Juvenilia

I was going through some old junk the other day when I came upon an old notebook from my school days. Inside was a selection of short stories I had written waaaaaaay back in the day when I was probably just 13 or 14.

Of course, they’re absolutely terrible.

More for my own sake than anything else, I thought I’d post one of them here just as a little time capsule. This abomination was called Changing Times and is a steampunk story that was probably heavily influenced by The Chaos Engine that was one of my favourite computer games at the time.

 

Changing Times

 

 (Extracts taken from the diary of Sir Philip Redgrave)

August 3rd 1897

Wallace the younger announced during our daily whist session that he is to leave for the United States on the eleventh to “seek new opportunities” as he put it.

The damned fool has resigned from his prominent position at the East India Company that his dear late father left him after so much hard work. We tried to dissuade him since the club would not be as lively as it is when Wallace is intoxicated and entertains us with his medley of college songs.

Alas he has set his mind on emigrating, claiming that our Great Britain was “behind the times”! Indeed! I always knew his interest in Marx would fill his mind with queer ideas.

On my return home I was about to see Charles when Mrs. Jones stopped me saying that he desired not to be disturbed. Must see him after breakfast.

 

August 4th 1897

Charles must be working on something special; he was up to ungodly hours tinkering on his latest contraption. As usual he thanked me for the loan of my basement and for taking an interest but said he was too busy for visitors. He promised to show me his work tomorrow. I do hope the poor chap doesn’t overwork himself like Hartford did at Oxford.

The rest of the day was quiet except that one of my students, Brown, expressed a desire to study the Rights of the Zulu Nation. He seemed rather fervent about it but I convinced him to continue his classical studies.

 

August 5th 1897

Charles has created a quite phenomenal machine! Straight after breakfast I went down to the basement where Charles showed me his latest device.

It’s a small brassy hued box about a foot wide and a foot high. It’s connected to a large pipe that moves around as if it is a snake. This pipe is connected to a large steam generator that resembles a combustion engine out of those infernal new automobiles.

At the front of the brass box is a sheet of this glass with lights behind it. Underneath are a series of protruding knobs labeled 0 to 9. Pressing these buttons cause that number to appear on the glass. By typing in numbers you can write calculations which the box will supply the answer to.

Charles calls it a “computer” and predicts that it will become a boon to accounts departments across the globe. I have advised him to apply for a patent.

 

August 6th 1897

The Lord Runcie has invited me to his estate… in India! The proposal was given to me over dinner at the club this evening. I’m delighted to view the far reaches of our empire since the university is getting rather tiresome lately.

It’s a large manor which he bought with the proceeds of the spice deal he made last year.

When I returned home Mrs. Jones seemed most distressed. Questioning her revealed nothing except that she heard “strange noises” along the walls during the day. It’s probably rats.

It will be good for her to have a rest while I am abroad, like Charles I fear she works too hard.

 

August 7th 1897

Left the house in the capable hands of Mrs. Jones and Charles who continues to add small improvements to his machine. Said my goodbyes to Wallace who will have left for the Americas before I am back. The young fool will be sorely missed by all.

 

(From the notebook of Police Constable Kerr)

August 31st 1897

A number of people have reported to me strange emissions of steam from the Mayfair residence of Sir Philip Redgrave.

His housekeeper, a Mrs. Phyllis Jones, says Redgrave is currently vacationing in India.

Will investigate for myself tomorrow.

 

September 27th 1897

Finally returned from India and have vowed never to return to that wretched country ever again.

What little I saw of it due to a high fever (mercifully gone) was full of dirt, disease, beggars and mosquitos.

The crisp September air is a refreshing change to the humid Indian climate which caused havoc to my sleep pattern.

Must go to sleep as soon as possible.

 

September 29th 1897

I awoke from my slumber to find such chaos around me.

