Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Christmas in Geartown (an unbelievably late Christmas story)

I actually wrote this before Christmas, okay? I just didn't think to upload it until now. But it turned out pretty well. So here it is: Christmas in Geartown.

Geartown, by the way, is a small village in my particular version of Steampunk Victorian England, a storyworld I've been working on for a longer project. It's a place where mad science runs rampant and most of the characters are minions. I have a whole lot of characters for it and I like writing about them just to get to know them better. They're fun!

 I will update this story later with an illustration, once I get said illustration scanned into my computer.

It occurs to me now that a character list would probably be helpful, as most of these guys have rarely seen the outside of my head. See the end of the story for notes.

Here we go.

Christmas in Geartown


            Geartown was alive with the holiday spirit. The students of Geartown University had been loosed into the main street, where they set up various festive projects along the curbside. An automated chestnut roaster belched out festive-scented smoke as a girl turned the handle; a group of younger students tried to start up a sled powered by a perpetual motion machine, and Igor Wells barely dodged as an upright snowman with metal nuts for eyes and a spanner for a nose shot past him at an alarming rate. He righted himself, and then the two boys pelting after it knocked him onto his rear in the snow. “Sorry!” yelled the taller, brown-haired one with the goggles, as the slighter of the two, a lanky Asian boy with thick rectangular glasses, made a brave dive for the runaway snowman and missed.
            Wilhelm laughed and pulled Igor to his feet. He dusted himself off and they both winced in sympathy as the snowman hit the automated chestnut roaster, sending a gush of sparks into the air, scattering chestnuts everywhere, and causing the students huddled around the machine to dive to the ground for shelter. The ensuing argument between the Asian boy and a black student of indeterminate gender was a spectacle to behold.
            “Oops,” said Wilhelm, giggling behind her gloves.
            “Merry Christmas!”
            The two turned around and saw Jonas, a tall, slim University minion with brown skin and long blue hair pulled into a ponytail, strolling towards them. He was wrapped in a dark wool coat, his customary headphones acting like earmuffs and a purple scarf knotted under his chin, matching his purple eyes. His sister Rosie stomped along beside him, her red plaid coat clashing with her pink curly hair in an eye-searing manner.
            “Merry Christmas!” said Igor, waving happily. Rosie growled something that might have been “Merry Christmas” but also might have been “Bah! Humbug!”
            “Merry Christmas, Jonas and Rosie,” said Wilhelm. “Are you coming up to the castle tonight?”
            “If you’ll have us, then sure!” Jonas grinned, flashing white teeth. “Gormless makes the best Christmas dinner!”
            Rosie grumbled again and glared at a passing humautomaton so hard that the poor boy ran into the grocer’s as fast as his metal leg could carry him. The others, well used to her misanthropy, ignored this.
            “Hey, it’s Weasel,” said Jonas. He raised his voice and waved. “Hallo, Weasel!”
            Weasel trudged up to them, wrapped to his ears in a striped scarf. His orange hair stuck out at odd angles from under a green hat, and he was bundled into what looked like three sweaters. He nodded at them morosely.
            “What’s got you so gloomy?” asked Jonas. Weasel shrugged and tucked his gloved fingers into his armpits. Jonas laughed. “Come now, Weasel, it’s not that cold!”
            “Says you,” Weasel grumbled. “I hate this season.”
            Rosie gave him an appraising look. “A man after my own heart.”
            “I suppose we’ll just call you two Scrooge and Marley,” said Igor, smirking.
            “Hey, no!” exclaimed Weasel. “I don’t want to be the dead one!”
            Wilhelm looked at him. “What makes you think you’re Marley?”
            “I’m always the dead one.” Weasel tucked his nose further under his scarf. “Or the one who gets blown up in the end.”
            “Pretty sure that’s not what happened to Marley,” said Igor, laughing.
            “How would you know?” Weasel asked. “He’s dead. It never said how he died.”
            “Ick, I don’t want to be Scrooge,” said Rosie. “That means I accept this stupid season into my heart at the end of the story.”
            Jonas, Wilhelm and Igor laughed. Wilhelm turned to Weasel. “So,” she said, “are you coming up to the castle tonight?”
            “Can’t.” Weasel scowled. “I don’t get the day off.”
            “What!” exclaimed Jonas, as Igor said, “Really? On Christmas!” and Wilhelm blinked in surprise.
            “Mm hm. No Christmas off for me.”
            “But why?” asked Igor.
            Weasel rolled his eyes. “Professor Wiggins is Jewish.”
            “Oh,” said Igor.
            “Still, that’s pretty uncharitable,” said Wilhelm. “She really won’t let you take the day off?”
            Weasel glanced away. “…Yes.”
            “Hang on,” said Jonas. “Weasel…have you ever actually asked Wiggins for the day off?”
            “Yes!” snapped Weasel defensively. Jonas raised an eyebrow at him and the tips of his ears turned red. “Well, maybe not, but…she’s a maniac! I’m not risking my life just for a holiday!”
            Jonas laughed, and Wilhelm rolled her eyes. “Tell you what,” she said. “You tell Wiggins you’re taking tonight and tomorrow off and come up to the castle to have a drink with us, all right?”
            “Fine!” snapped Weasel, burrowing into his layers of sweater. “But it’s on your heads if she kills me!”

