Wednesday, February 3, 2021

WiP-It Wednesday for February 3, 2021

Posted by: PG Forte

 PG Forte: Here's the opening chapter for Lightning in a Bottle, part of my Winter Hearts steampunk series. The book has too many prologues, at the moment, so I'm not sure this chapter will even make it into the final product, but I like it, and hope you will as well. More information about the series (including a peek at the cover of this one!) can be found at:

March, 1871
Winter Hall 
Whittier Falls, Pennsylvania 

 March came in like a lion. Storms battered the Eastern Pennsylvanian countryside for days. Rain fell, practically without surcease, flooding cellars, and drowning fields, and swelling even the laziest of rivers into muddy, white-frothed cascades. A wild wind raged and screamed, rattling doors and windows, tearing tiles off of rooves, and whipping the branches of venerable old trees as violently as though they were mere saplings. 

 Sheltered within a stand of such trees, stood a small, sturdy building. Unremarkable from the outside, it housed the workshop and laboratory of one of the greatest minds of the nineteenth century, the late inventor Dr. Charles Winter. Inside, illuminated by whatever meagre daylight made it through the rain-spattered skylights, forgotten machinery hummed quietly as it continued to carry out the tasks appointed to it; circulating the fluid in the large glass tank, regulating its temperature, filtering and replenishing as needed to maintain the proper balance of nutrients and medicaments. 

 Powered by hydroelectricity, and supplied with water from one of those selfsame, swollen rivers, the system was intended to run indefinitely with only the most minimal maintenance required. But maintenance had been in short supply of late, and the storm had other ideas. 

 Without warning, lightning arced across the sky. It splintered an overhanging branch, causing it to crash through the building’s roof. At the same time, electricity surged up through the water pipes. Wires melted on contact. Equipment shorted out and died in a blaze of sparks. And the excess of power caused over a dozen Leyden jars to explode. The tank itself was also briefly electrified, shocking its sole occupant into awareness and waking him from his chemically induced slumber. 

 Test Subject #M1.253.62 struggled to remain calm as he found himself catapulted into an agonizing world of jumbled sensations and incomprehensible blackness. Pain wracked his body as he gasped and retched in an effort to force air into his fluid-filled lungs. He was terrifyingly conscious of the erratic beating of his heart. Its present odd, faltering syncopation was nothing at all like the strong, steady rhythm for which it had been designed. 

 Something had gone wrong. This was not the gentle birth he’d been programmed to expect. As the afterimages faded away and his vision returned to something approaching normal, he was able to identify the object crushing his chest with such intolerable pressure: the charred and newly severed branch of a tree native to the eastern part of North America. Quercus Alba. White Oak. 

 His brain ticked over automatically, cataloging impressions in a desperate attempt to piece together an explanation for what had occurred. Rain. Lightning. Thunder. Wind. Broken glass. Twisted metal. Fragments of slate—a metamorphic rock commonly used in roofing. And, of course, the tree branch. Ah, yes. The conclusion was almost immediately obvious. A storm must have collapsed the roof of the laboratory, leaving him pinned in the shattered ruins of his incubation tank while the life-sustaining fluid in which he’d been immersed drained away through cracks in the glass. 

 His injuries, while severe, were not immediately life-threatening. Which led him at first to conclude that his best course of action was to stay where he was, remain calm and avoid causing any further damage. No doubt a rescue attempt would shortly be launched. It was possible one was even now underway. There was no need to panic. 

However, a quick survey of his internal chronometer caused him to reevaluate his situation. He’d apparently been submerged and unconscious for longer than expected. Far longer. Something, it appeared, had gone very, very wrong. He was not yet sure how or why, but the most logical conclusion was not at all reassuring. It seemed that he had been abandoned. 

 If true, that meant he could not assume that he’d be discovered in a timely manner. He could not even assume he’d be found at all. If he wished to be free—and he did, rather urgently—he had no choice but to try and extricate himself.

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