The Golden Egg Chronicles

Cover (Gauss)


The Chronospire. Its ancient gears have revolted uncountable times, yet still they turned despite being old and rusted. The heavy wrought iron hour-hand of the enormous clock face squealed ever closer to the midday hour. The weatherworn wooden face of the clock stared dignified on the city below, its frontal side pockmarked with the steam pipes through which provided the steam power that drove the machinations of the enormous machine. The grinding, external gears, corroded by rust, as if time ate away at itself, turned slowly and surely with each passing moment. It was a face as well known to the citizens of Capital as their own parents’ faces. It was the centerpiece of the empire and measured the most important resource on which the people of Capital depended: time.

The Chronospire (Ferrinus)

Somewhere, well above the polluted haze of the city, it was another beautiful day. The sun refracted down through the smoky clouds in a saffron hue, yellowed and redded. This saffron light glinted off the second hand as it swang up past the half hour mark and back towards its own origin, completing a circuit of time it began not long ago and soon would begin again. When it finally righted itself upright at the hour mark, the clock struck midday. This set off a raucous of noise that rose like a din down to the bustling city. The steam erupted violently from the open ends of the pipes which protruded outward from the clock. A loud whistle, announcing the arrival of noon, had sounded. The steam wispily snaked upward, through the light which was coming down through the haze. The large hands of the clock flickered and wavered as the steam passed through them, for they were holograms, projected from the enormous hologramographer mounted to the sleek metallic side of the spire.

There used to be real hands on the clock, but that was a long time ago, in an age long forgotten. Then, iron and wood were abundant. Now all that remained was this: the three dimensional light refracting holoparticles emitted regularly by the machine, giving the allusion of the original Chronospire, destroyed in the Ascension Wars before CAPITAL solidified its empire.

Far below, a man squinted upward, watching the midday steam ritual with a somewhat confused expression on his face.

"Midday already..." he said in a quaint, educated tone. " really must be on my way."

Dirk MacLauren returned his gaze back down to those things that were in front of him: both down the lane, lined with venders and kiosks and to the task at hand which he disparately needed to accomplish. He patted softly the leather bag at his hip and looked around unsuspiciously.

"Pray, logic and chance, give me but a little more time undetected."

Dirk McLauren (Ferrinus)

His prayer rose weakly in the air, mingling with the deep leaden circles of the tolling Chronospire. That done, Dirk set off down the street called, according to the old-style pitted street sign, Strass Magnus, his boots making soft leather noises on the uneven cobblestones, accompanied by a strange click and hiss whenever his anterior foot struck the stone. This burrough was a good area to be for someone moving culvertly under the enemy’s nose: quiet, not meant for use of people driving steamcycles, autocarts, or other high-end mechinations, populated only by vendors in their ramshackle shacks and shoddy kiosks lining the side of the street hawking their wares, and the customers milling about busily lining the middle of the street Strass Magnus. Dirk could purposefully be lost himself here, as was what he wanted to be. He was one of the best, most discrete transporters, that’s why Dr. Zybourne chose him for such an prominent mission.

As he advanced haltingly down the lane, he observed the sellers and buyers. An old woman offered fresh Warenni lake cabbage to a mother holding her child. Warenni lake cabbage, Dirk thought, my dear plasmic soul the things still available in the city of Capital! This must be why they call this city the City Where All Roads Meet Together As One. A strong-looking man shirtless except for an apron, wearing pants and iron boots, hacked at a chine of beefslab with a cleaver, its primitive steam motor chugging pleasantly, his muscle culture sweated and gleaming. One old man, grinning to show a number of four steel teeth in his gummy mouth, rocked back and forth working a threadlewheel with his feet. McLauren past them all, making like just another innocent citizen in the crowd, excusing himself with unremarkable "Sorry darling"s and "Pardon me"s. If only they knew.

