Friday 17 September 2010

Friday Flash - Time Stop

This flash was inspired by the very lovely Eric J. Krause's prompt over on his blog. This week, his prompt was "Time stands still for everyone but you". Also, the impossibly brilliant Carrie Clevenger of Mindspeak requested more steampunk, so what better than to revisit the first incarnation of Vertigo City? Enjoy a new story featuring Liss and Caleb. I've written this in such a way that you don't need to have read The First Tale, but if you want to, the ebook is available now from Smashwords for just 99c!

* * *

The workshop smelled of grease and rust. Liss paced among the trestle tables. She picked through the cogs and battered machinery heaped in dull copper piles. Dusty sunlight streamed through the casement window onto Caleb's workbench. He sat at the table, soldering rudimentary circuitry.

"Liss, if you're bored, feel free to pester someone else. I won't be offended," he called.

"I'm not bored. I'm just curious about what all this stuff is. What's it for?" Liss examined a glass tube topped with brass studs.

"I never know what something is for when I get it, I work that out later," he replied. "I don't exactly use things in the most conventional fashion."

An automaton rumbled into the workshop. The antenna at the base of its torso wagged when it saw Liss. It plunged across the room towards her. Its heavy tread made the tables shake and the junk piles wobble. Screws pattered to the floor like metal raindrops.

"Why don't you take Two for a walk?" asked Caleb. He took off his goggles and looked at her. The automaton thudded across the room to the staircase in anticipation. It pointed up to the hatch leading into the street.

"I've already taken it out today," said Liss.

The automaton lowered its arm with an audible hiss. Its round shoulders sagged. Liss looked at it. She noticed a drop of oil running down the smooth polished copper that served as a face.

"Caleb, Two's eye is leaking again," she said.

"I'll sort it out later. I want to get this soldering done first," said Caleb.

Liss turned her attention back to the table. She recognised some of the parts, like pistons or camshafts, but others were baffling in their design. She picked up a thin rectangular metal box. Glass took up a whole side, with a single round button mounted near the bottom edge. She pressed it, though nothing happened. Her finger traced the small square engraved on the button.

"Where did you get this stuff?" asked Liss. She dumped the thin box on the table.

"The Antiques Quarter. It's amazing the stuff you can find down there. Very little of it is actually antique but it's a good source of spare parts for the automatons," replied Caleb. "I get most of it in job lots. They don't know what it is any more than I do."

A flash of light on bright metal caught Liss' eye. She raked through the grimy machine parts in front of her. Her hand closed around a polished brass cog. About a handspan across, strange symbols ran alongside the teeth. An hourglass filled with red sand was suspended in the large hole in the middle of the cog.

"This is different. Any idea what it is?" she asked.

Caleb looked up.

"No. I got that in a job lot last week. I want to catalogue all this at some point, but that means sifting through the junk to get at the good bits. Right now, I don't have time."

"You mean you can't be bothered."

Liss flicked the hourglass. It flipped in a smooth arc, tipping upright. The red sand filtered down through the small neck. Liss stared at it for a moment. The movement of the grains proved hypnotic.

"What does it do?" she asked after a minute.

Caleb didn't reply. A quiet ticking filled the silence of the workshop. Liss looked around, unable to see a clock.

"Hey Caleb, what does it do?"

She looked at Caleb's back. He hunched over his bench, soldering iron and circuit board in hand. He didn't move. He didn't even twitch the way he did when he concentrated on his work. Liss turned to look at the automaton. Two stood motionless at the bottom of the stairs. The drop of oil froze on its face. She couldn't hear the hum of its motor.

"OK, this is weird," she said. Her voice sounded strange in the workshop. It echoed slightly, as if she stood at the mouth of a cave. She picked up a spanner and dropped it. It hung in the air. It only moved when she forced it to the ground with her hand.

Liss crossed the workshop and climbed onto Caleb's bench. She peered out of the casement window, at eye level with the street. She gawked at the tableaux before her. Passers-by stood frozen mid-stride. A gentleman looked furtive as he addressed a red-haired woman in a gaudy blue dress standing on the corner. Two children played hopscotch in the gutter. One of them hung in mid-hop above the squares. Three women in faded dresses clutched their shawls about them, heads thrown back in silent laughter.

Liss looked down at the cog in her hand. The sand poured through the hourglass with a faint hiss. She watched the last few grains drop through the narrow neck.

"How on earth did you cross the room so fast?" asked Caleb.

"I didn't, you were just so engrossed in what you were doing," said Liss.

Caleb shrugged and returned to his soldering. Liss stashed the cog in her pocket. It might come in very handy one day.


Unknown said...

Nice! Good to see Liss again. And this is a very interesting story. I want an hourglass like that!

Laura Eno said...

Eeek! Chronos wondered where he dropped that! Yes, it would come in very handy. Awesome!

