Icarus and Daedalus (A Steampunk Story)

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Icarus and Daedalus (A Steampunk Story)

Post  Mercutio on Fri Dec 07, 2012 7:00 pm


Phoenix triumphantly put her wrench and hammer down, having just put the finishing touches on her latest invention. The girl just knew that her father would be impressed by this device. Hardly able to contain her excitement, she threw a sheet over the machine to veil it, and ran off to find him. Despite the grandiose size of Stahlburg castle, she was never lost, having memorized its dust colored corners and turns from the years in its Gothic halls. It wasn't at all long before she found her father, Lord Archibald Ravenclock, sitting in the grand hall.

“Father, father, you simply must come…”

“Silence, girl!” he shouted.

Archibald was an imposing figure, especially to his daughter. He stood eight feet tall, but contrasting his powerful build was a civilized appearance. He was draped in a fine black coat stretching to his knees, with gold buttons like cogs, and macaroni lining the jacket. His shoulder length dark copper hair and goatee framed a very stern face. The weight of his glare alone was terrifying.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I am conducting business of the utmost importance,” he reprimanded further.

Phoenix looked across the table to see a second man present. In contrast to her father, this man was thin, and quite old. He sported a long and shifty brown trench coat over a gray vest and blood-red shirt, and brown trousers. His short hair was ragged and tangled, with nary an effort to tame it. Phoenix could not see his eyes. They were hid by wide and opaque glasses.

To this man, her father bowed his head and apologized. “Forgive my younger daughter, if you will, Lord Baloff. She’s an impulsive youth who lacks proper manners.”

“It iz no bother to me, Lord Archibalt. I ton’t mind ze children,” Lord Baloff said. “In fact, I haf hundreds of ze little ones vorking in my factories.”

The odd man went off into a fit of laughter, while Lord Archibald remained collected. Phoenix saw he did not find the joke very funny, but was unoffended. He simply continued from where he left off. “All the same, she should at least be dressed for company.”

Phoenix looked down and felt her spirits drop. She hadn’t change out of the clothes she was working in which were not only informal, being a shirt and breeches, but filthy. Oil and grease stained all over, and powdered with dust from head to toe. “Presentation, girl!” he drilled her. “Presentation is half the work! Einhardt!”

As if he had been standing there all along, Einhardt Octavius, the Ravenclock family’s butler, emerged from the shadows behind Phoenix.

“Hreally, I tidn’t notice her filth. I know very few children back in Baloffburg who are polished,” Baloff jabbed again, his joke just as pungent as the last, but that didn't stop him from erupting into a fit of chuckling.

“Take my daughter to her quarters so she can make herself appear presentable, at the very least,” Archibald ordered, waving Einhardt and Phoenix away. With a bow, the gaunt man took Phoenix by the hand, and led her away from the room.

“Now, if we may continue our trade negotiations without any further interruptions,” Archibald spoke up.



Phoenix stepped out of her room after washing, clad in a white silk shirt with black trousers. She had tied her damp hair into a pony tail, a style she wore to keep the strands out of her face during work. Completing her ensemble was her coat, a miniature version of her father’s. The coat actually once belonged to her older brother, Dove, and was passed down to her when he had a new one specially sewn for him every year.

Dove always seemed to get the special privileges, always Father’s favorite. If it was he who had interrupted the meeting with Lord Baloff, Archibald would’ve simply invited him to join in the discussion. Meanwhile, Phoenix was scolded for interrupting and then scolded once again for not being spotless. But no matter. She was not disheartened by this incident. After today, Archibald would look upon his daughter with newfound appreciation.

“Hello, Phoenix. What have you been up to?”

Phoenix grunted and walked onwards, pretending not to hear the voice of her elder brother. Sliding down from a pillar, atop which he had been sitting, Dove ran to catch up with his sister. While she grew her blonde hair into a long ponytail, he kept his cut short and parted down the middle. His clothes were the inverse of hers, a black shirt not tucked into his khaki pants, and a newer coat of course.

“Come on, give me a hint?” he pried, genuinely interested. “I couldn't help but overhear that you had something to show Father. So what is it?”

“I’m not telling,” Phoenix snapped.

Dove seemed slightly disappointed, and looked up in thought for a bit as he continued to walk along. The only thing missing from his next expression was a lit bulb hanging over his head. “How about I show you the latest draft of my project?”

To Dove’s satisfaction, this got Phoenix’s attention. “I show you my work, and then you show me yours. Fair trade?” Phoenix admitted to herself that she was very curious as to what Dove was working on. What was it that made Dove the favored child despite all her efforts? She had made many more inventions than her brother, and yet his one project was the only thing that held their father’s interest. After a few moments of thought, she nodded.