But maybe they did? he considered. Any one of them could be an agent of CAPITAL. That old woman could be an assassin in an activated deluder screen. The mother could be likewise a spy, her baby actually a camera in swadding clothes. There was no reason reason the old man's threadlewheel wasn't a disguised EMP weapon. And that butcher, that thicknecked butcher? Easily two dwarf thralls in a humanistic mechsuit. Even the dog (Dirk had also saw a dog while he was observing) the dog possibly might be no dog at all, but a dog with a communicator emplanted in its canine brain, each wag of its tail against the cobbles transmitting datum to its fell masters. There was no telling what fever dreams Dr. Malaprop wrought in CAPITAL’s whispered-about science labs, playing a seamstress God for his tyrant and miscreant superiors in their towering arcology mansions. But, No, Dirk reassured himself, he had made clean his escape, Dr. Zybourne had seen to that. He was still safely undetectable. He patted the leather pouch again and reached the end of the street.

The Dog Communicator (Evilkosh)

Now he had to choose; to his left the wider lainway broadened into the downtown area, meaning more people to cloak him but also more faces to see his identity. In front of McLauren was the entrance arch to one of the city of Capital’s last remaining train stations. Opposite the direction of the downtown was uptown, deeper into the cityscape where he did not want to go. He needed to rest. His war wound was acting up to bother him, the place in his leg where during the War of Ascension (when CAPITAL had risen to power) an EMP bullet had lodged and discharged its crackling blue energy, incapacitating him for many weeks while medical doctors fitted him with then state-of-the-art steam parts and prostheses, now outdated of course. He needed to sit. He need to refuel his bummishing leg. So he went into the train station’s massive entrance.

Inside, the train station’s impressive architecture and curved glass ceiling crossed with black metal beams could be described as cathedralesque, if the Changing hadn’t made such buildings and terms quaint obloquies. That old Zybourne, Dirk ideated, what has he gotten himself into this time? Posh, his health hasn’t been well for a long while and yet he still sets out, or rather, he chuckled to his self, sets ME out on these crazy hush hush missions without barely telling me what is going on! Dirk’s smirk settled into a bemused half-smile. He did care for the old man. He had been running errants for him for a long time. But he was worried. Not only about Dr. Zybourne’s falling health, but about the state of things in general, as concerned the political maneuvers of CAPITAL and the insecurity of the surrounding territories. Ah, well, he thought again, it’s for brighter minds then my own.

The steam engines blasted along, arriving, departing, each keeping to its schedule, obeying the law of time that governed the transports and all those aboard. It was like a giant body, each tunnel an artery, trains starting, stopping, pumping forward, the people flooding in and out of the brass doorways, and up, out into the streets. The locogyrator on each train amped up and whirred rapidly into a blur of motion in time. Dirk stared at all of this, feeling a weariness in his good leg. He espied a bronze bench, unoccupied and thought that though his mission were dire, he would rest for just a moment, enough to catch his breath and relive his joints and refuel his steam leg.

A schematic for the model of SteamLeg with which Dirk MacLauren is fitted. (Ferrinus)

"By science!" Dirk swore, "Aging may be inevitable but why does it happen so quickly! Not ten years ago I could do this sort of thing in my sleep, and often did!"

He sat himself down on the bench and grasped the leather satchel close to this chest. Looking around wearily, he made sure no one suspicious was watching him. Very carefully, he thought, very carefully...His hand slowly dug through the flap of the bag, probing its innards. Very carefully...Gah, where is it? He groped blindly, keeping a lookout in all directions. Finally he stopped and a smile found his face. Aha! He recoiled his arm slowly, keeping the pouch pressed closely to his body. As his fingertips withdrew into sight, a small hard candy in a red wrapper was held tightly between them. He unwrapped the candy with relish, looking at it greedily. Dirk had a sweet tooth and was glad he managed to smuggle some of the Butterstream Spirals into his bag before he left. He focused on the candy, anticipating its dropping into his mouth. "It truly is the little things in li-huh?"

Dirk sits in the train station (theinhko)

His eyes racked focus to a young girl standing in front of him. She had certainly snuck up on him! He looked around anxiously but did not see any other people, save those hurrying in and out of the trains, the obsequious masses.

"Hi Mister." She said in a small voice, fitting her frame. Her wide doe eyes stared up at him. The candy hovered in midair, his mouth agape, waiting for it to fall. It tumbled out of his fingers right as he began to speak-

"Hello darling, wh-cough-bleaaough!!" The candy slipped into his throat and he choked on it. The girl took a step back, frightened. After a mighty effort he managed to dislodge the lozenge from his airway and back into his mouth. He braced himself on the bench and caught his breath.

"Are you okay?" the girl asked.