            In hindsight, they probably shouldn’t have started a snowball fight with Nina.
            The snow barricade was, fortunately, well constructed, thanks mostly to Igor and Jonas, both of whom had once worked as bricklayers. They huddled behind it with Weasel while globs of snow and the occasional bit of ice soared overhead.
            “Any ideas?” said Jonas.
            “We need to disable that snowball machine,” said Igor. “That way we’ll have an opening to take them by storm. I’ll take Wilhelm.”
            “I call not taking out Nina,” Weasel said quickly.
            “Are you sure?” said Jonas. “That means you’ve got Rosie.”
            Weasel nodded. “I’ll take my chances.” 
            “Spoken like a man who’s never fought Rosie before.” Jonas adjusted his gloves and looked up. “Are we ready?”
            “Ready,” said Igor, grinning.
            “No,” sighed Weasel, “but that’s never stopped me before.”
            “On my mark,” said Jonas, holding up three fingers. “Three…two…GO!”
            The three exploded from their fortress and pelted towards the girls’ snow barricade. Jonas leapt and belly-flopped onto the top of the wall, smashing a hole in the middle. Igor ran at Wilhelm, going for a tackle, but at the last second Wilhelm stepped aside, grabbed his arm, and flipped him head over heels into the snow.
            Weasel ran straight at Rosie, who barely had time to look up before he crashed into her. They struggled, wrestling and rolling over and over, trying to pin each other. Weasel was slightly quicker and better and dodging her blows, but Rosie had the unbridled fury of a caged puma. She knocked Weasel into the snow and pinned him, then grabbed a handful of snow.
            “HELP!” Weasel yelled as Rosie stuffed the snow down his collar.
            His teammates, however, had their hands full. Jonas was involved in what looked like a vigorous game of tag with Nina, who danced and dodged his every grab for her, while Wilhelm packed Igor into the snow as if he were a shipment of trout to be preserved. 
            Suddenly, a glob of snow smacked Wilhelm in the face, knocking her away. Igor broke the crust and sat up, only to be hit with another snowball. Wilhelm wiped the snow out of her eyes and swore.
            Igor looked over and ducked just in time. “What is that thing?!” he yelped, brushing snow off his coat.
            “It’s Nina’s,” said Wilhelm grimly, getting to her feet. Another two snowballs smacked her and she took a step backwards.
            The machine in question was cuboid in shape, with two wide bendy pipes emerging from opposite ends. One of these was planted in the snow, sucking it up, while the other flailed directionlessly, flinging the snow in every direction. Igor caught sight of the words painted on the side: Snowball Blaster 3000.
            “Oh dear,” he said.
             Wilhelm started towards the machine, then changed her mind and ran away instead. Igor stared after her, dismayed. “Don’t abandon us!” he yelled.
            “I’ll be right back!” Wilhelm shouted, sprinting towards the castle.
            “IGOR! HELLLLP!”
            Igor turned and saw that Nina had neutralized Jonas and had ganged up on Weasel with Rosie. They dragged the poor boy by his ankles towards the rampant snowball blaster, his struggles to no avail.
            “Nooooo!” Weasel yelled, clawing at the ground and finding no purchase in the snow. “I moved away from home to get away from thiiiiisss!”