The murdered body of a police officer was found behind my residence in early September. Another Ripper of 1888 in Mayfair? The body seems to have been mutilated in the most grotesque way according to the police. The sight caused the finder, Mrs. Jones, considerable distress and caused her mind to be lost because of the trauma.

Dear, sweet, gentle Mrs. Jones. I cannot write about the amount of pity, sorrow and concern I feel for her.

Charles bothers me continually. He seems little concerned about these events and concentrates all his energies into his machine which is virtually unrecognizable to its first state.

Pipes, cogs, wheels, dials and pumps completely cover the basement forming one giant monster of metal and steam. And right in the middle of the beast still lies the shiny brass box, a beating heart supplying constant power to the computer.

As well as calculations, the machine can now perform many other feats, the most amazing is its ability to simulate any environment in the little brass box behind the glass screen. Charles calls it a “virtual reality”.

Charles too has changed. Gone are his debonair looks which charmed the ladies at St. Hilda’s. He seems much more paler and thinner. When he rarely speaks it is in a much lower voice, almost sinister.

My conscience tells me to worry about Mrs. Jones, but there is something about that machine, and Charles, that intrigues me.

 

September 30th 1897

Forced myself to visit the Joneses even though I knew the sights would cause distress.

Journeying to their East-end terrace was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. Rarely have I wondered from the comforts of the upper class society and the images that greeted me filled one with guilt.

The squalor that these people live in is mild compared to India, yet it is still rife with disease and vermin. The bad conditions must surely bring out the worse in people because the folk are repulsive, ignorant, arrogant swine. Mrs. Jones has a small but spotlessly clean terraced house; it is like a shining beacon of light amid the dirty East-end. She is in a most terrible condition, spending her day staring into blankness, never opening her mouth except to eat. Quiet Mr. Jones tends to her night and day. Thank heavens they are childless, otherwise it would be a nightmarish situation.

Latest news from the continent tells of increasing tensions between France and Prussia.

 

October 1st 1897

Spent the day browsing through the club’s library before my return to the university tomorrow. From what I read of Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days I can confirm that the parts based on our very Reform Club are well researched. When he visited the club a few years ago I was promised a part in it, so I may find myself reading about myself in a later chapter.

Sent out advertisements for a new housekeeper and got a note from Charles asking me to get some papers from his dormitory.

 

October 2nd 1897

Being back at the university was much more enjoyable than I had thought it would have been. The students and teachers seemed so eager to hear wonderful tales of India that it was hilarious to see their disappointment when I explained how little I saw of it.

Remembering my promise I went to Charles’ dormitory and saw that it hadn’t been used for a long while.

The papers seem to be a speech written by Charles about his computer for when he presents it to the university. It is interesting yet disturbing. I took the time to copy it out:

 

The Information Revolution by Charles Babbage.

 

“As we speak, the world around us changes as the Industrial Revolution improves living standards, communication, and mass production. Some people say that the future is now, but I disagree.

“To progress man has to find a way to change his environment to suit his needs, any good historian will tell you this. Mankind needs to overcome the obstacle of bad communication, transport and cultural differences if it is to achieve a one global Utopia.

“In the beginning I designed the computer as a machine that could store information and calculate any problem in seconds. Now I realize that it has the potential to achieve much more. Imagine a world where all countries are united as one and the jobs of production, cultivation and building are taken care of by a giant computer, leaving man free to enjoy life, study, and to expand the Utopia.

“To achieve this we have to be able to bend the environment to our will. This is where the technology of the computer comes in… (The next part is all about the technical details of the machine so I have omitted it).

“…with this power it is possible to “warp” space, time and matter.

“Objects could be generated out of thin air, terrain could be changed to a more suitable land, people could be teleported across the globe and time travel would become a reality. The possibilities are endless.

“With my computer, the Information and Industrial Revolutions would grow side by side, allowing man to step out into a brave new world!”

– Charles Babbage.

 

It seems that Charles envisions a new society. I fear that Marxism has deluded him with its promises.

