The Icarus Incident (Steampunk Story Sequel)

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The Icarus Incident (Steampunk Story Sequel) Empty The Icarus Incident (Steampunk Story Sequel)

Post  Mercutio on Thu Jan 10, 2013 6:02 pm

The ramparts of Stahlburg Castle, usually stark and bare, now hummed with the small talk of investors and employees. Dove Ravenclock looked down onto the walls from the observation tower above. There was a brief pause in the chatter as the guests looked up to see the young heir, but the whispers resumed after, mostly with admiration for the machine harnessed on Dove’s back, the Icarus. A set of mechanical wings, with small round turbines connected by golden limbs holding blades, linked to an engine on Dove’s back. Their appearance had all the grace and beauty as an actual pair of wings. It was truly a sight to behold, even from a distance.

Dove looked through the crowd of strangers for the few familiar faces he could recognize. He first found his father, Archibald, standing on an elevated platform, towering over the crowd whilst grimly scanning it. At a pace separate from the crowd, the guild master looked up at his son. Dove assumed that most fathers would look upon their children with pride on a day such as this. Archibald’s callous gaze was one of stern warning, meant to dissuade rebellious thoughts.

Dove broke eye contact and continued to search the crowd. There were other faces he recognized, quite a few employees he’s seen in passing, but he hardly knew any of them. He found one of the familiar few he did know, his sister, at the edge of the crowd. Unlike their father, Phoenix did not even look at him. It wasn’t unexpected, but there was something new in her face. It seemed to be a kind of anxiety. Of what, Dove could not tell. Regardless, he felt a small comfort that she was there. He did not expect her to come at all given how their last discussion left off. But he couldn’t give it any more thought as Archibald began addressing the crowd from his perch.

“Loyal members of the Ravenclock Guild, welcome!”

“Come on, Icarus,” Dove called out, bird feed in hand. The raven hopped out of the cage and began nibbling the food from his owner’s hand. Dove withdrew with his pet on his wrist, stepping out onto the balcony of his study. The view of the sea was a fair sight from his study, glistening beneath the shifting horizon and crashing against the cliffs Stahlburg was situated on. The sun had begun its descent, changing the sky’s color as it fell. Dove could spot two birds, wings on the wind, not a care or worry grounding them in low spirits. He could not help but to envy the sight.
Turning to the raven in his own hand, Dove lamented, “Well Icarus, this is the day. I fly my invention, the world sees I’m my father’s son, and then my life becomes the family’s.”

To be sure, there was prosperity and power as the head of the family and the Guild. Of the states of the Corporate Territories, the Ravenclock Guild was the largest and still aggressively expanding their borders, buying out smaller groups and cutting others out. They even had strong ties in the traditional nations of Regalia, Sabre, and Faust. But it also meant what little freedom Dove had was dispensed, as he would be expected to serve his family and guild before himself. It meant a joyless life to him, a prison of obligations and contracts. And he wasn’t even halfway through his teenage years. Not to mention that his “success” would cement the bitterness his sister felt towards him.

Turning away from the balcony, Dove spent a moment inspecting the Icarus once more. A device he had been inspired to make by his raven, and even named after, Dove’s passion went into the machine since he was ten. It was something of a fantasy he wanted to fulfill, to fly as freely as the birds he so routinely observed.

In particular, he looked at the pressure tank, the most crucial component of the invention. The tank consisted of twin vials of water, connected to a dense construction of valves and clockwork within a square golden casing. Once active and placed in the engine slot, the water would become pressurized steam that would flow into the wings and fuel the turbines, shifting the blades into motion and allowing the wearer to lift off the ground. Fuel was not a problem, as once the tank was emptied any source of water would be adequate to replace it, disregarding the required sanitization. Above all else, this singular part of the machine was vital.

“Dove.” The unmistakable baritone of his father’s voice came from behind, and Dove turned to see his father waiting in the doorway. Archibald was dressed formally, wearing his glossy black justacorps with golden macaroni and cog shaped buttons. The Ravenclock family emblem, a raven holding a clock in its beak, blazed on the shoulder of his cloak. Solemn face framed by long dark copper hair and goatee, Archibald stood tall and stoic, studying his heir’s magnum opus.

“Father,” Dove responded respectfully.

