Sunday, 16 May 2010

Culture Clash

A Writer's Extreme Creativity Challenge: Write a story a day, in May. That's it: Three behind now. I might catch up this evening...

#14 : Culture Clash

The deck of the steamboat was crowded with local dignitaries, scientists, artists, writers and politicians. It was a warm but dark day, the sky above the Mississippi populated by dark clouds. The air was damp. People were heard to ask why they should not be having this party indoors, but Mayor Fitzpatrick had insisted that what they would see here today would astound them. Misters Twain and Tesla would not disappoint.

They were listening to a man named Nikola Tesla, who had taken the platform with Mark Twain, expound his theories. Most of them were here to see Twain, and ware barely following Tesla’s highly technical speech or the exact purpose of the gathering. It was beginning to rain, and their patience was beginning to stretch.

A more scientifically grounded writer from Iowa asked: “Mister Tesla Are you telling us that you built a time machine... out of a Steam Boat?”

At this, some of the crowd began to pay a little more attention. A crack of dramatically timed thunder interrupted Tesla just as his mouth was open. Standing behind him, Twain beamed, acknowledging the effect.

Tesla responded “Absolutely sirs! for our purposes it is important to have a distinct body, not attached to the earth, large enough to carry all of our equipment, and located in an area unlikely to have been inhabited in the past or future. It is also convenient that the size of the paddle wheels on this particular steamer fit exactly our requirements for the flux capacitors.”

The sky flashed silently, and a moment afterwards, another crack of thunder.

Twain took up the presentation “Yes, mister Mr C. M. Allen is correct, and the way we see it, if you're going to build a time machine into a ship, why not do it with some style: the Alice Eldridge provides the most comfort available anywhere on the Mississippi. Please everyone, ensure that your glasses are full before we begin the demonstration”

Mr listened to the buzz of conversation around him and felt the engines start though the hull of the steamer. The lightening was getting closer, and an terrifying bolt lit the sky around them. The audience gasped and gave the impression that they might be considering becoming worried.

Twain was speaking again “Thunder is good, thunder is impressive, but it is lightning that does the work. So the capacitors are beginning to flux, Ladies and Gentlemen you may begin to notice a blue light surrounding us. There is absolutely not cause for-”

And lightening smashed down from the sky, giving definition to a bubble that had formed around the boat. The crowd watched with awe and some panic held in check.

Tesla observed this all with satisfaction and went back to his equipment, which was recording the progress. Twain leaned over to him: “Are we ready?”

“Oh Yes” said Tesla and pulled a lever which was simply labeled “Go!”

The blue light became increasingly opaque, veins of blue lightening tracing its outline. The banks of the Mississippi blurred for a second and then vanished. And a ball of light containing a Steamer, seventy men and women, three hundred and seven fish and a huge quantity of water dropped out of the world.

“Nikola, without implying any degree of mistrust of lack of confidence in the man, I now worry that this may have been somewhat ambitious and I have to say that I do hope the astronomer Severnius’s calculations were correct.” said Twain as the steamer bobbed around in its unstable bubble, buffeted on all sides by the winds of time.

People were flung across the deck, some came very close to falling overboard, to what fate they preferred not to contemplate. Those who had managed to find something stable to hold on to were beginning to express outrage at their shabby treatment.

Nicola had signaled for the engines to be stopped and the steamer began to stablise. The bubble rapidly became thinner and a dark, rocky landscape began to form around them.

“What have you done Twain?” shouted Mayor Fitzpatrick.

But neither Tesla nor Twain were listening, they were looking at the spectacular night time landscape surrounding them. The Alice Eldridge had splashed down on a canal, a chasm cut into the deep red rock, a straight line to both horizons.

“Ladies, Gentlemen” shouted Twain over the chaotic demands of seventy variously distressed souls “Welcome to the country of Paleveria!”

The last sparks of the time bubble were dissipating into the air. The Mississippi water was already beginning to blend with that of the Martian canal, and three hundred and seven fish began a surprisingly successful new life on Mars.

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