"Yes, yes...I’m fine, thank you." He was sweating a little.

" you think I could have one of those? We don’t get candies like that here," she inquired forlornly in a sad voice. He raised his eyebrows, as one does when surprised. He thought they had everything here in Capital. He knew that the Buttersteam company was located outside of Capital, but he figured they imported everything. He recalled that they were once called Buttersteam Spirals, named after the device used to make them, the SteamButterer, and the company which made it, The Buttersteam Company. Then, as always happens with technology, the Steambutterer was replaced by the Streambutterer, which still ran on steam, but differently, and was still made by Buttersteam Co. His brow furrowed.

An ad for Butterstream Spirals (Hernando)

"You don’t have these here?" He asked. She shook her head mournfully. He looked around again to make sure nobody was watching. He looked again at the girl. She was perhaps eleven or twelve, her unblemished skin gleamed pale alabaster when all else radiated the reflection of the harsh station lighting. Her features, soft and fragile seemed to rise above the harsh surroundings. He sensed an innocence, a frailty that appealed to some part of his own hidden nature. She just looked at him quietly, with trusting wide eyes, her thin frame seemingly unanchored to the floor as if the nearer trains passing might blow her away. He loosed a breath. "Very well. Hold on a moment."

He brought the leather satchel to his knees and opened it carefully. As the flap of the pouch flipped open, the girls eyes widened.

"I have another in here...give me a moment. Where did that thing go?" Dirk said, half to himself, half to the girl.

He didn’t notice the iridescent glow strangely emitting from the bag. The girl however was fixated on it. "What is that?" she whispered in quiet awe.

"Hmm? What is wha-" he looked down and saw the luminous glow coming out of the satchel. Quickly he closed the flap again and looked around to make sure no one saw it.

"That, that was nothing. Here," Dirk procured another Buttersteam Spiral from his pocket. "Have this. They’re delectable."

The girl hesitated, glanced quickly left and right, perhaps seeking the approval of a misplaced parent and then, with upmost trepidation, took the candy. The cool touch of her fingers curling around the lozenge amazed Dirk and he noted how fragile and bird-like her hands were, as if her bones were the hollow flutes of a fletchling wren. She raised the candy to her mouth with a motion going one way and at the same moment Dirk drew his hand the other way, tearing the wrapper away before her tiny lips touched it and letting it flutter wanly to the floor. The rush of the murmurous crowd and the pistoning of the trains throbbed in his ears. And in his mechanic knee throbbed the hot conflagration of steam and the burn of swelling heat.

The girl sucked the treat slowly, one foot turned in against the other shyly, eyeing her benefactor from under tremulous lashes. "What’s your name?" Dirk inquired. "Miranda" the girl answered. "Would you like to hear a story, poppet?" Dirk asked and then continued without waiting for her answer. "There was a man once, a very tried and sweet man who wanted nothing more in the world than for there to be peace and quietude, especially so in his own little plot of garden, a paradisal solitude filled with blooming daffodilia and blossoming jonquil. And an area where the children will play...But powerful people had other plans and some of them wanted to burn the garden and some of them wanted not to burn it and those of them that wanted not to burn gave to the man a wonderful treasure, a treasure made of such stuff as dreams are made of. And this man, this poor worn down man had to take this treasure in secret, yes, and flee far far across the land. It was, I fear, his sad lot in life."

"Oh mister, that’s terrible. What happened to that man?" Miranda asked, the lozenge gone, melted on the pink tongue that peeked softly between her mouth.

"He’s still running, I am sorry to say. Or, if not running, moving as best he can." Dirk chuckled then sighed, preparing to rise. "Ah well sweetling, I could sit here and dandle you with tales all day, but I have things to do. Yes, this old bluff barrel of a fool needs to see the horizon by sundown."

The girl watched him struggle to rise, opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again, to speak. "Please mister, I saw something in your bag. Something glowing. What was it mister? Was it a jewelry for me? Please say it was something for me. Mister, what is it?

Dirk paused for a moment, considering plots which might've employed this child as a spy, paid in food, to inquire. Exhausted and drawn to the child's innocence, the walls of his secrecy melted for a moment.

"This, my darling, is a device. A device many men and many women have died to see, to understand, and to own. In many ways it is like one of your toys, but a toy for adults. This, darling, is The Zybourne Clock."

