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A little bit of steampunk


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I arrived in Vienna on the morning of the 26th after a pleasant and uneventful train journey from Paris. The crisp and clear autumn air I had recalled from my University days had begun to be replaced by a smog more familiar to me from my home in London. After arriving at my hotel and unpacking, I wasted no time in visiting Jacob in his laboratory. The excited tone of his last letter had infected my mood like a miasmic vapour and I could not wait to hear his news.

Upon knocking on the door to the laboratory, I was somewhat taken aback by a curious eruption of sound from the other side, but this was as nothing compared to the sight that greeted me once the entranceway was opened and the source of the cacophony revealed. A remarkable meckanikal device, no more than three feet in height, stood counter to me in the doorway. It was in the shape of a humanoid and made primarily from copper and brass. The device swivelled a half-turn on what would be its waist and motioned for me to follow it into the laboratory.

‘How do you like my automaton, Lord ____?’ asked Jacob of me as I walked into his workshop.

I confessed to an open-mouthed astonishment not known by me since the scullery maid permit me to see her bosom in my fifteenth year.

‘Jacob, this device is astonishing. It far exceeds anything I had expected.’

‘The automaton is not what I asked you here to see. Whilst it has its uses, its lack of intelligence makes it extremely limited in scope and it also requires a high degree of maintenance, the water tank that produces the steam that drives its pistons and also cools its exterior needs to be refilled every twenty minutes for it to remain operable. At this point, the device is little more than an elaborate door opener with which to entertain guests.’

Jacob took me into an upstairs room, windowless and dimly lit by a candle situated on a small table in the corner. The room also contained a bed and a chair as well as man who was standing to attention to greet us. The man looked to be in his late thirties, whilst he was clean shaven and dressed smartly, I guessed from his posture and some scars on his face that this was not his natural state.

‘Lord ____, this is Kaspar.’

Jacob turned to the man and spoke to him in German. I admit with some embarrassment that my German has grown somewhat rusty since I resided here and did not know what was said but I assume that Jacob had instructed the man to greet me, as he immediately walked forward with his head slightly bowed and his hand outstretched. I took the hand with due decorum and no little distraction. The sounds that had assailed me earlier from the other side of the front entrance were now replicated as the man stepped towards me. Jacob spoke again in German and the man unfastened his belt and allowed his trousers to fall around his ankles. My initial burst of embarrassment was rapidly replaced by what can only be described as dumbfoundment. From the top of the man’s thighs downwards, his legs were of the same meckanikal artifice as the automaton that had greeted me at the door.

‘Kaspar was once a soldier in the Emperors armies until an infected wound caused his left leg to be amputated. I later found him begging on the streets and thought him perfect for my experiments. In my work on the automaton I had discovered that there is a certain organic nature to the artifice that matches a certain meckanikal quality of the human body. I had grown frustrated with the inability of the automaton to carry out anything but the most basic of instructions and this discovery resolved me to try and marry the meckanikal attributes of the automaton to the organic ones of a human. After much experimentation on cats, I achieved success. Kaspar is my first human subject. Attaching the meckanikal limb to his left hip had left him somewhat uneven so I decided it would be best to amputate the right leg and replace it with a new limb also.’

‘H-How well does it work?’ I stammered.

‘Kaspar is able to walk as before, admittedly with a more ungainly gait. Stairs are proving to be a problem and he also requires regular intake of water to power his new limbs but overall the experiment has been a success. I believe I could replace an entire human body with an automated one, needing only the head intact. There is one problem though.’

I had expected Jacob to ask of me for funding. The naturalist is the most important man of our time but his work is not always paid commensurate with his feats. I assured Jacob that I would send immediate word to the institute back in London and he would have funding for another five years if need be but Jacob told me that this was not the problem. What he said was far more disturbing.

‘You have heard the rumours from Prussia that Bismarck has discovered the long hidden Crown of Charlemagne and is using its power to unite the Germanic people once again?’

‘Ah yes, the Grossdeutschland.’

‘No Lord ____, the Kleindeutchsland. Bismarck does not want to compete with Austria for leadership of a new Germanic state. He is crafty and aggressive and seeks dominion over all of central Europe. Sooner or later he will provoke Austria into a war that will achieve Kleindeutchsland and fracture the Austrian Empire. Already the Hungarian nobility senses a weakened Empire and pushes for more power.’

‘I would not worry overmuch about the machinations of Bismarck. The French will not allow the balance of power in Europe to tip too much in his favour lest they lose their status as the mainland’s pre-eminent power.’

‘The French are arrogant fools. Already they have agreed with Bismarck to remain neutral in any conflict between Prussia and Austria. By the time Bismarck has defeated us it will already be too late for them.’

‘Whilst I sympathise with your country’s predicament I fail to grasp why this will cause a problem for you and your work. Surely Bismarck will not prevent you carrying on with your experiments?’

‘As I say, Lord ____, Bismarck is crafty. He has studied the civil commotion in the new world and realised the importance of new tecknologies for the contemporary army. Already he has sent a representative to my laboratory to request I continue my experiments in Prussia. With my work at his disposal, Bismarck will be able to construct armies that maybe not even the mighty British Empire can resist. I requested some time to contemplate the offer and was given two weeks. When the representative returns I suspect he will not be so accommodating a second time.’

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