Today we visit with Travis I Sivart, as he shares a selection from his short story collection Aetheric Elements: The Rise of a Steampunk Reality.
What is New is Old Again
I had thought to take the railplane. It was new, but it was a singular idea of modern technology. It was like the train I was currently a passenger aboard, powered by steam and rode on rails. Except it was suspended from a rail above the ground and had a huge propeller that made it two or three times faster than my current transportation. I had to settle for this more prevalent mode of transport because I was traveling the whole length of the country, across the northern territories and states, from Van Tinsvelete to New Philton. I was much more accustomed to traveling in a less public manner, but this time was too far to rely on horse or carriage, and my regular form of travel was very exhausting and much easier to get lost. A zeppelin would go the whole trip, but was not as fast, and cost much more. Also, I did not want to deal with the society elitists that tended to prefer them.
I had stowed my pistol and other unneeded items in my private compartment. I had ventured out, not liking the confines of a small room when traveling through such open country. I wore my wrist bracer with its dials, a thermometer, a time piece, and a compass in its own pocket. My red-brown sleeveless leather duster was open, leaving the brass buckles and straps hanging. My favorite hat was pushed back with the brim dipping to cover my eyes. I found the style in Southern Gallix two years ago in 6524. It was worn by a woman in a play called Fedora. In Teurone they teased me about wearing a woman’s hat, but here in the North Mirron no one knew the difference. But to each their own; after all I mocked the current fad of goggles, except when they were worn at proper times such as flying, driving, or in hostile environments like deserts or the artic. To see an adventurer wearing them brought a smile to my face and made me want to buy the bearer a drink for a good story. To see a Bolton nobleman wear those on his top hat made me want to ask why - if they were needed them for something other than fashion.
We were stopping in a station in Shy Falls, in the Dasism Territory, to let more passengers aboard. It had become much more populated since they discovered gold here a little more than ten years ago. I knew it would be divided up and given statehood one day. I watched as the ladies in bustles squeezed into the wooden benches of the coach class. Men sat sweating in their coats and top hats, crammed in beside prospectors and homesteaders heading back east for various reasons.
Claiming my satchel from beside me, I stood and offered my seat to an elderly lady and what appeared to be her grandson. She smiled her thanks with a small sigh as I tipped my hat. I made my way to the dining car, pushing past the crowd of new passengers. It was late and most would be settling down for the night. A nice brandy and maybe a pipe would be excellent at this hour. The dining car was a fine affair. Mahogany wood paneling covered the walls, tables and bar; highlighted with polished brass rails and crystal glass tulips over the electric lights. The new trains were amazing. The electric lights were actually a self-generated power gathered by turbines linked to the wheels. So the faster the train went, the more energy it had to distribute. It even had storage cells for when it wasn’t moving. The steam discharge was also used and recaptured to help heat the water for hot showers. Moveable panels had been installed in the upper corners of the train cars. These panels would open on one side when it was cold and the steam coursing through the tubes that ran from car to car would heat the interior, or open on the other side to vent the heat out and let cool, fresh air inside during the hot days. Simple modifications made such a difference.
I sat at a table, not liking the ‘center-stage’ feel of a bar. This also allowed me to look out the window and not have to interact much with the other passengers. I drew my pipe pouch from my satchel and rubbed the well-worn leather with my thumb for a moment, deep in thought. Filling my pipe was routine, and I paid little mind to what I did. Dusting the tobacco off the table, I sprinkled it on top of the packed pipe to make for an easier lighting. Looking around, I drew a contraption from my pocket that wasn’t well known and lit my pipe. The flame shot a few inches above my cupped hand each time I puffed. I could have asked the man with the handlebar mustache and apron behind the bar for a fag from the small stove, but I preferred to not to start an obligatory conversation. I don’t know how long I sat enjoying the rhythm of the tracks, when a faint shadow stopped at my side. A hand came into my field of vision, pointing at the other chair.
“Mind if I join you?” asked a man with a faint Midwestern accent. I looked up at him for a brief moment, and then glanced at the other dozen empty tables lining the wall. “You are smoking,” he said, “I plan to smoke also. There is something about the ‘Brotherhood of the Leaf’ that makes me want to sit with someone that also enjoys the pleasures of a nice smoke. Besides, I know you won’t complain about the smoke, and others are less likely to complain if we are both smoking,” he said with a shrug.
