, and my goal is to share that light-hearted view.
This entry was posted in Aviation, Military, Science, Short Fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to The Vacuum Energy Event: Picture It & Write #58

  1. joetwo says:

    better than an asteroid!
    I liked the phrase “his breath smelled of whiskey and disreputable women” I know some people like that! 🙂


  2. Lyn says:

    This was great; well written…riveting (no pun intended). Ever since I read The Hunchback Assignments series, I’ve love steam punk stories (well YA versions anyway 😉 ).


    • EagleAye says:

      Most cool. I’m glad you liked it. That’s my first foray into Steampunk ever. I’ve read a few Steampunk novels and enjoyed all of them. I’ll have to lookup this hunchback series. Thanks for stopping by.


  3. nightlake says:

    An apt answer to her greediness. very well written. like the expression, ‘no longer gracing him with her gaze..’


  4. Super story, you have a great turn of phrase 🙂 Really love the way you’ve tied it an actual event too.


  5. Ermilia says:

    I love how you weaved fiction into an event that did happen. Very creative. I’ve always been interested in the Csars. This story has inspired me to read some more about them. Thanks for contributing to Picture it & write this week, EagleAye! 🙂

    – Ermisenda


  6. LucyJartz says:

    “80 million trees within 2,150 square kilometres were obliterated, along with the dreams of a madwoman.” Powerful.


    • EagleAye says:

      Yup, when the madwoman destroys she does so quite completely. The Tanguska Event was a stumper for scientists for quite a while. They knew it was an asteroid hit, but it left nothing behind. Turns out it was an air burst. It never made it to the ground. Or maybe it was someone stealing a super-advanced machine?


      • LucyJartz says:

        They could not imagine the true event without any prior knowledge of the machine. It would not register as one of the possibilities. Such are the limitations of scientific analysis.


      • EagleAye says:

        Exactly. All the information about an incredible power source died with the doctor. One woman’s greed cost all of humanity. She had expected that the device could be reverse engineered, not knowing that the doctor was centuries ahead of his time. Had she kept the doctor safe and not pushed the vehicle too hard, things would have been very different. We wouldn’t have an energy crisis now.


      • LucyJartz says:

        It is a good thing that Jake Edmunds survived so that at least rumors of Dr. Zawadzki’s momentous discoveries lingered to suggest the possibilities open to our future.


      • EagleAye says:

        Also good that he had “learned his letters” so could keep a diary of the events, and the true story could be told. The doctors papers and documentation were, unfortunately, lost.


      • LucyJartz says:

        Yes, the poor man could not fully grasp the genius of the work, but yet honored the memory of the man who took him in and gave him better opportunities in life. What ever happened to Mr. Edmunds?


      • EagleAye says:

        He went back to London and joined the priesthood. Later, he worked as a missionary in Africa, long before it became popular to do so.


      • LucyJartz says:

        Awesome. Thanks for introducing him in your short story. 🙂


  7. Shey says:

    Well written, love the linking of fiction & fact. Believable.


  8. MissM says:

    Well spun into an engaging story. Enjoyed reading it right through.


  9. Anne Schilde says:

    Seems like maybe the Mach number would have been more appropriately named the Zawadzki number. I like to believe the universe will one day reveal a simple, renewable energy, but we probably have to prove we won’t kill 80,000,000 trees with it first.


    • EagleAye says:

      Makes sense. The best renewable energy we have so far is solar power. And no trees need be destroyed to capture it. If we can collect it in space, we’d not have any energy problems any more. Hope fully that day will come soon. Thanks for stopping in and commenting!


  10. List of X says:

    Finally, a reasonable explanation of what happened at Tunguska.
    “80 million trees within 2,150 square kilometres were obliterated, along with the dreams of a madwoman.” Not a nature fan, was she?


    • EagleAye says:

      Nope. She was a fan of power. And omigosh, she got to experience a whole lot of it, all at once.

      Thanks for camping out here today. Come back and visit anytime you like. I’ll leave a light on for you.


      • List of X says:

        Oh, I’ve been here many times before: I’d drop in, read 5-10 posts at once and leave without a note (because I do most of my blog reading from work where I can’t comment). I decided to finally click “follow” since effectively, I’ve been doing just that.


      • EagleAye says:

        Well, thanks much for the follow. And don’t get into trouble at work.


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