This is a bit from one of the few Steampunk(ish) stories in my science fiction short story collection, OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS.
In it, three friends of questionable intelligence decide to recreate the Three Men in a Boat’s trip up the Thames, but go in an airship rather than a rowing skiff. Since the Three Men had a dog, they’ve decided they must have one, too. They aren’t fond of the idea of sharing their limited space with a real dog. So….
The Clockwork Dog
excerpt from “Three Men in a Blimp”, OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS
by Marian Allen
We landed at Bognor Regis. The pier looked spiffing, lights shining on the darkening water like so many acts of kindness in an unkind world. Conkers wanted to hare off and play skittles or some such foolishness, but Minor and I persuaded him – at full volume, to be heard over the engines and so on – that our money (what little the blimp man had left us) would be better spent on food and, more to the point, beer. We had just bumped to a landing that I still maintain was a good one at an all-night airship facility and were still luxuriating in the relative stillness when Minor said,
“I say, whatever became of that deuced dog? Don’t tell me we’ve come off without him?”
“Oh!” said Conkers. “The dog! Yes, he’s here, somewhere.”
He rummaged around in the luggage, spilling a sack of buns and treading one underfoot, and came up with a rather shopworn pasteboard box with DOG scratched on it in pencil and, underneath this, “CAVALIER KING CHARLES SPANIEL??” Conkers broke the tape holding the box closed, opened the bent and dirty flaps, reached in, and removed an object roughly the size and general shape of a respectable loaf of bread.
He placed it on the floor of the gondola with the air of a cat who has caught something and presented it to you as a gift, though is having second thoughts about it even as he does so.
“If that’s all it does,” said Minor, “you might as well put it back in the box. I could imagine a better dog than that.” Since everyone knows, and frequently states, that Minor has no imagination, I thought this statement a bit strong, and I could see by the look on Conkers’ face that Conkers thought so, too.
“Wait a bit,” Conkers said. “Let me wind him up and set him off, you know.” He unfolded the beast’s – or, I should say, the machine’s – paws, tail, and head. My uncle Jasper had just such a dog, only a live one, if “live” is the word I want in connection with a creature so somnolent it didn’t move even when we set off firecrackers next to it. Uncle Jasper moved, though, and so did we; he would never have caught us, if the butler, who was in league with him, hadn’t locked the front door when we weren’t looking.
At any rate, Conkers unfolded our dog, turned a screw in its belly, closed and latched the belly covering, and said, “Rex! Good! Boy!”
The thing quivered. Then, with a squeaking of rusty gears, it wove and wobbled to its feet, and the evening light fell full upon it. A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, as you may know, has long, gently waved, silky hair and drooping ears, the hair generally being black on the body and white on the paws and legs. I am not, by nature, a skeptical man, and I was willing to stretch a point and concede the possibility that this pseudo-animal, in its prime, had been meant to resemble a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Now, though, its fur was tangled, matted, and, where it hadn’t fallen out or been clipped off in order to remove something apparently even more repellent than the substances still adherent to it, a slightly greenish black and a more than somewhat grayish white. Its ears had been cut short, leaving flaps like those on the sides of deer-stalker hats to cover its earholes.
It lifted a front paw, turned its head toward Conkers, parted its flabby lips, and said, slowly, with a heavy grinding of its mechanism, “Argh! Argh!”
“Well,” said Minor, “it isn’t a terrier.”
OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS, since you ask (and you are asking, are you not?) is available for purchase in print and in electronic format. If you have a steam-driven or clockwork computer, let me know and arrangements will be made at a price to be agreed upon. It can also be ordered through your friendly neighborhood indie bookseller. See if they’re listed in IndieBound, why don’t you?
Oh, and if you want more samples from the collection, have a look at my OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS sample page. I have them for all my books and stories. I think.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Your main character must select an animal with which to spend a week. What would it be?