Please join me in welcoming this weeks author, David Lee Summers, to the blog!
M: Welcome David. It's wonderful to have you by the blog today.
DLS: Thank you for having me!
M: The title, The Steam-Powered Dragon, sounds like a story I need to read! Did you have fun writing about a steam-powered dragon?
DLS: Absolutely! I’ve loved dragons since I learned how to read and I’ve long been fascinated by steam-powered and clockwork devices. It was fun finding ways to combine to two into a mechanized creature whose size and power are at once frightening and true to the dragons of traditional fantasy, while making it a machine I’d love to tinker with and see in operation!
M: Could you share what your story is about?
DLS: Three British soldiers pressed to fight in India encounter a steam-powered dragon who offers to take them away from life in the army and even gives them an alchemical device that turns coal into diamonds. The catch is that the dragon will return and ask three riddles. If the soldiers can’t answer, they will become the steam-powered dragon’s slaves, keeping his boilers stoked for the rest of their lives.
M: What drew you to tell the story The Steam-Powered Dragon?
DLS: I’ve long been a fan of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I was drawn to the original tale which served as inspiration for my story because it was one of the lesser known works. Of course, the idea of writing about a steam-powered dragon also appealed to me! That all said, I think what really drew me to this story was that it’s about three ordinary guys who find themselves in a time and place they don’t want to be. It’s a story that I think has relevance for people who may think fairy tales no longer speak to them.
M: What steampunk item did you use in the story that you would love to have?
DLS: No question, I’d like the alchemical engine for turning coal into diamonds! With that, I could buy a veritable dragon’s hoard of books!
Reading these answers, I'm ready to read the story now! Thank you David!
Now, time for an Excerpt.
The Steam-Powered Dragon
based on The Dragon and His Grandmother
DAVID LEE SUMMERS
MARLOW AND DANIELS WERE STROLLING THROUGH THE MARKET OF Peshawar Town, admiring the work of local weavers, when Carlyle ran up to them, out of breath. “The Russians jus’ crossed the Oxus River. They’re fightin’ the Afghans at Panjdeh.”
“Good for them,” declared Daniels with a laugh. “Keeps the bloody Afghans off our backs for a while.”
Marlow scowled. “That’s not going to sit well with Parliament. The whole reason we get to enjoy this mild climate is to keep the Russians intimidated. They push in on us, we’ll have to push back.”
Carlyle nodded. “Bad enough fightin’ Afghan tribesmen. Them Russians is trained soldiers, they is. The last thing I want to do is face them—and that’s bloody desert over there by Panjdeh.”
“All I ever wanted was to be an artist.” Daniels looked off toward the tall peaks to the north. “We could always go into Kafiristan and set ourselves up as kings. We’d be wealthy and do what we wanted.”
Marlow folded his arms. “That’s just dreaming. You know the tribesmen up there would tear us apart as soon as look at us.”
Carlyle followed Daniels’s gaze. “He does have a point, though. If we was up in the mountains when the army moved out, we wouldn’t have t’ march across the Afghan desert.”
Marlow snorted. “They’d still shoot us as deserters if they caught us.”
“And who’d catch us?” Daniels asked. “If we run off, they’d assume we went down the road to Lahore.”
“Best if we’re not deserters.” Carlyle tapped his pith helmet’s brim. “We could suggest a scouting tour in the mountains—requisition some guns and disappear for a few days. By the time we get back, the army’s sure to have moved on to meet the Russians. We’ll be able t’ stay here in relative comfort with the garrison what’s left behind.”
Marlow considered the proposition, then nodded. “Now that’s an idea I could get behind.”
Daniels sighed. His gray eyes lingered on the mountains, whether studying them or dreaming of distant kingdoms the others didn’t know. “All right then, I’m in.”
With that, the three men returned to the garrison headquarters and reported to their commander. Once in his office, they snapped crisp salutes. Carlyle stepped forward. “Sir, we’s heard that the Russians have invaded Panjdeh. We respectfully request that we lead a scoutin’ party into the mountains to make sure there’s no Russians spyin’ on us.”
The lieutenant returned their salute and placed his hands behind his back. “And why do you think the Russians would be spying on us?”
Daniels stepped forward. “Surely they’ll overwhelm the Afghans. If that’s the case, isn’t it likely we’ll be sent to fight them?”
Marlow nodded and joined Carlyle and Daniels. “Surely the Russians will want to know what they’re facing. Spies with telescopes could be lurking up there right now and we’d never know it…unless we go look.”
The lieutenant pursed his lips and sat behind the desk. “Very well. I need to check with the colonel, but if he approves, you can go. At least I’d get some useful work out of you three. Make a list of the supplies you need and see me in an hour’s time.”
The three saluted again, turned on their heels and left the office.
~ * ~
The lieutenant granted the three soldiers permission to conduct their scouting expedition. “Take only a week’s worth of supplies,” said the officer. “The colonel agrees the Russians might be snooping about, but we could be marching out soon. I want you back here when we do.”
