WEDNESDAY: Company Man: A Steampunk Tale


Copyright is held by the author.

The 00K glowed between his trembling fingers. Marcus James eased the ammunition into the 00K Pulse Rifle until there was an affirmative click. The weapon was weightless, lighter, even, than the dark thoughts he fought to control whenever he pulled the trigger.

It certainly was not anything like his Colt. The Colt was a true weapon with an incontestable life coursing through it; this one, this 00K, was death in his hands. Its firing technology was born of a knowledge from some unheard of place, some say, even, from another time.

For the advancement of technology, they told him; words intended to be his mantra when the Pulse was fired and another test subject died.

Fifteen today, another 30 yesterday. The numbers were not as staggering as what came with the invasions. The first invasion was a slaughter. The second invasion was all about taking control, enslavement. They came in unprecedented fashion: in strange and noisy contraptions on wheels, in massive airships darkening the skies like large squadrons of birds.

The Resistance Forces offered little resistance; assimilation began quickly and, soon enough, the status quo seemed as natural as it had always been.

Complacency was feared. Rumours of another invasion circulated. It was decreed that technology had to improve; weaponry had to reach a higher level of deadly efficiency. People learned solidarity came with a price, and dissent would be crushed.

Through the rifle’s sights he saw the black Number Nine steam engine traverse a distant valley. Its thick plume of black smoke hung like a picture in the sky. In another valley, one for which the locomotive was headed, a small herd of buffalo spooked by the raging, bellowing train, stopped their grazing and fled.

The invasions nearly eradicated all the buffalo, and the number of horses and cattle diminished alarmingly. It seemed they didn’t care much for animal life. They barely tolerated humans.

Marcus was hired — chosen — to work in the weapons department. A company man. His tasks were simple. His refusal to complete his tasks resulted in death — his own.

The newest group of test subjects scattered throughout the field in front of the rail tracks. The horse-drawn wagon that brought them exited the field via a lumpy, sun-cracked lane. From his hilltop perch Marcus saw the test subjects as cattle. He raised the rifle and zeroed in on one of them. Marcus hooked a finger around the 00K’s trigger but did not pull it.

“James!” A mechanical voice from behind. “Marcus James! You are to await orders before commencing your task. Put down the weapon.”

Marcus brought the rifle to his waist and turned to regard his “commanding officer.”

Standing before him was a tall, thin, mutton-chopped being clad in the red and white uniform of the war of 1812, a white X crossed his chest. Attached to the shoulders and breast pockets of the uniform were epaulets and fraudulent medals of bright reds and blues. Coat buttons were shinier than any metal Marcus had known. The officer’s snow-white face was sliced by a shadow cast from an over-sized, black and tan Stetson. It had been a while since Marcus thought his commanding officer a ridiculous sight.

“Marcus James. Here is more ammunition. You will use it all. When your task is complete, please fill out the report. Are there any questions?”

Marcus shrugged, shook his head. Again he scanned the test subjects standing solemnly in the field.

“Look, there,” the officer said. “To your left. Quadrant two.”

Marcus panned the rifle over. “My . . . God!” They were all there. Lauralee, Johnny and Mirabelle. His family!

“What is this?” he asked.

“Your orders are to fire the weapon. Shoot all test subjects. Then fill out the report.”

“Go to hell!”

“Marcus James, you are a company man. You must follow orders.”

“That’s my family down there! I’m not shooting my family!”

“You are a company man. Commence firing.”

Marcus readied the 00K to fire and aimed it at his CO.

“Marcus James. Commence firing.”

Marcus fired.

Shards and bits of metal sprayed his face. Flashes of intense white light emanated from where the officer had stood. An acrid, burnt odour seeped into his nostrils. Heaped at his feet was a mound of smoking metal.

Marcus heard the familiar, pinging sound of 00Ks being fired. More company men were firing at the test subjects.

Marcus did not look. He did not have to. “I’m coming, sweet wife,” he whispered.

Marcus James, company man to the end, placed the muzzle of his 00K in his mouth, and fired.

His blood and brain matter rained upon the heap of metal, staining it red and grey and the colour of another life given to the cause.

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