Friday, December 30, 2011

Sleeping Beauty, Part 2

Continued from here.

She didn’t know what she expected to find, but what she saw was beyond anything she could have imagined. Mechanical devices of all shapes and sizes, some of which looked like men, moved smoothly to and fro, great keys protruding from the back of each device. They carried out tasks crisply and efficiently, though never leaving the large room. Along a wall of the room stood a long workbench, which was covered with parts. Several of the devices worked with the parts, apparently creating more of their kind. The princess was mesmerized by the sight, so much that she did not see a tall, humanoid clockwork device breaking from its routine and walking toward her. “Good afternoon, miss. How may I be of assistance?” it said in a pleasant, if slightly machine-like, baritone that reminded her of her father’s voice.

The princess gasped. “You can speak!”

The automaton bowed. “Indeed, miss. I am equipped with the latest vocal technology. Though we are all confined to this small area of the castle, we continue to refine the work that our creator started.”

After she recovered from her shock, Alexis was delighted at what she saw, and asked for a tour of the room, with an explanation of what every machine did. The valet - for that is what the tall automaton turned out to be programmed for - seemed eager to serve a human. He introduced Alexis to each machine, some of which could speak and greeted her in return, some of which were less sophisticated devices that merely continued about their business. He showed her the work table, where two clockwork devices that had far too many hands worked with the delicate machinery.

“Oh, let me try!” exclaimed the princess, and she took a mainspring and two gears in her hand. Despite her gift of dexterity, her inexperience with the parts caused her to pierce her hand with the sharp edges of the spring. No sooner had it pricked her skin then she fell to the ground in a swoon, just as the old fairy had prophesied.

The clockwork valet whirred as its programming considered how to respond to this crisis. A decision made, it picked up the princess and, for the first time, disobeyed an order, leaving the restricted room to return to the inhabited part of the castle, to seek help.

At that moment, the king and queen returned from their journey, only to see their daughter in the arms of the clockwork valet, as though dead. The queen cried out, and human servants arrived. They took Alexis to her chambers and many efforts were made to revive the girl: one servant threw water upon her face; another loosened her corset; another applied a healing balm. Nothing worked, though, and she remained in a deep sleep.

The king judged that this was the work of the evil fairy and correctly noted that no mortal could rouse the sleeping princess before the designated time. Despite his grief, he ordered his daughter to be laid out in her night clothes upon her bed and covered with the finest linens. When she was so situated, the king ordered her left undisturbed until her hour of awakening came.

Upon hearing that the evil fairy’s curse had come to pass, the young fairy, who had tried to ease the sting of the curse, returned to the castle. She looked at the princess and complimented the king on his good judgment of allowing the girl to sleep peacefully in her bed. She looked gravely at the king and spoke: “You have done well for your daughter and prepared her for her long sleep. Even those preparations may not be sufficient to see her through this time, however. She will be here long after you and the queen are gone, long after her servants can care for her. I will prepare some magic to help her, but you should use your skills at building and programming your clockwork men to create an immortal army of servants whose job will be to tend to the princess, keeping her safe until a king’s son comes to revive her.” The king nodded his agreement.

While the king made his preparations, the fairy did as she promised, enchanting the castle and the forest in which the castle stood. When the king was ready, he and his wife kissed their daughter gently on the cheek and, for the last time, took their leave of her. With them, every human servant in the castle departed as well, traveling with the royal couple to a residence on the far side of the kingdom. Once they had departed, leaving only the clockwork men to tend to the sleeping princess, the fairy’s enchantments took hold: in but a quarter hour’s time a dense forest surrounded the castle, leaving no path to or from the structure. Bushes and brambles assured that no creature, man nor beast, could make passage to the castle. The trees were so tall that the spires of the castle were obscured from view, and the trees of such a wood that they would last for a century.

The princess slept on, and the people of the kingdom slowly forgot of her.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Another Christmas has come and gone. Thank goodness.

The flooring guys wanted to deliver the flooring on the Thursday before Christmas, just hours before company was to arrive. They couldn't get the long boards down the cellar stairs, so they stacked the boards a dozen deep in a corner of one room. The pile seemed awfully heavy, and the fact that they were all placed along a single joist didn't help matters. When I inquired about the safety of this, the owner of the company agreed that yeah, that seemed too heavy and placed wrongly, so the guys had to return and re-stack the piles. I suspect there will be a construction nightmare in my future.

