Age of Bronze

Welcome to London, a city running on automatons and steam. A city where transportation is airships and hot-air balloons and electric horseless carriages. A city stuck in the past, but very much in the future.
The time is now. The year is 1892.
Kate Madeline, the Captain of the Good Ship Carmen and overall Steampunk Pirate, has made her name in this world. Even if they aren't very good names. But she isn't from this world--she is from the 21st Century England. She is a Time Traveller Pirate, able to move through time and, sometimes, space. Her family think's she dead, and have no knowledge of her whereabouts.
But in London, robberies and murders are taking place. These are swiftly followed by man-hunts. The Police has reined Kate into helping.
But when the DNA found on the body of a victim has traces of metal embedded into it and the DNA is that of a Sailor who has been dead for over a year, things aren't adding up the way they should. But this man is far from dead . .

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3. II

II

 

 

 

Instead of wasting coal and steam on moving the Carmen across the Thames to the other side, I walked halfway along Westminster Bridge to the Electric Carriage Taxi Hire firm and took a purple .58Z model into the Main City. I got out and paid the man when he dropped me off on Cannon Street outside the steps of St. Paul’s.

    This part of the city was much different to the other side of the river; tacked to every other building were billboards and large speakers. On the bridge connected the cathedral to the London Bridge was a large screen, and currently a woman reporter was stood in red velvet clad addressing the city.

    The woman’s voice pooled through the speakers, and many people stopped in their tracks to watch her announcement. “Make sure to lock up your doors after nightfall, people of London, for the robberies spanning from Whitechapel to Moorgate are getting ever closer to the city centre. So far the reported cases are at thirty, and there has been one death in the wings—police warn of hooligan gang activity which should calm down soon enough.” And then the screen went blank and everyone carried on walking.

    I hadn’t been aware of a murder; General Lutz had left out that piece of vital information.

    Behind me, an Electric Carriage beeped and I realised I was stood in the middle of the cobbled road. “Sorry,” I apologised and stepped back onto the pavement.

    I wasn’t used to this part of society life; I lived on the quieter side of the river after all.

    On the corner of the street was a shop named Steam Weapons Outlet. In the window was a neon sign that said:

 

Try the new model .38 clockwork steam blast gun. The first model of its kind to run fully on clockwork gears and steam from water.

Load it with bullets and it’s ready in two seconds flat. Has a range of up to forty metres, ideal for long-range attacks.

Buy now for only £30.

 

The image of the gun made it out to be a cool weapon, but I’d had it before and it had broken on me within a week. I wouldn’t be buying one of them again anytime soon.

    Making my way further down Cannon Street, my eyes peeled to a long emergency bulletin poster involving an airship and the words Beware Of Airship Pirates.

    I scoffed and carried on walking until a voice bulletin called over the speakers. It was our queen, Queen Victoria.

    Yes, even in this alternate realm we had a Queen Victoria.

    “Beware of artists—they mix with all classes of society and therefore most dangerous,” she beckoned. The announcement was a recording, one that had been on a constant loop since the Queen had first said it to the nation.

    Sighing, I shook my head and headed on my way to Whitechapel.

    After a half-an-hour of non-stop walking, I arrived at the barricaded zone of Whitechapel. Women dressed in the most indecent of clothing—obviously prostitutes— were crowded around the steel barriers, weeping outrageously as a body was dragged out of a wooden box house covered up on a stretcher.

    The smog was heavy around these parts, coming thick from the factory not four streets away, and hid most of the clothes hanging on the washing lines high in the sky.

    This was the Slum part of Whitechapel, figures.

    Looking around the street, I spotted General Lutz speaking to a woman clutching a shawl around her shoulders and wearing a long white dress.

    “Sir,” I said with a salute when I came up next to the good. “Good afternoon, miss,” I offered a welcome to the woman.

    The woman smiled and General Lutz looked at me, taking a chest-expanding breath. “Ah, Madeline, good to see you. There’s a woman upstairs, a mute, and I want you to take this”—he pulled out a small digital writing tab and stylus from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it over to me—“to her and get her to write down what she saw or anything like that. I believe she’s a witness.”

    “Her name is Maisie,” the dark-haired woman beside him told us both. “And the reason she doesn’t talk is because when she worked as a maid, her master was cruel, very cruel indeed, and cut off her tongue as a punishment.”

    I found myself staring at the woman wide-mouthed after what she’d told me, and General Lutz had to put a hand under my chin to shut my mouth. “Are employers allowed to do that?” I asked Lutz.