Suddenly, barely visible in the dim light, the child's eyes changed. The hazelnut brown tones unglued into silver, melting into swirls of pearl and mechanical shades. Her body lost its shy posture and rapidly conformed to a rigid, upright stance. Her mouth opened slightly and with programmed precision, she moved her wrist slowly towards her tiny lips.

The Young Miranda (Ferrinus)

"Orange Fox to Deitrus. Orange Fox to Deitrus. The Golden Egg has been located. I repeat, we've got it. Over".

Frozen with guilt, McLauren slowly began to run through the crowd. The girl screamed, "Rape! Rape! He tried to touch me! Help!".

For Dirk McLauren, Wedesnday January 19 2381 has begun very poorly.

The Deluder Screen (Evilkosh)

Cover (Sparr)

***Chapter 1***

Far off, away from the iron reach of CAPITAL, in the grand shadows of the Kriegpeaks, lay the rural town of Palestar. Nestled snugly in a small valley, carved out during the first terraforming of Rasenni, Palestar slept in the quiet oblivion of rural simplicity. The steamwagons’ routes didn’t pass near; the zeppelin fleets did not fly overhead. If it were not for the hum of the quotidian, one would not know that Palestar existed in the same time as the surrounding large cities, as if, perhaps, it existed along its own, slower paced timeline, a relic of an antequarian culture, bereft of the trappings of the present.

A Map of Rasenni (Sparr)

But that hum, that murmur, was everpresent in the ears and the hearts of the people of Palestar. They lived their simple ways, plowing the grasslands, raising the livestock, and forging and assembling much of the steam technology used throughout the continent. Indeed, the first thing an observant buyer might inspect before purchasing a steam device was the plaque of manufacture, lovingly crafted, polished and riveted onto the steel body of the machination. Made in Palestar.

The Steamsmiths of Palestar took great pride in their work. It was a craft handed down from father to son, grandfather to father, great-grandfather to grandfather, as far back as the mind could remember or the tongue could give speech. Each device was carefully conceived, produced and completed. Each gear turned smoothly, each steamcircuit glinted brightly, each gasket held firm, each piston pumped furiously. The work was the external manifestation of the spirit of the people of Palestar and also made useful gadgets used continent-wide - a blending of heart and science - the motto of the Palestarian.

The Village of Palestar (Ferrinus)

It was late this night, and though the remnants of forgefires wisped up from many of the Gearhouses, there was one Gearhouse whence the smoke rose furiously still. This was no steam-release from a turbostove, nor a jettison of vapor from a mechfiddle, no in this Gearhouse none of the typical revelry of Palestar was to be found. This was the smoke, dark and rich, from a brightly burning forge, alive with the potential of its creativity. Manning this forge, his face blackened with soot, his white moustache and hair bespecked and peppered, his round glasses glinting furiously back into the fire as if symbolizing his contention with the flames, his thick arm pounding down rhythmically on the bronze, shaping it to his will, was Angruff Camgroove. He spoke with a deep voice, matching his stocky body and hard gaze which pointed directly into the fire.

Inside Angruff's Gearhouse (Ferrinus)

"You need be flattening it, boy, like so," the hammer drang out a knell, "’tis not the strength HERE," he raised his huge muscular arm, "but your WILL that bends the metal to your shaping." He dropped the hammer again, pounding roughly the malleable hot metal. Angruff turned around, his dark eyes glaring at the shadows with a look that could turn stuff to stone. "Are ye listening to me, whelp? You’ll not make a steamsmith if you sulk in the back like some kind of gangromit."

A soft but hard voice emanated direly from the shadows in the back of the shop, cold as steel, yet fiery as the forge, "I’ll sooner make of myself a gangromit than a steamsmith, sulking or no."

Angruff lifted the great steamlamp and marched back to the corner, holding the light up to the pale face of the young man who stood in the back. "What say ye, boy? Talking like some kind of somebody. " Angruff spit on the floor. "You too good to wield a hammer, your majesty? Or are ye planning on being a wee-one your whole life with nary a coin nor a square yard to your name?' He thrust the huge mallet into the young man’s hands. "Only with this will you make your way. That and this!" He tapped the young man’s forehead roughly. "Heart and science lad, heart and science. You haven’t either and yer nearly twenty."

