A/N: And here it is. The prologue of Chuck Versus the Steampunk Chronicles.
This is, believe it or not, the first piece of Chuck fic I ever started writing, hence my penname. It took a lot to gather the courage to finally post it after almost a year of working on it. But I did it. And here it is.
Summary: In 1776, George Washington declared himself King of the United States of America and began turning a new nation into the United States Empire: expanding to the west, amassing colonies and gaining power. Over one hundred years later, the government's secrets are at risk and a new way to keep them safe must be created. When those secrets are accidentally brought to inventor and toy maker Chuck Bartowski's doorstep, his future becomes uncertain as his life fills with adventures, hardships, and even a bit of romance.
Disclaimer: "Chuck" is not mine. Its characters are not mine. Though they might as well be, considering how often I think about them.
Enjoy my steampunk Chuck!
Somewhere near the capitol of the Royal Empire of the United States
"One hundred years of freedom from the bloody British and this is what we have to show for it?"
Women in rags timidly proffered baskets of half-rotted onions. Children with coal-smudged faces sat behind them, mere piles of bones buried in cloth. The factories towered over the pitiful creatures, spewing black smoke into the early morning sky, soot mixing with clouds, a light mist of burning rain showering down on the city.
"Always so negative," came the deep rumbling reply.
"Always so positive," the small woman snapped back. "Are you looking? Really looking?"
His dark eye roved over the street.
"Our empire is the most powerful in the world, General. How can you say we haven't progressed since George Washington proclaimed himself King of this great nation?" The tall dark-skinned man felt a twinge in his knee and lifted his silver cane, smacking the brass leg beneath his troublesome joint. "We are the best."
"Are we, Director?" She sighed and pulled her top hat further over her ears as the river wind burst through the street and set her coat to fluttering behind her. The woman then tugged the coat closer to her body, covering the men's trousers and cotton blouse she wore beneath it. "My priority is protecting the King, and protecting his people. Anything that gets in the way of that…" She paused, starting to walk along the street again. "Well, let's just hope nothing gets in the way of that."
He chuckled darkly. "The way of the world."
She looked over her shoulder. "What?"
"It's the way of the world. Things getting in the way. Things not going according to plan. Mistakes being made. People dying…"
"Politicians being corrupted?" she inserted with some sting in her tone.
"Yes, even that. We just have to soldier on and do our jobs. No matter what, we do our jobs." He glanced at her quickly, taking in the paleness of her cheeks and the set of her hard eyes in her small face. "And we work together. Can you do that, General?"
She stopped suddenly and squinted at something ahead. "Now what in God's name is that?"
He followed her confused gaze with his one good eye.
A thick layer of soot hovered over the rooftops, black tar clouds of poison mingling with the dark filth spewing out of the smokestacks dotting the horizon. This was a common enough sight.
But then he saw the oddity she was referring to.
A large, round object that looked to be made of some sort of black shiny metal was slowly lowering from the clouds and into view. It lingered over the factory two blocks away that served as a front for their underground government facility, more of it coming into view as it sunk down from behind the cloud.
Dozens of ropes spilled over the railings of what was revealed to be a large, black airship silently descending over the buildings. Men cloaked all in black slid down the ropes and disappeared as they dropped to the roof of the factory.
Not a moment later, a loud cacophony of booms sounded and the dusty windows shattered, plumes of smoke gushing out. Flames began to lick at the sky, the horizon glowing red.
They burst into a run at the same time, racing down the street at breakneck speed, dodging the terrified citizens running away from the danger. When they finally neared the factory, with only momentary glances, they broke away from one another—the Director stopping at the front door while the General continued across the face of the building and around the corner.
The Director lifted his cane and tapped the tip of it twice against the stones at his feet.
There was a soft whirring sound as a deadly, sharp blade shot out of the end of the cane. He brandished the cane like he would a spear and used his brass limb to kick down the door.
Flames licked at his long duster and he ignored the suffocating heat as he brought a finger to the tiny panel beside his mechanical eye. He turned the small dial and shut his one functional eye, relying on the map that appeared in front of him from his high-tech goggle.
Still brandishing his spear-cane, he stepped over the debris of unused assembly machines and rushed down the first hallway towards the staircase. He knew it would be foolish to continue underground to their offices and laboratories when the factory above was engulfed in flames.
But it would be still more foolish not to go in this case. In fact, it might lead to the end of the world as he knew it if he did not go. So he heaved the trapdoor in the floor of the back office open and was relieved to find the path clear of smoke.
He had to retrieve the files. Or die trying.
The Director raced down the stairs, ignoring the pain in his knee as he held his weapon at the ready.
He reached the bottom of the staircase and took a few steps into the lobby where he was immediately ambushed by a man who appeared out of the shadows, a gas mask and brass goggles obscuring his features, and wearing a black one-piece suit. The attacker's twisted knife plunged towards the Director, who sidestepped, opened his good eye, and locked his arm around his enemy's.
