I’ve spent the last few days trying to write a sci-fi story. I couldn’t quite do it. I like sci-fi but I don’t think it’s my genre, too easy to fall into cliches. Anyway, for whatever the reason, I’ve decided to do some steampunk instead. here you go.
The small generator chugged away noisily as he polished his sword. Leander Crane didn’t often clean his sword, seeing as he rarely used it, but today was a special occasion. Today was the day he would break into the hilltop mansion and walk out considerably more wealthy than he had started the day.
Leander Crane enjoyed robbing people, but this would be the first time he had attempted to rob anyone quite wealthy as whoever owned the mansion. The majority of his pilfering was at the expense of the working class, after all, when you have very little you’ll miss it less when it’s gone. Poor people also, for the most part, couldn’t afford any security, thereby making his job much easier. Rich people could, and that was why Leander had spent the last four months planning this job.
The generator coughed itself into silence as he sheathed his gleaming sword. With recent technological advances, swords had become almost useless. Clockwork crossbows were the in thing now when it came to violence, the top-of-the-line ones could fire two arrows a second. Swords had been relegated to a social accessory, every man above the age of sixteen was expected to wear one as a sign of honour now. Leander had heard tell that they had started selling hilts without the blades, ones you could clip onto an empty scabbard if you didn’t want the weight of carrying a blade around with you. A dress sword, if you will.
Leander liked the weight of a real sword. They weren’t much use when it came to burglary and stealth, too big and unwieldy, but they provided a sense of safety that you just didn’t get from a dagger. His blade had tasted blood three times, each one as a last resort, and each time he would have been killed if not for it.
It took a few seconds for the gaslights to take over from those powered by the generator. Leander had been assured that, in the event of generator failure, a clockwork backup would ensure there would always be sufficient light. He didn’t like this new technology at all.
He double checked the generator was well and truly dead for the night, strapped on his sword and backpack, and slid out into the street. It was night, but if it wasn’t for the large clock outside his house, Leander would never have known. Night was an inconvenience in the rich (i.e. the house has more than one room) part of the city, and the street lights had been specifically designed to drown out the stars. Looking up, all Leander could see was a sky of dark purple, like a giant bruise.
As he walked through the crowd of citizens he picked out the people with dress swords and marked their appearance. They would be good targets in the future, especially those with the extravagant hilts that were jewel encrusted. He had counted about two dozen future targets by the time he reached the mansion.
It was only a mansion in the sense that the word castle had fallen out of favour with the social elite. For all intents and purposes, the building that stood before him now was indeed a castle, complete with a small moat and portcullis. Some modifications had been made to the building to bring it to modern standards: a steam generator, searchlights, mounted clockwork crossbows, and that was only what was readily apparent. Leander wouldn’t have put it past the owner to have cultivated a few of the old world defences as well, just to be safe.
Leander checked his equipment one last time. His clothes were a snug fit, but not too tight, giving him enough room to wriggle free of any item of apparel should the situation call for it, but not so loose as to get caught often. His sword was sharper than it had been in the last five years and hung carefully to his right hip. A bandoleer of daggers hung just underneath his backpack, concealed from view but readily accessible, and his right glove contained everything he needed to pick any lock. He was ready.
Slipping into a persona he had perfected for engagements with the upper classes, Leander strolled confidently across the small drawbridge and up to the portcullis. A woman stood guard at the entrance, tall and pinched, with dark, angry eyes and black hair styled like a scorpion’s tail. At her hip she had one of the new black powder based weapons, something not even the soldiers had been issued yet. A mercenary?
‘Halt, citizen,’ she said as he approached. ‘What business have you here?’
Her somewhat formal speech told Leander that this woman was a foreigner as well as a mercenary. He enjoyed foreigners, they were easy to fool. ‘I believe there’s a party here tonight, dear girl,’ he crooned. ‘I had an invitation but one of the lower orders took it from me on my way here.’
The mercenary’s cold eyes looked him up and down, attempting to decide whether his story was the truth. A local would have seen that he was not at all dressed like a member of the higher orders, but foreigners were always a little behind the times when it came to fashion and social expectancies.
‘Very well,’ she said at last. ‘But we will maintain a firm watch on you, sir. Just to ensure that you are who you say you are.’
Leander smiled coldly and nodded his head as he passed. It was nice to be a liar in a society where the benefit of the doubt was routinely given. The standard belief was that dishonest men would at least be honourable enough to be dishonest properly, to skulk about in the shadows as they were expected to do. The system wasn’t really designed to deal with the unconventional bastards like Leander.
It took ten minutes to find the master bedroom, and not once did he see another soul once he left the courtyard. The guards seemed to be more concerned with stopping certain people getting in than actually, well, guarding. Not that he was complaining, anything to make his job easier. He strolled into the bedroom as if it was his and went directly for the safe.
There’s only so many places a person can hide a safe in a bedroom, and Leander knew each one and the personality of the person who had put it there. His profiles told him that this particular safe would be set in the floor under the conspicuous mahogany desk opposite the bed, and he was right. The door popped open easily when subjected to a little pressure, and Leander busied himself with searching for something of value amongst the various papers and other knick knacks.
Research wasn’t Leander’s strong suit, and until now he had possessed no idea whose safe he was actually burgling, but a watermarked envelope had revealed it to him. James Lethbridge, the Orphan King. A brief pang of guilt ran through him. Could he really rob from, essentially, and orphanage?
Yes, yes he could.
Throwing the envelope to one side, Leander continued to rifle through the safe until, finally, he came across what he was looking for, a thick wad of banknotes. He unceremoniously crushed them into his backpack and sealed the safe once more. Job done, he turned to leave, only to find the muzzle of a black powder weapon an inch from his right eye, the mercenary stood behind it.
She was very good, Lethbridge had obviously shelled out some serious coin for her. As he looked at her now, Leander could see that what he had originally taken for bulky guard armour was in fact soft silk styled to look as such, a visual cue to disorient opponents. No-one would have expected her to be agile, swift or stealthy in that outfit, and that was exactly how she wanted it. It was a classic thief-taker tactic, and one that made Leander smile just a little.
‘Hold, thief,’ the mercenary said. Her dark eyes glinted in the gaslight of the bedroom, daring him to make a move. ‘You will accompany me to the nearest guard post, whereupon you shall be charged as a thief.’
Leander mulled this over for a moment, then surged forward and grabbed at her weapon. Though relatively new, black powder weapons were obvious enough in design that those most likely to be on the dangerous end of one had already spotted the weaknesses. The weakness that Leander was exploiting was the hammer that would ignite the powder. He wedged a thumb underneath it as the mercenary pulled the trigger. The hammer slammed down on his thumb with a loud crack, undoubtedly shattering the bone, but the powder did not ignite. In the brief moment of confusion, Leander pulled a dagger from his bandoleer, spun around the mercenary and slashed at her Achilles tendons. She flopped to the floor in agony as he hid the dagger once again.
‘No, I won’t,’ he said sardonically as he looked down at her. Her eyes were wide with surprise and fury, but she was in too much pain to do anything but whimper now.
This was a difficult situation. The woman couldn’t identify him, not definitively. Any description she gave would be of the persona he was wearing that night, the way he carried himself, the way his face fell, the way he walked, all of which was just an act. What she could do was make noise, and noise might bring undue attention to the situation before he had the necessary time to escape. He weighed up his options.
Then he drew his sword and plunged it into her heart.
If he was going to steal from orphans then he might as well go the whole hog.