snyderwrites familia (picture credit: Lucas Janin),
Hey everybody! Happy Friday! Glad that we all survived the weekend and hopefully y’all are ready for some R & R. I know that I am.
In the spirit of relaxation, here is the first chapter of my next book. It’s not related to Neighbors in the Supernova, and has a totally different feel. Between you and me, this story is more “me” if that makes sense. During the writing process, it has evolved a lot more naturally than my last novel. It’s a steampunk inspired adventure, which focuses on the expansive world the characters explored. Very heavy milieu, but I think as I develop it, other dimensions will come out strong as well.
Without further blabbing, here it is:
Chapter One: Lookout Point
The magna-train was making its 9:30 approach to the station, and Alena listened to the distant huffs of the engine. When Mr. Thomas came in late from working in the shop after work, covered with grime and a grin, he would let her slip out to Lookout Point to watch the rumbling locomotives come searing through the valley like boiling water through oatmeal. “Alena! You’ll be safe, won’t ya?” All it took was a nod of her head and a kiss on his cheek. “Alright, get on your way. The things I do for you…Oh! Try to spot what those trains are bringing in for me.” He cupped his hands and pretended to put binoculars up to his eyes. “I gotta have my fresh supplies!”
Alena gave him a thumbs up and got on her way.
From her house it was a quarter mile to the edge of the cliff. She could look down and see just about everything, all the way out to where the sea hit the sky. On the gravelly path, she broke into a jog and started to inhale the salty air. The sun had fallen and the remaining splashes of magenta and scarlet were all that remained in the clouds.
She couldn’t get to Lookout Point fast enough, and pumped her arms harder. A small flock of gulls were cawing back and forth above her as if in conversation. Alena joined in the noise making, giggling and skipping with the seabirds imitating their shrill cries.
White puffs of surf broke over the jagged rocks below, and Alena panted softly watching the powerful ebb and flow when she reached the bluff.
It never got old.
She could watch the water for hours and could never tire of the waves blasting away at the immovable boulders. Alena imagined what it would be like to stand on one and wait nervously for a round of waves to come knock her off her feet. She smiled foolishly. She was a good swimmer, but Mr. Thomas had told her a time or two that under no circumstance could she venture down to Swift’s Cove. “You may find sea junk and conch shells down there, but nothin’ worth getting your hiney all scratched up for. Full grown men have been pummeled within an inch of their lives down there, let alone a girl of your size. Whew! I don’t even want to think about it.”
Hanging off the rock face was a steel bench for two, with plated arm rests. It was another piece of Mr. Thomas’ fine handiwork that he built for the city, free of charge no less. That’s just the kind of thing that he would do. He put it together when she was a girl, and back then she would bring out her blanket and nap. Lookout Point wouldn’t be the same without it.
Alena sat down. Still as hard as ever, daddy was going for durability and threw all designs for comfort out the window. Paroooooo! A gasp of steam and pistons pumping, the magna-train would come into view any second. Alena squinted with only the help of moonbeams, desperately watching with her spyglass for the shadowed boxes and containers loaded high onto the brassy frame.
Kapisssss! Air pressure discharging wildly, Alena spotted it. A bullet fired from an old clanker, here came the magna-train. It was one of the larger models, a Barrington Masthead, an industrial freighter that specialized in hauling the big stuff. Pipes, cement blocks, bars of every metal imaginable piled high on its platforms. Alena conjectured what kind of weight it might be hauling; counting the carts, guessing the length of the two engine cars on each end, and how much stress each bolt and fastener might be under at this precise instant. She ogled at the great mass traveling at nearly a hundred miles an hour aboard a nearly floating locomotive.