“I see you’re looking over your devices again. Good.” Archibald’s praise was without a hint of cheer, simply being matter-of-factly. Hands joined behind his back, the guild master stepped into his son’s study, looking over his child’s work. “A fine feat of engineering. Is it ready?”

“Yes, father.”

“And there are to be no incidents?”

“No, father.”

“Excellent. Come to my study in half an hour. There are some matters I need to discuss with you concerning your invention.”

Dove answered with a respectful bow, and as quickly as he had appeared, Archibald departed without another word. Left behind him, Phoenix stood in the hallway, partially concealed by the shadows.

“You don’t need to skulk in the dark, Phoenix,” Dove said. “Father is looking particularly stern today. What’s going on?”
Phoenix briefly told him that Lord Baloff, a lord in the territories and one of the Guild’s most prolific business partners, had arrived and requested an audience. Dove guessed that Baloff wanted to negotiate the split in profits. The man was sleazy to the core, and didn’t shy away from shady business practices. His treatment of employees also left much to be desired, giving no support to victims of industrial accidents, binding them by contract, and dissolving strikes and unions with hired guns. Evidently his presence was not desired by Father either and Phoenix had a bad taste in her mouth from the subject as well, so Dove changed the topic.

“So how goes your machinations? Got any new designs?” He added a smile to that last question.

Phoenix glared. “Why is it any of your business?”

Dove was saddened but not surprised by the hostility. “I’m just curious. Maybe you’ve made something that’ll impress father. Was that why you were accompanying him?”

Judging by the expression on her face, Dove realized that indeed that was what happened, and apparently Phoenix’s invention once again failed to impress. By the time he could muster up an apology, she stormed out with a fury. The door into his study slammed thunderously, and Dove’s only company was now the cawing bird perched on his hand.

Dove found his way to his father’s study through the labyrinthine corridors of Stahlburg Castle. It was an ancient building, dating back to the days before the discovery of the steam engine and the technological revolution. Back then, it had been the seat of the emperor of Faust, but when the holy empire fell into an economic crisis after the Great War, Archibald made a move to purchase it. Its remote location on a cliff-side coast and surrounded by mountains made for an excellent place to keep company secrets and work in silence. Dove found the keep marvelous, but almost devoid of life. His father had a small host of servants and guards, but scattered as they were throughout Stahlburg, it left the dusty halls empty as a tomb.
Dove finally came to the doors to father’s study, massive and ornate. Just as he arrived, the door opened. A silver haired man with a brown duster coat and opaque glasses walked out, a big toothy grin frozen on his face. Baloff never stopped smiling. There was a time when Dove visited Baloff in Baloffburg, where he saw that even the Faustian tycoon’s closest advisers had difficulties discerning their employer’s mood, stepping carefully when in conversation.

“Ach! Dove! A pleasure, as alvays!” Baloff bowed, his flattery coated in his heavy Faustian accent.

“Hello, Lord Baloff. May I ask what business you have with my father?” Dove asked.

“Oh, I haf no furzer business here. Your gracious fuzzer and I haf al-hready hreached an accord.” With another bow, Baloff continued, “I know you und I haf not alvays seen eye to eye, but I am hoping ve can put zat behind us! I, for one, look forvard to our future partnership.”

Even with those glasses shielding his eyes, Dove could make out a glint of mischief as Baloff walked away. Putting it aside for the moment, Dove pushed the doors open to his father’s office and walked in. It was a long room with a high arched ceiling echoing every step on the polished stone floor. It used to be the throne room, but Archibald had it renovated upon his acquisition, replacing the royal chair with his desk, though it still retained a majestic air. All Dove could think of, however, was how hollow the room felt with its gothic architecture. Only three people occupied it now. Dove, his father, and their head servant, who left the room as Dove entered. As Dove reached the space before his father’s elevated desk, he could hear the close of the door far behind, leaving the father and son alone.

“You’ve seen Baloff on his way out, correct?”

“Usual negotiations, I take it?” Dove asked.

Archibald nodded. “The man is getting particularly greedy these days. That he hasn’t dropped his sense of humor regarding child labor isn’t endearing him any further.”

“Yet you put up with him. Why?”

