Right. Here we go. Three days in, over a thousand words over schedule, and the damn story’s pouring out of me. I can barely hang on to it to organise my thoughts enough before it’s on the page. And yes, it’s cringeworthy in places, and yes, it’s all over the place stylistically, and no, I can’t spell, but holy crap, I do believe I’ve remembered why I do this to myself every year. When it works, and it’s working at the moment, flooding out a story for Nanowrimo is the greatest feeling there is.
Widget to the right for word count. And because it was asked for, yes, an actual request, here is a fat chunk of chapter one, written on Saturday between 10 and half 11 am, before we went to the brother-in-laws for the wettest bonfire party on record.
January 31st, 1872
The Basker Estate, Holme Pierrepont, Nottinghamshire.
It came at them out of the treeline, silent as death, swift as a bullet. It moved like a spider, it’s six legs blurring in a dance of geometry. It never faltered, did not have to consider it’s moves. It was not will, it was not thought. It was action, purity of form, purpose and intent.
It would have killed them all if Sam Caulderdale hadn’t turned at the right moment.
“Down!” Sam yelled, at the same time demonstrating the action by leaping at, and knocking over, Henry Baskin. The timing was impeccable. The Beagle had already committed to it’s leap, hurling itself at the target at head height. If Sam had not acted so swiftly, the creature’s speed and momentum would have sheared Basker’s head clean off his expensively clad shoulders.
The Beagle landed, and turned in it’s own circumference. The spidery legs flickered, and swung it back round into a second killing vector in a heartbeat. It’s head, such as it was, a truncated dome that housed the sonic apparatus the thing used in lieu of eyes, wagged from side to side, echo-locating it’s prey.
It did not, therefore, see Molly Hoptree as she came at it with a shovel. Molly was no gardener and useless at cricket. But she had always known what to do with a spade to a mechanical threat to herself and those that she had pledged to serve. She swung the shovel, hard and true, and cracked the Beagle with a fine upward cut to it’s left flank.
She did more damage than she imagined. Chips flew, and a crack appeared in the Beagle’s carapace. It hopped backwards and away. It began to emit a strident buzz, mixed in with the kind of low mechanical chattering that an electremegraph gave out as it spat out a message. It retreated, but slowly, and still facing Sam and Basker. It had Molly’s track too, as well. The Beagle would not be as easily fooled again.
Sam bent, and picked up one of the shards that Molly had knocked free. Molly, moving up, shovel at port arms, took one look, and nodded.
“Ceramic,” she said, aiming a stink-eyed glare at Henry Basker, who was now shakily getting back to his feet.
“Your infernal machine’s made of pottery!” Sam added. Basker, brushing dirt from his coat, shrugged.
“It’s light, strong, and much less expensive than steel. Also, the family has interests in a pottery factory in Nottingham. It seemed to make sense at the time.”
“We were told you had a rogue Beagle.” Sam stepped up to the older man, eyes aflame. “You didn’t mention any off-warrenty modifications!”
“What possible difference should that make?” Basker bent again, and picked up his homburg, which had been mashed into a pancake by the impact. He attempted to push it back into shape. “After all, whatever it’s made of, it’s still just a flaky meccanoe with a screw loose!”
Molly strode up to Basker, bristling like a furious porcupine. Basker had easily six inches height and the certainty of his manhood against the Kentish girl. But Molly was no servant girl, and had nothing but contempt for the effete landowner with the blond muttonchops. She shoved her sharp features up into them, giving Basker no choice but to retreat if he wanted to avoid a head butt.
“The difference, you blinking nonce, is that factory-issue Beagles are steel-clad and metal skeletoned. Which means that we can pick it up with the Field Megnetogram!” She pointed at the solid, heavy-looking backpack she had borne without complaint since the hunting party had set out from Basker Manor, some three hours earlier. “As your meccanoe doggy ain’t metal, the only job this thing’s good for is to batter it into pot-shards!”
“If you had told us before we had left, I could have directed Molly to bring more appropriate tools for the job at hand.” Sam’s voice was cool, but the struggle to keep it controlled was clear. “You have left us under-equipped and endangered against a dangerous foe, Basker.”
