A bit of fantasy, a bit of romance, a snippet of steampunk…

William Shakespeare

Yesterday I finished a first draft of “Call Me But Love” which is a collection of four riffs based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but focusing on the romantic relationship between Romeo and Mercutio.  I need to put it away for a while because I’m sick of looking at it.  I’m getting nowhere fast on my contemporary romance novel “Will Work for Food” so I put that aside as well; I find that letting things marinate a bit helps me a lot when I go back to the story.

But I have to work on something, so I pulled out “Variations on a Theme By Dickens,” a novel length collection of five stories all based on Dickens’A Christmas Carol.”  Like “Call Me But Love” it comes out of a genre in fanfic known as “X Things That Never Happened To _____”  It’s one of my favorite fan fiction genres, and it’s rather like the musical genre of theme and variations.  I think it’s a shame it’s not more used in mainstream fiction, and both “Call Me But Love” and “Variations on a Theme By Dickens” are nods to that genre and an attempt to make it more mainstream.

Charles Dickens

In the latter, novel-length collection, four of the stories are Dickens-era historicals and one is contemporary, but they’re all quite different.  The first is told from the point of view of one of the Cratchit children.  The second which is in a tie for my favorite of the group, is “The Atherium” a steampunk fantasy with a rather engaging romance.  The fourth is the contemporary retelling, and this is my other favorite because it’s mean and funny and a little romantic, but not in a sappy way.  It’s about adults who make mistakes and get involved in silly or inappropriate relationships.  And the last one is a letter to Dickens from a former employer.

You noticed there’s no number three, didn’t you?  Because I’m in the middle of rereading it now, and I’m not happy with how slow the opening is.  It picks up about halfway through the story, but that’s not good enough.  I don’t want something that brings the momentum of the first two stories to a crawl.  It’s entitled “David Tarried at Jerusalem” and those of you who know your Bible might well guess at the theme.  It’s a kind of romance, but one that you know isn’t going to end well for anyone.  I need to find a way to make it pop right from the get-go.  Unfortunately it’s the one that’s been kicking my butt since I started the project.

However, that’s not your problem, gentle readers, it’s very much mine.  I will succeed; I just need to kvetch about it occasionally.  So to thank you for putting up with my ramblings, here’s an excerpt from “The Aetherium” the steampunk fantasy romance from “Variations on a Theme by Dickens.”

“Mr. Scrooge?’

“You have the advantage of me, sir,” Scrooge replied without looking up from the worn journal splayed across his desk. Time would tell if the stranger was worth the interruption.

The lightly accented voice replied, “If you please, sir, my name is Edwin Mayweather.”

Had Scrooge been afflicted with a sense of humor, he might have framed a reply along the lines of “And if I do not please, who shall you be, then?” But humor was a vice which Scrooge did not count on the debit side of his ledger. In fact, he counted no vices in that column having long become immune to lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath and the rest. As for greed, he felt that it was an extreme position, in no way related to his wise and thrifty ways. He felt he did not so much love money as need it, as a man needs air and water. One could not live without money, at least not as God intended, so the need for it was hardly sinful.

No vices, a few mistakes, nothing more. His considered opinion was that the seven deadly sins could be neatly distilled down into a lack of good, common sense. And common sense he had in abundance.

“What do you want?” he asked, eyes still fixed on the words before him, seeking a clue, always seeking…

“You were recommended to me by Mr. James Tillman, sir, as a man with a good eye for value.”

Value was one of the holy words in Scrooge’s litany, and heeding the name and word of Tillman had never failed to enrich him. “Is that a fact?” Finally he looked up and found that the man standing before him was of middling years, quite tall and startlingly handsome with vivid blue eyes, dark hair lightly shot with grey, and a complexion the color of lightly smoked meerschaum . “Have a seat, Mr. Mayweather,” he said, closing the journal.

Mayweather made himself as comfortable as he could in Marley’s old leather chair. Scrooge never threw anything out, and when the seat of Marley’s chair gave way, he merely put an old account book between it and the cushion and pronounced it “good as new.” The added advantage was that no visitor stayed long in Scrooge’s office. In truth most were disinclined to do so in any event for neither the office with its uniform dark walls, heavy dark furniture and windows so grimy they let in a pitiful amount of light, nor Scrooge himself, a man so much like his surroundings that he seemed to absorb what little light there was, reassured visitors that they were in any wise welcome.

“Now tell me what sort of value we are discussing.”

“A business opportunity, sir. An invention…”

“It isn’t one of those damnable steam-powered contraptions?” he asked, the memory of Robert Cratchit’s horrible death rising up to choke him with horror. Since Robert had been cooked alive in an explosion of one of those steam monstrosities, Scrooge felt a persistent unease at having the Pacioli Accounting Engine on the premises. He did not like steam unless it issued from a tea kettle, and only constant reassurances from Ada Cratchit, who Scrooge now employed to maintain her husband’s invention, and the certainty that he would lose money by going back to using clerks instead of the engine, kept him from selling it.

“Not at all, Mr. Scrooge. It is rather a case of the electronic stimulation of crystal which produces a luminiferous aether. The aether in turn…”

“Is it an expensive process?” Scrooge asked.

Mayweather shrugged eloquently. “It has been somewhat dear,” he admitted. “And now that I am prepared to begin public testing, I shall need a plentiful supply of materials with which to work. It would not do to fall short while presenting my invention to the world. As with all things of this nature, the investment of monies is the only way to ensure that one will make money.”

“Which is why you came to me.”

“Precisely. While I have already created Voltaic cells with copper and nickel the process would be greatly enhanced by the use of silver and gold. And the crystals do not withstand more than two or three uses …”

Scrooge raised a hand. “Pray do not attempt to make me familiar with the process for I have no head for the science of it. Tell me only how I might profit from helping you. What is this invention?”

“I call it “The Aetherium.” I have built a machine which allows the user to communicate with the dead.”

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