A Fantasy / Steampunk short story written by Christopher Herron
Read by Christopher Herron
A young apprentice must help his Crackpot Master with a new invention that stretches the line between genius and insanity.
My first video! Took forever but here it is. Many thanks to all the people who supported me so much in getting this project up and running. You guys are my heroes.
I wrote this one myself just to get a feel for how this project would work. Let me know what you guys think!
“Is it supposed to do that?” Nalt lifted his clipboard like a protective shield.
The mechanical dog began to shake, smoke billowing from its hindquarters. Nalt coughed as the acrid cloud began to fill the campus courtyard.
“Of course it is,” Stokes raised an eyebrow as if daring Nalt to argue. “What else did you expect it to do?” The dog gave a low rumble followed by a loud bang.
Nalt tried to cover more of himself with the wafer thin barrier. As luck would have it he had just the right amount of muscle tone to actually fit.
This appeared to mollify Stokes. His mustache bristled as he knelt beside the patchwork pup. After a quick inspection, he began the technical process of tuning its internal logic matrix, the brass hammer clanging against its left haunch. The smoke sputtered and died. So did the rest of the dog. “Hand me the precision omni-torsion adjuster.”
“Omni-what?” Nalt reached into an overflowing toolbox.
“The screwdriver. . .”
Nalt’s brow furrowed. He hauled out a screwdriver that looked more suited to battle than tightening screws. He wasn’t sure why a screwdriver would need four prongs, a serated blade and a small level, but someone had felt the need to weld them on. Stokes snatched the travesty from Nalt’s outstreatched hands.
It looked tiny in his massive grip. But then again Stokes was the kind of man that could use a shovel as a spoon and nobody would notice. Nalt pushed his safety glasses further up on his thin nose and took a long step back, half expecting . . . Well, he didn’t know what he was expecting. But safety protocall stated that when assisting a senior Mechanist the recomended distance to stand was ‘Keep running.’
After the contraption had managed not to dismember anyone for several seconds, Nalt worked up his courage. “Uh, sir?”
Stokes didn’t bother looking up from his impromtue surgery. “Yes, Mr. Knobs?”
“Nalt, sir. It’ just. . . What, if you don’t mind my asking, is the intended purpose of this . . . dog?” It was a stretch to call the thing a dog. But under the riveted metal, patches of glued rabbit hide, and various protruding cogs, it was most definitely dog-ish. It had at least four legs, what might have been a tail, and a face only a mother could love. Assuming she was blind and possibly insane. “I mean, I understood the robotic hamsters. We needed something to power the automo-carriages. But why a dog?”
Stokes stood, placing the screwdriver behind his ear for safe keeping. Wiping grease on his leather apron, he gave the canine robot a swift kick. It clanked, whirred and shook itself back to life. “Companionship, my dear Mr. Knobs! Far too long man has gone alone in this savage world. We need loyal pets to fulfill our needs of love and affection. Or some such tosh. I don’t know, I just built it.”
“I get that, but what about, you know, dogs? Proper dogs I mean.” Nalt drummed his nervous fingers around the edge of his clipboard. He moved, placing the considerable bulk of Master Stokes between himself and the mutt, as if he were a blast door. Better safe than sorry.
“Bah. Far too common for the modern day gentleman, don’t you think? No, what we need is a lovable automaton. Not some run of the mill, pee on your carpet, eat your slippers, flea-ridden ‘natural’ animal. My D.O.G.G.Y. Can do all that in one tenth the time! Besides, can a regular ‘dog’ do this?” Stokes patted his apron, searching the many pockets. With a triumphant flourish he produced a small leather ball. “Fetch, boy.” The ball disappeared across the lawn towards the campus.
“Very impressive, sir. It’s just, what if this dog is anything like your other creations?”
Stokes retrieved a second leather ball and repeated the process. “What do you mean?” The dog watched unconcerned as the ball became a tiny dot in the distance. Drawing a sinister whatchamacallit from his toolbox, Stokes began prying open the mutt’s cranium.
“Your auto-feeding fork, for instance.”
Stokes prodded at the small tubes and gears inside the canine’s brain. “Smashing success, that one.”
“Yes sir, but as a lawn trimmer. And what about your self-aware top hat?”
“As I recall, they still use it for public executions. Get to your point, lad.”
Nalt set his jaw and plunged onward. “What I mean to say, sir, is that your inventions never seem to serve their original purpose. And, in fact, quite often render their users maimed, amnesiac, and in some cases impotent! Do you truly feel the world is ready to bring home a family pet that may well leave little Jimmy a one-eared eunuch?”
Stokes sighed and shut the brain pan with a metallic clang. He placed an affectionate hand on Nalt’s shoulder, causing his knees buckled and creaked beneath the force. “Mr. Knobs, you’re a good lad. You work hard, keep a tidy toolbox, you didn’t complain when my ear wax remover erased three years of your memory . . .”
“But what you young bucks don’t understand is that mechanistry is not about what you build, or even about what it is meant to do. The heart and soul of mechanistry is seeing what it does when you flip the bloody switch! If it’s not broke, re-engineer it. That’s our motto! Only through random experimentation and unexpected outcome may we stride bravely into this new world.”
Stokes’ grip tightened around Nalt’s shoulder as he grew more passionate. “Where would we be without Master Archivald’s flame retardant tea cozy? Or Senior Member Willikie’s heat seeking apple corer? Mechanists build not because we can, nor even because we should. Nay, we build because nature’s done a piss poor job of it all and it’s time someone else tried a hand!”
Nalt stared slack-jawed at the madman before him. “You’re completely off your rocker, sir.”
“Noted, Mr. Knobs. thank you for your opinion. Now, care to do the honors?” Stokes tossed a third leather ball to his apprentice.
Nalt sighed, and in a fit of frustration hefted the ball with all his inconsiderable strength. To his astonishment it sailed away in a gentle arc, heading straight for a second story window.
Dirt showered the two men from the spot where the dog had been. A stream of smoke raced away, on course to intercept the flying target. With a mighty leap and an aerial twist, the mechanized hound caught the ball between it’s teeth. It flipped twice, and landed gently on it’s paws beside the university’s west wall. Then exploded.
Stokes stared at the smoldering crater. Bits of wall crumbled backwards into a classroom. All that remained of the robotic pooch was a blackened skull, still gnawing at the leather ball. Students rushed about. Some were putting out small fires, while others extracted a stunned teacher from the rubble. Stokes tapped his fingers thoughtfully against his chin. “Hmm. You may have a point this time, Mr. Knobs.”
“Nalt, sir.” Nalt peeked out from behind master Stokes, eyeing the chunks of what had just been a dog.
“Perhaps this one is more suited for public service. Give Captain Fergus a ring. The City Patrol could always use a hand keeping the local riffraff in line.”
Nalt looked at the crowd gathering around the classroom’s new back door. “Something tells me he will be here shortly, sir.”
“Ah, very good.” Stokes took a deep breath of the smokey air, smiling like a child who had just made his first slingshot. “All in all I’d call this another smashing success, wouldn’t you?”
Nalt put a hand to his temple as another section of wall gave way. “I do believe it will go down as one of your more, uh, notorious works, sir.”