Angruff Camgroove (Ferrinus)

"I remember all of this from the last time you told it to me, Angruff," the young man whispered , "And I don’t know how to tell you any more planely: I’m not interested. I don’t want to be a steamsmith, I don’t want to live in Palestar, and I don’t want to hear any more lectures." The young man handed the hammer back to Angruff and began to walk out. The hammer clarnged to the floor as Angruff grabbed the young man by the shoulders and spun him around.

"Ye don want anymore lectures? Fine, mark this the last, then. But I’ll have my say. Steam is the lifeblood of society, it’s more than just the perfect energy source. It’s the staple of our town, the foundation of all those ‘big cities’ you’re dreaming about. It’s a living force, Sylus, a living force with a destiny and a voice. Steamsmiths, men of Palestar, have been bred to hear that voice, in our dreams, in the clarnging of our hammers, in our hearts. It’s the gift of science, Sylus. The gift of logic. If you can’t hear that voice, or feel the life of steam in your heart, then you are left with silence, with emptiness, and nowhere you run will keep you from that."

"Steam has a destiny?" Sylus questioned sharply in a rhetorical tone, not expecting an answer, "I’ll tell you steam’s destiny. The same destiny as rockfume and betasteam. A forgotten antiquity, joked about, with a wistful tear of memory in the eye, over a round of ale in a common pub. I’ll tell you of the destiny of steam: a man looking back over his shoulder while walking over a cliff! Don’t you know what CAPITAL and Malaprop are doing in their labs? The EMP tech, the biotechnology, the nanotechnology, the experiments? Or do you only concern yourself with the hammer and the dinner plate?"

Angruff was literally steaming with anger. "Curb your tongue, Sylus. You may think yer king of the whole bloody world, but yer still my son, and under my roof you’ll show me respect, or ye’ll get a thrashin’."

Sylus turned to Angruff, the moonlight reflecting coldly on his pale skin. "And you might consider yourself king of this hovel, but you aren’t and never will be my father."

Angruff lashed out and caught Sylus on the cheek with a heavy swing of his fist. Sylus crashed to the floor, crumpled in a pathetic heap. "Damn you, Sylus. I took you in, I’ve tried to teach you, even to love you, and all you can do is provoke me. You don’t do anything. You don’t talk to anyone, aside from that strange Nina girl, another mistreant, and you hate everything and everyone. Well best of luck to ye, lad, I hope whatever dreams rattle around in your block bring you some joy, because with an attitude like yers, they’re all ye’ll ever have." Angruff stormed out of the Gearhouse, muttering further reproaches under his breath, his silhouette disappearing into the family cabin.

Sylus remained motionless on the floor for several moments before righting himself. He sat up and dusted himself off, staring vacantly with a blank expression into the darkness. Seething with anger, he brought himself to his feet, which stood beneath himself. The fire in the forge had died out and he was left inhaling the sweet vapors of wood particles that constituted the aftersmoke. But underneath his anger there was something else, he tried to deny it, to ignore it, but it festered beneath the veneer of his wrath like an ulcerous laceration in his soul, if men had souls, which they didn’t, according to plain logic. It was the part of him that knew what his uncle said was true. Not about the steam, or the technology, or any of that. But the part about his wild, irrational anger, his solitude, the futureless path he had chosen to walk. He berated himself. Irrationality went against the tenants he held so dearly: rationality, science, logic. Let the damn mystics and charlatan magickians peddle irrationality; he, a staunch and true atheist, a man of science, was above such ridiculousness. But in examining his past actions in retrospective introspection he found even he himself falling well short of the high standards he believed he held himself up to.

Sylus Camgroove (Sparr)

He walked into the cold night, gazing up into the firmament, where a thousand thousand lights burned brightly, distantly, and the two globes of the moons reflected their pale gaze apathetically. The truth that burned inside of him was clear as the clarnging of a steambell. His defenses gave in the cold and lonely night, his truth revealed under the myriad of stars and planets and perhaps other cosmic objects not visible, but postulated as existing by science. He wanted a future. He wanted friends and family. He wanted to make something of himself. But not something common, not something any other man could do, but something great. He wanted his future to shape the future of all; he wanted his friends to be the dynamic, interesting people he heard about from the merchant travelers in the pub. He wanted...more.

