Orrery #AtoZChallenge

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Orrery – a clockwork model of the solar system

The Engineer’s workshop was a fascinating place and Kit Benedict Kettle was having a hard time keeping his hands to himself. There was so much temptation to set off the devices and see what they did.

Withdrawing his fingers from almost touching an hourglass that was attached to a series of cogs and bubbling tubes, Kit rubbed the sweat on his brow. He pulled his leather flying cap further up his head, causing unruly boyish brown hair to escape out. Then putting his hands in the pockets of his short, brown leather jacket, Kit looked around the room again.

There was a heavy smell of hot oil, a smoky fire and faint whiff gas from the lights filling the room. Steam, smoke and coloured mist rose from a number of items and gathered on the ceiling looking for release. It was hotter than outside which was really saying something as this city was on the edge of a desert.

It was hard to tell how big the room was because of everything packed inside, but had to be the size of small warehouse. As well as all the devices and parts of them, there were towering bookcases stacked with not only books but models and other things. There were a number of work benches, each crowd with tools that did multiple jobs. Everything and anything you could imagine was in some state of construction in this room.

Kit walked around a cage that had some pink rats inside and spied the Engineers’ two apprentices. One was a lanky young man who kept pushing up the heavy framed glasses on his nose and the other was a hollow older woman who had shown them in when they had ring the doorbell. Though she had tried to hide it, Kit had seen her bronze metal left hand.

The apprentices were hunched over a small workbench and whispering to each other whilst they fixed a small engine that was burping steam. They hadn’t shown any interest in the guests, nor offered a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Kit sure wanted a drink. He felt his hip flask at his side and took a few sips of lurk warm water. The absinthe had run out days ago and he was desperate to try and get some more. Clicking the flask back on to his belt, he walked away from the apprentices, around strange machines that God only knew what did. Though a huge glass bowl that was empty but connect to some scientific test set up, through it Kit saw Patience Jane Castleton.

The ace navigator of their airship The Lost Harmony had found a dirty window and was lent against it. The top panel only half opened but it was enough for Patience to let some fresh air in.

She was taller than Kit, thanks to the high heel and knee length silver boots she wore. Patience had on brown leather trousers like Kit had but covering some of the front and all of the back was a ruffled dark brown top skirt. She also had on a short sleeved white blouse and a brown corset with bronze straps. Her leather jacket was thrown over a pile of books and balanced in her piled high and twisted up blonde hair was a small black hat were a netted veil and peacock feather.

Kit turned away from her and left Patience to her thoughts. The navigator had been touchy since they had landed here. Something about how she hated deserts.

Meandering around more piles of things and ignoring the gutting of gas lamps, Kit found himself back where he had headed off from; the main pathway to the Engineer’s metal desk. Surprising this one stretch from the door to the elephant of a desk to another smaller door in the back wall was all clear of things. As the Engineer needed an escape route.

Kit walked up to the four people gathered at the desk and found a bookcase to lean against. Three people- the other crew members of The Lost Harmony- where on one side of the desk and the Engineer, who to Kit looked so much like a dwarf because he was so small, yet studly built and had a long well groom red beard and a shaved head, that the Engineer must have been a dwarf, was sitting on a high chair on the other side and fiddling with a blunder bluster gun whilst he listened to his guests.

The engineer of the airship, Meriwether Bramwell Redsmith the third and the gunner, Nicodemus Radulphus Langridge were putting in an order with the Engineer. It was why they had come here; airship and weapons improvements. The two men were taking turns to talk in low voices as if they were worried about being overheard.

Kit didn’t blame them. Meriwether might claim to have known this Engineer well and to have used him before but everyone knew that Engineers were not to be trusted. They were the listening devices of the world thanks to all the contraptions they could secret about.

From the back, it was easier to tell Meriwether and Nicodemus apart. Nicodemus was built like a rock giant. He was almost seven foot tall, all bulging muscles and skin tight leather and rough cotton clothes. He had long black hair, tied in a plait that ran down his back. His accent give him away as a man of the cold regions, he spoke with a harsh voice and Kit had never heard someone speak as much foul language as Nicodemus did.

Meriwether looked the total opposite on the giant. The airship engineer was short, skinny and capable of getting into the smallest gaps on the airship. Meriwether’s mind was always racing with this or that improvement or task. He hardly spoke but when he did it was thoughtful and scholer like. Thin glasses balanced on his nose, his eyes were a strange teal colour, his hair short and greying. He wore black trousers, a spotless white shirt, a red velvet jacket, a perfect cravat was tied up at his throat and a long black top hat on his head. Meriwether had dressed up for the occasion.

The third person was Captain Cornelius Horatio Featherstonehaugh. He was standing apart from the others at the corner of the table. He had on a massive sky blue coat with a golden high collar that was up and pressed against the back of his neck. His thinning black hair was tied in a small ponytail and poking out of a large tricorn hat pulled low over his heavily scarred old face.

Two fingers were missing from the Captain’s right hand and he had a metal right leg which was always seizing up and has he often said, ‘causing me more grieve then the real one ever did!’ He wore specially made boots with magnetic heals and toes and baggy, flaring blue trousers. On the Captain’s shoulder sat a creature that made everybody but the Captain uneasy.