    “Not really,” he said without looking at me. “But since she can’t tell us, and we don’t know who he is, sadly we cannot arrest him.”

    The woman shook her head. “Just because Maisie cannot talk does not mean she cannot communicate—she uses hand gestures and writes on the wall, you just have to be able to tell what she writes as she’s not bright in the academic department. And, alas, her master died a year ago now, so it really is impossible to arrest him.”

    “You seen quite bright, however. How is that?” I asked out of curiosity.

    “I was originally from a wealthy background, attended a high-end finishing school. But I took one bad choice, and ended up here,” she said to me.

    “Oh. I’m sorry, I forgot my manners.”

    “I do not mind. That choice was my fault and mine alone, solely my burden.”

    Right. “Well, I’m going to speak to this Maisie, see what she can tell me. I guess I’ll see you both soon.”

    As it turned out, the woman was exactly right—this Maisie didn’t have much going for her academics wise. She couldn’t spell outstandingly, but I could tell what she wrote . . . sort of. I’d asked what had happened in the most simple and patronising way I knew, glad that my education in my Home World had been thorough so I could get far in this world, and her written reply had been:

 

It was te midle of te nite, yesteday. Id ben off duty for once, and was sleping in me room on te flor. Me an a coople of others were wok by a loud nose from te other room, an then the nose cam loudar. Stod in te dorway was a man . . .  yeah, man . . . dresed fuly in wite. He told us to giv up valubles, held us at gun pont, so I gav him my mothers ruby necklace. After givin him valubles he left out windaw. Didnt se is face, sory.

 

I felt sorry for her, I’m sure that if she had been able to talk it would have been fluently. Then again, her talk had probably been what caused her to lose her tongue in the first place.

   After giving General Lutz the answer to the short interview, I made my way over to where the murder had taken place just across the street.

    “To say it was a murder, there didn’t seem to be any sign of a struggle,” a voice said as I walked up the heavily varnished staircase, and then a figure came to stand at the top of the stairs. “I must say, Miss Madeline that you are looking stiflingly well, if I do say so myself dearie.”

    I recognised the voice then, and the shadows receded to show me the young man’s face. He had mousy-blonde hair and tinted amber eyes. It was one of the police detectives and an old flame of mine, Leonardo Meriwether.

    “It’s Captain Madeline to you, Detective,” I noted and walked past him, our shoulders brushing together momentarily.

    “Oh, now don’t be like that Kate.”

    By now we were both in the murder scene room—a room no larger than a box room of two-metres-by-two-metres—which just looked like any other slum room if I’m being perfectly honest. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary for this place.

    Dragged up against the wall with the window was a single mattress, one made undoubtedly of some material that wasn’t at all comfortable—probably hay and scratchy wool. The window, really, was just a gapping rectangular hole in the concrete wall, covered up by the thinnest and most holey piece of tatty linen that somewhat resembled a pair of curtains.

    There was no blood, or foot marks, no broken or fractured pieces of bare-minimal furniture. It was odd to say the least—I would’ve expected some sign.

    “Like you said, no signs of a struggle. But why would a thief decide to kill somebody,” I said, mostly to myself.

    “If the thief was a guy, maybe she gave him a bad experience for his money,” Leonardo laughed rather darkly, and I shot him a bemused look. “Well, we are talking the death of a prostitute here, there could be a thousand-and-one reasons why.”

    “Still, have some respect Leo. Whatever the reason, it’s still a murder case.”

    “Sure, sure,” he muttered with a roll of his eyes. “Why are you here, anyway? I mean, no offense, but you’re not exactly part of the police or anything legal yourself—you’re a bloody Pirate.”

    “General Lutz thought I could help, with me being a thief by nature and all that stuff.”

    That shut him right up; for once in his life Leonardo was speechless.

    “I may be a Pirate, Leo, but I can still pull off a better investigation than you,” I scoffed and punched his arm.

    “Oh really? The Steampunk Pirate of the High Sky’s plays the role of the police?” he retorted. “Now, that’s a theatre production I would pay to see.”

    “Be serious Leo, please.” I remembered why I broke it off with him then—because he was a classic stereotypical class of the Victorian snob and a sarcastic bugger. “I have a miniature clockwork crossbow in this satchel, and trust me when I say I’m not afraid to use it.” My hand hovered over the leather satchel by my hip.

    “You do that, I arrest you. And if I arrest you I’ll take away that pocket watch from around your neck and that will surely put a spanner in the works,” he said out of spite before walking off down the narrow corridor of exposed stonework and childish sketches, the steel capped heels of his elevator shoes clicking against the splintered wooden floorboards.