I drove to my father and stepmother's house on Christmas Eve. Traffic was light - I assume everyone left Thursday afternoon or Friday, leaving Saturday morning free for me - which was a pleasant surprise. My sister and her two teenaged sons arrived a few hours later. The boys almost immediately entertained themselves with electronics. Unfortunately, the crazy stepmother decided they needed to be "entertained," so she popped in a DVD of a movie called The Blue Butterfly, a 2004 indie flick about a 10-year-old boy dying of cancer who wanted to go to South America to see a beautiful butterfly. This seemed (a) a little depressing for Christmas and (b) not all that entertaining for two teenaged boys. They disappeared quickly, I changed rooms to read a book, and my sister and father had a conversation in the kitchen until they were shushed. Shushed? I thought the whole point of getting together at a holiday was to TALK. My father says to his wife, "Gee, it looks like no one else is interested in the movie." Her reply: "I don't care." Indeed.

We survived dinner and the grand gift opening. The teens both wanted, God help us, "Beats by Dr. Dre," because adding some old rapper's name to a set of headphones makes them worth three hundred bucks.* At least their mother had the good sense not to buy the darn things for her kids. Various people, including me, contributed gift cards that helped the cause. I'm going to hope that this provides a good lesson in opportunity cost for the young pair.

My headache the next morning was better than usual. Although one might reasonably guess that the source of the headache was distilled at 80 proof or so, but that would be incorrect. The combination of an overheated house and something I'm allergic to - cat hair, I suspect - combines to create a sinus headache every year. I just dial that in. I managed to escape without taking any ham home. I like ham, but there are limits. This season, I was eating on ham no. 1 (leftovers from a get-together) when ham no. 2 (dinner for company) arrived. Hence, I had no need for ham no. 3 (Christmas dinner). Back on the road.

I don't mind people who drive faster than I do. I try to stay out of the left lane except when passing. During the holidays, when traffic is heavy, most everyone drives sanely. Still, there are always a few jackasses aggressive drivers who blow down the right lane until they're (inevitably) close behind another car and wonder how to change lanes, or who zig-zag among the lanes, assuming the rest of the drivers will get out of their way. Also: a solid line means do not change lanes, people. It's not that difficult.**

At least the world ends around December 21 next year. That will save me a bundle on gifts.


*I needed new headphones, too. Sennheiser 202 II for $20 at Amazon. Does Rasputina really sound that much better on audiophile headphones?

**I made an exception for myself when I encountered a petrified lady driving about 40 mph on an exit ramp connecting two interstate highways. Sorry, ma'am.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holidays on Edloe

Celebrating the season in his unique way, R. Crap Mariner has decorated Edloe. Clocktree Park is in the spirit of the season...

Edloe Christmas 001

…well, if one ignores the "bah humbug" message below the tree. The kitten-in-a-box is so cute that one might not notice the crate behind it to the left: Dame Ordinal's automated snowball-throwing machine.

Edloe Christmas 002

Dare I say that Edloe has the world's largest steam-driven menorah?

Edloe Christmas 003

Throw some more coal on the burner - it's the Festival of *cough* Lights!

Edloe Christmas 004

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sleeping Beauty, Part 1

(I had the idea to reimagine this classic fairy tale many months ago, when I saw a call for Steampunk versions of fairy tales. I had thought that the poor princess got a raw deal, but there was no reason my version had to remain that way. As with so many projects, I procrastinated until the deadline passed. More months passed when I wrote almost nothing. Finally, I dusted off my old notes and penned the tale. - RJ)

There once was a king and queen who ruled a small but prosperous land. Though they greatly desired children, they could have none, and this gave them great sorrow. They tried everything from folk medicine to pilgrimages and prayers, but still the queen could not conceive.

