The Clockwork Mannequin

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series The Clockwork Desolation

Sand blew through the broken glass and ticked against the metal skin of the clockwork mannequin behind it. Dressed in a tattered waistcoat, its gears and joints shrieked and popped in the dead air as it attempted to pivot on its rusted pedestal.

“Greetings, Loyal Customer™!” it called out to no one. “We have the best boots and buskins—”

A harsh whine of metal.

“—try a pair on!”

The wind howled through the dusty street before the mannequin, shifting small dunes from one side to the other. Tumbleweeds raced past, bouncing off broken buildings on their way to nowhere.

“Corsets, top hats, monocles! We have—”

Clanging, banging gears. A puff of smoke and the smell of burning copper.

“—al Customer™! You have only to ask!” The mannequin continued its pitch in spite of itself. It jerked right, once, and became still, its voice holding out just a moment longer.

“Loyal. Loyal. Loyal. Loy—”

And then it froze, silent as the human shadows burned into the boardwalk beneath it.

[Originally posted at Ficly]

Dirigible

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series The Clockwork Desolation

The dirigible floats a hundred fifty metres above red dust and twisted metal. Engines that haven’t fired in a dog’s age are corroded and quiet, and the craft wanders the sky aimlessly, the shifting air currents the only thing now to give it direction.

The giant airship’s envelope ripples and billows, the airbags contained within filled with barely enough gas to keep it aloft. It floats lower in the sky now, and soon enough the dirigible will find itself on the ground.

The craft carries only a fraction of its original payload. The remaining ordnance is tetchy and volatile after lying dormant for so long, and the dirigible’s inevitable landfall will be a sight to behold — were there anyone left to see it.

A lone mechanical voice from the burned-out husk of a city below is all that heralds the airship’s passing.

“Greetings, Loyal Customer™!” it calls out — but only for a short while. Soon, it too falls silent.

The wind howls, blowing red dust in heavy clouds.

The dirigible sails on, indifferent.

[Originally published at Ficly]

Payload

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series The Clockwork Desolation

The weapons bay is a shambles. Steamer trunks are strewn about the floor. Many are broken, lids gaping wide. Most of the trunks are empty, the ordnance they once carried having long been delivered to their respective targets. A few, however, remain packed and secured, containing elongated devices that look less like bombs and more like ceramic decanters filled with liquid death.

In one corner of the bay, one such trunk lies shattered, packing materials scattered on the floor. The bombs it once held are now piled haphazardly beside it. It is a small wonder that none have exploded.

The seals inside the bombs have dried and become brittle, and one now weeps a blue-grey fluid onto the floor. It is a form of enriched Nightmare, quickened by means of an alchemical process that none are alive now to remember. It is dense, non-evaporative, highly toxic — and deeply unstable after so long in storage. Sooner or later, it will detonate, but for now it just puddles, waiting for a catalyst.

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

[Originally posted at Ficly]

The Logbook

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series The Clockwork Desolation

The book lies on a table. Its pages are torn, tattered. The ink is faded, in places almost nonexistent. What ink remains, however, tells a chilling story.

On the left-hand page is a diagram, the chemical structure of a molecule labeled, simply, Nightmare. Then, a mathematical equation, all letters and numbers and symbols, the solution circled once, twice, three times. Below that, another molecular diagram, similar to the one above, but subtly different in ways that only an experienced biologist — or master alchemist — would recognize and understand.

The rest of the page is faded, but there are notes on the next.

“Use of the Coil has yielded… weaponized form of Nightmare…” Then, further down the page: “…highly unpredictable and volatile, lingering in the air hours after dispersal. I am suspending study of the compound until a stabilizing agent…”

There is little else on the page but one, last scribbled notation:

“…assistant has made off with my Coil… no idea what he has done!”

[Originally posted at Ficly]

The Coil

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The Clockwork Desolation

The encampment is little more than a desiccated husk. What remains of the few tents still standing are tatters of canvas flapping from poles bent and twisted by some cataclysmic event. Much of the ground here has been blasted into red glass and slag, but there are pockets that remain sandy, that still shift in the gale that howls through this canyon.

It is one of these pockets that hides the original purpose of this encampment. The wind blasts, the sand shifts, and the edges of a device emerge. It is a delicate thing, fragile, and yet somehow it remains intact. It looks not so much like a coil — though there are sections of glass tubing that do, indeed, coil — as a series of tubes, bottles, and decanters connected in series. It looks like the chemistry set of a mad scientist.

Dark residue clings tenaciously to the insides of several bottles.

And in one bottle, a minute Ember still burns, consuming nothing and yet, still, it pulses gently.

The wind and sands shift, and the device disappears once more.

[Originally posted at Ficly]

Ember

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series The Clockwork Desolation

It is the faintest glimmering of a spark. It floats in suspension in a bottle, the field it generates holding it equidistant from the surfaces that enclose it. It is an Ember, and it pulses gently, hungrily.

It has memories, of a sort, quantum states that hold the last use to which it was put. It no longer has any knowledge of the coal it consumed as an engine-seed, or of the alcohol it burned in the distillery. It remembers nothing of the forge, the furnace, or the oven. Those Ember-lives are long past, overwritten, forgotten.

It remembers now only the glass that contains it – and the taste of one, peculiar molecule. That memory remains strong, and the Ember still resonates with that catalyzing reaction. The surrounding terrain has been glassed with the fury of that meeting.

There is one, final consequence of that moment of carelessness. Above the Ember, a jagged rift splits the sky, folding it. Electric tendrils reach from that Fold, groping, grasping, but not taking. There is nothing for it to take.

[Originally posted at Ficly]