            Later, after the Snowball Blaster 3000 had run out of snow and started ripping up and hurling chunks of frozen ground, after Wilhelm had come back with a shovel and smashed it, and after Weasel, Igor and Jonas had been released, rubbed dry and fed with hot cocoa and Christmas cookies, Wilhelm allowed herself to relax. She curled up on the couch with a mug of cocoa in her hands and watched the fire in the impressive stone fireplace.
            Igor sat down beside her. “Merry Christmas, Wilhelm.”
            “Is it?” Wilhelm checked her wrist, then remembered that she wasn’t wearing her watch. “I thought we had a few more hours.”
            Igor laughed. “Merry Christmas Eve, then. Where’s Jonas? I lost track of him.”
            “He and Rosie headed home,” said Wilhelm. “Weasel’s staying the night, though.”
            “I know. He’s in my room.” Igor sipped his tea. “Where’s Nina?”
            “She and Gormless are up on the roof. I don’t know why, it’s just something they do every year. Something about waiting for Uncle Nicholas.”
            Igor laughed. “What, like Santa Clause?”
            “I think so. They won’t say.” Wilhelm shrugged. “It doesn’t do any harm, so I let them have their fun.”
            “As if you could stop them.”
            Wilhelm rolled her eyes. “Says the man who hid in the snow while I bashed the Snowball Blaster 3000 with the shovel.”
            “Point taken. Also, ouch.”
            They sipped their cocoa in silence for a while, watching the fire.
            “What are you thinking about?” Igor asked suddenly.
            “Oh, I don’t know,” said Wilhelm. “Christmas, I suppose…how many different Christmases I’ve had. With my family it was always very religious, but warm and kind nonetheless. Well, until the last few years anyway. Then with the Maladroit…That one was pure fun. It was just so different, but the warmth was still there, you know? And now, here in the castle…” She hesitated, thinking. “I suppose I should be sad, because technically I’m imprisoned, but honestly this, right here? This might be the best Christmas I’ve had since I was ten.”
            “Yes.” Wilhelm smiled. “I got to spend Christmas Eve with friends, having fun, with people who I care about and who I think care about me. I really can’t ask for more than that.”
            “Well, that’s one thing we have in common, then,” said Igor with a laugh.
            “This being the best Christmas. Christmas Eve, anyway.”
            Wilhelm looked at him. “What, really?”
            “Mm hm.” Igor took a long drink of cocoa.
            “What about when you were a child?” said Wilhelm. “What was Christmas like then?”
            Igor shrugged unhappily. “It…wasn’t great. You say you had warmth and kindness at Christmas, yes? I never got that feeling. It was always a bit nerve-wracking, to be honest. My father usually bought me something he wanted me to use, a gun or a hunting knife, and I’ve never liked hunting. I dreaded the gifts. The food was good, but the company…” He laughed a little. “Sorry. I shouldn’t be talking of this, it’s not very cheerful.”
            “No, it’s all right,” said Wilhelm. “What about Logan?”
            Igor’s smile was bittersweet. “He forgot about it until the day before. It was almost endearing, really. And I suppose we had a good Christmas—it certainly seemed so at the time…yes, it was good.” He grinned at her. “But this? This is better.”
            “You really think so?”
            Igor nodded. “By miles.”
            Wilhelm smiled and looked back at the fire. “Should we put another log on?”
            “I’ll do it.” Igor got up and threw a log onto the fire. It sparked and popped as he sat back down next to Wilhelm.
            “Hey, Wilhelm?” he said.
            “You’re welcome,” said Wilhelm. She frowned. “Wait, for what?”
            “For…I don’t know.” Igor laughed and shook his head. He looked down into his cocoa. “For being here. For letting me stay. For being my friend, I suppose.”
            “No problem.” Wilhelm bumped his shoulder playfully. “Besides, it’s Xix who let you stay. And you’re not too bad a friend to have. I think it breaks pretty even.”
            Igor laughed. “Thanks. And touché.” He glanced at her. “But really, thanks.”
            “It has been my absolute pleasure.”
            Wilhelm woke up to someone bouncing on her.
            “Wilhelm, Wilhelm, Wilhelm! Get up get up get up get up!” chanted an excited female voice.
            “Go ‘way, Etta,” she mumbled, pulling the covers over her head. “M’ tryin’ a sleep.”
            “Who’s Etta?” said someone nearby, and then the covers were ripped away and Wilhelm yelped as Nina’s face appeared five inches away from her own.
            “Get up!” cried Nina, shaking Wilhelm’s shoulders. “It’s Christmas!
            She bounced back and Wilhelm sat up and rubbed her eyes. It was not her sister waking her, but Nina. And Gormless, she realized, looking down at him from her bunk.
            “What time is it?” she asked.
            “Six thirty in the morning,” said Gormless. “Everyone else is up already. And by everyone, I mean Nina and me, because we’re going to wake up Igor and Weasel next and then find Xix, wherever he is. So…no one but us three, really.”
            “Of course.” Wilhelm pushed her hair back from her face and it flopped back into its customary spikes.
            “Come on, Wilhelm, get up!” Nina repeated. “Gormless is making us porridge and then we can open presents! Uncle Nicholas got you something too, so get up!
            “I’m up, I’m up.” Wilhelm shoved Nina off the bed. The fabrication lost her balance and fell from the bunk, but Gormless caught her midair. She grinned at him. “Thanks!”
            “Don’t mention it,” said Gormless, setting her on her feet. “Wilhelm, we’ll see you in the kitchen!”

