The Entertainer.

My submission for week 58, Prompt :– Steampunk. Quite a short one this week. 1500 words.
The Entertainer.
This is the New Age of Steam. All resources of fossil fuels were depleted three centuries ago, leading to anarchy against the world government of that time, the original New World Order, whose monopoly of all sources of energy fuelled the uprising and the resulting Armageddon.

So absorbed in their own war was the human race, they were not even aware of the alien invaders. No one questioned where the invaders came from. Now, no one even cares. Ninety-five percent of the humans were exterminated to, “protect the ecosystem of the planet,” the invaders said. Many of the survivors, like me, were cybernetically modified to serve our alien overlords. The remaining humans inhabit the ruined cities of several islands in the Pacific ocean, once called Zealand.

The aliens brought with them their own technology. I am unsure of detail, but energy is derived through fusion reactors using water as fuel. The hydrogen gas is stripped from the water then, somehow, converted into helium. Here is the reason we call this the New Steam Age. The only waste products are more water and oxygen gas.

I am a musician, my main function is to entertain. I do not play a musical instrument of the type depicted in the pre-geddon archives. Our alien masters have little appreciation for rhythm and melody. They have no audio receptors – ears, as humans do. They communicate with thought, telepathically. They are aware, however, of the vast archives of audio recordings made by humans in the past. They appreciate these recordings when they are used to produce visual displays, which is the work for which I was engineered. I feed the audio output to modulate the high frequency oscillations of high tension, Tesla voltage generators. These produce up to a million volts creating dancing arcs of multi-coloured lightning in a darkened arena. For those of us who can hear sound, the audio content of the modulation is reproduced quite accurately although noticeably distorted by the crackle of high-voltage ionised air.

As you can imagine,working with such high voltages can be hazardous. The ionizing arcs appear to be randomly generated around the high voltage toroidal coil that sits on top of the Tesla device. One false move and I could be frazzled like a barbecued pig.

There is, however, a subtle correlation between the high energy arcing and the tone and tempo of the music. A deep appreciation and understanding of the beat is needed to accurately predict the position and intensity of the next strike. Having listened carefully to the recording for several hours, I believe I have enough understanding to move among the voltage generators unscathed. To be certain, I wear a thick suit of insulating fibre which is coated with an aluminium mesh. The mesh is connected via a tether to an earthing plane mapped around the Teslas where the arcing is directed. My eyes are covered with a hardened one-way lens that limits the intensity of the blinding flashes of brilliance while still allowing me the ability to see clearly.

For tonight’s performance, I have chosen a recording of The Brandenburg Concerto by ELP. I am uncertain whether ELP is the composer or the performer, but such information would be irrelevant to my audience. The tempo of the music is slower than I normally choose, and should produce a vivid display predominantly in reds and blues.

As I step into the arena, I see additional entertainment has been provided for the evening. In the centre, surrounded by the five Tesla generators stands a Faraday cage. Like my suit, it is grounded to provide a safe haven for the occupants, three humans, young adults, two male and one female. All are naked.

I am surprised how, in the 260 years since my engineered mutation, and if these three are typical of their race, the appearance of humans has degenerated. In stature, they are around one and a half metres, and pathetically under-nourished. They all have pale, almost translucent skin with a few irregular, straggling clumps of light hair or fur. The hair on their heads is longer, and so blond it is almost white. They all have blue eyes, and look so similar that they could be blood related. I suspect their limited numbers has resulted in too much inbreeding.

Perhaps they recognize me as once being human. They seem to be trying to communicate, holding out their hands and turning faces in an imploring manner. But their speech patterns are little more than grunts, growls and whines, as if they no longer have intelligible language.

According to my program notes for the evening, they were captured while trying to escape from their island home. Tonight they will die. As the performance begins, the cage will be hoisted clear leaving them vulnerable to the electric discharge. If they can negotiate their way to the exit from the arena without being zapped, they win their freedom. In my experience, no one has ever gotten close to freedom.

The opening bars of music set a ponderous tone to the ambience in the arena. Awesome flashes of light leap from the flattened balls at the top of the towers to the metal floor. The three figures in the cage huddle together, cowering in terror from the sizzling, electric blast.