With her spyglass fully extended and kicking some pebbles off the cliff and down the ravine, Alena gripped the armrest from Mr. Thomas’ bench and leaned forward to spot the conductor. With a few tries she was able to bring his picture into focus. Good ol’ Willy Fontane was laughing like a deranged hyena tonight, and singing at full strength with his jaw jutting out. At this distance, Alena could not hear a single note, but she could imagine what Willy was singing about. She had heard his songs before down at the station, and been present for his tunes that he sang at the bank on his way out the door. They were folksy, up-tempo, contagious songs that required a steady drum and a harmonica back up.
That’s how Alena heard it in her mind anyway. She could picture Willy getting whoever was listening to pick up the nearest instrument and play it with all their heart and soul. Simply walking in the streets was enough to get a whole neighborhood to forget what they were doing and lose themselves in his melodies. She looked forward to talking to Willy this week while he was in town and the magna-train was getting serviced. Maybe she would learn a new song or two.
Alena checked for any extra conductors or riders in the front and back. Occasionally visitors from other towns like Memdory or Kempton would be helping Willy with the shipments, or tag-alongs looking to see what the next town over had to offer. Alena recalled a woman who had hidden herself in an undersized compartment of the back-engine car, only to be found as the conductor was cleaning up the controls and washing the floors. The poor woman.
The conductor lifted the hatch that led to the underbelly of the machine and out popped the petite woman like a loaded spring. Her small frame proved advantageous in hiding, but she had been cooped up for nearly the entire day without any food or water. When asked why she didn’t just pay the fare or find a job to do to pay her way to Cerulean, it was clear the woman was on the brink of lunacy. After uttering a few garbled expressions, she hopped from the train and was never seen again.
Cerulean was sort of like that.
Alena gently closed her spyglass, and took in the arrival of the magna-train from the cliff’s edge. Still holding strong onto the bench, there was crisp breeze that was rolling up and over the bluff. It blew her ponytail off her shoulders for a moment and she tucked a few stray hairs behind her ear. Folks in town complemented Alena nearly every day about her long black hair that wove down her back. She usually braided it and people would jest about how her hair had grown a couple feet since the last time they saw it. “You could use that tail of yours for a jump rope!” was her favorite response.
Like a whisper, the magna-train glided into the station and came to a stop. Feeling her legs nearly starting to move in anticipation, Alena wished that she could run down and begin to unload the shipment. Kariiiing! Pop! A whistle sounded, signaling the green light to begin the long night ahead for processing and receipts. A dull murmur of men clamoring together around the Masthead’s cargo bay elevated above the silence of the night. Claws rose with their steel and cables with behemoth four prong arms to haul the five-ton containers and crates onto the loading docks. Workers scuffled back and forth to ensure safe placement and correct routes for transit. A few of the men carried neon green sticks to guide the engineers and drivers of the massive machines.
Magna-trains were commonplace in their comings and goings. Cerulean was a hub for all trade and commerce for these transporting locomotives. This is where the magna-trains took off back some 50 years ago. The town’s most revered and famous resident, Finnegan Blanch, invested his life savings into a small magnetic railway that connected neighboring towns. He scaled and cultivated his small set of locomotives and built himself a company so profitable that if he found nuggets of gold lying in the streets today, he’d lose money to bend over and pick them up. Many refer to him as the backbone and furnace of the 2nd Industrial Revolution, an unparalleled pioneer of industry, and the anchor to Cerulean identity. Anytime someone made up their mind to a task or job, residents were in the habit of saying “Follow through, Finnegan!”
Alena backed away from the bench and caught a last glimpse of the hustle down below. She would be there tomorrow with her dad to pick up his supplies. Mr. Thomas took her to the square for unloading days that involved the bigger trains like the Masthead or the Zenith, or even to watch passenger trains hauling the unusual travelers that came to Cerulean for whatever reason.
There was an electricity in the air that Alena craved. It was as essential as food and drink. Alena had never traveled outside of Cerulean, so she soaked up the excitement of the station with every possible opportunity. Rick and Tom would be there with the loaders, vulgar and inappropriate as always. They didn’t have an off switch much to the chagrin of her parents. Without question daddy never liked it when she was around them, but it was an occupational hazard that he had to deal with. Besides him, they were two of the best engineers and mechanics in the entire region. They could take any material or element and transform it, nearly craft it to perfection, and then build whatever they set their heart on. They designed bridges, houses, hovercrafts, you name it.
