Empire Of Steam: Chapter 04

Chapter Four: Strange Dream

 

The next couple of days Sir Edward Monk spent at home. Normally he might have worked on some new design, whether for a machine or a gun or a bullet. There were several blueprints in his study which he had not yet completed. But they had all been put away by him, and he felt no desire to get them back out. There was nothing on his drawing board.

Monk still did not feel like working on any new design. He thought about going to his factories, and doing another inspection. But two inspections in three days? He only did that when there was some problem. Yet there was no evidence that anything at all was wrong, in any of his factories in London.

London did not contain all of his factories, though. He had others elsewhere in the world. There was one in Manchester, another in Belfast, and a few a little further afield. None of those other factories made munitions. But they did make things which were useful to people’s lives, turning out farm machinery and other tools.

Because Sir Edward had nothing else to do he had Johnson take him all of the way up to Manchester. Sir Edward Monk spent the day looking around his factory, examining all of the tools which it produced, making sure that it was of the same high standard for which his company was known.

Everything was as it should be. Nothing was shoddy. All of the staff seemed to be working as hard as they could. Still, though, Monk spent most of the day looking around the factory, poking into all of its dark corners, looking for something which might occupy his mind, and drag him away from the fact that he was now alone.

In the end he could find no excuse to stay there any longer. He had Johnson drive him all of the way home.

Another say gone, one more day ticked off as he waited to die. The three days since Eliza’s funeral already seemed like a lifetime to him. Yet he had so many more days to come…

 

Edward went to bed, no longer caring whether he woke up in the morning or not. Perhaps it would be better if he died in his sleep. Then they could bury his body next to that of his dead wife.

That was his thought as he struggled to get to sleep. And sleep was not easily achieved. For hours he stayed awake, simply lying there in the dark. Eventually, though, sleep did come. And Sir Edward Monk dreamt.

 

He was in London, not knowing how he had come to be there. The skies were red, as though with blood. It had to be either sunset or dawn. But Sir Edward could not see the sun anywhere in the sky.

There was something like the sound of thunder. It seemed to be coming from all around him. Edward looked around, but could not, at first, see what was creating this sound.

Then he saw what it was. There was a land ironclad rumbling down the street. It was own of his designs. But he was the only producer in Britain of these great, hulking machines of war. it was he who had come up with the idea of the caterpillar tracks rather than wheels. It was he who had designed the rounded, reinforced and layered armour, which meant that small arms fire was highly unlikely to penetrate the shells of these mechanical beasts.

The land ironclad rolled down a street which might have been Oxford Street, or which might have been Regent Street instead. The place, in the dream, had aspects of both thoroughfares. There was Hedges and Butlers, purveyors of fine wines, right next to Osler’s Glass Chandeliers. Mortlock’s Pottery Galleries now rubbed shoulders with the Liberty Department Store. But Sir Edward Monk did not stop to wonder how strange such a rearrangement of London was.

The land ironclad rolled down the centre of the road. It was the only vehicle on the street. That fact, alone, should have perhaps informed Sir Edward that this was a dream, not reality, as London’s streets were never free from traffic, but full of steam-engined automobiles and vans, fighting for room against horse-drawn hansom cabs, steam and electric-powered omnibuses and trams, and barrows pushed along by those costermongers who put their wares on sale in such a way.  Only in the dark hours of late nights were the streets relatively quiet. But, even then, there were always a few vehicles around these days, whether the steam-powered Black Marias of the police, going around picking up drunks as they fell out of the closing doors of pubs, or the wooden carts of the night-dirt shifters.

Sir Edward did not know that this was a dream. It felt very real to him.

 

The turret of the tank turned, so that the gun was at an angle, facing towards the side. Sir Edward had designed the mechanism which allowed the turret to turn. The turret should still turn even if dirt or sand got into the mechanism.

The gun fired. The sound was deafening, echoing all around London, far louder than even such a cannon should have been. Sir Edward’s ears rang; and he was surprised that his eardrums had not burst.

What did burst was the frontage of Pulvermacher’s Galvanic Establishment. The glass of the window exploded, reduced to so much crystal confetti. Bricks were thrown up into the air. Its electric girdles were sent flying, some falling back into the destroyed store, others littering the street.

The other stores in this street – whether Regent Street or Oxford Street – were shelled by this lone land ironclad. The number of shells which it carried seemed to be endless; and it fired them out of its cannon far faster than they could have been loaded, even by the mechanical autoloader which Sir Edward Monk had designed.