Eric J. Krause said...

Very cool story! I'm glad my prompt brought that one about. I haven't had a chance to read your book yet, but this story really wet my appetite for it.

ChloƩ P. Kovac said...

Caleb's construction methods are similar to how I sometimes approach drawing.
I like how you've described Caleb's workshop. I can picture it in my mind as being a half organised / half haphazardly arranged sort of place.
Th oil drop running down Two's face is a nice touch too.

Benjamin Solah said...

Very cool atmosphere and the bit with time stopping was very well done, almost chilling.

John Wiswell said...

When the antenna waggled I imagined it emoting like a puppy's tail. I was probably wrong, but it's too cute.

I can certainly see that cog coming in use later in your novel.

Sulci Collective said...

the sands of time... hourglasses are so evocative. Nicely done.

Marc Nash

Icy Sedgwick said...

Gracie - I don't think Liss is ever going to go quietly...

Laura - Liss says no, Chronos can't have it back.

Eric - I love your prompts!

Chloe - Caleb thinks of it as organised chaos.

Benjamin - Yeah, being able to stop time WOULD be chilling, but it's typical of Liss for her to think it would be cool.

John - You'd be right - Two is the closest thing Liss has to a dog.

Marc - I love hourglasses. I hate it when they get referred to as "egg timers".

Anonymous said...

Very nice use of the prompt. I love that Caleb accepts her answer without question like a typical absent-minded inventor (or tinkerer as we called my grandfather) and Liss tucks the device away for use later.

Laurita said...

I liked the atmosphere you created, and the images of the frozen people outside. Really great story.

Anonymous said...

Just such a cool set up and sparking lots more interest. Even though I know the characters, this reveals even more about them and the city they live in. All kinds of goodness here.
Adam B @revhappiness

Anonymous said...

Pretend this blog is the steampunk-world version of Facebook and there is a Like button. This is me clicking it--except with a keen geared-up mouselike gadget purchased from Caleb's workshop instead of the drab trackpad of my boring real-world computer.

Sigh...your story is well written and quite evocative in the details of its setting. Makes me want to live there. Don't suppose Liss's hourglass has dimension-shifting abilities, does it?

Icy Sedgwick said...

It doesn't shift dimensions but I'll ask Liss to see if she can find anything useful in there.

Unknown said...

You take prompts to fun places. I love their responses to each about what happened. Great story.

-David G Shrock

~Tim said...

I so want an hourglass like that. I wonder what other treats can be mined from the Antiques Quarter?

Anonymous said...

I loved it, Icy. I'm intrigued by your characters. Once again, an excellent use of the prompt & demand for steampunk. ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh loved it, this is a rich beginning: steampunk, clockpunk, the cog, Two - quite delicious and ready for round two. Hope you're expanding on this one. Also - any directions to the Antiques Quarter? This place needs a proper map.


Icy Sedgwick said...

DJ - I will be expanding on this eventually! For now just trying to plug the e-book that started it all off.

Anonymous said...

Love this Icy, especially the detail of the automaton's emotions, and how neither of them seem to understand that's what it is.
And I want that hourglass too!

Anonymous said...

Imagine all the things you could do with each turn of the hour glass. It would be like a really interesting game of boggle or yahzee. I loved this Icy, and I don't even know what steampunk is yet!

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

OK, I admit it, I really have no idea what steampunk is... but I know a great story when I see one, and THIS is really great.
Every week that goes by I am more and more impressed with your writing, Icy.

Pamila Payne said...

I love this world of yours and I want one of those time stopping cogs. You've got the knack for this style. Look forward to more.

Tony Noland said...

Love it. Time stop stories are awesome, and the steampunk feel is the icing on the cake.

A. S. Boudreau said...

I want one of those cogs! :) great story! Loved the imagery in thise too. I could imagine the entire place. You set the tone and atmosphere very well!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Aw thanks people. I have to admit, this was quite fun to write. Oh, the things I could do with one of those cogs!

Anonymous said...

What a great prompt - you used it well! I didn't know what an automaton was but it didn't matter because the story was very visual and gave lots of clues. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Thank you. I'm new to your writing but felt very at home with it. :)

AidanF said...

Nice story; I liked the writing in this piece and Liss seems like an interesting character. Great concept, I'm sure we could all use a cog. Wonder how many people would use them for "evil".

Anonymous said...

Fantastic - loved this story :)


Jen said...

Aha! I want one of those cogs!

Hey, was Two *crying*?

Icy Sedgwick said...

Yes, Jen, he was crying, in his own automaton way!

Jen said...

Aw no! Poor Two.

Carrie Clevenger said...

Heehee. Neat device there. Oops. Need more time? Pull out the stop. Err Stops! Nice cameo from Two. :D

Anonymous said...

Oh, great story. I always love your characters. It would be great to have one of those cogs. They would indeed come in handy.

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