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Edition 27: The Wrangler by Austin Hackney

Those on top have always used their big, fancy boots to stamp downwards. No change to the status quo is bloodless and the Bollingers have landed right in the middle of the trouble. Austin Hackney’s bloody steampunk will have anyone looking over their shoulder. SY

The noise of galvanized horses and the stink of engine oil had stuffed Sam Garrick’s ears and nostrils since as long as he could remember. His uncle had taught him wrangling. But his uncle was bone-rot now and the work was his.

He grinned. Saliva glistened on his rotting teeth. He spat tar-black tobacco spit onto the engine, watching it sizzle.

“A bit o’ flesh-slicing an’ death-dealing,” he said, relishing the words. “That’s what it’s time for. Engine’s good, horses are hot and it’s time.”

Sam’s calloused hands hovered over a rack of blades. The pain in his swollen knuckles bothered him and he cursed to make a whore blush. He selected a thin blade, testing it on his tongue, lightly, and tasting blood. Satisfied, he slipped the blade into its sheath.

He opened the steam valve, cranked back the release lever and let out a manic cry. The fly-wheel screamed into action. The horses clanked and clattered into mechanical life, hot steam spurting from their nostrils. Read the rest of this entry

Edition 26: Clockwork Hearts by J.B. Rockwell

Casey has lost the only person who seemed to care since the death of his mother. The unusual man at the duck pond, feeding Mrs. Kuschikin’s ducks, piques Casey’s interest and he has to find out the truth of his appearance. No matter what it costs him.

J.B. Rockwell leads us down the precarious and lively garden path of childhood; the dramatic need to have all the answers. This story looks at the need of another to make a better world for one’s self, and another. SY

They held Mrs. Kuschikin’s funeral in the pickle factory her family had owned and operated for over a hundred years, and a memorial in Wickering Park after. Not your typical send-off, but that’s what Mrs. Kuschikin wanted. She never had been one for fanfare and folderol, after all. Especially when said fanfare and folderol involved herself.

The funeral itself was mercifully short, and it was a fine June day for the memorial—the kind of day that made ten-year-old boys like Casey grateful to be outside—but the official in charge of Mrs. Kuschikin’s memorial just kept droning on and on and on.

Casey wished he’d hurry up already. He hated having all these stranger around him, whispering, staring, throwing pitying glances his way. ‘Look at the poor little broken boy in the wheelchair,’ their eyes said.

But he wasn’t broken. Casey’s legs just didn’t work like theirs.

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Edition 25: Radar Love by P. J. Keuning

flag UKChris is the only woman who works in the Radar Room. While her parents seek her a suitable marriage, Chris looks for an escape. One suitable suitor later, and Chris wonders if the freedom she dreams of may be within reach. SY

I love the Radar Room; I can be alone here. Away from my parents’ constant needling, away from the glares and the whispers behind my back; away from the oppression of doing what is expected. In the Radar Room I am free to be myself.

They only let me work the night shifts because I am not supposed to be here. They can pretend I am not here, cover the shame of a girl doing a man’s job. I pretend there is nothing else, just me and the Radar Room. No expectations, no need for propriety, no pressure to marry.

Just the job and me. The radar is my window to the world outside.

My shift ends when Mr Grumpy arrives.

‘Quiet night, Christine?’

Christine is his label for me; I am just a silly girl in his eyes. I have a label for him, he is Mr Grumpy, but I keep it to myself.

‘Yes.’ I look towards him. ‘Henry, can you please call me Chris?’

‘No girl, I won’t be doing that. It not be a proper name for a girl. It’s bad enough that you’re doing a man’s job, instead of getting yourself married.’

I stare at the radar screen, pretending to check it is clear so I do not have to look into his judgmental eyes. ‘I am not ready to be married.’

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Edition 19: Final Journey by Stephen C. Ormsby

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A last trip, the last time as nGeneer, the last of a bond with the metal behemoth. When one is relegated, removed from a position of usefulness, how do they survive? A finalist in the 2014 Story Quest competition.  SY

I am a part of this train, and the train is a part of me: I am nGeneer. This steel behemoth is not just connected to me; it is part of my DNA.

My forefathers were engineers and ran the trains, but then scientists decoded the human genome and built the technology to create unfathomable cross bred machinery. At an early age, I showed the same aptitude as my father and grandfather, and my body became this joined beast of metal and skin, an nClass 21 diesel locomotive transporter unit.

It nourishes me and I guide it, and together we travel across the Australian landscape, supplying fuels and foodstuffs to the major cities. Merged, we separate only out of courtesy for the workers who have not grown accustomed to this interbreeding.

My smooth metallic panelling warms in the early morning sun, as the passengers board and shuffle for seats. Energy builds as my diesel engine heats, until I have the strength of a dozen machines. The hills will challenge my wheels and my axle yet again, but this will be the last time.

My final journey will begin in a matter of mere minutes.

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Edition 19: Riding a Runaway by Andrew Knighton

flag UKA runaway train hurtling toward the imperial palace. Dirk Dynamo and Timothy Blaze-Simms have to run the gauntlet of automated foot soldiers of a madman bent on vengeance. This pulp-fiction style steampunk was another finalist in 2014’s Story Quest competition. SY

Dirk Dynamo braced himself as the train roared towards him out of the darkness, the cacophony of its wheels and the harsh light from its lamps filling the tunnel. The air was thick with coal smoke and the smell of deep earth. He was tense, coiled, ready for action.

“What a splendid sound!” Timothy Blaze-Simms shouted to be heard.