“Not to mention the Field Megnetogram weighs a bleedin’ ton,” Molly added, sliding the backpack off her shoulders. It slid to the ground with a thump, and sank three inches into the damp gorse.
“A redundant argument at the moment,” Basker sneered, moving away from the blast-heat radiance of Sam and Molly’s anger. He shored up the sinking feeling that he had indeed endangered them all by putting up a ballista of disdain. “The object of our attention appears to have done a runner.”
Sam looked around. The flat marshland around them did indeed seem to be devoid of life, organic or otherwise. Sam cast a cautious look back towards the scrubby copse from which the Beagle had previously erupted. That would appear to be the one logical hiding place. Sam cursed inwardly. Getting into an argument with the client was not only professionally foolish. It had distracted them from keeping track of the meccanoe’s movements.
“It will be close,” Sam said quietly. “It has us now, and it’s programming won’t give it the choice to retreat and tend to it’s wounds. Molly surprised it. The vile thing is simply ensuring that we have nothing more in reserve before it strikes again.”
“Can’t sit still for long, though,” Molly added. She too was checking the terrain, moving back towards a second pack that had fallen as the Beagle had attacked. This one was a long, thin burlap sack, strapped about with leather and brass. She knelt and began to unbuckle it, not once taking her eyes off her surroundings.
“The Beagle’s battery, it’s motive force, is driven by an internal flywheel,” Sam explained. “Like the automatic movement on a watch. That flywheel is topped up by the creature’s own movements. Once out in the field, it can effectively keep running for ever.”
“But if it stays still for long, it … winds down?” Basker sensed the danger that the meccanoe hunters he had enlisted had detected a long time before. He reached to his hip, and the Bax-Enfield repeating pistol he had strapped there.
“S’right,” Molly said. She had undone the parcel now, and drew out an elaborate rifle whose barrel ended not in rifling, but a flared copper bulb. “So it won’t. It’ll feel itself slowing, and run around a bit to warm back up. And as it knows we’re here, why, it’ll run straight at us.”
“Unless, of course, there are any other modifications you’ve neglected to inform us of?” Sam reached out, and took the strange weapon from Molly. There were three toggle switches on the side of the stock, and Sam flicked them on in sequence. There was a deep clunk in the heart of the device, and it began to omit a low, urgent hum. “A second battery to allow it to stalk us for a while longer?”
Basker felt a blush of anger and embarrassment coming up through his collar. Caulderdale and the frightening harpy in britches who seemed half maid and half help-meet were supposed to be under his employ. If he was therefore in charge, then why did he feel so utterly helpless before their disdain?
“Nothing,” he said, gritting his teeth.
There was a rush of movement off to the left. A blur, low to the ground, hissing through the gorse and just as instantly stopping.
“Fifty yards,” Molly said quietly. Sam adjusted a calibrated knob on the side of the gun. The hum came up in volume.
Another scurry of movement, closer, and vectoring in towards the right now. Basker drew his weapon, and clicked back the hammer. Molly watched him, not bothering to hide her amusement.
“That’s a big gun, Mister Basker,” she said. “I do hope you know how to use it.”
“Caulderdale, keep your bloody doxy in check!” Basker spat.
Sam just grinned. The fool deserved to be wound up.
Molly stuck out her tongue, and blew Basker a juicy raspberry.
The three of them had formed a loose triangle, facing outwards. They were circling, slowly, intent on any movement or sound. It was a still day, and apart from the hush of their boot-treads on the marsh, all was silence.
The moment stretched, creaking under the pressure.
Basker said, “What if…”
And the Beagle leapt. It was closer than they had thought, and further to the right. Sam and Molly were facing in completely the wrong direction. It whirred through the air, it’s sharp-tipped legs flexing. It smacked into Basker, knocking him off his feet. As he fell backwards his gun hand came up and he yanked on the trigger. The pistol boomed, expending it’s seven-round load in a second and a half, emptying death uselessly into the thick foggy air.
The Beagle rounded on him. Basker tried to get to his feet, but could do no more than scramble backwards, half-upright. He brought up his gun again, and pointed it at the belly of the beast as it reared up to pounce. The hammer snapped uselessly on air.
The rapier points of the Beagle’s foot-tips glinted in the instant before they plunged into Basker’s chest.
…any more, anyone?