Mr. Thomas was an engineer of sorts too, a ‘tradesman’ as he called himself. He denied anyone the opportunity to use a different word. He wasn’t fond of titles. His real name was Dr. Cameron Thomas.
Besides watching after Rick and Tom who needed his constant supervision, he was able to tinker on passion projects and upscale designs as a contractor at his leisure. Alena marveled at how much Mr. Thomas could do in a day. One morning, he would be working on a new type of glass for a prototype vehicle, and at night when Alena was ready to turn in, he would be welding pipe in his shop, or sculpting or sketching at his desk. “It’s really comin’ to me tonight Alena,” he would say, “I’ve got to let it flow.” When he had his creative juices flowing, daddy would work for hours. It didn’t matter when either. Alena could wake up to get a drink of water at 3:00 am and there he would be sitting, hunched over an automated music player and drumming with this fingers.
Alena wondered if she would ever feel the ‘flow’ like daddy did. In the shop, Alena got the feeling that she just took up space when attempting to help Mr. Thomas. She might as well be one of the storage containers on the Masthead, sitting perfectly awkward and out of place among the gadgets and inventions that littered the work areas. Granted, she was a robot buildin’ protégé and he was a jack-of-all-trades, it was the sheer speed of Mr. Thomas.
He worked too fast. Mr. Thomas would never give her enough time to think. It was if he already had the answer before his brain could formulate the question. Alena was always one step behind, and while he had a fire in his belly that resulted in working at breakneck speed, Alena methodically planned the placement of wires, turned cogs with twists of the wrist, and examined the language of her basic codes with excruciating exactness.
No amount of sweet talk could convince her otherwise. She had a long way to go to catch Mr. Thomas.
Alena laid down in the grass, the night had completely set in. She threw down her pack with a swift toss beside her. It collapsed in a heap, but a silver ball escaped from the top of the bag. Alena attempted to grasp at it, but it rolled quickly out of her clutches. The ball moved effortlessly through the grass for a few feet and then began to take a new shape. Its contents folded over on itself at fluctuating hinges and edges, a steely frame emerging from the sphere. Alena huffed with agitation, “I don’t have time for you tonight…”
Stubby legs and arms protruded out from the frame, with deep lines that outlined the metal appendages. It now took a near aggressive stance standing in the grass without any support. The legs were small rectangular wedges that carried the newly emerging body with surprising balance. A head began to rise among the turning and churning of pivots, first through the stomach and then the shoulder joints. The small rectangular prism locked into position and a voice chirped with enthusiasm, “I am Tiny Man!”
The robot pumped one of his bionic arms, followed by a short jump and kick that brought Tiny Man’s legs suspended above the tips of the grass for a nanosecond. It was the same dramatic routine with each reboot. With a fluid landing and apparent gusto for fleeing the containment of Alena’s bag, Tiny Man checked his surroundings with a swivel of the head. “Where have you brought me tonight Miss Thomas? The temperature is pleasing.” He strode in circles as if analyzing the field’s conditions, his circuitry pulsating with hues of blue and red.
“We’re at Lookout Point Tiny Man, and…” Alena selected her words carefully. His emotional software took every word to his metaphorical heart. “…you managed to get yourself free.”
“That I did, Miss Thomas! In a turn of luck your rucksack toppled with enough force to propel me from my cloth container. A small probability I will add, given the care that you take to protect me.” He pounded his tiny claw-like hands together with a clank!, and bowed. “I am very grateful for your constant care.”