            “I don’t want to open this,” said Weasel, eyes screwed shut.
            “Oh, stop whining, you big baby.” Nina pushed the box into his lap again. “I promise there’s nothing dangerous in it.”
            They were sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace of the most useable living room, with Igor and Wilhelm on the couch. Gormless was in the kitchen, tending to the porridge. Although he had come a long way with his anxiety problems since Wilhelm had arrived, he still didn’t feel completely comfortable around relative strangers like Igor and Weasel for long periods of time.
            “You always say that,” Weasel pointed out. “And then what happens? I get bitten or chased or trampled by mechanical bulls or electrocuted by wasps or stung by poisonous frogs or nearly drowned in syrup. Every. Time.
            “Not every time,” said Igor. “The automated teapot turned out all right.”
            “All ri—it exploded! A lot!
            “It exploded once,” Wilhelm countered.And you were wearing oven mitts and a visor. You were fine.”
            Weasel stared at them. “I can’t believe you’re taking her side!”
            “No, it’s all right.” A great deal of the energy had gone out of Nina’s voice. “It’s fine. I guess I am sort of bad with presents.”
            “You’re not bad with presents,” said Igor, patting her shoulder. “Weasel’s just a little justifiably suspicious, that’s all.”
            “Weasel, open the present,” said Wilhelm. “I’ll take full responsibility for the consequences. You can hide behind me if you need to.”
            Weasel hesitated, reached for the ribbon, and hesitated again. Slowly, he tugged at the bow until it came undone. He cautiously picked at the wrapping paper until the tape came away and peeled it off the box.
            He looked at Nina again and she nodded encouragingly.
            He opened the box, reached inside, and lifted out a sweater. Nina cheered.
            As sweaters went, it wasn’t a terribly good one. The stitches alternated between being so tight that you couldn’t get a need through them and so loose that Weasel’s whole hand could fit into the gaps, and it bulged in odd places. It also had three arms. But it was a rather nice shade of blue, with intermittent white trim and one patch of seaweed green.
            “That’s where I ran out of blue,” said Nina, pointing at the green. “Do you like it?”
            “Wow!” Weasel held it up in front of him, astonished. “You made this?”
            “Yes!” Nina bounced happily. “Well, I made a machine that made it! Yours is the first ever!” She quivered with anticipation. “Do you like it?”
            “I…” Weasel inspected the sweater carefully. Finally, he grinned. “I love it!”
            “Yes!” Weasel laughed with delight, his face aglow. “This is the first present you’ve given me that hasn’t tried to kill me!”
            Nina squealed and tackled him in a hug, knocking him over. “I knew it!” she shrieked. “I knew you’d like it this year! I finally got it right! Yes, yes, yes!
            Weasel laughed and hugged her back. Wilhelm looked at Igor and grinned, surprised. Igor smiled and shrugged. Neither had been expecting this.
            Weasel broke the hug and held out the sweater again. “You’re sure it won’t kill me?”
            “Not unless you strangle yourself with it!” Nina said happily.
            “Then help me put it on!”
            It took a concerted effort from both Nina and Wilhelm, but eventually they got Weasel’s head through the neck of the sweater and his arms through two of the sleeves, which also covered his hands and went on for a good six inches beyond. The third sleeve drooped sadly from the left side of the chest, and patches of his shirt showed through the knitting. A burlap sack would have been more fashionable, but Weasel’s glow of euphoria made up for it.
            “This is amazing, Nina,” he said, grinning at her. “Thank you!”
            “I’m so happy you like it!” said Nina, hugging him again. She turned back and grinned at Wilhelm and Igor. “Now for the rest of you!”



Wilhelm Grimsby: Human female, minion of Professor Xix, who lives in a castle on a hill above Geartown.

Igor Wells: Human male, minion working at Geartown University.

Jonas: Human male (or is he?), minion working at Geartown University. Brother of Rosie.

Rosie: Human female, minion working at Geartown University. Jonas's sister. Tends to be very grumpy.

Weasel: Human male, minion of Professor Wiggins, who runs Geartown's water system and works at the university. A bit cowardly. Scared of Wiggins and Nina, not without reason. Accidents tend to happen around him with alarming regularity.

Nina: Fabricated/reconstructed female (think Frankenstein's Monster), minion of Professor Xix. Lives with Wilhelm. A bit manic.

Gormless: Fabricated/reconstructed male, minion of Professor Xix. Very, very shy.

Definitions and other notes:

Minion: Someone who works for a mad scientist. Usually, but not always, a paid position. Weasel, Igor, Jonas, and Rosie are paid minions of the University of Geartown. Nina and Gormless are unpaid minions dependent on Professor Xix. Wilhelm is working off a prison sentence.

Humautomaton: My version of a cyborg.

The Maladroit: The pirate ship Wilhelm traveled on. Basically the reason she's working off a prison sentence.

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you want more of these guys! :)