He loosed a piteous sigh, and gazed upward towards the heavens, as they used to be called, where deep in the midst of brighter, closer stars burned Aster Perditus, the pale star, the guiding light and namesake of this meager village. In the emptiness, the solitude, Sylus spoke what his pride and counsel kept in company.

"Pale star...I am like you, distant, lost, hardly visible among a sea of inferior replicas. But like you I burn bright! It is an optical illusion of distance that makes us seem dimmer than others, far dimmer than we are. But long after the closer, seemingly brighter, stars have faded and expired, you will shine on, and so shall I. I do not know what the future holds, or how I should come to see even the very beginning of the dreams inside of me, but I know that to let those dreams go is a pain greater than I could bear. So what more can I do? But trudge forward, and await the day that something becomes clear. The day that something...happens?" He sighed again and indeed trudged forward, albeit reluctantly, in the very footsteps of Angruff, into the family cabin and out of the dark.

High above, many light years away, Aster Perditus twinkled softly, its visible light having traveled millions and millions of miles through the solitude and vacuum of space to alight on some wanderer’s eye, here, tonight, in the town bearing its colloquial name.


Sylus slept poorly that night and erose in the morning, displeased and sleepy. Angruff had had breakfast much earlier and had already sequestered himself in his Gearhouse, not bothering to leave any scraps for his stepson. Sylus could tell the steamsmith’s mood by the fierce whanging of his hammer that reverberated through the walls with the incandescent fire of his paternal anger. He reheated some parggle hash and then retreated into Palestar’s ample fields, giving the workshop a wide berth. Nina, Sylus’ friend since they were both young children, was due to return from the nearby burgh of Creche Mereve that night. She would motor there every few days to sell floral rarities to the urban wealthy that had to import the beauty of nature into their ferrocrete and brass-button lives, and made some few chits for her efforts. Then she would return to Palestar for a week or so, repeating the cycle when money ran low, as it always did for her and the many siblings she supported while her father was laid up with a chronic case of steamlung. Sylus wasn’t happy with this arrangement, least of all because the city was dangerous for girls like her, with more hopes than sense in the purse she called a mind.

Nina (Ferrinus)

So he whiled away the day climbing the hills and laying in the tall grass, gazing at the clouds, letting his thoughts drift along with their gauzy mistiness, until finally evening began to descend like an opaque purple marble suspended in a cooling pressure tube.

When he thought it was time, Sylus went and stood on the main road, where Nina was sure to arrive, and waited. Soon a faint huffing of vulcanized rubber wheels on hard-worn dirt reached his ears, overtaking the idyllic sound of imperceptible evening breezes ambling among the tree leaves. He turned and saw, a gleam in the gloaming, a dust cloud on the horizon growing closer as it approached him. Soon Sylus could make out Nina on her old steamcycle junker nearing where he stood. The hunk of metal chuttered to a gradual standstill, a billow of dust following in its wake.

The driver was a young woman of eighteen or nineteen in a long purple dress hiked up at her knees revealing cool ivory legs astraddle the steamcycle chassis. Incongrous to this patched finery, on her feet were two unfeminine mukluk boots. In the sidecar, bouquets of pale white, silver and eggolden lilylips jostled delicately for space with finely crafted Palestar clockwork honeysuckle, wafted along on their opaline petals the scent of nubile creamcolored melon necter. The girl had on a leather cap with goggles. It was Nina.

Nina pulled off the cap, revealing an alluring bob of indigo hair that shimmered in the warm night’s breath, falling in waves among the hum of the distant waxing moons and dance of tiny fireflies. “Hold it, buster!” she said. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m not going anywhere, twitterhead,” Sylus said. “I was waiting for you. How was business?” he asked Nina.

“Oh it was fine,” she said as she parked her cycle and climbed off. “One of the upper gentry bought a whole bouquet of clockwork flowers--it’s cuz Angruff makes them so pretty--and now I have enough to buy Nan a new set of shoes and Nikolas that steamhorse he’s wanted so much. See?” She proudly held up a chit card. “Oh! Sylus, that bruise on your cheek . . . did Angruff hit you again?”