The king devoted his energies into administering his kingdom, but in all honesty little work was needed to keep things running smoothly. In his spare time, of which he had much, he developed quite a skill at creating ever-more-intricate clockwork devices, purely for the amusement of his wife and court. The first creatures were fairly simple wind-up devices that would, for example, fetch a daily newspaper from a specified spot in the castle's mail room, take it to the king's library, and spread out the paper for the king to read after breakfast. Another would keep watch for couriers to arrive at the castle and would then wander inside and give word to a servant, who would locate the king and deliver the news. As time went on, these creatures became more complex and more independent, so that the clockwork servant who kept watch would no longer have to travel to the servants' quarters where it would surely find a human servant, but could instead locate the king himself anywhere in the castle. Eventually, the devices no longer required human intervention for winding, but could instead restore their mainsprings by themselves.

The queen kept busy as well, though her interests lay more toward the arts of hunting and self-defense. She was an excellent shot with both hunting rifles and pistols, and was trained in several martial arts, having learned these from a visitor from the Orient who loaned the queen his personal trainer for several years. The queen had the decidedly untraditional view that ladies should be able to defend themselves in any situation and be able to walk the (admittedly low-crime) kingdom without fear.

After a number of years passed in this fashion, and both the queen and the king had become accustomed to their fate, the queen at last conceived a child and, in due time, bore a daughter, whom they named Alexis. There was much rejoicing in the kingdom, not the least among the royal household. The delighted parents arranged for a very fine christening, asking all the fairies in the kingdom, seven in total, to serve as godmothers to the infant. After carrying out the ceremony in the royal chapel, the king and queen returned to the castle's state rooms for a magnificent feast, as both tradition and good hospitality demanded. The fairies, as the honored guests, found before each one of them, delivered by a liveried automaton, a beautiful case covered with gold. Inside were a spoon, knife, and fork, all of pure gold and set with diamonds and rubies.

Each of the fairies was delighted with her gift, and, in return, each prepared to present the princess with a special gift. As they sat down at the table, however, they saw a very old fairy enter the dining room. This fairy had not been invited because she had not been seen for more than fifty years; those who remembered her thought her dead, and most had forgotten about her altogether. The king hastily welcomed the newcomer and ordered her a case of her own, but this case was plain, not made of gold like the others, because the king had ordered only seven jeweled cases. The old fairy felt slighted, and muttered various threats under her breath. It does not do to slight a fairy. The youngest of the fairies, hearing these threats, quietly slipped away as the group rose from the table, for, fearing that the old fairy might give the princess an unlucky gift, determined to speak last so as to repair, to the extent possible, any evil that the old fairy unleashed.

Each of the fairies presented their gifts to the princess. The first decreed that the princess would be the most beautiful person in the kingdom; the second, that she would have the intelligence surpassing the kingdom's greatest scholars; the next, that she be graceful in everything she did; the next, that she would dance exceptionally well; the fifth, that she should sing with great range and always in tune; and the sixth, that she have the gift of great musicianship. These gifts all delighted the beaming parents, who nevertheless paled as they saw it was the turn of the old fairy next. The crone shook in rage and spite, and decreed that the princess would have her hand pierced with the mainspring of a clockwork device and die of the wound. All were aghast at this dreadful proclamation, and the kind and queen wept.

At that moment, the young fairy emerged from her hidden spot and spoke: "Although I cannot undo entirely what my elder sister has done, I assure you, king and queen, that your daughter will not die from this curse. The princess shall indeed pierce her hand with the spring from a clockwork device, but, instead of dying, she shall fall into a deep sleep, lasting a hundred years, after which a king's son shall come and awake her." The parents thanked the young fairy profusely, but were still unnerved by the prophecy.

After their guests had gone, the king and queen discussed deep into the night what could be done to avert the fate destined for their daughter. They agreed that the king would have to sacrifice his avocation, and from then on banished his clockwork devices to a disused wing of the castle. He set forth a proclamation that clockwork devices were forbidden, upon penalty of death, an edict that caused the kindly king great pain.

Some sixteen years passed. Princess Alexis grew into a beautiful young lady, possessed of wit and grace. Her mother taught her the arts of firearms handling and shooting, and that of self-defense. Her parents had nearly forgotten of the old fairy's curse and she, of course, had not been told of it. One day, when the king and queen were both away, visiting a far part of the kingdom, the princess, possessed of free time, explored the old castle. She marveled at the formal state rooms, and the substantial library, and the guest chambers. She spent time with the servants, who, as always, were delighted to see the charming young lady. After she had exhausted the parts of the castle still in use, she made her way into the disused wing, feeling that she was on an adventure. Most of the rooms were dimly lighted and contained only old furniture, covered with dust cloths and smelling slightly of mold. She climbed higher, to the upper floors of the old wing, and heard noises behind a door. Another girl might have been frightened, but the princess was brave of heart and possessed of her mother's martial arts instruction, so she boldly opened the door.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time...