“You know as well as I that Baloff is one of the most powerful landowners in the territories, second probably only to the Ravenclock Guild itself. In any case,” Archibald leaned back in his chair, hands clasped together. “…I did not call you here to discuss our business partners.”
Dove then found himself wondering about Baloff’s departing words, and formed the question. “He mentioned something about my future partnership with him. What is he talking about?”

“Actually, that is precisely what I wish to discuss with you.” Taking the wineglass on the table, Archibald continued. “I know very well that you have made this invention with the purpose of exploration, but tell me… have you given any thoughts to applications beyond that?”
Dove could see where this was going, and remained silent. So that was what Baloff meant. His father was already making plans to monetize the Icarus, and Baloff was in on it, likely to help with production. The idea of his hard work in the hands of that despot twisted his stomach.

“It may be poetic to be able to soar through the skies as free as a bird, but we don’t live in a fantasy. Investors will require more pragmatic reasons to fund the mass production of this device.”

“Father… I have no plans on adding the Icarus to production lines.”

It was Archibald’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Oh? I had long suspected your investment in this project was out of enjoying freedom while it lasted. I had hoped you would’ve put more thought into this design beyond such frivolous discourse.”

Taking another sip from his glass, Archibald continued, “I suppose it’s to be expected. I wasn’t dissimilar to you at your age. Ever the dreamer. You’ll grow out of it.”

Dove paused for a moment. With resolve, he said plainly, “No.”

Archibald paused for a moment at Dove’s response, and then slowly put his glass down, turning his full attention to Dove. Rising from his seat, Archibald stood two and a half feet taller than the average man, with broad shoulders and strong arms, but beneath his physical strength was a grim cunning and authority. Dove recognized that his rising was a subtle attempt to intimidate his son into backing down, but it wouldn’t work this time.

“I won’t be what you want me to be, father. Not if I can help it.”

“I want you to be the head of one of the most powerful industries in the world, and a responsible man,” Archibald stated.

“I never asked for that!”

“But you will accept it!” Archibald shouted over his son, words echoing off the walls. “At this point, I don’t care what your personal feelings are; the Icarus will go on production lines. Phoenix would do anything to be in your position.”

“If you’re interested in what’s best for the company, why not choose Phoenix? It’s obvious she’d be a better head than me! She comes up with designs almost weekly, most of them admittedly with flaws, but all of them have had potential. Most of all, she works tirelessly to impress you!”

Far from being moved, Archibald retained that cold look, like a bird of prey eying its meal. “Exactly.”

Dove was uncertain what his father said at first. “What?”

“Do you think she’d work nearly as hard if I was appreciative of her efforts? Here’s another lesson of the real world, my son. Competition breeds innovation. For all the lackluster designs Phoenix puts forth to vie for my approval, she has the one thing you lack.” Taking another sip of his wine, he finished, “The mind set and dedication. If she only had your passion, however misguided…”

The rest didn’t need to be said. Dove found himself repulsed by this revelation. His father knew of Phoenix’s desperation, and he only fostered it.

“We have discussed enough. I suggest you get ready for your demonstration. A great many investors will be there, and their support will depend on your presentation. Afterwards, you best start thinking of other uses than flights of fancy! You’re dismissed.”

Dove gave a tense bow before departing, deciding against pressing the issues further. When Archibald dismissed someone, it was best to go peacefully, and Dove had pushed the conversation more than he should have. If he had been anyone else, he would’ve walked away with more than a scolding. As it stood, he was both surprised by his own audacity and his father’s lenience for it.

He decided against going to his study immediately. Instead, he made his way to Phoenix’s, to try to apologize for his missteps and tell her the truth of their father’s opinion. When he arrived, though, she was absent. Letting himself in, he glanced around. The room was an utter mess, with an assortment of metal components, old machines, and concept designs lying around. He looked through the ones that had been drawn up in the last year. His father’s words began to play inside his head as he slowly looked through them, noticing that every new concept was better than the last one, and that Phoenix was gaining more and more insight with each one. Worse, it seemed as though every new design had more “pragmatic” reasons that would appeal to their father.

