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Steampunk Short Story: The Little Things, part 1



This was inspired by Anvil's The Hirelings prompt of August 16th 2023

Amidst the humming of machinery and crackling power cables, four cone-headed men stealthily maneuvered through the jungle of dust. They had barely begun their mission, and their overalls were covered in cobwebs smelling of burnt plastic. Groaning, the biggest of the bunch pushed aside a lingering beam entwined in a tangle of power cords. "I told you, Harbal. I hate small spaces!"

After taking the cigar from his lips, Harbal blew out a plume of smoke. "Don't worry, Bey. We'll fix the power problem, and we'll be out of here in no time."

"You say that every time."

The thin one walking in front raised his hand. "Shhh, do you hear that?" The group pricked up their pointy ears at the sound of scurrying and squeaking. "What's that?"

The one wearing a leather pilot cap pointed to their left. "There," he whispered, directing their attention.

Following his directions, the group saw a naked tail swivel through the darkness before disappearing behind a corner.

Harbal took out his cigar again. "That is the source of our problem, boys."

The thin one groaned. "Do tell me you're thinking about—"

"No choice, Peck."

"Damn it, Harbal," Bey cursed. "This happens every time."

"Bey, we've got a job to do. Moondag, you lead the way."

"The fool can’t find his laces," Bey snapped.

Moondag shrugged. "Only most of the time."

"Shut up, you fool."

Sneaking closer, the sharp scent of animal droppings grew stronger as they peered inside the tunnel. There was that tail again, attached to a mass of dark fur.

"There it is," Harbal said, observing the beast that was larger than Bey.

Moondag twiddled his fingers. "We can turn it on its back and slice it open."

"No, Moondag," snapped Bey. "I will not clean it up this time!"

Bey thrust his fist into the palm of his other hand. "I say we just strangle the mother thumper."

Harbal scanned the environment. Then he got an idea. "No, boys. We can do it far easier," he said, looking suggestively at some of the exposed wiring.


A moment later, Harbal had explained his intentions. "This is a stupid plan," complained Bey as he held a cord in his hand.

"It's a fine plan," Harbal assured him, holding the other end of the wire with his cigar still between his teeth. "Now, be ready."

They looked down the tunnel as Moondag took position behind the beast. "Here, ratty, ratty, ratty."

"What's that fool doing?" Bey hissed.

Herbal stayed calm. "Just wait."

When the beast didn’t react to his taunts, Moondag threw a littered bone at it.

Alarmed, the beast turned its head. Its head was like that of an armadillo with sharp needle-like teeth. It hissed like a cat when it spotted Moondag, who immediately ran away.

"He’s coming," Harbal announced as Moondag came running with the rat right behind him. "Peck?"

Peck held a wire with its copper end exposed. "Ready."

They waited for the right moment.

"Now!"

Standing on either side of the tunnel, they raised the trip wire, tackling the rat.

"Quick, the cable!"

Peck raced forward with the cable. But as he was about to electrocute the rodent, it scrambled to its feet. With a twist of its hindquarters, it knocked Peck to the ground.

The rat chased after the others, running for their lives.

But Bey stood firm. "Come at me, fool!"

As the rat lunged at him, Bey grabbed its jaws and forced them apart. "Hurry up!" he screamed, red-faced at the others.

"Right." Getting up, Peck picked up the wire again and rushed forward to stick the copper end into the rat’s ear.

The creature screamed as the power surged through its skull.

Its eyes lit up as smoke rose from its head, and the creature convulsed as if it was being kicked by some invisible force.

Moondag sniffed up the smell of roasted flesh. "Making me hungry."

"Yeah," Harbal said, wiping his hands. "Love it when a plan comes together."

"Screw your plans, Harbal!"

"Before we can do that, we must fix this wiring."

Peck held his nose as he attended to them at the smoldering carcass. "Can we first get this thing out of here?"

"And eat?" Moondag added.

Later, the team emerged from behind the massive console with giant switches and blinking gauges, dragging the carcass by its tail. Not that it mattered to them. This room — this city, for that matter — wasn’t made for the likes of them. Once the path was obstructed by a cable that meandered across the marble floor, Bey let go of the tail to throw his hands up. "That’s it. I’m done dragging this thing."

"Very well," Harbal said as he let go of the carcass and called out. "Founder? Lord!?"

"Ja," bellowed a deep voice from the adjacent hallway. A giant figure stepped into the studio. For comparisons, they reached up to his knee, their conical crowns included. This being was the Founder. A man of average height for homo sapience with a large ocular device covering his left eye. But he was a Titan in the eyes of the homo diminutive. "You're done? Wait, what, that smell?"