A Clockwork Gyroflora (Ferrinus)

Sylus turned away, filled with the heat of his shame. “It was nothing. Yes. Maybe. It doesn’t matter now. When Uncle Dr. Zybourne comes by next month to show off his latest curiosibles, I’m leaving with him, willy Angruff or nilly.”

Nina fixed Sylus with one of her patented stern looks. “Sylus Camgroove, you are doing no such thing! Why would you want to leave Palestar? We’re the last of a dying people. We don’t have to worry about wars, and binanotechnology, and cheap mass-produced goods that devalue the act of consumption. Besides, Dr. Zybourne isn’t even your real uncle. You only call him that because of all the toys he used to give you.”

“You don’t know that, shut up,” Sylus retorted. “He could be a real uncle. I wish he were, anyway. He knows more about science and steam technology than Angruff’s ever dranken away.”

“Now that is enough mister! It’s not fair to bring up Angruff’s drinking. You know it never gets in the way of his working and Palestar has a proud tradition of tankards and hydrobrews.”

Sylus was going to answer but his words were drownded out by a mechanical chirping and behind that also a mechanical flapping, like the sound of metal wings beating the air. The two of them, Nina and Sylus, looked up and saw a perfect metal egg swaying through the air, impelled by its ornithopter sails. It alit on a nearby stump.

“Sylus, doesn’t that look like one of Dr. Zybourne’s crazy inventions? No one else could design something that delicate.”

“Quiet Nina, it’s opening. It must be important.”

The egg split in half in a perfect line along the middle and opened wide, allowing an even smaller clockwork bird to hop out. The bird cocked its head, regarded Sylus, regarded Nina, and then its beak clacked out, emitting a beam of steam and light.

Zybourne's Concept art for The Owlbot (Sparr)

“-ello? Hello? Is this darned contraption working?” Dr. Zybourne’s figure in half-scale miniature crackled into view on the stump. “Ah. Like so. Hello Sylus my boy! It is I, your uncle Dr. Zybourne. And I assume darling Nina is at your side as always? Delightful as ever, dear.” The image flickered then smiled, Nina blushing and smiling at his smile, forgetting the hologram couldn’t see her. “Sylus, if you have received this hologramographogram, it means that I, that all of us, that Rasenni itself, are in grave danger. Do you remember my opus magnum of which I often spoke, the Zybourne Clock? The device of temporal manipulation housed within a fastness, the fastness within a fortress, this fortress within a crater, the crater itself encased by an organic light energy forcefield, that I hoped would allow me to alter the timeline to prevent the Changing and the Ascension Wars that during which CAPITAL and Emperor Haagenbügen obtained its power? Dr. Malaprop has discovered the existence of this Clock, though he does not yet know its exact location.”

Zybourne’s hologram paused for effect. Nina chirruped in fear at the mention of Malaprop’s name. Sylus clinched his teeth, remembering the wholesail slaughter of his family and Haagenbügen’s laughing face, and struck the stump with an enraged fist.

“Yes Dr. Malaprop: head of CAPITAL’s Ministry of Science and my former colleague but no-longer friend. He helped me conceive of and design the Clock. At the time I was unaware of the evil lying awaitful in his demon-haunted soul. Then his accident occurred that destroyed half his face and damaged the speech centers in his brain. I believe this tragedy also wakened his deeper, darker part. Before we parted I learned that he had adapted my blueprints and built a device called the Golden Egg that is inextricably linked to the Clock.” The hologram glanced back and forth and lowered its voice. “I cannot speak more specifically of it here, sufficer to say that the Egg is a main key to the Clock’s unspeakable power.” He raised his voice again, with a whirr of clockworks and hiss of steam.

“Yesterday afternoon, Dirk McLauren, my most trusted and skilled double agent, obsconded with the Golden Egg from the Ministry of Science. His orders were to smuggle it through Capital and deliver it to the Sentinel Reach. Unfortunately once Dirk reached the train station, he was compromised by a Miranda Construct. Fortunately this model failed to ingage its kill terminus, and Dirk was unharmed. However he apparently neglected to refuel his steam prosthesis and it failed when he attempted to run. Witnesses report that he made it three steps before the steam leg gave out with a choking bluff of smoke and he very gradually sank to the floor, helpless and virtually motionless as CAPITAL’s agents stood and watched. They dragged him barely kicking from the station, and now he is presumably imprisoned as I speak in the Ministry of Science.”