He found the Daedalus, one of her more recent inventions, lying against a wall. In particular, Dove had been impressed by the automaton. But just as their father disapproved of it, calling it an unoriginal idea and worthless, so she quickly cast it aside. Dove wondered if he would’ve been so quick to do so if it had been his own machine. Part of the reason he developed the Icarus as far as he did was his own attachment to it and what it meant to him, working out the malfunctions rather than abandoning it. Phoenix had no such connections, as the dust gathering on the Daedaelus demonstrated.

It was then that Dove noticed a parchment on the nearby table, which seemed extensively detailed. Walking over, he judged it to be the drawing of a human being. However, as he stared at it more, he realized that it was actually a mesh of man and machine, with mechanical limbs. There was also another sheet beneath, which he inspected as well. This one dealt with organs within the body, marked independently and all artificial. A mechanical heart pumping blood throughout the body, lungs that operated automatically and separate from the throat, all this and more illustrated on the parchment. The drawings were not quite as sleek and natural as their authentic counterparts, but Dove could see how it all worked.

Dove was both awed and unnerved all at once when he came upon this. A sharp gasp from behind snapped him back to the surroundings. He turned to behold a surprised Phoenix, whose face soon contorted into a furious scowl.

“Why are you here!?”

“Phoenix, I only…” Dove started, but couldn’t finish. Quickly shifting the topic, “Is this your latest project?”

“Get out!”

Dove tried to divert the subject and ask more about the her designs, but Phoenix would have none of it. Departing quickly, Dove reprimanded himself for his intrusion into her study. It was unlikely she’d listen to him now about anything. He hoped she would calm down after the demonstration.
Returning to his room to get his machine, Dove found the door slightly ajar. Troubled, he pushed it open. Nothing seemed out of place… except Icarus’ cage was wide open, and the raven was gone. Dove felt his heart sink.

“Icarus?” He cried out, looking frantically for his beloved pet. But Icarus was long gone, and left not a trace. As if to taunt him, the 6:00 bell rang, reminding Dove of the near imminent demonstration of his invention. Depressed, and pressed for time, Dove hurriedly grabbed the Icarus and began a lonely trek to the observation tower, where he intended to reveal his device to the world. The thought to inspect his machine before going on his way did not cross his mind.

“Gentlemen, I trust you are familiar with my son…”

Atop the walls, the gathering clamored. Among the crowd were investors, employees, and even a few renowned inventors. Yet Dove felt awfully alone up on his perch. He knew so few of them, and he doubted any of them had an interest in him beyond a potential profit. He remained silent as his father proceeded.

“For some time now, he’s been designing a novel machine, capable of granting a man the ability to fly as a bird. It is our hope that we can produce this marvel en masse, and change the world forever! What we require, though, is your investment in this project. If you are hesitant, allow my son to show you the potential of this device!”

That was Dove’s cue. He didn’t have anything to add to his father’s speech, he just made sure the Pressure Tank was firmly inserted, and turned the dials on the machine, sputtering to life. Despite it’s size, the Icarus’ harness diverted most of its weight to the wearer’s body, allowing Dove to carry it relatively well despite slowly. During flight, that weight would all but disappear. Despite his depression and his testing the Icarus many times before, he knew today he’d have to push the limits further than ever. The crowd would be awed by the display, he judged. He wasn’t so concerned about that though. He cared neither for these strangers, nor even his father.

But looking through the crowd, there was one face absent that he did care about. Phoenix was nowhere to be found. Probably to be expected. This was going to be Dove’s chance to shine in the eyes of the world, whether he wanted to or not. She, on the other hand, would continue to be ignored by their father to spur her inventions. The fact she was being manipulated like that infuriated Dove. He hoped she would listen to him after this was all finished. She needed to know.

Making sure his goggles and pilot’s cap were firmly in place, Dove stepped atop the ramp built into the side of the tower, which would serve by allowing him to gather speed and momentum. This was probably the trickiest part of the Icarus, taking flight. Beyond that, it was surprisingly easy to keep in air, more so with his improvements. All he would have to do was glide down. He’d done this many times before, this flight would be no different.

Before taking those last steps, he carefully observed his surroundings. In front of him was the seemingly infinite expanse of the oceans and sky. Behind him, the sharp mountains Stahlburg was built against like talons jutting from the earth. Both served to complete Stahlburg’s prison. And once again, he found those birds, flying without care. Was Icarus among them, he wondered? He was conflicted about whether to feel glad or sad about his raven’s freedom. Shaking the painful subject from mind, he commenced with his task.