Dove was practically jubilant, and eagerly took his little sister’s hand as he led her through several corridors to his study. He took the winged key that hung around his neck, and placed it into the lock and turned it. Phoenix could hear the mechanisms that held the door tightly shut twist and click, until it cracked open. Dove’s study was laid out before them, the balcony opening up to the ocean in the back, and the large cage housing his pet raven, Icarus.

Phoenix quickly noted several easels with schematics on them. Schematics of wings. The early ones were of natural wings, of birds and bats and the like. As they went on, they became more elaborate, becoming detailed drawings of the mechanisms to create artificial flight. The designs varied immensely. Some had canvas wings, others feathered. On the floor all around were discarded prototypes of these very drawings.

Dove ignored them, and went straight to his as of yet unrevealed version concealed by the same cloth Phoenix hid hers. In an overly dramatic fashion, he grabbed the tarp covering it.

With pride, he boldly shouted, “Behold, the Icarus, Mark 20!”

Phoenix tried to hide her awe as the cloth was thrown off, to no avail. In front of her was a pair of wings, each spanning six feet, connected by an engine with a center piece of two glass cylinders of water. At first glance, one would assume that the wings were large silver feathers, but Phoenix noted that they were in fact blades, and many of them. It was a beautiful piece of machinery, without a doubt. She could see why her brother prized it so, though she felt the name bland.

“So you named it after your pet?” Phoenix crossed her arms, looking at Dove mockingly.

“ I've got the idea when nursing him back to health. It’s a shame that I probably won’t be able to use it to its fullest potential,” he said, some sadness replacing his cheerful mood.

Phoenix couldn't help but ask, “Why not?”

“It’s like I keep saying, Phoenix,” he said with a shrug. “When I come of age, I’ll be in charge of all the Ravenclock affairs. I won’t have the time for such ‘frivolous ventures,’ as father puts it. I honestly wish I was in your position.”

Phoenix scoffed. The same old nonsense that being the heir “ isn't what it’s cracked up to be.” He was the one with father’s approval, his blessing, and his love.

“Ah, how fortunate,” bellowed the familiar baritone.

Dove and Phoenix turned to see Archibald standing in the doorway. Evidently his meeting with Baloff was finished.

“I was hoping your brother could tell me where you were, but it seems he’s seen fit to show you his own designs.” Archibald stepped closer to inspect his son’s handiwork. “I’d expect no less from my heir,” he concluded, obviously impressed.

“Thank you, Father,” Dove said, with a bow.

“As for you, Phoenix…”

Phoenix looked up and met her father’s gaze, expecting more reprimanding for her previous intrusion. “Well? Did you not wish to show me something?”

Did she hear right? Did he really ask to see what she had crafted? Phoenix practically beamed, and nodded quickly. “Well, what are you waiting for? Hurry, before I lose interest!”

Phoenix didn't even register the threat, she was too happy. Now was the time she would most surely win her father’s approval. Sure, Dove had an impressive invention, but it was to be expected after how long he had been working on it. She had completed her project within a week. “Yes, Father!” she said immediately.

She led the way, only just managing to not skip with glee. Archibald and Dove, curious as well, followed her as she led them to her own workshop. Unlike her brother’s, this room was piled up with many types of machines rather than a single design. All had failed to impress Archibald, but this time would be different.

She nearly tore the cloth veil right off of her presentation, but calmed down. Facing her father and brother like a performer, she announced proudly, in a fashion very similar to Dove’s, “Behold, the Daedalus 1.0!”

Again copying Dove’s dramatic form, she pulled the cover right off. There, beneath it, was a chrome and copper replica of a human. From the elbow to the shoulder of both its arms were thin metal limbs, as were the thighs, and both shins and forearms were almost like gauntlets and armored boots. Its torso also looked like part of a suit of armor, complete with the silhouette of a raven’s head holding a clock in its beak. The crest of the Ravenclock family, of course.

Dove himself looked upon the robot with awe. Phoenix smugly grinned at her brother’s expression, and continued with her demonstration. “Daedalus, awake!”

Its eyes opened, and black glass windows stared at the three. Stepping off the small platform it stood on, the head turned to Phoenix with a whir. “Yes, mistress?” it asked in a metallic voice void of all emotions except respect.

“Fetch me that wrench.” She pointed to her instrument on the workbench across the room.

Without hesitation, the machine turned and reached out with its right arm. After a quick snap, the forelimb shot out, tethered to the elbow by a thick cord. The detached part gripped the wrench, and quickly retracted as quickly as it shot. As the arm clicked back into place, the Daedalus turned and handed the tool to its creator. Dove made no attempt to hide his amazement. He clapped his hands enthusiastically. But Phoenix only now noticed that her father was far from moved.

“This is it? Your great invention? Another automaton that our factories produce hundreds of by the day?” he sighed. “That it’s a well-polished version means little in its value. What does this contribute to our family?”