The basement door was shut tight when I delivered the papers. Charles would not answer me despite my protests.

The machine now emits a monotonous banging that continues as I write this.

 

October 3rd 1897

That infernal racket never stopped during the night and Charles still won’t open the door.

Weariness prevented me from going to the university and I eventually resorted to staying at the club all day just for some peace and quiet.

 

October 4th 1897

The noise continued unabated until last night when it suddenly stopped.

Jardine inquired about my absence yesterday and refused to believe my story. The cur even threatened mw with dismissal if “I continue with nonsensical excuses”. Nonsense indeed! It was Jardine in ’78 that tried to convince us all in his sightings of spirits and poltergeists. Later that evening when I returned home the architecture of the room seemed strange and warped. Maybe I should lay off the sherry.

 

October 5th 1897

Something eerie is afoot and I’m sure that machine is the root of it.

I awoke to find my surroundings nearly unrecognizable. All the furniture and walls seem to be distorted and twisted to quite grotesque standards. From the outside the house is normal, but the interior resembles a macabre freak show.

What is happening to me? The bizarre happenings that have occurred recently are scarcely believable to myself. I must admit that I am now afraid of my own house yet I daren’t leave it for fear of what will await me when I return. The computer’s ability to “warp matter” is surely the reason for this devilry and Charles persists in ignoring my pleas to allow me into the basement. Perhaps he is dead and the machine is out of control, that would explain why a cloud of chaos has descended on Mayfair.

Tomorrow I must force the basement door open to try and stop that engine of destruction.

May God help me.

 

(The handwriting now is less cursive and is gradually reduced to a childish scrawl)

October 6th 1897

This will be my last entry, dear diary. Charles is dead. He had good intentions for that beast but it was not to be.

I managed to burst into the basement early this morning and was astounded at what I saw. How the machine grew to that size is beyond me. It was like a factory below my house. Rivets turned, pumps pounded away endlessly, cogs clicked into place and the steam… oh the steam! It was beautiful yet menacing, a huge monster never ceasing it’s work, forever growing, towering ominously. And right in the centre, supplying the amazing power, was the shiny brass box pumping energy into the creature’s veins.

As I stood in awe, Charles approached me not shocked in the slightest at my presence. Only his closest friends would have recognized him. His entire body was pure white and it radiated a soft luminance. I only dared to look into his eyes once and the sight still makes me shudder. Wild flames basked in a brilliant white glow danced in his white pupils like wicked devils.

He talked like a mad man, eyes darting in all directions, speaking of a new order where man and the machine lived together in harmony building a new Utopia.

It sounded so wonderful! The computer would spread British influence through Europe, the colonies, then the world! As the talk became more frenzied, the machine seemed to grow angrier. Every part of It’s body moved faster and faster until Charles reached the highpoint of his speech when suddenly It let out a huge piercing jet of steam from It’s furnace.

When the steam cleared Charles lay dead on the floor scorched to a cinder. The machine had turned on its creator.

I write this locked in my dining room in a state of abject fear. I have decided I cannot live in a world run by a machine with a mind of it’s own.

The last thing I saw before I fled from the basement was the little brass box. On It’s screen It showed something growing and growing until It filled the entire globe. Humans will not be needed in this world as the Beast can create further machines from within It’s bowels.

God created Man and Man nearly destroyed the Earth. So what of Man’s new child?

– Sir Philip Redgrave

 

So ends the diary found near the body of Sir Redgrave. The body of Charles Babbage was found in the basement scorched beyond recognition.

There is no sign of “warped furniture” or a giant machine; the basement is completely empty. The writings are probably the work of a deranged mind due to the fever Sir Redgrave contracted in India. The official verdict is that Sir Redgrave murdered Charles Babbage then took his own life.

The rest of the day was quiet except for some of the East-end populace making reports about “a huge mechanical flying bird” heading towards Westminster. Such reports have been dismissed as nonsense.

– Detective Inspector William Bull