Alena’s smile passed through Tiny Man’s visual scanners, which made his circuit boards glow a dark purple. Alena gave Tiny Man the ‘I need to protect you’ speech whenever he asked why he didn’t get more time to spend in the ‘free world’ as he called it. It was Alena’s way of saying ‘you’re in the bag because you’re a meddling repair bot who has a horrible track record of getting me into trouble’ without harming his sensitive, imaginary soul. “It’s really not a problem. I’m glad that you’re getting a chance to stretch your legs.”
“Miss Thomas, I really don’t stretch. I bend.” He made his knee joints open and close to demonstrate.
“It’s an expression that we use to signify someone having the chance to escape from a setting or environment that is possibly tedious or stressful. Function, Add to memory,” Alena said.
A blue light flashed behind his head and an automatic response was drawn out from Tiny Man’s vocal module. “Adding to memory…complete.”
Alena made constant updates to Tiny Man’s central engineering, but her pride and joy was the lexicon drive that facilitated his language abilities. One of Alena’s first mentors, Jean Paul, helped her install it. He gave Alena this personal project that she could take responsibility for. It was right at her level—a good mixture of personal interest and research to build for her portfolio. For a repair bot his size, Tiny Man had incredible functioning on many levels of communication and emotions. He could hypothesize about a cause and effect situation, identify non-verbal cues, and even do a decent job of maneuvering through sarcasm. Alena’s favorite function (or malfunction depending on how you looked at it) of the lexicon drive was Tiny Man’s talent of complimenting people in direct and obvious ways. It made for interesting interactions with the citizens of Cerulean. “Your nostrils are like two tiny caves. Beautiful!” “I’ve never seen such hair that so resembles a bramble bush. How unique!” Most of the townsfolk and regulars knew of his antics, but to those who hadn’t received a Tiny Man compliment, the reaction was consistently memorable for Alena.
“Well, I feel like I’ve had a good chance to stretch my legs tonight. Sometimes I need to get out of that old house and feel free. Kind of like you and my bag Tiny Man, right?” Alena watched Tiny Man strut through the blades of grass, who decided to sit down for a moment. He sat cross legged and looked from side to side. There was an air of innocence and wonder that made Tiny Man a charming companion when he wasn’t asking his constant questions. “Should we get back home Tiny Pants? Daddy will be wondering if his supplies came in,” Alena said.
Tiny Man moved one robotic arm in front of his legs in a sweeping motion, signaling to his lower half. “Although you continue to use variations of that phrase involving my name, it still contains no trace of meaning, and as you can easily see, I have no need of pants. Secondly, your father knows perfectly well that his supplies are in. The magna-trains keep the same schedule every week and every month. Why does he need you to report back to him?” Tiny Man shook his head in near disappointment. “Humans can be a headache. I wish you could input an instruction manual for homo sapiens to my main hardware.”
Alena laughed merrily with her repair bot. Her voice clean and clear, and his an electronic machine gun of ha-ha’s that could repeat forever if Tiny Man found something extremely humorous. “Tiny Man, before I put you back in your bag…”
“You will not take me alive!” Tiny Man shouted with a long finger pointed at Alena. Alena looked puzzled. “I heard it on your father’s radio broadcast.” Alena was still mystified. “Do you not remember the old speaking machines that your father enjoys listening to as he works?” Alena was dumbfounded. “I heard that sentence on one of his shows.” Tiny Man lowered the accusing finger that he had just used for his outburst and grabbed it with his other steely hand. “I did not mean to offend…I only tried to express myself in a way that you might find relatable.” Tiny Man seemed to cower in self-depreciation.
Alena blew out a breath of air and waved. “Don’t worry. You didn’t offend me.” Alena looked up and tried to remember what she was going to say. “Oh yeah, before I put you back in your bag, will you answer a question for me?”
“Most certainly, short one,” Tiny Man retorted with another round of his machine gun laughter.
“Do robots ever want to leave their makers?”