After two minutes, the locking bolts on a time release disengage. The cage falls apart as the frame is whisked away. With the prisoners’ only protection gone, the lightning bolts move close enough to sear flesh. In blind panic, the first, a male, tries to run. He covers no more than five strides before a vivid blue flash engulfs him. An arm and part of one leg are incinerated. Still alive, he writhes for a few moments on the steel floor before another strike leaves him as a burning husk of blackened cinder.

The remaining two watch in apparent horror, before they both try to flee in the opposite direction. The second male is slightly ahead of the female when a deep red lightning bolt hits him in the chest. At the same moment, the female figure leaps sideways to avoid the flash as if she knows of its imminent arrival. She pauses, crouching, looking about as the upper half of the male body is instantly vaporised. His trunk and legs kick a few times while orange flames and black smoke rise from the floor. The female watches, her mouth opening and closing as if shocked by the devastation. Then she leaps again before a bright red ball of flame strikes the area she has just vacated.

Crouching again, her head is cocked on one side. She must be listening to the music. She leaps sideways as another blue bolt strikes the metal. From side to side she dances, evading the erratic discharges. She makes no attempt to escape from the arena. Her only concern seems to be in avoiding death. Several times she receives minor burns from secondary strikes that fluctuate through ionised air after the main pulse has earthed itself. The flesh on her arms, shoulders and back is singed. I can see the skin bubbling, blistering. Her limbs, for a few moments, go rigid from the electrical shock of ten to fifteen thousand volts. She is in pain but recovers to continue dancing.

Her hair flies wildly across her face as she evades another blast. She seems to be tiring. I cannot see her lasting more than a couple of minutes longer. Yet, amazingly she does. As the final chords die away, and the last, blinding flash diminishes she sprawls on the metal surface. The upper part of her body heaves as she drags the ionised air into her lungs. I believe she is sobbing from the exertion, or perhaps from the relief that the ordeal is over. She is soaked with perspiration that drips and puddles on the floor.

I feel sensations in my body that have remained unrecognised through most of my life. I remember, it was once called compassion. It can be nothing more. The technicians made certain that my reproductive abilities and urges were eradicated during the surgery.

I propose to take this white haired female back to my residential complex. I can construct a special cage for her, look after her, feed her. I remember how once, centuries ago, as a child, my parents gave me a kitten. It grew into a beautiful, graceful feline animal. My new pet brings back memories of the wonderful innocence of that time. I wonder, what name I should give her?

Auhor’s note 1:
Not sure if Emerson, Lake and Palmer ever recorded Brandenburg Concerto. Keith Emerson did with his group, The Nice.

Auhor’s note 2:
Always wanted to build a Tesla Coil. It is possible to modulate them with an audio signal too, as this video shows. Awesome! This is Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor played on Tesla Coils.

© 2012. Robert A. Read

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3 thoughts on “The Entertainer.

  1. Jennifer Tucker says:

    Hi there
    I hope you will continue this story. In fact, I would really like to see you turn this one into a novel. Great story, Rob!

  2. siderealview says:

    I agree with MsHFU. It’s superb novel material, if we can get you to keep going! I really mean you are so disciplined in creating weekly marvels, that with a few yells from us sideliners, you could…
    It’s because it fuses ALL your stuff, Rob: Tesla coil, baby fur entities, a stunning SciFi approach which you seem cautious to keep hidden (the anonymous almost 3rd-person while in 1st person speech does it!) and I would reeeeeeead more… your descriptions of the cage are awesome, her leaping just so what you are good at.
    p.s. my Brandenburg was Brubeck… just sayin’
    p.p.s so this is steampunk! always wanted to know!
    p.p.p.s. wot she said—again ❤

    • Rob Read says:

      Thanks for your wonderful, kind words Marian, yours too Jennifer. I really don’t think a novel could come out of this. I have no plot for a novel. It was just a scene to demonstrate steampunk, and even that is a bit iffy. Steampunk should be 19th century, Jules Verne – 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea… or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. etc. Since early days of steampunk, however, it has diverged to include post apocalyptic settings.

      Not heard the Brubeck version of Brandenburg. I must have a look for it.

      Rob…

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