The three soldiers snapped salutes and left for the mountains as soon as they could.
Their foray into the mountains was a quiet one. They encountered no Russian spies and stayed clear of the villages. Nevertheless, Marlow couldn’t shake a feeling they were being watched. Six days later, they hiked out of the mountains into the foothills above Peshawar.
Daniels retrieved a spyglass from his belt and examined the city. “They haven’t been ordered west yet,” he growled.
Carlyle took the spyglass and confirmed Daniels’s observations. “I say we’s stay put fer a few days an’ see if they depart.”
Marlow shook his head. “You heard the lieutenant. He wanted us back in a week.”
Carlyle shrugged. “So we go back in th’ hills, fire off some rounds, eat s’more of our rations and say the tribesmen gave us trouble. No one’ll be any the wiser.” With that, the three men were agreed and they went up into the hills for three more days.
When they returned to the foothills, they saw that the garrison had still not been ordered west to Panjdeh.
“What do we do now?” Marlow’s shoulders drooped. “We’re nearly out of supplies. If we stay in the mountains we’ll starve. If we return to the garrison, we’ll have to face the Russians. If we sneak east to Lahore, we’ll be shot as traitors to the Crown likely as not.”
“I vote we stay in the mountains and make friends with one of the tribes,” said Daniels.
Carlyle shook his head. “I say we’s takes our chances on Lahore.”
“I think it’s best if we accept our fate and return to the army,” said Marlow.
Just then, a great wind swept up clouds of dust. A loud, screeching roar like a broken-down freight train pulling into a station sounded. A burst of flame ignited a nearby bush. A moment later, a great, copper-colored dragon appeared in the sky above and descended to the rocky ground, scattering dirt and pebbles. As it landed, they heard tickings, whirrings, and clackings from within the beast. Steam issued forth from between its joints. The dragon was not alive at all, but rather a great automaton. Nevertheless, it looked them over with green, emerald-like eyes and let out a hearty mechanical laugh. “You men seem to find yourself in a predicament. I think I can help.”
Daniels rubbed his goatee. “And just what do you think you can do for us, eh?”
“If you promise to give me service,” said the steam-powered dragon, “I will carry you across India to the coal fields of Raniganj. There you will buy a coal mine and work it for seven years. Once you have done that, I will come for the coal and give you a choice.”
Marlow held up his hand. “Now wait a minute there, Mr. Dragon. In principle, this all sounds very good, but we’re hardly rich men who can go about buying coal mines.”
“That is easily solved,” said the dragon. He opened a leather pouch that he wore around his neck and pulled forth a small machine, which he placed on the ground. Then, he opened a door in his belly and retrieved a chunk of coal. He placed the coal inside the machine, then turned a crank on its side. Steam issued from the machine and it glowed red. Before it was cool enough for human hands to touch the exterior, the dragon reached in and plucked forth a diamond with his claws. “I think this would serve as a down payment for a coal mine. I’ll leave you with the diamond engine in case you have…other expenses.”
Carlyle stepped forward. “You said we’d have a choice at the end of the seven years. Wha’ choice would that be?”
“Ah.” The dragon’s metallic lips creaked upward in a toothy smile. “I will give you three puzzles—one for each of you—and if you solve them, you shall have your freedom. If you don’t solve them, you shall continue to serve me for the rest of your days.”
Marlow and Carlyle looked at each other and nodded. Daniels narrowed his sharp gaze. “What if we’re not there? What if we just make some diamonds and skip out on you?”
“A clever man. I like that.” The dragon tapped his forehead with his metallic claw, then his devilish smile turned into a fearsome scowl. “If you try to cheat me, I will hunt you down. Human flesh won’t burn as efficiently in my belly as coal, but it will do for a while.” The dragon let the implications of the threat sink in.
“I see no choice then but to accept your terms,” said Daniels.
Without another word, the dragon scooped the soldiers up in his claws and carried them through the air and across the entire subcontinent until they reached Raniganj near the Damodar River. He set them down. “Enjoy your time in Raniganj. When I return in seven years, I expect to have coal enough to power my burners for many decades to come.”
They watched open-mouthed as the dragon lifted himself high into the sky and disappeared from sight. Marlow held up the diamond the dragon had given them and nodded slowly. “I suppose we better get busy and buy a coal mine.”
~ * ~
About the Author:
David Lee Summers is the author of ten novels and numerous short stories and poems. His novels include Owl Dance, a wild west steampunk adventure which tells the story of a microscopic alien swarm manipulating events in 1877 New Mexico, and The Solar Sea which imagines the first voyage to the outer planets aboard a solar sail spacecraft. His short stories and poems have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Realms of Fantasy, Cemetery Dance, and Human Tales. In addition to writing, David edited the quarterly science fiction and fantasy magazine Tales of the Talisman for ten years and has edited three science fiction anthologies: A Kepler’s Dozen, Space Pirates and Space Horrors. When not working with the written word, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Learn more about David at davidleesummers.com
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Release day, May 29, 2016.