Tiny Man didn’t take more than a second to process. “Due to the unforeseen dangers of the natural world, it would be statistically foolish to leave you and Dr. Thomas. For a repair bot like myself, I have a small margin of victory pertaining to my…survival.” The tiny orbs of his visual preceptors were suddenly racing black lines of numbers and percentages. “I’m currently running a probability analysis, and the likelihood of an untimely demise by human or natural force is surprisingly high.” Numbers slowed down and his glowing orbs for eyes restored back to a soft hue of yellow. “My answer is an unequivocal ‘no’ Miss Alena, I will never leave. I would rather not be modified as a glorified can opener or blender. Can you imagine if a techie got his clammy hands on me?” Tiny Man appeared to almost shudder. “I have my dignity.” Tiny Man then paused but then processed his next few sentences. “As for leaving makers, my data is incomplete. I have not had the opportunity to gather such information. I can only speak for myself by admitting that I do not want to leave you or Dr. Thomas. Your kindness has been bountiful.” He crossed his arms and nodded his head convincingly, satisfied with his response.
“And we would never want you to leave Tiny Man,” Alena chuckled. “You are one of our own and we hope you stick around.” Alena glimpsed back down at the depot, lights from the transistors cast oval shadows over the unloading equipment and cranes. A blinking green light pulsed at the top of the one of the iron control towers, a constant reminder of work needing to be completed. One conductor hung his arm out of the tower, signaling nervously to the laborers below. “A bot with your abilities could do a lot of good in the world. Don’t you ever feel stuck?” Alena added curiously. A loud moan from the machinery pierced the air and scattered flocks of seagulls.
Tiny Man responded with lightning quickness. “Yes, I am very capable, but I am the farthest thing from stuck.” Tiny Man drew from his central hardware, and appeared to be searching for an example. “The root system of a mature oak tree can total hundreds of miles, making it a very immovable plant. A magnet operating at 5 Teslas pulling in scraps of metal at the junkyard provides an incredible stick.” Tiny Man abruptly paused, seemingly to imagine himself running away from the force of the magnet. “I would never escape from that bot killer…” Tiny Man continued. “However, I can escape you quite easily.” Tiny Man peered up at Alena jittering with delight, anxiously awaiting her reaction.
“Escape me easily?” Alena leaned in to Tiny Man and gave him a wide grin. “How so?”
It was if Tiny Man was waiting all night for this one question. He blurted out a long-winded response that only Alena could appreciate. “First, Miss Alena, your lack of speed. Those adolescent legs and underdeveloped muscle structure make for poor movement. Your acceleration is at best terrible, and your endurance is anything but reliable in emergency situations.”
“Um. Thanks, Tiny Man. I’ll try to work on it.” Alena mumbled.
There was more. “I will not address your subpar jumping, climbing or coordination abilities. There is not enough time to mark all of those deficiencies. Your vision?” Tiny Man dwelled on the word, letting his hard drive go to work.
Alena hung her head and waited for all of this to be over.
“You can see a broad range of tones and colors, although there really is no practical or useful application. Owls, cats, and sharks all trump humans in their different arenas… It is nearly impossible to—”
“—Alright! Enough is enough!” Alena was experienced at this level of exasperation. “I think that is all I need to know for now.” She sighed heavily. “I’m pleading with you to not talk to me about this again. Function, Conversations, Human Deficiencies, Set Block, Long Term,” Alena commanded.
The blue light flashed again and Tiny Man muttered, “Set Block…complete.”
A weak smile came across Alena’s lips. She picked up Tiny Man by his shoulder pivots and looked into his round eye modules. “You drive me bonkers. Plain and simple.”
Tiny Man gazed back, his sensors detecting and analyzing Alena’s facial features.“I do not know how to respond to that statement,” Tiny Man said.
Alena patted him gently and answered, “You don’t always have to respond. Time to go.” She pointed toward her rucksack. Tiny Man morphed back into his solid ball form again, and Alena marched back home, thinking about how she couldn’t see as well as a cat in the thick darkness.
Hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think about it in the comments, message me on FB or Insta, or send me an email! Gracias.