I gestured to the other chair, gave a similar shrug, and puffed on my pipe as he set down a sketch pad and charcoal pencil and settled into his seat. I studied the man sitting across from me. The first thing I noticed was his wild hair. It had a loose curl and was neither slicked back nor trimmed short, but free. It was salt and pepper and I knew it would turn a wonderful white in time. His moustache followed suit and was a bushy affair that grew below the sides of his mouth, though the rest of his face was clean shaven. His face was lined with character that spoke of a life that had been lived to the fullest and I could see creases from frequent smiles as well as worry. He was about ten years older than me. From the pocket of his white jacket that was not neatly pressed, though not too worn either, he drew a cigar and lit it from the short candle in the crystal glass on the table. He leaned back and blew out a long stream of dirty grey smoke. We sat in silence and I returned to watching the shadowy landscape.
“It is a mystery of life,” he said breaking my cogitation. I looked at him, eyebrow raised. He had a good voice, the kind that told good stories and made me want to listen, at least for a little while. “Can one man change the world?”
“Well, it depends how you mean that.” My brow crinkled as I attempted to reason where his question had come from. I had done many things and had opinions on his exact question. I did not assume he knew me or where I had been, but I have a weakness for the great questions of life, and when someone opens a conversation with something close to one, I cannot resist but to explore their thoughts.
“Forgive me, my name is Samuel” he said extending his hand, his drawl very pronounced at that moment.
“Jack,” I said, accepting his hand. His grip was warm and friendly, and lingered for a moment of rare human contact. It spoke of a man looking for answers.
“I just lost a dear friend and am returning home to Quarry Farm in the Empire from his funeral. And as such events will do, it has left me contemplative,” he continued. I nodded, waiting for him to go on. “I think about the deeds of my friend and the people he left behind, and it is only natural, as humans are selfish creatures, that thoughts turn to my own mortality.”
“I am sorry to hear of your loss,” I uttered the common courtesy of sympathy, unable to think of anything better to say. After a moment added, “Tell me about your friend?”
“He was a man, like any other. He faced his challenges in life, perhaps better than most. We are very different men. He had his adventures when he was young; I had mine when I was a bit older. He wasn’t much older than me though, a mere decade. We did have some things in common, we are both family men. My third daughter just turned four this summer, in Surem. His children are all grown and he is enjoying his grandchildren.”
“You said he passed? You speak as if he is still alive.”
“Isn’t he?” He drew from his cigar, looking for a moment at the ash at the end. Waving the waiter to the table, he ordered a whiskey. “I will explain. He lives on in his deeds, his actions, and his legacy. Don’t we all? Some men strive for greatness and become notable men in history, and we live in an era where history is being formed as we speak. Now, I don’t think my friend will ever grace a history book, but I don’t doubt his mark has been left. He was a forward thinking man and educated. He attended some University and had a military career. But I think he was best educated through his own efforts. But I do not think that is what makes a man.” He drew on his cigar again and sipped at his drink, which had just arrived. “Do you believe in time travel?”
His question surprised me and it must have shown on my face. I fancy myself to have a good poker face, but some things slip past.
“Pardon me?” I asked.
“The ability to travel, not just through space, but also through time. Science has made many great leaps in the past few decades, and I think this is possible. And I think you do also. I noticed your fancy gadgets, also the odd colored mud that dried on those boots. That is not from anywhere near here, and I doubt it would stay on you for long enough for you to have traveled from someplace that has such soil.”
“A bit of mud and a few brass trinkets do not a time traveler make,” I said as I fumbled with my lighter, lighting my pipe again which had gone out.
“Oh, I agree. But your accent, your mode of speech, your mannerisms, and your singular reaction to my question makes me think there is more to you than you let on. Not to mention that unique tool with which you light your pipe.”
“I am thunderstruck, sir.”
“I think you are, but your eyes say I am not completely incorrect either. You see I have traveled three continents, piloted riverboats, and met many people. But none like you. That is why I sat here. Now, do not be querulous. I have no intention of exposing you, and perhaps I only want to believe it because of my current state of introspection. But I will have you know I am a Freemason, a member of the secret society Scroll and Key, and a member of the recently formed Society of Psychical Research. I even foresaw my own brother’s death in a steamboat explosion a month before the event occurred.”