It's good to know that, when everyone else is viewing the world through peppermint-colored glasses, Mr. Denver Hax is there to keep things in proportion.

I was observing that the ground level of Steam Sky City seemed to be growing land mass, with little islands popping up in the large body of water beneath the sky city, when one in particular caught my eye: Santa's Ghetto. Not all is spic and span in the North Pole.

Santas Ghetto 001

Take these two snow-bandits, for example. One has a bat, the other has a cosh, and both seemed to have done a number on one of their kind. (Who knew they bled?)

Santas Ghetto 002

Of course, what would Christmas be without too much rotgut to drink and passing out in a pile of garbage beneath a dead tree? (Oh, so your Christmas is so much nicer?)

Santas Ghetto 003

Not that there isn't plenty to eat here. Why, reindeer slow-roasted on a spit is just the thing to take the edge off one's hunger.

Santas Ghetto 004

And this little guy seems to have missed the spirit of the season, hasn't he?

Santas Ghetto 005

Don't miss a trip to Lapland, where Santa himself may be in attendance. The old guy has some kinks they tend to keep out of the holiday shows; ladies may wish to keep out of range of grabby hands.

Fa la la la la...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Visit the World's Only Robot Sanitorium

Sitting high above the ground, inside the head of the Jetsons' robot, Rosie, stands a Robot Sanitorium. Ever wonder what happens to those robots that are just a little…off? Inside lies the answer.

Robot Sanitorium 002

Of course, one can't simply walk in. Visiting hours are… carry the one, subtract the square root of minus 1,… oh, never mind. Just walk in.

Robot Sanitorium 001

Jar Jar Binks was clearly too much for R2D2 do deal with. Now he has a substance abuse problem - 10W40 - and is no condition to be appearing in more movies. Other celebrity robots reside inside as well, but keep cool - they don't like too much attention.

Robot Sanitorium 003

Be sure to schedule enough time in your visit to have the complete robot experience. Thanks to cutting-edge techniques in surgery and robotics, you, too, can be transformed into a mechanical person, from the starter body...

Robot Sanitorium 004

…to the red-hot finished product.

Robot Sanitorium 005

I did manage to find a good surgeon to return me to my original body, thanks for asking, though I still speak with a somewhat mechanical tone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

At the World's End

Via Honour McMillan, I learned of the World's End Garden, a beautiful but desolate spot.

Worlds End Garden 002

Light shines in among the ruins and the dead trees.

Worlds End Garden 001

A bird - where did it come from? - sits in an iron cage. Everywhere water laps at the land.

Worlds End Garden 003

Worlds End Garden 004

An old carousel in a field of flowers?

Worlds End Garden 005

Find the teleporter to be transported to where it is always night. A glowing tree provides the only light as it sits against the wine-dark sea.

A very moody place to spend some time. Well, it is the World's End.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas in Caledon

While Rhianon is in New Babbage, hoping to help solve the problem of the Dark Aether, I set up our Christmas decorations. It keeps me out of trouble.

Christmas on Aether Isle 001

Christmas on Aether Isle 002

It's not clear I've been entirely successful at the keeping out of trouble part. Let's just say it's a work in progress.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dark Aether Falls, Part 8

As I sat nursing my absinthe, it started to snow. Soon the ground was covered in a thin layer of sooty powder that stuck to work boots and ladies' shoes alike. The temperature was not cold enough for a deep freeze, so the motion created puddles of dirty slush along side the newly-fallen snow. Winter had come to New Babbage, and still we were no closer to a solution.

I must have nodded off - odd, as I generally have quite a strong constitution for absinthe, a skill acquired through years of practice - and my sleep was troubled by strange dreams. Surely the Dark Aether was seeping through the ground and pervading the air, not just near the devices but everywhere in New Babbage. I resolved to stay awake as long as possible, if only to keep the dreams at bay.