With a quick jerk of his bicep, a snap was heard in the other man's arm and the cry of pain was muffled behind the mask as he crumpled to the ground in agony. Swinging his cane around, the Director plummeted the blade at the end into the enemy's chest then tugged it back out again, ignoring the gurgling death noises the man made as he stole the gas mask and attached it to his own face, assuming the aggressors, whoever they were, had released some sort of gas.
One did not wear a gas mask to be fashionable, after all.
He spun and came face to face with one of his advisors, also wearing a mask he must have taken from an attacker who no longer had any use for it.
"Seventeen armed men came down from the sky. From the sky! We didn't know they were there. It was an airship, silent, hiding in the clouds for who knows how long, just hovering there, waiting for—"
"Branson, this isn't a dime novel! What happened?"
The man snapped to attention. "Seventeen armed men swarmed the factory, then found the entrance into our base. They unleashed some sort of gas. The factory is on fire, Sir. But the files…"
"I knew I had to protect our secrets, Sir. So I hid them."
There was a loud ratatat of a rifle and Branson fell at the Director's feet, twitching in pain, blood pooling beneath him. "N-Nook, b-behind R-Ra—," came the advisor's last breath as the Director dove around the corner and pulled a shotgun out from beneath his coat.
He reached up and turned the dial at his eye, then swung back into the hallway. Two loud bangs and the sound of a shotgun racking followed.
The Director stepped over the hole-filled bodies of the two masked men he'd just killed. They were also wearing black, with gas masks and goggles, like the first man he'd stabbed. He didn't know who these men were, but he assumed they were from a terrorist organization. They always were. And what they were after? Well, that was a mystery he intended to get to the bottom of. But first, he'd have to secure the Empire's secrets.
He tossed the shotgun behind him, pulled back his coat and grabbed a revolver from his belt holster, stepping into the small boiler room that acted as a hallway into the main lab. He was immediately accosted by steam. The water swooshed through the clattering pipes hanging from the ceiling and the tanks they were connected to glugged noisily.
The Director moved slowly, his eyes darting back and forth, attempting to see into the shadows made by the massive tanks and mess of pipes that surrounded him. Suddenly he lifted his revolver and shot off to the left.
His enemy slumped forward out of the dark shadows, a red hand clutching the gushing wound at his chest. He crashed face first into the ground. A chill went down the Director's spine and he swung around to see a boot kick his revolver from his hand. He lifted his cane to block a wicked blade that swung down at him, simultaneously bringing his knee up into the assailant's ribs. He heard the crack of bone and whipped the man in the face with the cane.
As the terrorist staggered backwards from the blow to the head, his goggles shattered from the impact, the Director dropped to the ground and swept the man's legs from under him so that he dropped like a sack of potatoes.
He was knocked unconscious when he hit his head on the temperature gauges mounted on the tank behind him.
The Director found his revolver and picked it up, ready for anyone else who meant to attack and continued carefully to his destination. He found himself in the lab a mere handful of minutes later. He shot and killed two men rifling through the file cabinets, then waited at the door to see if he could hear more aggressors approaching.
After a tense minute of silence, he rushed to the corner of the lab where a four foot tall bronze statue of the Egyptian god Ra stood. A round orb balanced on his head that was carved with a hawk-like face. A golden snake curled around the orb and bared its menacing fangs, almost as if it was frozen in the middle of lunging to attack.
Holstering his revolver again, he reached up and wrapped his fingers around the smooth neck of the serpent and yanked it down hard. A whirring sound could be heard from inside of the wall behind Ra and a rectangular chunk of the wall collapsed backwards, leaving a small nook. The Director glanced over his shoulder at the entrance into the lab and slid behind the statue to reach into the nook, his fingers feeling around the stone until he found what he was looking for.
He could smell the approaching fire as he tugged the files out of their hiding place and shoved them down the back of his pants. He dropped his coat tails back down and squeezed out from behind the statue, grabbing the snake lever and shoving it into place again. The panel slid forward and the wall was smooth and seemingly untouched once more.
Satisfied, the Director unholstered his weapon and rushed out of the room. Come what may, he was ready to protect the secrets to his last breath.
It meant getting the files out or death in the attempt.
The fire had journeyed from above and now licked at any surface it could find. In hindsight, the construction of the underground facility did not take fire into consideration, he thought to himself as he glanced up at the wood beams of the ceiling.
One of the beams broke as the flames snuck along its length. It swung towards him, and he dove out of the way to avoid getting a burning chunk of wood straight to his face. Coughing and sputtering, the Director continued down numerous hallways, his eye-map activated, and finally emerged in a tunnel, his limbs aching as he maneuvered through the flickering lamp lights that would soon prove to be fatal when the fire reached the gas-filled chamber.
If he didn't get out, he would have to make sure the files were destroyed. He forced images of throwing himself into a wall of fire and letting it engulf him from his mind as he reached a large metal door with a locking wheel attached in its center. He holstered his gun again and set his hands to the wheel.
His attention was pulled from the door when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He pulled his gun out just in time. A terrorist burst around the corner at breakneck speed, a rifle raised to his shoulder.