Hats flew up into the air when Madame Marguerite’s was destroyed. The wind took them, and they took flight like strange birds, perhaps apposite when many of them had feathers attached.

Lamps spilled out onto the street when Cricklite’s was destroyed, the building turned into so much rubble. All of the lamps were broken. But that was not enough for the land ironclad. It took a slight detour, to make sure that its caterpillar tracks crushed the lamps into dust.

Dickins & Jones, the Café Royal, Mappin & Webb, Wilcox & Co, they all went, the stores transmogrified into base rubble and brick dust.

 

The land ironclad moved on. Sir Edward followed it. He saw it turn into some nameless street, which seemed to be one filled almost entirely with churches, ones drawn from all over the capital. Sir Edward saw the church of All-Hallows-by-the-Tower; the church of St Giles-without-Cripplegate; the church of St Bartholomew-the-Great; and other churches, all in the same road, despite the fact that they were found all over London.

The land ironclad did not seem to care that these churches were supposed to be the houses of God. They were not spared from the destruction which it seemed to be intent on causing. A shell destroyed the seventeenth century stone tower of St Giles-without-Cripplegate. Other shells smashed through the walls of the other churches. But nobody ran running out in fear from these edifices. No priests came out to protest. All of these churches and chapels were empty.

Church towers came down. Steeples were toppled. The pews were crushed under fallen roofs. And the destruction went on.

 

There were now land ironclads all over London. They were of every type which he had designed, from the first primitive prototype to the most advanced. He could see them all.

There were all the other machines and industries of war which he had designed. There were shadowy, indistinct men in black using his water-cooled machine gun, firing randomly at anything which moved. There was his prototype steam-powered artillery, where nearly everything was automated, and which needed only a single person to operate it. In the sky, high above the few clouds of the blood-red sky, were his war airships, used for reconnaissance and to drop the occasional infernal device on enemy positions.

There were no soldiers, though, operating these deadly devices. There were humanoid shapes. But they were indistinct, as though they were not really there. The men firing the artillery and the machine guns were about as substantial as smoke. They were non-men, nothing more than shadows.

These shadows killed the living, though, for suddenly the streets were thronged with people: with priests and doctors, and hundreds of mourners all clad in black. Sir Edward recognised some of them: Arthur Waverley, who had organised the funeral and provided the pallbearers; the Reverend Steele, who had officiated at the funeral; Dr Thomson, who had been the first doctor who Eliza had seen after she had had that first fainting fit.

They were all killed, mowed down by machine guns. But there was no blood. No, the people deflated, collapsing in on themselves, as though they were balloons whose skin had been pierced. They were not really alive at all.

No, any blood was in the sky. If anything it was even redder than before.

 

It began to rain; and the rain was every bit as red as the vermilion sky. It was raining blood; and the deflated bodies and the rubble were soon as red as the sky, so that the ground below seemed to reflect the heavens above. The rain ran down the gleaming land ironclads. They still gleamed; but now they shone red.

It was red as far as the eye could see.

 

Land ironclads turned into Downing Street. These iron monsters did not even bother to fire their guns. They simply continued forwards, right through the front walls of numbers ten and eleven Downing Street. The brick walls collapsed into rubble. The land ironclads continued their orgy of destruction, not even being slowed down by the bricks which had fallen on them.

The Houses of Parliament were next, only the blink of a rapid eye movement away. Sir Edward watched as the politickers of the nation fled out of that great edifice, only fully restored from the fire of 1834 some thirty five years ago.

The lawmakers all fled, into the rain. They dissolved out of the dream, becoming less than forgotten memories. The land ironclads rumbled on, firing at the Palace of Westminster, shells smashing through Westminster Hall, toppling St Stephen’s Tower, obliterating the Commons. Big Ben was saved for last. But that, too, was removed from the London skyline. it would toll no more.

 

The dream became more abstract, as it neared its conclusion, images overlaid one onto the other in some great kaleidoscope of chaos, as Sir Edward began to wake up. But there was one more image for his delectation which was clear in his mind: and that was of the land ironclads turning into Harley Street, to destroy the places of business of all the doctors and specialists who had failed to save Eliza Monk. And Sir Edward Monk cheered in the dream, to see Harley Street destroyed, turned into nothing more than motes of brick dust floating in the air.

The traitors were gone. The traitors were gone. That semi-thought echoed through his mind as the dream broke up and dissolved, just like those politicians in the rain.

 

Sir Edward Monk woke up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s