Hello, everyone. I promised you some fiction, and I have been gratified by the news that many of you have been eagerly awaiting a further foray into my Victorian steampunk London. It is in the setting I intend to use for my games of "In Her Majesty's Name" and "Empire of the Dead."
Today we have the first of two recent pieces I've been working on. You've already met Helena Domin, known to all who pass her manufactory as Miss Rossum. After all, that's Rossum's Anthropomorphic Automatons emblazoned on the side in glowing letters.
Last time we got a tiny taste of the potential Miss Rossum sees in the world beyond her financial, mechanical empire -- her ubiquitous creations stand in every affluent home, relied up but not worthy of further regard, essential but ignored. Should the need arise, Miss Rossum has an artificial army ready to move at her whim.
Today, though, we look further inside, and see what plans Helena Domin may have with regards to herself.
I give you "Our Lady of the Machines"
Our Lady of the Machines
Helena Domin could feel the distant thrum of her manufactory’s production line as she descended the stone stairs. This staircase, indeed even the doorway to it, would never be discovered by the thousands of automatons working above. She had created them with exactly this blind spot -- for them, the doorway simply did not exist. They could not perceive it even if they stood in front of it.
The lighting spaced along the walls gave a warm amber glow to the spiraling stairs as she descended. Tthe vibration of the machinery aboveground retreated and soom was barely a tickle under the soles of her shoes. Finally she came to the lowest level of Rossum’s Anthropomorphic Automatons, a space only she knew existed. The dressed stone chamber was cluttered with equipment, all brass and glass, but was dominated by a giant vessel in its center. An elongated bronze canister twice the height of a man canted back between ornate, fluted brass legs. An assemblage of tubes and wires ran into the top of the vessel, and an equally complex set of pipes, handles and drains were attached to its lower surfaces. An oblong glass hatch stretched along the upper-facing side of the tank. A set of controls for operating the device stood nearby on a wooden church lectern pressed into service.
This was the one thing for which Helena Domin returned to her wartorn homeland. After establishing herself in London, she had retraced the route she first traveled as a refugee. She picked her way across the burned fields of the island, skirting the destroyed plantation houses, and any lurking dangers, until she came to her former home. Down in the subterranean levels of that building, she spent days dismantling this entire contraption, loading it onto a succession of tracked, self-propelled motorized carts; they followed behind her like obedient pack mules as she worked her way back to the coast. She loaded them aboard the craft of the smuggler she’d enlisted and returned to Britain.
And now the machine was again secure in her domain. Reassembled, polished, ready -- dormant. Helena ran her hands over the rounded, gleaming surfaces of the central tank.
The birthing vessel.
Its codes and controls contained all the information her creators had used to bring her into being. The right conflux of crystals and chemicals, of proteins and potions, and she had emerged, fully formed, from the tank’s confines, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. With its current configuration, if fueled and filled with the right components, it would grow an exact duplicate of herself in a matter of days.
So far, she had resisted the temptation.
Picking her way to a place behind the system’s controls, Helena looked at her latest makeshift additions to the tank’s operations. She had crafted a failsafe, one for which her makers had not foreseen a need. Of course, they could never had imagined she would be the sole survivor, the last remnant of the Universal Robots, the biological handcrafted creations of Old Man Rossum.
Those arrogant academics had not foreseen any way in which their weaponsmithing would not leave them as rulers of the world, instead of smoking corpses in a grey, ruined landscape, bodies of meat and metal strewn everywhere, left as meals for the crows and the rust.
Her failsafe utilized the same internal systems that continuously monitored her physical integrity, and it capitalized on the communication potential inherent in her structure. Layered within her biology was the ability to generate high-energy signals, either directed or omnidirectional, and she had fitted the birthing vessel with an appropriate receiver. Now, were she ever to completely shut down, to be killed as it were, as her higher functions shut down, all that energy would shift to communications, to generate a signal directed here, at the birthing vessel. The signal would do what she could not yet will herself to do: It would begin the germination process. Upon her body dying, and the high energy signal reaching the receiver here, the birthing vessel would give rise to another Helena Domin in a matter of days.
Her ritual had now become weekly descents into the room that held the machine, where she would then touch the foot-wide metal hemisphere alongside the control panel. A bright, loud spark would jump from her hand into the ball. “The spark of life,” she thought, chuckling. But that electromagnetic charge in some way carried with it her memories, her emotions, her attitudes and preferences, her predilections and prejudices. That tiny lightning bolt meant that, should the machine fire, the body that emerged from the tank would indeed be her, with memories intact up to now, the point of transference, losing only whatever event out in the world would cost her her current existence.
She had found a way to, in effect, make herself immortal.
She had conquered so much in her brief existence, and now she had conquered death, or the fear of death at least.
As she mounted the stairs to ascend the spiraling staircase back to the churning, clunking assembly lines on the manufactory’s main floor, she let out a long sigh.
“That gives me more time,” she thought, “to conquer the crushing loneliness.”
She emerged onto the production floor and walked head-down toward her office, past the rows of gleaming mechanical workers assembling reproductions of themselves. In row upon row of identical burnished faces, none looked up from their tasks to take notice of her passing.
OK, folks, that's it for today. Hope you enjoyed it or are, at least, intrigued. I'll have the second promised piece of prose up for you tomorrow. (I know I said the weekend, and Monday's not the weekend, but I ain't making cheese sandwiches here. Creativity takes time, you know.) Tomorrow I'll introduce you to some members of the Ladies Auxiliary and reveal what they really do.
Back to the boards, everyone, and I'll see you across the table.