"My lord, we got the evildoer from behind the machine."

The Founder’s face contracted with disgust. "So, you brought it here. Wonderful," sneered the Founder. He took a bag from inside his frock coat and dropped it before them on the floor. Shaking the pouch between his hands, he heard the rumbling of its contents. "It's not peanuts again, is it?"

"Ow, are there any other valuables you want to carry around?" asked the Founder. "Your body weight in gold ingots? A coin the size of your head?"

"No, my lord."

"Good. Now, fix the wiring. I have a broadcasting schedule to keep."


Outside, in front of the Founder’s Tower, right at the heart of Arkology, the bazaar stretched before the quad. A giant maze of stalls, vendors, and ramshackle buildings filled with the clamor of its countless patrons and salesmen. Among the giants going about their business drove rickshaws and small trucks emitting the scent of grease mixed with compost. For all intents and purposes, a normal day in Arkology. Heavy steps reverberated beneath their feet. Dogs and other predators observed them from the shadowy places in anticipation of their carelessness. For Kyriërs like themselves, nothing about this place was harmless.

Moondag inhaled deeply through his nose to catch the lingering smell of food drifting upon the hot air of Arkology’s bazaar. “Can we eat?”

Bey slapped him on the back of the head. “Not now, fool.”

“Come on, Bey,” said Peck. “Calm down. We're no longer inside the wall anymore.”

“This isn’t about the wall,” Bey grumbled.

“Want a peanut, anyone?” asked Harbal.

Bey slapped the peanut out of his hand. “That’s the problem, Harbal! Getting paid in peanuts!”

"We can eat peanuts."

"How about some actual nuts and bolts, Harbal? That way, we can actually fix things."

Moondag picked up the nut. "Or get the electro engine so we can fix the—"

"I am not flying anywhere with you!" Bey rebuked him before Moondag could finish his thought.

“Boys, we’ll continue this at the cabinet. Let’s take the—” Herbal stopped when he got tapped on the shoulder.

“Uhg, boys,” said Peck.

As they turned around, three dodos walked up to them with mischief on their minds.

“Run!” cried Herbal.

And so the four of them raced through the street with the birds in their wake. They slid under the stalls, jumped over people’s toes, avoided the dogs and felines, dashed between legs, and dodged the rickshaw wheels with the dodos hot on their heels.

“Nearly there,” cried Moordag as they raced into a side street. People jumped out of the way as the Kyrians dashed the final stretch. They stormed into the tunnel. But the end was barred metal grating. As they huddled together in the corridor, the dodos came charging. But Bey reached for a beam above and pulled down the cage door.

Feathers spread in all directions as the birds ran into the metal bars.

“Take that, you fools!” sneered Bey as the birds struggled to release their beaks. “Too bad you are not good enough to eat!”

Peck folded his hands together. “Thank Oeba.”

“It’s safe!”

Harbal knocked on the grating. “Open the gate.”

As the raising gate roared, they entered the Cabinet’s courtyard, which was scantly lit by luminous fungi common to this word. The last refuge of the Kyriën people in the multiverse. Here, the last of them would remain until their time would come. After that, all they could hope for was to become a throwaway line in somebody's diary or get a mention in one of Arkology’s chronicles.

The Cabinet itself was an enclosed space whose square was surrounded by many levels of small dens. To the giants, this place looked quaint, like a child’s playhouse or, as they called it, a cabinet.

On the ground levels were various stores and establishments that all the Kyrians cherished as no other place was built to accommodate them. One of these was Ma’s saloon, which also functioned as their headquarters. Upon entering, an older woman behind the bar, with white curly locks hanging down her crest, finished cleaning a mug. “You're back, huh?”

Bey shrugged. “Sorry, Mama.”

"Never mind that. What did you get me? Peanuts again!?" she exclaimed when Harbal put the bag on the counter.

“There is nothing wrong with peanuts,” Peck assured her.

“There is nothing wrong with peanuts,” she repeated dismissively.

“Think of all the chikki and bamba you can make. Even the head bumpers love that stuff.”

“I’ll break my back baking for them. How about you use those skills of yours to build me something to carry the load?”

“Ma,” began Peck. “You know how the bumpers are. They are more protective of spare parts than… The point is nobody could make them in this place. Why do you think the pocket watches are so valuable?”

“If only we had proper tools, Harbal,” said Peck. “None of this would be a problem. Tools we can use to make whatever we need. We have the skills. We have the place. All we need—”

“We have peanuts,” Moondag interrupted him.