Phoenix felt her world being crushed. She desperately thought of what other features to show that would win him over, but Father would not let her.
“Nothing. Your brother on the other hand, has conceived a valuable asset. The ability to fly like a bird through the skies, without the need of bulky zeppelins. Compared to that, this… I dare not even call it an ‘invention’… Now if you are done wasting my time, I wish to discuss with Dove how he’ll demonstrate his own device.”

Archibald’s coat fluttered regally as he turned and walked out of the room with the same cold and distant posture. Dove, staring at his sister with sadness in his eyes, followed along shortly and quickly, closing the door behind him. Phoenix found herself alone in her workshop, filled with disappointment and bitterness.

No, not alone, the winding movements of the Daedalus reminded her. In a fit of rage, she shoved the mechanical humanoid to the floor, and screamed. As it collided with the solid stone surface, its head popped off and rolled across to the pile of her previous inventions. Her previous failures. Staring at it all robbed her of what strength she had, and she fell to her knees on the floor, covering her eyes as they streamed tears.
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Re: Icarus and Daedalus (A Steampunk Story)

Post  Mormosi on Fri Mar 29, 2013 10:09 pm

I've very mixed feelings on this story overall:

When it comes to word usage and sentence structure, the piece is very efficiently done. No sections go on for too long or remain too short; it all feels very concise and understandable, giving you exactly what you need to know in order to comprehend the piece as it should be. However, I'd ward against drifting too far into any kind of uniformity. At times some of the paragraphs feel a little too focused on one particular thing, especially when it comes to character description, both physical and emotional. As a result, it ends up feeling like I'm being jerked around a little when reading. Some of the details mentioned within a singular paragraph don't extend beyond it. Imagine being given a tour of somebody's house. They wrap an arm around you, show you the kitchen, but as soon as you get a clear look at it they thrust you out the back door so you can admire their lawn instead. That's about how I would describe being led through this story.

In some cases it works in your favor. It feels very much like a movie, as a lot can happen in a short span of time (in other words, from shot to shot). Once the reader reaches that final line, they can look back at the beginning and feel as though they've read a real chapter or section, albeit a short one, one that certainly feels like it moved from beginning to end. But at the same time, it can be a little disorienting. It leaves me with little to grasp on or focus. With so many of the paragraphs being of a similar length, I find myself lacking a pillar of some kind, anything to hold onto while I go exploring in this new universe of yours. Extending the length of certain paragraphs, such as those that introduce you to new environments, and packing more into them may truly benefit further additions. If not that, then consider another method of skewing the details distributed, like a change in pace. Divvying them up equally all the time, in my opinion, may leave the reader a little lost when the action picks up.

Your physical description, however, is well-done, and I can derive a clear image of each of the obviously varied characters in my head right away. Similarly, speech patterns are easily discerned and I could have a leisurely time guessing a speaker from the cast given, were they not properly identified. From that, I can say that the cast comes off as very diverse, which, for a cast so small, can do nothing but benefit the piece. Everybody has their own personality.

Yet, I'd also advise caution in this. Several of the characters have easily identifiable quirks that, with another similarly-styled piece or two, could become quickly overblown. If Archibald continues to come off as nothing more than a cold father concerned with the prosperity of his house, I'm doubtlessly going to lose some interest in him. Most subject to this is Baloff. In all honesty, I am, suffice to say, not endeared by the character thus far, as he feels, at best, mildly overblown, and at worst rather stereotypical. Toning down his accent or showing a different side to him would be greatly appreciated if he's to consistently appear in future segments. Furthermore, much of these traits are a little too readily observable, and if they aren't the narrator is quick on filling us in. Ambiguity would serve a situation like this greatly, or at least contrasting actions. Thankfully, the narrator appears to be omniscient and relatively neutral when it comes to describing characters outwardly.

Furthermore, the narrator brings a certain punch with it that helps further certain emotional responses, mostly through very powerful diction. When you mean for the reader to feel sympathy or dislike, they certainly do. The last few paragraphs especially are sufficiently charged with emotion; it's hard not to feel a thing or two for Phoenix's situation.

Though this causes me to question the point of the first section, before the middle break. Much of the emotion and detail introduced in it are re-introduced later on. The only missing element appears to be the character of Baloff. I presume he'll appear later, because otherwise the first section could practically be skipped when supplied a few edits to the second section.

I realize I've commented mostly on technicalities and style. Maybe I got a little carried away. I will say that Phoenix's plight is a very understandable one, and more than enough to establish a connection with the reader. Who hasn't felt even the slightest tinge of jealousy before? Most of the other characters appeal to common archetypes as well: the stern father, the dutiful, prestigious son, and the unsavory people a figure of business can associate himself with. As far as an introduction to Phoenix's conflict is concerned, everything comes across as sound, mostly believable, and sympathetic. Just be careful not to make things too black and white. Everything has multiple sides to it, after all.

I'll get to the second part soon enough. Everything written here judges solely the text within the previous post.
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