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I forget, what with all the writing alone at my keyboard, that other people might eventually read what I’m typing. That’s a good thing though. It means what I write is solely what I like and isn’t influenced by me second-guessing and wondering if Joe Bloggs will like it. Although I hope Joe Bloggs does like it.

I chose this section as it makes the most sense on it’s own. Chapters 1-7 (ie: the finished ones) contain a lot of dialogue and won’t make much sense when split apart. This bit doesn’t really need putting in a massive amount of context, but I will say that it is the opening of ‘Part 2’ of ‘The Invention of Steam’ and from a chapter called ‘The Diplomacy of Fire’. It’s set nine years after ‘Part 1’ in a time when history has been changed to what we would call steampunk. Through circumstances I’m not going to tell you about (as it would spoil the gripping and quite frankly ingenious finale I have planned for ‘Part 1’), the British Empire has fallen and the technology-driven ‘ever-shining Empire of Steam’, led by Lord Rhodion, has taken its place. And with Europe and Africa under control the Empire sets it sights across the Atlantic…

“Let me tell you I will fight, with the butt of my rifle and the teeth in my head if I am so forced. I will fight until the last drop of blood in my body has soaked into the soil of this great nation and fertilised the minds its people to take up the gun and the sword and the scythe and stand against all foreign oppressors. We will fight. Let them know that we will fight, as we have so proudly done before. And as before we shall bear the fruit of victory.”          

   -President Ulysses S. Grant, in a speech to an assembled crowd at Chattanooga, Tennessee (1875)

 

It was rumoured that war was coming to the United States.

For Edgar, such news was always digested with toast and eggs. Each morning he would sit in the dining room and eat one fried egg, (scrambled on weekends) three pieces of toast, and drink two cups of coffee (but never fully drain the second) while reading The New York Times. It was a routine so well-worn it had become see-through, but the worse the news from beyond the Atlantic became the more he drew comfort from such a little ritual. Secretly he worried for how much longer he would be able to enjoy it. He had always known that The Clockwork War would come. It was only a matter of time before the war Zeppelins cast their shadows over the streets of Manhattan.

For months now the American press had featured detailed articles of the Empire’s change of troop movements on the continent and the massing of armaments at Britain’s south coast ports. Each day new and disturbing information was filtered through ink: Von Zeppelin’s factories tripling their output, the caesium mines to the south-east of Russia churning up ray-gun fuel 24 hours a day, the fires of the Sheffield foundries bleaching the sky orange as they blazed through the night, fed by veins of iron and steam. Undoubtedly the cogs of war were being greased for fresh conflict. The armoured engines that rolled through the capitals of Europe were being refined and built with greater speed. Heavy canons capable of turning cities to vapour and dust from over a mile away, and which had first been deployed in the Mineral Siege of Johannesburg, were moving back toward the French aerial harbours. Fishermen had sighted an armada of war frigates performing manoeuvres in the Norwegian Sea, using icebergs as targets and smashing them apart with jets of particle light. There were even reports of a strange ‘walking’ weapon being tested on the Portuguese border, but of this there was nothing more than speculation.

Such rehearsals for war were anything but hidden, and what was not seen was to be heard from the seat of power. Lord Rhodion’s speeches were re-printed in full, with each new declaration being a clearer statement of his intent than the last. He talked of ‘expanding the borders of progress’ and ‘the land lost to the ungrateful’. By the start of 1875 the Empire of Steam’s great leader had all but officially announced the plans for an armada to sail across the Atlantic and ignite the East Coast with his ‘diplomacy of fire’.

The response from the United States to such threats was fierce. In vitriolic addresses to Congress and the public President Ulysses S. Grant showed that gunpowder still ran through the old soldier’s veins and much rapturous applause greeted his bold words. But between each new tirade of rhetoric was the national fear that any blood would have to be shed to maintain the hard won freedom of the States. Its people felt they had lost enough life in pursuit of peace. The battlefields were still wet, the graves still warm, and the nation rebuilding on scar tissue.

 

Aaand that’s all you get. I’m not going to say anything else about it. Ideally you’ll have liked what you read. And given he never said such words I should really be given a job as Ulysses S. Grant’s speech writer.

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