Zybourne cleared his throat, somewhat embarrassed. “I have discovered that Dirk never had the Egg in his possession. That means it is still loose somewhere in Capital, possibly at his house, like on the kitchen counter or maybe shoved under a pillow, I’m not sure. Sylus, I need you to do me, as your generation terms it, a solid. Travel to Walliston’s Hill and there you will meet a man named Johnny Fiveaces. He owes me a favor and if you explain the situation, he should know what to do. Can you undertake this task I ask of you?”

Sylus nodded. “Yes.”

“Good,” the recording answered. “Now this next part is extremely important. It takes three li-huh?” There was a sudden crash and the hologram sputtered as Zybourne looked off-screen. “Why you there, you gentlemen! You cannot enter here into this domicile! This is a private residence and aaaaaaaaaaaaaa” The recording abruptly ended.

The Clockwork Owl (Evilkosh)

“Zybourne! Uncle Dr. Zybourne!” Sylus yelled, reaching for the device. But the bird’s beak had slammed shut and silenced the old man’s kindly voice. “He’s in danger! I have to get out of here. I have to go rescue him.”

Nina placed a soft hand on Sylus’ arm, gently imploring him with eyes that had seen him grow from a child into a frustrated but brilliant young man chafing under the traditions of his forefathers. “But you heard what Dr. Zybourne said. We have to meet this Jonathan Fiveaces at Walliston’s Hill.”

“Then I have to go to Walliston’s Hill. Wait, Nina, did you say we? I can’t allow you to come and be placed in danger’s way. We were kids together and I remember when we would play in the creek behind your house and your drawers would get all muddy and I’d just sit there with my hands in my pockets, because it was kind of weird and I didn’t like getting my hair wet. And I remember you now, as the young woman you now are. And I know you can’t come with me, for it’s my destiny alone I now face, my own star that I must follow.”

“Why?” Nina questioned. “Don’t you think I care about you too, as a close friend I mean? That I don’t also remember that creek, and the fields, and even your first pounding at Angruff’s Gearhouse?”

Sylus turned from her, his brow dark with thoughts left unvoiced. “Why? Because you’re just a girl and you can’t understand what I’m going to go through for this. Not just for this but for Palestar and, and all of Rasenni.” Nina fell silent, hurt and rebuffed. “Now listen. I can’t reach Walliston’s on foot. I’ll have to take your steamcycle. You have to let me. You know as well as I it’s the logical thing to do.”

The statement hung tepid in the air between them, clinging to the silence like the purple fabric of Nina’s dress to the smooth sweat-dappled line of her calf. Sylus felt as if in that quiet, in that pulsing aftercalm of their argument, he could feel Palestar shifting, stirring in the bed of its untouched remoteness, a giant of steamparts and tried and true ways, its limbs made of stalwart men like Angruff Camgroove, but the burgeoning scurf of its rising dream fashioned from the conflicted pride of himself, Sylus, only son of a low steamsmith, an orphan, made so by wars he had taken no part in, to this day could not comprehend, as if its particulars had been relayed to him through the eddies of time on a rusted and unreliable radio transmitter. At that moment, yes, he felt Palestar shift, and with Palestar the whole world with himself at the center, and in the subtle motion, his destiny resolved itself.

“Forget it Nina. I’ll take the steamcycle irregardless of what you think. Consider this a goodbye. I’m sorry this was the way it has to be.” He stalked off, leaving the girl alone in the dusk, the movement of darkening nature around her as uncertain and wounded as the heart that throbbed directly behind her trembling breasts.

* * *

That night, Sylus packed a certain amount of provisions into a bag and stole quickly from Angruff’s cabin, the man who had selflessly provided shelter, love, and guidance to him all those years. He left behind him a note, hoping it would say all he had been unable to. He made his way without any noise through the sleeping shadows and comforts of Palestar, arriving at Nina’s house. There, he took her steamcycle, wheeled it out of town until no one would hear its engine, then revved it up and took off without a backward glance. If he had bothered to look down at the sidecar, perhaps he would’ve seen a few purple hairs, those hairs connected to a head, the head connected to a body, the body being Nina’s who, nestled in secret among the lilylips, clockwork honeysuckle, and supplies, smiled her inscrutable female smile.

Nina's Steamcycle (Ferrinus)