The Steampunk Excerpt

Yesterday, I said I would post the first scene from my Russian steampunk novel complete with my editorial notes. Alas the fickle finger of fate has intervened. Scrivener has crashed seven times on me since yesterday, which is more than it has crashed during the whole period since I started using it back in 2007.

Since the only file that crashes is the one for this particular story, I am tempted to conclude that this might have something to do with Scapple importing. That might be jumping to conclusions prematurely though. Something else may have corrupted the file.

The net result is that I did not have the time or the energy to work out how to include my editorial comments from the salvaged file. Rather than just post this excuse I thought I would add the actual scene and I’ll put up the commented version another day.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the excerpt in all its rawness:

THE ARMOURED TRAIN rattled through the winter gloom. I stopped looking out the compartment window and turned my attention to my companions, trying for the thousandsth time to answer the vexed question of which of them was the spy.

I knew there had to be one. I was a wizard and the Office of State Security monitors all wizards. Even if you work for it like I do. Especially if you work for it like I do.

Ivan looked up from the cheap periodical he had been reading. I could tell from the cover that it contained adventure stories set on the Siberian Frontier. Ink from the dark woodpulp paper smudged his fingertips.

Ivan had been to the frontier and he knew it was nothing like those stories but that did not stop him from devouring the magazines. He loved reading about the bold trappers and the monsters and the Nephilim.

When he smiled he looked like an innocent boy but he had killed at least a dozen men and several supernatural beings during his tenure as my bodyguard. Was it him, I wondered? He was the most likely candidate.

I did not want it to be him. He had taken a bullet for me once but that might have been nothing personal. Ivan was loyal to the Czar. And I was the Emperor’s representative. Perhaps that was the reason he had tackled the would-be assassin. Not friendship. Not loyalty.

The carriage door slid open and Sophia, candidate number two for the position of state informer, walked in, her smile halfway between concerned and shy. She was carrying a leather document wallet bearing the two-headed eagle seal. It contained papers, important ones but not as important as those in the briefcase handcuffed to my wrist.

She looked at it then caught me rubbing the wardstone on my jacket cufflink with the fingers of my left hand. She knew that gesture well. She said, “nervous, Colonel Roth?”

I did not want the spy to be her either. I liked her too.

I shook my head. “What is there to be nervous about, captain?”

She exchanged a knowing look with Ivan. They didn’t believe me. And they were right not to.

This whole business smelled poisonous. An imperial war hero murdered by dark magic. And not just any imperial war hero, a wizard and a cousin of the Czar. It was my job to bring the killer to justice. That much had been explained to me in painful detail by the Minister for State Security.

The slaying of Oleg Zacharov was tantamount to treason. Killing a wizard of his power was like poisoning an entire division of hussars. It was not something that could be allowed to go unpunished.

If I failed, there would be unpleasant consequences, for me, for my family, for those close to me. Given the political situation, there were plenty of powerful people who would like to see me fail. A more sensible man have found a way not to take this case.

I had often considered killing Zacharov myself. Now I would never get the chance. I pushed that particularly treasonous thought to one side and stared out of the window again.

It was getting dark. Deep snow glimmered white as bone. Leafless trees leaned over the railway line. The outline of the land looked vaguely familiar.

I was going home. That was another thought to be pushed to one side. I had not been home in 17 years. I wondered if they were all still alive. They had been the last time I checked but that had been months ago. Now it was winter, the season when the poor die in droves in the city of Katrinaburg.

I realised to my horror that I did recognise the landscape. I knew the curve of the river and the bulge of the hills. I had swum here as a youth. I had walked all the way out of the city a full five leagues on hot summer days. We had come to look at the beauty spot, Me and Carl and the other youngsters from the Cheap Street slums. It had all changed now and not for the better.

“There used to be trees here,” I said.

“There still are,” said Sophia. “Open your eyes!” She added sir as an afterthought.

“I mean they used to be a forest so thick that you could hardly see your hand under the eaves of the trees. It’s all gone now.”

“Probably to feed the new factories, sir,” said Ivan cheerfully. “They use a lot of wood. Fuel, pulp, kindling for the poor.”

He pulled his service revolver out of the holster and began to check it. He flipped out the rotating drum that held the truesilver cartridges and spun it.

“The bullets are still in there,” I said. “Put it away before you frighten the poor conductor. He’s already nervous enough about us being on board.”

“As you say, sir,” Ivan said. He clicked the weapon closed and put it back in its holster. “I like to be prepared. You never know when trouble might find you.”

“I think it’s unlikely that it will find us at three thirty on a Sunday afternoon on the Moscow to Katrinaburg express,” I said.

10 Replies to “The Steampunk Excerpt”

  1. Enjoying this so far. It’s raw, but it’s a good raw – a nice solid raw that promises a lot of good things in the next draft. I like how you let the steampunk and sorcery elements seep in – Roth makes this world sound real and convincing with his narration.

    1. Thanks, George. It’s quieter than I imagined it being– in my outline I thought the first thing we would see looking out the window was a steampunk city. I think it’s building towards that now. My underbrain is setting it up so that Roth sees his childhood home utterly transformed by industrialisation. If he’s shocked by the trees being missing…

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