The creature was half monkey, half clockwork. One side of it’s face was normal but the other was all made up of cogs, gears and metal pieces. A flashing glass eye whirled around whilst the real black eye stayed still. Brown fur met dark grey metal plates across cheek and skull, they screwed together with tiny bolts.

The monkey’s heart and lungs had been removed and in there place were steam powered ones which could be viewed through a piece of glass in the monkey’s chest. The right arm and leg had been replaced with bronzes replicates and random cogs that seemed purely decorative had been stuck into the monkey’s fur. The monkey’s tail was thankfully normally.

The Captain had rescued the clockwork monkey and Kit could repeat the story off by heart. The Captain had fought some sea pirates when he had been a sea mercenary and he had found a ship full of mutilated animals who had had things replaced cockwork parts that were being smuggled into different countries and sold to people as novelties.

‘There is nothing novel about animals experimented on and changed,’ the Captain always added into his story, ‘unfortunately the ship was blown up and the only animal to escape was this little one who I was trying to save at the time. He bit me fingers off and we’ve been best friends ever since.’

Kit shivered at the thought of the horrible monkey creature and his elbow slipped further into the bookcase. A pile of cogs flew to the floor, making an awful din as they fell and scattered. All the heads in the room turned towards him.

The monkey broke into loud cries and began jumping on the Captain’s shoulder in worry. The Captain raised his hand and began comforting the creature. Meriwether rolled his eyes and Nicodemus mumbled something in his own language. The two apprentices shot out from nowhere both armed with guns as if they had thought the loud sound was a fight starting, followed by Patience jogging over with her two heavy pistols drawn.

Kit held up his hands and mumbled ‘Sorry.’

He bent and scrambled to pick the rolling cogs up. Some of them were heavier than he expected them to be and he felt bruises blooming underneath his leather arm guards.

‘Be careful there, boy,’ the gruff voice of the Engineer spoke, ‘everything is fine, Priscilla and Elijah, go back to work,’ he added and waved the apprentices away.

Leaving the cogs stacked on the floor, Kit slipped off and went to hide his flushing face in one of the devices. He stopped before one and stood there not really seeing it for sometime. Then his eyes and brain focused and he saw he was standing before a large moving clockwork model of the solar system. Each planet and some of the larger constellations had been painstakingly handmade and fixed to thin metal poles which was attracted to a heavy wooden base.

Kit looked underneath and saw a mass of cogs and gears, like the inside of his pocket watch, working away to turn all of the solar system representatives above. There was the harsh sticky smell of warm oil and a tricking of burning steam. A piston was pumping away and Kit followed it to see an coal fueled engine hard at work.

He went back to the clockwork model, his fingers reaching to touch one of the moving planets whilst his thieving mind tried to work out how to steal this rare and expensive item.

‘Don’t you think you’ve caused enough trouble?’ Patience said, her posh voice softening.

‘I can’t help it,’ Kit muttered, dropping his hand.

‘I know, Thief,’ Patience tacked on like a pet nickname.

Kit slipped his hands into his pockets and turned away, pressing his redden cheek into the soft fleece of his jacket.

Footsteps creaked on the wooden boards and some of the devices shook with the vibrations. Kit looked out of the corner of his eye as Patience turned and spoke something to the Captain. Meriwether and Nicodemus were close behind, looking pleased with their agreements with the Engineer. 

‘Let’s go, kid,’ Patience said turning back to Kit.

He give a swift nod and trailed after them. At the door, Priscilla saw them out, scowling at Kit as he had been a bad dog she was kicking outside. The door snapped shut behind them and Kit carefully went down the dimly lit metal staircase.

At the bottom, night was falling in the city and the fading voices of people could be heard alongside the hissing of steam and the creaking of ropes. Kit took in lungfuls of fresh air, glad to finally be outside. Cooling wind wrapped around him, wiping away the heat of the Engineer’s workshop.

‘Are you coming to have a drink with us?’ Captain asked.

Kit shook his head, he wasn’t in the mood for that, ‘I’ll go back to the Harmony. Will you buy me some bottles of absinthe, if they have any?’

‘Sure,’ Patience repiled, ‘though you should really lay off that stuff.’

‘I’ll come back to the airship with you,’ Meriwether cut in, ‘I have to be up early to find some parts I need. It’s market day tomorrow.’ 

They said their goodbyes and split into two groups. It felt like a long walk back to the dockyard where The Lost Harmony was awaiting for them but Kit didn’t mind, he was glad to be outside and couldn’t wait until they took off once more and were flying high over the cities below them.

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

(Writer’s Note; Though this story might seem like it’s from a longer piece it’s not. I had the idea of the character Kit come into my head then the Captain and the monkey – the imagine in my head of the monkey kinda scares me! 

I’m a massive fan of steampunk and I try to go to a few events during the year. With everything in lockdown, I’m missing it. I don’t think I’ve tried to write a steampunk story before, though there may have been hints of it in some of my stories. I’d really like to write a steampunk novel but I’m not sure where to begin with it. Perhaps this short story scene is my gateway?)