Another writing extract from my post-apocalyptic steampunk novel, Wixon’s Day, this passage sees the introduction of the iconic wasteland machine, the gyrocopter. Marquos and his group are resting in the Hypnagogia canal boat when the military catch up to them. This is the tipping point of the novel; from the introduction of the gyropcopter captain onwards, their ambling journey turns into a fast-paced adventure:
Chapter 18 of Wixon’s Day: the gyrocopter
Marquos wakes with a start, not knowing why. His eyes open suddenly, the dim light of day is back upon them. He rolls aside from Red, the child still slumbering against him, and he sits up, looking down the hills towards the view he spoke of. Day has barely broken, but he knows it will get little lighter. The grey scene before him stretches some way into the distance, with none of the majesty he prophesied. The fields are untended, patchy barren soil, the trees are dying and the water of rivers and pools seems to suck light away. Thesteran sits a way off in the plains, and is evident not by the sprawling urban trimmings of its city, but by the dark cloud that surrounds it. Hardly different to the Meth Fields, some towers stand defiantly out of the distant mist, but much of what there is to see is concealed. Kail’s Shroud sits on the plains in vast, consuming patches, like a cloud seeping out of the land instead of the sky. Marquos stares at it all with a sinking heart, before he hears the throbbing.
A sound like the beat of some giant wing. Marquos thinks he is imagining it and holds onto his head, trying to recall if he drank glus before retiring. The sound gets louder, though, and he looks aside towards the rising hills beside them, able to pinpoint its approach. The throb is rhythmic, clearer as the beat of air develops into the unmistakable churn of a propeller, accompanied by a smaller spluttering cough. Marquos shakes Red awake and says “Sweetie wake up! Wake up! I need you to-”
Red stirs in his grip and pricks her ears to the sound, suddenly pushing away from him and crying out “What is it? What is it? I don’t like it!”
She clamps her hands over her ears and lets out a fearful wail, to which Marquos launches forwards and grabs her, imploring “It’s okay! It’s nothing! Get back into the boat, okay? Get down there and tell the guys to lay low! It’s okay!”
The pilot releases the girl and she scampers away, jumping down from the roof of the boat and crashing into the cabin below. Marquos climbs down onto the deck himself, looking through the doorway to see Goreth and Lian are already waiting. They need no words, their eyes alone telling the pilot to deal with this. He pulls the door closed and looks up to the sky.
When the vehicle flings into view the whine of its mechanics take on a new tone, a high-pitched squeak that must have been hidden by the walls of the hills. It flies low, with a trail of unhealthy smoke spewing from its rear, and passes over the Hypnagogia with a rush of wind that almost knocks Marquos down. He steadies himself on the tiller, stands up straight and watches as the vehicle flies away. It speeds a great distance in no time, suddenly nothing more than a trail of black smoke in the sky, but the trail has turned, and moves back around towards the hills. Marquos stares uneasily as the vehicle makes another approach.
The whir of the propellers slows and the volume of the machine decreases for its second approach. It heads directly for the boat, not slowing enough to stop before reaching it, and skims over the top once more. Marquos yells out at the driver, shaking a fist. The vehicle spins above him, passing over the boat one more time before reducing its speed enough to make a landing. Marquos jumps off the boat onto the bank of the canal and paces towards the vehicle as it bounces onto a nearby rock. It’s a gyrocopter; a mix-match of metal framing and exposed pipes, connecting an open seat to a messy engine and a jagged propeller above the driver’s head. A second smaller propeller juts out the rear, barely decipherable within the cloud of thick smoke that the vehicle emits. The driver quickly unbuckles himself and clambers out from under the still-spinning propeller, rising to his full height just before Marquos. His head is concealed by a metal helmet, round goggles and a cloth mask, but the armour on his torso is unmistakable. It is caked in smoke, and the black is almost faded to a grey, but it has the fine panelling that only the Border Guard offers. Without a word, the guard gestures one arm towards the boat, waving the other trying to clear the smoke that the gyrocopter is still spluttering out.
Marquos leads the guard back to the waterway and stops at the Hypnagogia. The guard goes to step onto the boat, but Marquos puts out a hand to stop him and snarls “You’re not touching my boat.”
The guard looks at Marquos, expression hidden, and pauses. He takes the cloth from his face, revealing a stubbled chin, then removes his helmet and shoves the goggles up into a head of wiry grey hair. The guard looks older than Marquos, his skin is weathered and eyes darkly overworked, and he speaks in a rough Metrpolitan accent, “I need to check your boat.”
“No chance,” Marquos replies firmly. “Your men already went through it two days ago, I’m not inclined to repeat that kind of courtesy so soon.”
The guard glares at him, rigid. He says “Are you travelling alone?”
“With a young girl,” Marquos says. “It’s not your concern.”
“There’s no one else on board?”
“What did I just say?” Marquos’ voice grows more hostile as he leans towards the guard. The guard does not back down, holding his gaze without emotion, and responds “The night before last, a man of your description apprehended three Kandish rebels.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maybe there is someone on board, but you don’t feel safe telling me?”
“I feel safe telling you what I already did. I don’t feel obliged to prove it.”
“Very well. Who searched your boat before?”
“Men led by Commander Retical. You know him?”
The guard finally looks away from Marquos as though his suspicions have been met. He steps back, scanning the Hypnagogia. He says “I need to check your boat. If you’re harbouring fugitives-”
“You have no right to accuse me of anything.”
“If you’ve nothing to hide, then let me check the boat.”
“This boat is all I have in the world. I have a right to defend it from anyone. Just because you have that uniform doesn’t give you access to my life.”
The guard stares at Marquos again. He paces from side to side, and says “Where are you headed?”
“Thesteran, where else?”
“If you won’t let me on the boat, I want you to wait here.”
“I’ve no need to.”
“Commander Retical will want to speak with you.”
“I’ve told him everything I know already.”
The guard stops pacing and stands with his fists clenched, “You need to let the Border Guard onto that boat.”
Marquos spreads his own legs, clenches his fists too, and holds the guard’s gaze. The guard is taller than him, armoured and with the face of a brawler, but Marquos shows no fear. He snarls “You’re not getting on this boat.”
The guard looks back towards the gyrocopter, and Marquos follows his gaze to see a long metal tube with a wooden stock harnessed by the saddle. A rifle. Marquos does not move. The guard takes a few steps towards the vehicle and Marquos calls out “I’ll die before I let you on! I don’t care who you are! This is my damn boat, it’s not open for everyone! You people have no power over me!”
The guard paces over to the gyrocopter and looks down at the weapon on its side. He contemplates his options for a moment, then pulls his goggles back down, throws the helmet on and jumps back into the seat. He hoists a lever and the engine lets out a loud ripping bang before pistons turn and smoke starts to billow out of it again. The propeller begins to spin. The guard shouts out, barely audible over the vehicle, “Stay here! This isn’t over!”
Marquos stands firm as the gyrocopter unsteadily rises off the ground. It spins a few times before lining up along the direction it came from, then speeds away over the hills. Marquos spins on the spot and watches it until it has completely disappeared from view. Only then does he slump, swinging a hand to the side of the boat to stop himself from falling, and lets out a huge breath.
If you enjoyed this passage, please read more of Wixon’s Day here, available in download and print formats.