Several people had come in and sat at a nearby table. I overheard them discussing a run-in with mad Margo December, who, in her unique way, said the town needed to unite to defeat the Dark Aether. They also whispered that it was the Clockwinder who destroyed the robotic Writer, and that the Melniks were planning to attempt to destroy the eyes of the crab-like creatures with magnesium flares. And Dr. Sonnerstein had a conversation with Jason Moriarty himself…or what passed as Moriarty these days. Young Gadget was kidnapped by the Van Creed… but a daring rescue freed him.

Dark Aether  Writer 001

Then word came of a body found hanging in the opium den behind the old Imperial Theatre. The game was once again afoot! I hastened to the scene.

Dark Aether  Hanged Man 001

His name was Darren Mawatt. Two pages from what appeared to be his journal were on the floor near the body. His words suggested that he hanged himself…but could it have been murder? I examined the rest of the opium den. The squalid mattresses and debris from the opium users that littered the floor made it clear that this building was in active use. I could find no other clues, however, nor sign of the remainder of the missing journal. I decided to widen my search to the nearby buildings. Still I found nothing.

The journal pages discussed a meeting with Jason Moriarty… and a tale about the Woe Tree. I traveled north in search of it. The snowy terrain played havoc with my sense of direction, so I followed the train tracks, my boots crunching against the crusty snow with each step.

From one location in Babbage to another, I followed the trail and pieced together the history of the young Moriarty. Despite the evil he has perpetrated on the people of New Babbage, his story is ultimately a tragic one, and I could not help feel a pang of sympathy for the orphan who thought he had finally found acceptance with Professor Eliot. These records made clear that Moriarty is guided by, or at least acting under the influence of, the Aether.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Paralysis. Inchoate thoughts. Plans that I can't bring to fruition. It's true that I'm busy - everyone seems to be busy these days - but how is that an excuse? Perhaps there are more worries than usual at work, but that's no excuse, either. Other people have far more serious troubles.

I play with technology, convincing myself that the time spent in new hardware, new software, blogs and podcasts are all investments, but I know I'm just fooling myself. It's fun, the time passes, but it's a distraction.

I consume: books, television, movies. Entertainment, yes, but it's learning, too, it's discovering craftsmanship. So I tell myself, even though I know it's a lie.

It's a momentous time out in the greater world. The Left sees their Arab Spring moment, with capitalism itself playing the role of third-world dictator, while the Right sees financial ruin. This does not create a sense of mental calm. It's the end of the world as we know it, and I don't feel fine. Still, no excuse.

It's a bad time of the year…Thanksgiving, Christmas. Holiday parties, buying gifts, readying the house, travel. But when is it a good time? Summer brings heat, fall brings vacation. Life happens. It's never a good time.

There's no mental energy to put thoughts to paper. The action of creating sentences seems more than I can handle. Stories half, three-quarters written remain unfinished, un-posted. I wander the world, not bored but not engaged, either.

I can beat myself up about it, but that's not helpful, I realize. I need to move past this. Discipline. Focus. Move forward.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When Zombies Attack

(Hamoa Island… still there, but the build is entirely different. How quickly things change.)

Hamoa Island 007

Hamoa Island 006

I was walking about a creepy little town that seemed oddly empty when I saw a creature shambling across the grass. I decided to take a closer look - after all, what could go wrong?

Hamoa Island 001

I saw another, then another. They appeared to be zombies!

Hamoa Island 002

Of all shapes and sizes, including the god-awful Clown variety. I'm shuddering as I type these words with merely the memory of that thing.

Hamoa Island 003

They noticed me, and some primal instinct in their decomposing little minds drew them toward me. Thank goodness I never travel unarmed! I dispatched several, but for every one I disabled, another would arrive to menace me.

Hamoa Island 004

Soon they had me surrounded. I shot several more, then decided it was time for evasive action.

Hamoa Island 005

I retreated to a deserted old house. The zombies pounded on the door, but the old wood held fast.

Hamoa Island 008

Hmm, okay, perhaps creepy deserted little towns carry their own dangers, and exploring them alone is not the best of ideas.