    He left me glowering at his broad back, the back that was covered by a long black coat down to his knees. “Did you forget I knew about your little secret, Kate?” he called back as I started storming myself towards him with my hands curled into fists at my side.

    “No . . . Yes” I said curtly, coming back to stand by his side, glancing down at the floor to make sure the heels of my boots did not fall into the wide gaps where you could easily see the ground below, and to make sure I wasn’t going to step onto the boards that looked dreadfully contaminated with woodworm or bark-beetles and would therefore snap in two underfoot.

    “You’ve lived here . . . how long, now?”

    “Five years next month. I came here when I was seventeen and now I’m twenty-two,” said I as we walked.

    “Do your family know where you are?”

    That stopped my thought processes for a few seconds. “My family thinks I’m dead and buried six feet under the ground in their village’s cemetery.”

    Leo gave a small “Ah” and a nod.

    Five years nearly I’d been here, and already become the most notorious Steampunk Pirate. Looting is what I did, it was an unofficial job. And since I mixed with all social classes, I guess I was also an artist.

 

   

When I got back to my beloved airship a few hours later as the sunset lent a scarlet look to the automaton city I lived in, Jeremy asked me why I was working with the police when after all these years I’d been against their laws and rules. My answer had been that I did not know, but that helping them was sort of repaying my debt to society.

    In the space of five minutes, I’d changed from the outfit I’d been wearing all day to a blue house gown I’d stolen from a Victorian Lady, but fixed to make it more Steampunk—that involved making it narrower as it fell down my legs. On my feet I now wore Berlin boots. A bit of flesh of my legs were on show and that was one scandal already, but made worse by the given fact that I wasn’t wearing any stockings.

    I was frightfully scandalous.

    After getting myself ready, I made my way down the corridor to Jeremy’s room—he didn’t live in the hold like the rest of the crew, because he was like my deputy. “Get the crew ready, J, for I’m taking you all out to get drunk,” I shouted and banged on his door until he opened it up. Jeremy was in his pyjamas, and I ordered him to get dressed immediately.

    Twenty minutes later, and all twenty of us were packed around a long round table in the centre of a crowded tavern known as The Automata’s Head.

    The Automata’s Head was known citywide for being the place where most bar-fights broke out; the barmaids wore the skimpiest of material and were outright sleazy, the place where only the Pirates and the bands of thieves hung out, and a place that repelled against the automatons (hence the name) to the extent that it had nothing remotely digital inside of it. But the drinks were cheap and had a large enough volume of alcohol in just one drink that it was easy to get drunk after two pints.

    “You know what, boys,” I said after taking a long swig of the tankard of rum I’d bought as my first drink. “I think we should call a reel.”

    Jeremy almost choked on his ale. “A reel?”

    “Yeah,” I confirmed before standing up on the table and pointing to the owner of the tavern. “Would do you think, Sam? How about a reel for old time’s sake?”

    “Fine by me. Band, start playing some music,” Sam said and snapped a hand to the band, who immediately started playing some upbeat reel music. Automatically, the men started to push the tables up against the walls, and the chairs stacked atop those tables to create a space in the centre of the tavern.

    For the next hour, the whole one-hundred people packed into the space danced in reels and waltz, and then we took it in turns in groups of five to down a Yard of Ale in the quickest time. By the last orders we were all near enough drunk to the point where becoming anymore drunk would certainly result in so much alcohol poisoning that certain death would prevail, and so we headed on our ways back to the dockland and back to the Carmen with stumbling footsteps and laughter as we kept falling into each other.

    It’s a wonder none of us ended up in the drink.

    Ladies were not supposed to get drunk; really they weren’t supposed to drink anything but the odd glass of wine here-and-there in Past-Futuristic London, but I wasn’t exactly a Lady. There was Steampunk Ladies in my society, but as of yet I had not come across any Steampunk female Pirates whom people classed as Ladies. After all, a Lady did not steal and plunder now, did she?

    At one point on our way back, Jeremy and I had started drunkenly singing at the top of our voices until we reached the airship and wandered aimlessly up the plank to our rooms.

    To access my bedroom one had to walk through my office to the double doors at the east end that led into my closest, then through the double doors at the end of that room to finally reach my room. Before heading to my room, however, I poured myself a tumbler glass of rum from my drinks cabinet, and took it to my room.

    I shrugged out of my dress and redressed in my nightgown, closed the drape curtains, placed my drink on the left nightstand, crawled under the lavish silk covers of my double bed, turned off the main light from the switch by my side, and shut my eyes.

  

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