“Will you shut up!”

“Why don’t you take that stuff from Ottoman’s place,” Mama suggested. “He has fine parts for watches and the like. Prime stuff, too.”

Moondag snapped his fingers. “We can pay with the peanuts.”

Peck shook his head. “He’ll never part with it. His greed is only matched by his—” Peck started again. “The guy is a hoarder who holds onto every component he has. He only uses them for those who can afford his prices.”

“Then why don’t you perform the heist as you said you would?” asked Ma.

“We can’t, mama. There is one safe way in, and that is blocked by bars we can’t get through—”

Moondag raised his hand. “Well, actually—”

“Shut up, you fool! If we only had proper tools, we could cut that thing right open.”

“Then demand from the Founder what you are owed!” said Ma.

Suddenly, a ball bounced into the room, bounced off the counter, knocked out the light, and finally got stuck under one of the tables.

Voices called out in the dark. “My lamp!”

“Don’t worry, Mama. I don’t think it's broken.”

“Never mind the lamp. What was that?”

“A ball?”

Tables and chairs were shoved around as they stumbled around in the gloom when they heard a banging noise coming from the gate.

When Peck walked into the square to see what the commotion was about, he saw a stranger standing at the gate whose visage was hard to make out in the twilight. “Whose there!”

The stranger bashed on the gate again.

“You can’t come in till you tell me who you are?”

Instead, the stranger grabbed the metal bars with his gloved hands and pushed the gate up with ease. Intimidated, Peck raced inside Ma’s place, where everyone was still in the dark.

“I got it!” cried Moondag.

Bey raised his voice. “Moondag, if you break that—”

He stopped when the light returned. Once the whole room was illuminated. But before Peck could warn the jubilant crowd, the intruder was standing behind him.

Their mouths dropped as they stared at the big shirt buttons covering the stranger's eyes, who was dressed in a muppet costume with a wide stitched smile. A plush doll dressed in stitched-together overalls and a pointy hood that covered its massive head. There it stood in the middle of the saloon. Its massive face blocked out the lamplight, stepped forward, and silently looked about the room.

Bey raised his voice. “Get out of here, you weirdo. Git out!” When the stranger didn’t comply, he pushed the muppet, But it didn’t budge. “Scram!” Bey insisted and grabbed its hand to drag the stranger outside. But the costumed freak wouldn’t budge. Then Bey grabbed him with both hands and got ready to swing him out of the venue. But with a simple fling of his arm, he swung Bey aside.

Now the patron jumped from their chairs, ready to gang up on the stranger.

Peck threw a tray at the stranger. But he caught it with his three-fingered glove and broke it into pieces like it was nothing.

The Kyriërs had frozen in astonishment at that display of such ability.

Harbal beckoned for peace. “Ok, stranger, calm down. What do you want?”

The stranger stuck out its gloved hand and pointed at the ball left wedged and neglected beneath the table.

Harbal looked away from the ball back at the stranger. “What?”

Moondag finished chewing on a peanut. “I think it wants the ball, boss.”

The stranger nodded energetically as if saying, "Yes, give me the ball."

Peck kicked the ball from under the table. “There you go.”

Eagerly, the stranger picked up the ball between them. Without saying another word, he stormed out in a huff. In awe of what had happened, they watched the muppet run back into the street.

“By Abe. Who was that?”

Ma raised her voice. “Did you see how strong that thing was?”

Peck nodded. “Yeah, it just broke the lock on the gate.”

“That isn’t a man,” said Bey. “It must be a machine. One of those weird ones living in the pillar's underground works.”

Harbal breathed out a large plume. “That gives me an idea.”

Everyone's eyes grew larger.

“Don’t say it, Harbal,” Bey threatened. “Don’t you dare—”

The embers of his cigar burned brightly. “We need to recruit that doll.”


-----------------------------

Yes, for those who follow my series, this is the start of a new ANWIN! adventure. If not, welcome to the Association of Ishtar Multiverse. The first book is nearly done with amazing art. I am already compiling ideas for Anwin in Arkology, combining your two favorite things, Anwin and Arkology. Yohan is still working on Illustrations. Want early access to Anwin! or read other short stories? Visit my REAM Stories page. Follow and receive free short stories every week, or become a member and receive instant access to all published Ebooks.



And yes, it will have a diminutive version of the A-Team! I had this idea for a year now, so when I saw the prompt, I had to grab this opportunity. I recently discovered the younger generation is unaware of this amazing show. Let's remedy that immediately.


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