I discovered the back exit, where no zombies awaited, and ran as fast as I could to the outskirts of town. When I passed the sign that thanked me for coming (and hoped I had a pleasant stay and would come back soon), I paused and caught my breath. I hoped my luck was better in the next town!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: The Magician King, by Lev Grossman

The magic has returned! This sequel to 2009's The Magicians returns us to the magical world of Fillory, where Quentin, Eliot, Janet, and Julia reign as kings and queens. Although they live in luxury in the palace and want for nothing, Quentin feels vaguely unsatisfied. When the opportunity arises to collect unpaid taxes from an island at the furthest edge of the kingdom, he jumps at it, setting sail as soon as he can. He is accompanied by Julia, his high-school crush who failed the entrance exam to Brakebills (Grossman's Americanized and far more realistic version of Hogwarts) but nonetheless found some way to learn magic.

Although Quentin's initial purpose was a mundane one, he finds himself on an altogether different mission, to find first one, then seven, golden keys. Their adventure becomes nothing less than a mission to save magic itself, and takes them back to Earth - where both Quentin and Julia, for different reasons, are desperate to find their way back to Fillory - into the world of the dead, and to the end of the world.

Interspersed with the main narrative is the backstory of how Julia gained her magical powers, a harrowing tale that explains why Julia appears so emotionally disconnected.

As with the earlier book, The Magician King takes the modern touchstones of Harry Potter and the Narnia novels (with a dash of Tolkien and perhaps other fantasy series as well) and adds a healthy dose of realism. The Fillory kings and queens are more like ordinary young people than the idealized heroes of those other series. Quentin is impetuous and subject to bad decisions; they all drink too much and have made unwise choices in romantic relations.

In the first book, Quentin learns that a life of ease isn't necessarily a satisfying one. (Sadly, in the second book, he has to learn that lesson a second time.) As for this book, the review in the New York Times puts it well:

“Everybody wanted to be the hero of their own story,” Quentin declares, framing the novel’s theme in neat miniature. But by the end of “The Magician King,” he comes to realize that he just might not be. It’s a harsh lesson, and one that, in keeping with the preoccupations and innovations of this serious, heartfelt novel, turns the machinery of fantasy inside out.

Will another sequel follow? I can only hope so.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Civil War Discussion Group, Part 4

November 23 was the next meeting of the Civil War discussion group, and the evening's topic was Walt Whitman's poem "The Wound-Dresser" (1865), which reflected Whitman's stint as a hospital nurse in Washington, DC during the war.

I admit to no little trepidation before the discussion, as poetry and I tend not to mix. Nonetheless, we had a sizable group and a lively discussion, led, as always, by Sir JJ Drinkwater and Dame Kghia Gherardi. Dame Kghia kindly read the poem, stanza by stanza, over the course of our hour together.

Civil War Discussion No 4 001

Sir JJ and Master Kei Saito, with Mr. Joe Arnica in the background

An old man bending I come among new faces,
Years looking backward resuming in answer to children,
Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that love me,
(Arous’d and angry, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war,
But soon my fingers fail’d me, my face droop’d and I resign’d myself,
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead;)
Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these chances,
Of unsurpass’d heroes (was one side so brave? the other was equally brave;)
Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth,
Of those armies so rapid so wondrous what saw you to tell us?
What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?

Civil War Discussion No 4 002

Mr. MikeVa Waco and Miss Jessie Darwin

O maidens and young men I love and that love me,
What you ask of my days those the strangest and sudden your talking recalls,
Soldier alert I arrive after a long march cover’d with sweat and dust,
In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the rush of successful charge,
Enter the captur’d works—yet lo, like a swift-running river they fade,
Pass and are gone they fade—I dwell not on soldiers’ perils or soldiers’ joys
(Both I remember well—many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was content).

But in silence, in dreams’ projections,
While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand,
With hinged knees returning I enter the doors (while for you up there,
Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart).

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,
An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d again.

I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.

Civil War Discussion No 4 003

Dame Kghia

On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
The crush’d head I dress (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away),
The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine,
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard
(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly).

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood,
Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and side-falling head,
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,
And has not yet look’d on it.

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,
While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.

I am faithful, I do not give out,
The fractur’d thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
These and more I dress with impassive hand (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame).

Civil War Discussion No 4 004

Your humble journalist, Miss Aubry Clarity, and Miss Brianna Nitely

Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,
(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested,
Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips).

