Perdition

A Steampunk Short Story written by Roger Ley

Perdition

by Roger Ley

Website  –  Amazon

Other stories by Roger Ley

 

‘Perdition’ was written as a lead in to Roger Ley’s novel “The Steampunk Adventures of Harry Lampeter’ the first half of which has previously appeared on Tall Tale TV. He simply couldn’t bring himself to publish a steampunk book without saying where all the modern technology had gone.

Along with his many other works, you can find The Steampunk Adventures of Harry Lampeter on Amazon, with the prequel ‘Harry Lampeter and the War With Scotland’ to be released in the near future.

If you are interested, Roger is for a short time making ‘The Steampunk Adventures of Harry Lampeter’ completely free for the 1st and 2nd of May. Simply look up his name, spelled with an e, not an a, and you should find him easily.

 

 

Does the Accused have anything to say before sentence is passed?” asked the Lord Chief Justice from the raised judges’ bench at the head of the courtroom. Neither of the other two gowned and bewigged judges nor the lawyers and officials showed much interest. The verdict was a foregone conclusion, the only question was the severity of the sentence.

Standing in the dock of the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey, Dr Martin Riley addressed the senior judge. “I wanted to help clean up the environment and save the planet. I always had the best of intentions.”

To quote a well-known proverb, Dr Riley,” said his Lordship, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. It’s just a shame you felt the need to completely resurface it. Take him down, the Court will pass sentence tomorrow.” There was an audible sigh from the public gallery. The clerks, lawyers and reporters began to shuffle their papers

All rise,” called the Usher.

Two guards escorted Riley to his windowless cell in the block beneath the court room. He sat in the dim light of the gas lamp as it hissed and guttered in its bracket above him, and thought back to his laboratory at Cambridge. Was it only five years ago that the new strain of the bacterium had been isolated?

***

How are the results, Peter?” Peter Abrahams was one of Riley’s postgraduate research assistants.

We seem to have hit the jackpot with 17164D, Dr Riley. It’s munching away at the polypropylene substrate like nobody’s business. The free carbon readings are off the scale. We should call it Ideonella sakaiensis maximus, maybe ISM for short.”

Okay, Peter, you should try it on some other types of polymer, see how it does.”

***

Riley thought back to the early days of his trial and his first cross examination by the prosecuting barrister. “So, Dr Riley, even in the early stages, you ignored the danger the bacterium posed?”

We used standard isolation procedures, of course,” Riley said, “but ISM could only thrive in an acidic environment, it couldn’t breed in the outside world, only in our fermentation tanks. It all seemed perfectly safe, it had a short lifespan. I mean, the original bacterium was found in a Japanese recycling plant, decades ago, and never posed a threat.”

Tell the court what happened after you formed your new technology company, Planet First Recycling, the one that made you a billionaire, Dr Riley.”

Well, sorting waste plastics was not a problem, the ISM bacteria digested all types, leaving water and a carbon residue that could be recycled. No smoke, no pollution, just water and carbon. It was the collection of waste items that was expensive. I invented the CleanBurn system that used the energy released by breaking down the plastic to generate electricity. We talked to various companies and Volkswagen came up with the original ‘TrashBot’ design. It was a spin off from their driverless car technology. The bots used some of the waste plastic to power themselves as they did their work. The bots crawled around at all hours, quietly cleaning up after us, collecting trash and taking it back to their depots for processing. Eventually, almost every city and municipality on the planet bought into the idea, and issued licenses to our Planet First Recycling franchisees.”

The same bots that now litter the world like dead and rusting metal crabs, Dr Riley?” Riley said nothing, his lawyer had warned him about digging himself further into holes during cross examinations.

And the oceans, Dr Riley, tell us how you proposed cleaning up the oceans.”

It was a French company, Comannex, that put in the successful bid for the underwater waste collection system. They designed a swimming bot that gathered thousands of tons of plastic items and brought them back to their motherships for processing.”

The barrister adjusted his spectacles and glanced down at his notes. “So, nothing to worry about, Dr Riley, as the bacteria couldn’t breed outside your fermentation tanks, and it had a short life span, it was all perfectly safe?” asked the lawyer. “So, no risk of them escaping and ruining the whole world, then? No chance, they’d evolve and start breeding. No risk they’d digest all the plastic in the world and rapidly return us to the steam age?” His voice began to rise, “Wrong on all counts, Dr Riley. Why, the little beggars even ate paint. Not only does our technology no longer work, we are surrounded by a depressing world of brown, dead, rusting cars and brown, dead rusting infrastructure. Technologically speaking, we’ve returned to the Victorian age, a hundred and fifty years after the old Queen died. What have you got to say to that, Dr Riley?” He was red-faced and shouting by this time. Riley said nothing.

His defence lawyer did her best, she tried to show that Riley couldn’t have foreseen the damage the bacterium would do. She tried to remind the court of the benefits ISM had promised: how the whole world had, at the time, been obsessed with pollution by plastics; how Dr Riley had tried to help. But current concerns were overwhelming, the fight for survival was paramount now; green issues were not a consideration. The population of the planet was only a tenth of its previous value, decimated by disease, starvation and despair. The magnitude of the crime called for the harshest possible sentence.

***

Riley stood in the wooden cart as the horse drew it slowly from the stinking cells at the Old Bailey. He’d been held there for the last few weeks. It rumbled along Chancery Lane and on to Oxford Street via High Holborn. The highways were littered with rusting cars. The shop windows were smashed, although some were still trading. The air smelled of wood smoke, sewage and rotting meat. Ill-clad crowds jeered and Riley used his tied hands to shield his face from the flying stones, rotten fruit, and worse. Tyburn came in sight and he saw that the three oaks that had been planted on the site of the original gallows had been lopped and new horizontals added to make a serviceable replica of the original ‘three-legged mare’.

Guards pushed him up the ladder to join the other ‘Enemies of the State’ on the raised platform under one of the cross beams. He stood on a trapdoor, a hemp rope around his neck and glanced sideways just as a vile-smelling and filthy cotton bag was pulled over his head. It smelled of sweat and puke. His last sight was of Peter Abrams, and ten other members of the original Cambridge team, standing in line on trapdoors of their own.

He heard the King’s Proctor calling the name of the Accused, proclaiming their crime and ordering their sentence to be carried out. He heard the muttered recitations of the priest, the crying and whimpering of his colleagues. He felt the judder of the platform and heard the roar of the crowd as the levers were pulled and, one after another, the victims made their drop into oblivion. Finally, he heard the Proctor call his name and begin his proclamation.

Though I walk through the valley of Death I shall fear no evil,” began the Priest standing at his side.

He felt warm piss running down his leg and the boards under his feet shift slightly as the Executioner took hold of the lever.

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