Excited and apprehensive, they started on the path. They climbed up a steep grade, until Chess was gasping from the currents of pain rippling through his torso. He pressed on, though, desperate to find something there. And he was not disappointed.
A large complex of industrial buildings sat on the summit of the hill. The afternoon sun gleamed off the steel architecture and the many windows of the nearest building, which was a few dozen meters away. And, just exiting a door there, and walking toward them, were three oddly-dressed young men.
The one in front, who stepped forward to greet them, wore a long coat of Victorian-era style, along with a large black silk hat that had a pair of goggles perched on top. The other two also wore odd clothing, with goggles hanging around their necks, and one of the men had a corrugated tubing that wrapped around his upper body and seemed to connect to somewhere on his back. Chess blinked, and then moved to intercept them before they got too close to the girls.
“Greetings.” The one with the frock coat bowed formally. “We are the Artificers of the Game.”
Chess stared at him. “Hi,” he said. “Nice to meet you.” He took one last glance around, checking for any visible dangers, and then held out his hand. “Uh, nobody calls you that name, though.”
The guy looked crestfallen. “Really?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Chess shrugged. “I’ve never even heard that.” He watched as the guy, holding out his hands in a gesture of exasperation, turned briefly back to his companions. Chess took a deep breath. “Uh, anyway, I’m Chess. And this is…” He turned toward his own friends and hesitated. If these three guys looked weird to him, he realized, then his own motley group probably looked bizarre to them.
He did not get a chance to continue the introductions, though, because Ileana moved past him.
“Hi,” she smiled, extending her hand. “I’m Ileana.” And when the guy introduced himself as Fogg, her smile did not falter. In fact, she did not even seem to hear him. She appeared to be focused on his clean-shaven chin as she stated, “You have razors.”
Chess jumped involuntarily. “Razor?” he squeaked, glancing around. “Oh…”
Sariel cast him a pitying look, and then she, too, advanced on their host.
Poor Fogg seemed overwhelmed by the girls, Chess noted. He watched the guy fidget with his top hat and gape at each one in turn as they peppered him with questions. And then, after brief, haphazard introductions all around, the girls hastened Fogg away -- ostensibly for a tour of the place but, more likely, Chess figured, to reveal his cache of toiletries to them.
Chess watched the three of them re-enter the large, sturdy-looking building and marveled at the idea that he was actually, finally here. Lodestar. This was it. And, except for the “Artificers,” as the three men apparently called themselves, it seemed to be deserted.
He frowned and gazed around the area. The complex of similarly-constructed buildings sort of reminded him of Razor’s compound, but Chess was almost certain that this was not the site of a former college. His mind full of clashing thoughts and questions, he turned back to the other two strangers, who were already engaged in conversation with Noah.
“…probably help you to develop some more sustainable energy sources than the generators you are using now,” Noah was saying. “Less polluting, too. You will no longer need those goggles, Irwin.”
Irwin, who was wearing the tubing, frowned. “But I like the goggles,” he answered petulantly. “Are you guys planning to stay here?”
Chess glanced at Gryff, but he was standing a little apart, scanning the area, and seeming uninterested in the conversation. “We’d like to,” Chess answered, feeling suddenly unsure of their welcome. “We need a place to stay, at least for now.”
“Great,” Irwin muttered dourly and began to walk away.
Panicking, Chess opened his mouth – but Noah, with his usual insightfulness, spoke first.
“We could be useful.” Noah glanced at Chess, and then added in a louder voice, “We find your game particularly interesting.” Irwin stopped and turned toward them. “Perhaps we could help you.”
Continued next page...
“I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to think of band names, but usually you think you have a great one and then you look at it the next day and it’s stupid. I have about two hundred of those.”
- Trent Reznor, interview in Axcess Magazine (1994)
So, I wanted the people of Lodestar to be steampunk. I wanted someone in the story to be steampunk, and it seemed logical that they would be the best choice. After all, they need to have a significant power source to run their game and they are not exactly experts on renewable energy sources - they wouldn’t have time because all their time is taken up with creating and dispersing the game.
I have heard it suggested that the appeal of steampunk -- apart from the Victorian clothing and the awesome metal accessories -- is that it is anti-digital technology. The technology is macro rather than micro. In other words, you can see it and you can manipulate it, much like the early computers which stretched across a room: processor on one side and memory on the other, and vacuum tubes visibly working to relay the electronic signals. The mechanisms of steampunk machinery are just as obvious: steam is forced through tubes and gives energy to some mechanism, which turns something else or moves a lever. Like Rube Goldberg machines, the cause and effect sequences are plainly visible and can be easily manipulated.
In the Farscape series, there is an episode that features a man with a steampunk-ish spaceship. The ship’s interior is filled with tubes that connect every which way. When the machinery does not work right, the operator beats on it until it corrects itself. Steampunk is not the microscopic mystery of ipads, it is unapologetically analog. Making it work is not unlike carefully seeking and dialing in a UHF station (rather than a digital television channel, which is either on if you paid for it or off.) It is simple, understandable: something that anyone could do with found materials, given enough patience and creativity. Steampunk is vintage technology: the best elements of bygone eras. The scale is large enough to see the beautiful intricacies, and it is very,very cool.
We sat and stared at the vacant table for a minute or so. Then the Time Traveler asked us what we thought of it all.
‘It sounds plausible enough to-night,’ said the Medical Man; ‘but wait until to-morrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.’
- The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells
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