Civil War Discussion No 4 001a

Duchess Augusta Maria

Civil War Discussion No 4 002a

Miss Serena

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dark Aether Falls, Part 7

New Babbage is on edge, its inhabitants held hostage to the prophecies of the robot Writer, whose tale is now many pages long. However many new pages appear in the book, the ending is always the same: the evil that Jason Moriarty unleashed win, and the town is in ruins.

Some have started to question the leadership of the Clockwinder, but no one has offered up a coherent plan to fight the monsters.

The New Babbage Militia is mobilizing to counter the threat.

Gadget and Miss Falcon are working on a plan of their own. Gadget and Nat delivered a surprising piece of information to Miss Hienrichs - a letter from the Van Creed that claims the society killed Alexander Eliot and framed Jason Moriarty for the deed. The twist: a Van Creed member gave the letter to Gadget and asked him to deliver it to the Babbage authorities.

So far, all the things foretold by the robot Writer appear to be coming true: Jimmy arrived in his airship/time machine, an old man; the machines scattered about town have spawned the crab-creatures; Sebastian of Malkuth appears to have Cloud Angels. However, our ability to glean clues about the future of New Babbage may have come to an end. As Miss Hienrichs reports, the Writer and its clockwork guardian were both attacked:

[Bookworm] sucked in a breath at the sight of the Writer lying on the floor, a few cogs scattered around it, and a hammer driven into its "ear." There was another pile of machinery next to it, the last remains of one of Miss Avariel Falcon's clockworks.

A hammer? Hmm...

As if things weren't bad enough, a crack in time itself appeared outside the Hotel Excelsior:

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And yet, as Triky told Myrtil, "you still got choices, the future is not set in stone." Is that true?

I certainly wanted no part of the Dark Aether after my brief and frightening encounter with it. Still… Jason Moriarty was supposed to be masterminding the plot against Babbage, so it served to reason that finding him would be a good first step. It seemed quite odd, however, that my encounter with the Dark Aether was in the Van Creed warehouse. I decided that a stop in a nearby pub would help me sort this out.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What Does This Button Do?

I just can't help myself...

Mr. Hax's mysterious new site on Aether Isle beckoned me. The control room was filled with dials and levers.

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Hmm, what does this button do?

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As the missile launched from its underground silo, I was grateful for the blast-resistant bunker. The heat blossomed around me, and the ground shook with the force of a moderate earthquake. Beyond the immediate din, I thought I could hear glass shattering.

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I hope I didn't inadvertently start a war, or anything like that.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Aether Salon - Victuals

Sunday saw the start of the "new" Aether Salon - or at least the new management of the Salon, and the new design for the Salon, created by Mr. Blackberry Harvey.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach introduced the Salon and welcomed the large and enthusiastic crowd. In lieu of the usual lecture about no weapons, incendiary devices, and so on, the Baron glowered at us, briefly locking eyes with each person, and growled, "Don't make me come over there!" It was oddly effective.

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The day's topics was Victuals - vittles, as they say in Deadwood - and the speaker was New Babbage's own Miss Ceejay Writer.

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Miss Writer, aided by the slide projector behind her, spent about an hour discussing some of the food preservation and preparation techniques over the ages.

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Pictured, Fanny Farmer

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Sir JJ Drinkwater and Mrs. Breezy Carver-Fabre.

Miss Writer then discussed the contributions of Louis Pasteur in developing techniques to reduce bacterial growth in food. She also noted the development of canning - first using iron cans (deucedly difficult to open - apparently the use of firearms in the kitchen was frowned upon), then steel - and the invention of the can opener. Preservation in glass came next, though, as several in the crowd noted, it was less sporting when one could identify what was for dinner through the glass than when one had to take a guess as to what was in the steel can.

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Other kitchen inventions followed, including that of the waffle iron. To be honest, my stomach started rumbling quite loudly at that point, rendering the rest of the lecture difficult to hear.

I did hear the word "popovers" mentioned (a kind of individual Yorkshire pudding, for those on the other side of the pond), which set off my stomach once more.

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Mr. MacKnight Culdesac standing behind me

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Miss Rhea Riel, Miss Trout Suppenkraut, and Captain Static, all part of the delegation from the Scoundrel Fleet

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Part of the large and enthusiastic audience

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Miss Darlingmonster Ember and Miss Solace Fairlady, illustrating the adage that couples begin to look like one another