There was a short report from the rifle and pain radiated through the Director's thigh as he threw himself to the ground to get out of the way. From his perch on the floor, he raised his gun and put two bullets in the man, one in his sternum and the other in his forehead just above his goggles.
Wincing in pain, and purposefully ignoring the graze on his leg, he climbed to his feet and quickly turned the locking wheel, yanking the door open and hurrying over the threshold. He shut the door and locked it behind him, then hobbled painfully up the stairs.
He continued as fast as he could, sweat pooling in his gas mask. Assuming the gas was clear in this building, he ripped the mask off and tossed it away, wiping at his face with the back of his sleeve.
The director hurried up at least three flights of stairs and climbed up a long ladder, pushing through a hatch into the attic. Within moments, he reached the door to the roof.
With an adrenaline-driven grunt in his throat, the Director brought his brass boot to chest level to kick the door down when it swung outward. He blinked at the small woman smirking on the other side, a pair of flying goggles fastened over her startlingly hard eyes. "Try the handle, Director."
He spared her a snarl and swept past her. "Anything on who these bastards are?"
"No correspondence from the Castle yet. The files?"
"And just what do you think these are?" he growled through his teeth, lifting the back of his coat for her to see where he'd jammed them down his trousers.
"There's a medal in this for you, Director."
"Already got enough medals in the war. Don't need another. And General, don't take this the wrong way, but shut your trap and get us out of here, or no one is gettin' any medals!"
They rushed across the roof, slipping and sliding on the tin plates until they reached the small four seater airship, propellers attached at the bottom and a large steam-filled balloon looming above.
The Director and the General leapt into the craft and she set her hands to the controls. "Hold on to your pantaloons, Director. This might be a bumpy flight."
They lifted off from the landing pad as a line of gas-mask wearing henchmen burst out of the door and scattered along the roof, raising their guns to shoot at the aircraft. One of their bullets dinged against the door and the Director swung around so that the rifle he picked up from behind the seat hung out of the ship's porthole.
He fired wildly into the group, hitting a few of them and startling the others into stopping their attack for a moment.
As he continued the cover fire, the General moved the craft towards the south.
Soon the figures on the rooftop were mere dots in the Director's line of sight and he pulled back into the craft and slid into the passenger's seat beside the General. "We're clear."
"Good. Now what the hell was that? Bandages under your seat," she added, noticing the blood staining his pants.
"I don't know what it was," he groused, tearing at his pant leg and starting to clean his wound with the gauze from the tin tucked under the seat. "But whoever they were, I'm assuming they got some intel. Who's to say our other locations didn't receive similar visits?"
"Think they were told where all our secret bases are located? A double agent?"
"Could be. We have to get a message to the King and the Minister of Defense. Immediately."
"First we have to find someplace safe to land."
They were silent for a few minutes, gazes roving the skies around them for any sign they were being followed.
The Director spoke up. "I found a few of them in the lab, looking through the file cabinets. They were after our secrets. I don't know for sure, but it damn well seemed like it." He winced at the turbulence that jarred his leg.
"Yes, well…they didn't get 'em."
"But someday they might," he said darkly.
"Now who's being negative?" Her attempt at humor fell flat and they both knew it, so she continued. "We need a better way to keep our secrets safe. We need to hide them. From everyone. Perhaps even the King himself."
"Hmm. Who knows what might happen if the wrong person got to our secret database?"
"The end of the world as we know it," she murmured cryptically, her mouth a hard line beneath the large goggles covering most of her face. "We need a safe place to catalogue our secrets, a place no one will suspect. Perhaps something that would be in constant motion, something mobile."
The small airship drifted into the clouds and disappeared, leaving the dark, dingy world and its residents below none the wiser about the catastrophe that had just been avoided.
The factory workers hammered on, the steam-carriages puttered along, and the street cleaners shoveled horse dung into their soiled buckets.
Soon, day would drift into night, and the gaslit streets would come alive with crime. The patrolmen would pace half-asleep, turning a blind eye to the organized crime rings and prostitution and the business fronts behind which violent fights were betted upon. Card games would be lost and won, and opium bartered and consumed.
And when morning broke again, the streets would fill with man, beast and machine.
The King would awaken and devour his breakfast.
The Director and the General would gather the best, most loyal and trustworthy scientists in the United States Empire.
And they would find a better way to protect the world's greatest and most terrible secrets.
Consequences be damned.
A/N: And so it begins.
I'm going to be honest. Considering how intense I was about editing this prologue, I can't give you a proper schedule for when I'm going to post each chapter. As with my other story, it will vary. I hope you all stick around, though. Because I have so much planned.
Also, the "chronicles" part of the title is important. While this story will move forward chronologically, the plot is extremely expansive. Like a television show, there will be multiple subplots and other things working in the background, things building off to the side, on top of the larger, overarching plot. In other words, this one will be going on for a very long while. Hopefully, I can keep your attention!
I'd love to hear what you all think about the prologue, though! Thanks to everyone who's been so supportive thus far!