Thursday, January 31, 2008

The clockwork bear and the two armies

(This was written for a contest to craft a steampunk fable).

The clockwork bear and the two armies (933 words)
By Morgan Johnson

Once upon a time, in the country of Victoriana, a revolution was erupting. The biological entities of the land were angry at their treatment at the hands of the clockwork citizens. The clockies charged them higher taxes. They ignored them in the clockwork parliament. More forest and field was torn up every day to make room for the great coal furnaces and the great spring winderies.

The beasts took up arms in secret and met in coffee shops to discuss armed revolt. Protests were staged that shut down the thoroughfares of Faraday City. Progress ground to a halt. The clockwork militia was mustered and took to the streets. Rage hung in the air like so much smoke.

At the place where city and forest met lived an old bear. He was the veteran of many campaigns against the enemies of Victoriana and experienced in battle. He had been discharged from service after an explosive device robbed him of his legs and his left eye. Upon retirement from the Integrated Forces of Progress, the bear was outfitted with steam-powered legs to help him walk. A small coal-burner was mounted in his belly for fuel. And a clever system of springs, cams and lenses replaced his eye and part of his brain that was addled from his years of valiant service.

The bear planned to live out his days reading on his porch. He would feed his burner sparingly and walk only when necessary. There was no more peaceful place in the world on a summer’s day than his cottage, soaked in sunbeams.

One day a stranger arrived on his porch. She was a tall clockie soldier, arms forged of copper and tin. Reinforced wheels sprouted from her sternum, and she moved very, very quickly. Mr. Bear, her voice chirped from a speaker in her shoulder, Victoriana stands at the brink of war. Every citizen must take up arms against the beasts of the field. Our way of life must be preserved. Your country needs you.

The bear shook his head slowly, his eye lens whirring gently. No, miss, I will not take up arms. For I am surely a beast of the field. Have I not fur? Do I not bleed? Be gone from here. The clockwork woman nodded, made a note upon a punchcard, and left.

Later that same day a graying ape strode out of the forest. Noble Bear, he said and saluted, your deeds are well known amongst the animals of the revolution. We need your help in this just cause. Our people lose more every day and soon we shall have nothing left. Your experience at war would be a great asset during this uprising. The ape bowed low and looked at the bear expectantly.

The bear snarled at the ape and swat him with a paw. Look at my legs and my face, brother Ape. Do I look like a beast to you? I am built more of iron and steel than fur and meat. I do not belong with you. The gray ape shook his shaggy head sadly and left for the forest. As he entered the treeline he turned and spat at the bear.

The war when it came lasted only a week. Both sides, the animals and the clockies, lost many brave people. Too many, many felt. The deaths had been swift and extensive. The damage to property and homes was enormous. After only a week the entire country was sick of war. The clockwork council met with the animal elders. They formed a new parliament with equal representation and vowed to share power. Never again would Victoriana suffer a civil war.

A great party was thrown in the capitol, a party larger than any ever before. Fine foods and liquors were spread for the animals on long wooden tables. Buckets overflowing with premium fuels and oils were laid out in abundance for all the clockwork citizens to indulge in. The bear stirred from his cabin at the intersection of the city and the woods and stoked his burner. He rumbled into the capitol as the party got underway.

The streets were clogged with partiers. Clockies danced arm-in-arm with the monkeys of the trees. The gazelles raced the wheel-bodied messengers. Songs were sung in a chorus of voices both biological and technological.

The bear approached a food-laden table and grabbed a mug full of bourbon. But the gray ape was there and slapped the mug from his hands. This food, the ape growled, is for the beasts of Victoriana. But you told me you were a clockie. The bear hung his head and left.

His burner was running low on fuel, so the bear went to the overflowing buckets and grabbed a scoop of the high-grade coal. But the wheel-bodied recruiter was there and snatched the scoop from the bear’s paw. This fuel has been provided by the government, she chirped, for the specific use of the clockwork citizenry. As you have previously stated that you are an animal, this fuel is forbidden for your use. Good day.

The bear dragged himself back to his cabin at the border of the city and the woods and lived out the rest of his days alone.

Moral: He who chooses no sides, belongs to none.

Or, as Aesop said: He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends.

Or maybe it’s what Dante said: The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.