He ran down the ramp, with the wings whirring as they prepared for flight. At the very edge of the extension, he leapt towards the golden sky, departing from the stone bricks of Stahlburg Castle. The thunderous roar of applause was only surpassed by the wind splashing the rest of Dove’s face as his wings lifted him higher in the sky as its blades whirred furiously, and its turbines intermittently sprouting founts of steam. His machine was working! It was a success!

The sensation was far more than he could’ve imagined. Testing this device at low altitudes did not invoke such thrill and adrenaline. For one of the few times in his life, Dove felt truly alive. The thought of simply leaving this life with his machine, of leaving the family behind and pursuing his own desires, crossed his mind suddenly. He was genuinely tempted. There’d be nothing his Archibald or his minions could do to stop him. But still…

Abruptly, his thoughts stopped as he felt a powerful jerk mid-flight. He looked at his wings, and was alarmed to find that the right had malfunctioned and caught fire. It took just a moment in order to figure out what had happened… The engine had been tampered with, causing the pressure to be uneven and excessive on the right side. The resulting combustion now jammed the turbines and blades, ceasing its flight. Though the other wing was perfectly functional, it could not hold up Dove’s mass alone. It only spun him round and round as he quickly lost altitude.
“What? No, no!” he cried out, trying to think of something. His first instinct was to reach around to the back of the engine and attempt to correct the tanks, but even if he could manage that, it didn’t change the fact that the damage was done. Perhaps he could help break the fall by tilting so the wings hit the water first, but the device was flinging him around so turbulently that he simply couldn’t control it. As the blurred body of water below threateningly loomed, he simply resigned to his fate. He hit the waters below with such force, it was as if he fell on stone, and the weight of the wings pulled him down further. In excruciating pain, the world went black for Dove.

As he woke, Dove glanced about with blurred vision. He was in his room, with doctors busily rushing about him. No one seemed aware that he was awake. He was only partially aware of it himself. Everything felt strange… new. As his head tilted to one side, his eyes widened with horror. Rather than an arm of flesh and blood, he saw a mechanical limb reaching up to his shoulder. He noticed that he was not in control of his breathing either, but felt his ‘lungs’ pump air of their own accord. He couldn’t even feel his legs, assuming they too weren’t replaced.

“Lord Archibald, we have news. Your son will live, thanks to his sister’s invention.”

Dove was certain his blood would’ve chilled at the mention of his father had he not felt cold already. He managed to spot his father talking to the doctor, accompanied by Phoenix who had evidently joined in the procedure from her red-stained hands.

“Very good. Seems she has finally shown her promise,” Archibald said, not even looking at his son. Not even the doctors looked at his face. But Phoenix looked at him right in the eyes. She was the only one who regarded him in the room.

“It seems we were premature to declare him dead,” the doctor proceeded. “We can quickly remedy the mistake if we...”

“Change nothing,” Archibald waved dismissively. “Phoenix will prove more than worthy as my heir. As the investors flee from my son’s failed project, they flock to invest in hers. The replacement of limbs and even organs… Yes, that is the future of the Guild! Perhaps even the world.”

At that point, Dove spotted something in Phoenix’s face, contrasting her fortune. Was it pity? No, he realized, it was guilt. Somehow, that expression pierced his heart deeper than any hateful glare she had ever given him.

“Phoenix, come! We have much to discuss concerning your breakthrough.”

Even as Archibald turned his back on his broken son, Phoenix could scarcely pry her eyes off of the brother she had made before leaving. After a few moments, the doctors departed as well, leaving Dove all alone to agonize over his reversal of fortunes. But then he heard a caw at the window. Managing to turn his head, he glimpsed a single black bird.

“Icarus?” The name came out hoarse. The bird flew onto his bed and hopped over, having returned to his master. Dove was happy that everything was not so bleak… until Icarus suddenly bit at his chest. Through the pain, the boy understood why Icarus had returned. The bird thought him a corpse, and came to scavenge. As Icarus continued to bite at his exposed flesh, Dove slowly lifted his new right arm for the first time, and reached for the bird. Just as it realized its intended meal was still alive, he snatched it in his iron grip, and after a brief moment of contemplation, crushed it.


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