He said all this louder than the rest of our conversation and I looked around to see if anyone had overheard. The room had grown quiet. As I looked around everyone began speaking again, and quite purposefully not looking in our direction. He laughed kindly.
“You see?” he asked. “They look away. They will not bother us. We are two eccentrics having a discussion in our cups. But I think perhaps you may have answers for me. I have a friend, Nikola, who does wonderful research. He made electric lights and many other tools available through his works, and he and I often discuss the very real possibility of time travel. He even works on a machine to make it possible.” I stared at him and tamped my pipe, puffing to make sure it didn’t go out. I sipped my brandy and sized him up.
“I don’t believe time exists except in the mind,” I said, thinking I would shock him. He nodded and leaned back in his seat, waiting. “Time, like any measurement was made by humans to explain our world, our surroundings, so we could better understand them. But when you define things you limit them, and that allows the impossible to exist. Without such definitions nothing would be impossible. And scientists that ignore such parameters are the ones that prove that the impossible does not exist, it is merely the undiscovered.”
“Radical thinking. I am a very forward thinker also. I believe everyone should be allowed to have an education and an opinion. I support Women’s Suffrage, Abolition, and Emancipation. But these are mundane conflicts compared to what you suggest.” He paused. “I am still trying to fathom the full implications of what you are suggesting. If these things do not exist, except in our minds, what does that say for the rest of the physical world? Even our own bodies?”
“They are a form of definition also.”
“So what is real?”
“Our minds. Perhaps our spirits, our souls.”
“Do you believe in God, sir?” he asked, his eyes piercing me and I knew this question was a test.
“He is a measurement also. And by defining something like God, we limit it. Don’t you think?”
He drew from his cigar and stared out the window for long minutes. His face went calm and the lines upon it went smooth. I could see him savoring the thought like the whiskey and cigar he held in his hands, considering it. He threw back the last of his drink and waved for another drink for both of us. We sat in silence as the waiter brought us our drinks and left.
“Perhaps Jack, but if we do not believe in God and the rewards and punishment that comes with that faith, would we not turn to evil ways?” he asked.
“Did you attend a college?” I asked and he shook his head.
“I educated myself in public libraries and through life.”
“Yet you still learned without an institution. Religion is a fine institution, but it is not the only way to learn how to be good and moral. It is a way for others to control what you learn though, and how you think.”
“I must agree. I often speak of how many evils have come from religious efforts: wars, theft, killing of whole peoples, and destruction of whole civilizations over a disagreement of the definition of gods!” His eyes went wide, “Jiminy Whiskers! There is that word again, definition. You have made me use it, enforcing your point. Well done,” he laughed. It was a laugh from deep inside and heartfelt. He then asked a question, almost of himself, “What are you saying though? How does this relate to my original topic of my friend?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if this relates at all.”
“Of course it does! That is why I was drawn to you. If time does not exist, except as a human concept, then he lives on. Forever, if you believe in time outside of time in the mind. Things come around again and again,” he went on, now becoming passionate. “DaVinci thought of many things including submersible crafts and of flight, and now we have zeppelins and are developing flying machines, or so I have heard. My friend was part of the Air Corps you see, and my other friend Nikola says that with steam and electric we should be able to create machines that fly without a balloon attached. So what is old is new again. It is reborn with the spirit and defined by the mind.”
We talked for many hours, about many things that night. I think he realized that no one is ever truly lost to us even if we no longer have them in our life. We all have a legacy; some are just more public than others. We all touch many lives and a simple touch is enough to change the world. He spoke of a world, places, and people I had not been a part of in a long time, but made me miss it and want to return for a visit. I don’t know how he arrived on that train, but I am grateful he did. We never met again, but as we shook hands to part ways he left me with a parting thought.
“Perhaps I will write about you one day. A man that comes to a different place, a different time, with different ideas. And we will both have a legacy that others remember.”
Travis I Sivart lives in a state of constant flux between Richmond, VA and Washington, DC with his son and two cats. He has written and published poetry, short stories, editorials on manners, pipe smoking, and medieval re-enactment. He can be found hosting his Steampunk themed radio show, Sounds of Steam, or at http://www.TravisISivart.com