“Get ready.” Dirk’s hand dropped instinctively to his belt. The reassuring cold steel of the Gravemaker was secure in its holster beneath his fur coat. Down here he was sweating like a Prussian in the sunshine, but he’d be glad of the warmth when they got back up into the Moscow snow.

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Edition 18: The Carbonite’s Daughter by Deryn Pittar

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Highly regarded by all the judges of this year’s Story Quest Short Story competition, Deryn Pittar won with a story of emerging womanhood, in an unfamiliar, post-nuclear world. It was the detailed undercurrents of resistance of the status quo and the alienating effects of religion that truly allowed this piece to shine. SY

I keep a tight grasp of mother’s hand as we hurry down the sloping passage, deeper into the mountain. My small breasts bounce and tingle. They hurt and I wish I had enough boob to wear a bra. I will soon. The walls are warm and already my heavy coat is making me hot. I want to stop and take it off but we have a train to catch.

“When will we see Dad?”

Mother stops and puts her arm around my shoulder, whispering into my ear, “Shhh. The walls are listening.”

I look around. No ears in sight. She is talking in riddles again. I look into her dark brown eyes, her Welsh heritage she tells me, and I see fresh grey hairs around her temple. Today she looks older. She kisses my cheek and smiles. The sodium lights in the passageway pick out the fine lines around her eyes. Why haven’t I notice this before? My excitement for the last month has blinded me to everyday things, but I haven’t seen my father for two years. I whisper back.

“When, Mother?”

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Edition 18: Like Clockwork by Tim Major

flag UKWorking for an eccentric and fastidious employer can have its drawbacks, especially when the job entails maintaining an immaculate replica of earth for the governor who never leaves his train route on Mars. The detail of Tim Major’s world and the strange characters who inhabit it recommended this story to the judges and brought it in for second place. SY

At a sound at the door, Mick Votel turned from examining the beautifully constructed, but not ticking, clock on the mantelpiece.

Danielle Abresch placed her bulky white helmet on the floor. “Damned claustrophobic thing.”

She shuffled her feet to kick away clods of dust and squinted to look around the room. The wood-panelled walls and the leafy branches that overhung the single window made the interior of the cottage perpetually dim. Gaslight from the desk lamp reflected from the clocks, barometers, brass-effect trinkets and framed pictures that hung from the panelled walls.

“Hi,” Mick said. “How are the kids getting on?”

Danielle scratched at the base of her shaven scalp. “I love how you pick up a conversation as if no time’s passed in between. It’s been another year, Mick. They’re not really kids any more. Anyway. What’s new? Like I say, it’s been a while.”

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Edition 18: Robert Fairweather and the Wrong Ticket by Mark Rookyard

flag UKHis battles are long over but still Robert Fairweather feels like a relic and out of step with this new world. One chance encounter and Robert ends up on a train in trouble. In this world of steam, Mark Rookyard conjured up some empathetic characters and a dilemma the judges’ could empathise with to take home third place in this year’s Story Quest Competition. SY

The train whistled and steam billowed, great puffing clouds of it spewing all around Robert and the hundreds of others waiting on the platform. A hiss, more steam gasping out, and the steps wound back inside the doors.

Windows glowed golden through the steam, three stories high, and people waved excitedly from the giant brass contraption, looking out for loved ones on the platform.

Friends and family called out, their voices drowned by the hissing and steaming, and then the train was on its way, its brass length sleek and shining in all its glory.

Testament to the glory of man, testament to the glory of one man. A dead man. A beaten man.

The steam and smoke drifted all around Robert now, as idle and lost as those who had been waving farewell to their loved ones. They too drifted about the platform before slipping away into the crowds.

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News: 2014 Story Quest Short Story Contest

We are happy to announce the winners and finalists of the 2014 Story Quest Short Story Contest, which was themed for the first time – ‘Punkin’ the Train’. In this contest authors had to submit stories of 3k or less which included trains or train stations in a significant way, and which were written in one of the ***punk sub-genre styles, such as steampunk and dieselpunk.

The winners are:

1st Place (US$100 prize and published in SQ Mag): The Carbonite’s Daughter by Deryn Pittar (New Zealand)
2nd Place (US$50 prize and published in SQ Mag): Like Clockwork by Tim Major (United Kingdom)
3rd Place(US$25 prize and published in SQ Mag): Robert Fairweather And The Wrong Ticket by Mark Rookyard (United Kingdom) Read the rest of this entry

Edition 4: Halo In The Sky by Gerry Huntman

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To raise his station, Nigel Taylor takes to the stars with the army. He returns a glorious hero, lauded by his countrymen. But will it win him the hand of the woman he loves or were his discoveries for naught? Many thanks to Gerry for donating this story, as we would love more steampunk, but we have not caught the attention of the market yet. SY

Three weeks following her return journey through the Alpha Centauri halo, the HMES Indomitable entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Slowly and precisely she exposed her antigravity coils, causing a reduction in the rate of her descent, allowing the ether ship to gracefully approach terra firma. The London-Berkshire region was covered in slate-grey rain clouds; the moisture gathered and glistened on the teakwood and brass finish of the giant ship in her approach for landing. Many of the Indomitable’s thick, glass portholes contained eager faces peering through them.

The giant conical ship silently descended towards the drenched green fields of the Sandhurst Military Etherdrome, her eight landing pads impressed upon the grass with a heavy thud. As the enormous weight of the ship settled on the pads, and the thick steel springs absorbed its enormous kinetic energy, the antigravity coils were fully covered with lead shielding, followed by the shutting down of power systems.

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