The Forever Engine – Snippet 32

The Forever Engine – Snippet 32


October 8, 1888,

Aboard Her Majesty’s Aerial Ship Intrepid,

Aloft over Austria

The next morning I woke in the darkness and felt the rhythmic vibration of Intrepid’s engines through the bunk, felt the warmth and slower rhythm of Gabrielle’s engine beside me. Her back rested against my chest in the narrow bunk, her bare shoulder rising and falling as she snored softly. For an instant, it was the best morning I’d had since coming here, perhaps the best morning in years. Then a wave of panic swept over me. What the hell was I doing?

I pulled away and sat up on the edge of her bunk, sat there shivering, appalled at what I’d done.

When Sarah was just six or seven, my wife and I had taken her to a seafood restaurant. We had to wait before being seated, and Sarah spent the time studying the tank of lobsters which stood beside the hostess station like an aquarium in the doctor’s office. After a while, she began naming the lobsters, and I knew: no lobster tonight, maybe never again.

I had called Gabrielle Gabi last night, over and over in our mutual passion, our entwined dance of life as we hurtled toward a rendezvous which would enable me, if all went well, to snuff out this time and everyone in it to save my own.

Gabi — naming the lobsters.

Behind me she stirred, then stretched a little, and yawned.

“Ah,” she said. “You are awake.”

“Yeah.” I got up and started to dress. For a moment she rested on her stomach, chin propped on folded arms, face obscured by a soft tangle of golden curls. Then, nude and unselfconscious, she sat up on the bed, crossed her legs, and pushed her hair away from her face. I had never imagined a Victorian woman remotely like her.

“Gabi — mon surnom. You would say nickname? Do you have the nickname for your daughter?”

“The Terminator.”

Like an incantation, her name summoned her, and, for a moment, if only in my mind, Sarah was there, about twelve or thirteen years old. I guess we always think of our kids as younger than they really are, just as we think of ourselves that way. Sarah looked at me with her knowing smirk, one eyebrow raised when she looked at Gabrielle, torn between approval of “Daddy’s hottie” and vague distaste at the idea of “old people sex.”

Then she was gone, and my cheeks were wet and my lungs empty of air.

Gabrielle studied me, frowning slightly in concentration.

“You fear for your daughter, she will be impoverished if you do not return?”

I caught my breath and wiped my eyes.

“I fear she no longer exists. But if she does, I had good life insurance. Plus she’ll get my IRA and the condo on Lake Shore Drive.”

Gabrielle had that look that said she had no idea what I’d just said.

“Trust me, financially she’ll be fine.”

“What of her mother and siblings?”

“There’s only her — her mother died when she was eight.”

“Ah, so you are her only family. You fear she will be alone.”

“No, she’s still got two grandparents alive, plus a bunch of uncles, aunts, and cousins, mostly on my late wife’s side of the family. We’ve stayed close to them.”

She looked more confused than before. I was, too. I’d spoken about Sarah as if I would never see her again, as if she would go on but without me. I would save her, somehow. But would I be able to face her afterwards, knowing what I had had to do to accomplish that?


The duty officer had rigged a set of pistol targets to a long outrigger off the port side near the stern, where the Marines normally took rifle drill. I’d already stashed my new revolver, fresh from Intrepid’s arms locker, there along with my towel and a box of cartridges. Gordon showed up with his own revolver about when I finished my run. Gordon being up and moving shortly after dawn, and not visibly hung over, was a good sign.

“I see they gave you one of the new Webleys,” Gordon said, looking it over. “Do you need help with this? I imagine it’s different than the weapons you are used to.”

“Thanks. Let me see if I can figure it out first.”

With a six-inch barrel, the Webley had a nice heft to it, about two and a half pounds. It smelled of gun oil, and, if it had ever been fired, it had been carefully cleaned afterwards. It was the break-open kind, the frame hinged forward and below the cylinder. I found the release catch and opened it, checked the cylinder to make sure it was empty, then clicked it shut. I cocked it and dry fired it, then dry fired it a couple more times from the hammer-down position. The action was stiff, but the trigger pull was even, if a bit long.

I dug a handful of cartridges out of the box of fifty, slipped all but six of them in my trouser pocket, and loaded. They were nice big cartridges, about the size of a .45.

Gordon had his revolver out as well now. It was different looking, slightly smaller and more complicated in design, with what looked like a hinged lever below the barrel in front of the cylinder.

“It’s an Enfield,” he explained. “Slightly larger bore, a four-seven-six as opposed to your four-fifty-five, but with a shorter cartridge. I think it makes it more controllable when firing.”

I didn’t say anything, as part of my new policy to avoid irritating Gordon any more than necessary, but I couldn’t help remembering how the “more controllable” low-powered bullet had bounced right off the hashshashin’s body armor in London.

“You a pretty good pistol shot?” I asked him.

Instead of answering, he raised the Enfield, took careful aim, and fired at the target on the outrigger. His pistol made a healthy bang and left my ears ringing.

“Jesus, do you guys do anything to protect your ears when you’re shooting? It’s a wonder you aren’t all deaf as posts.”

Gordon looked at me as if good hearing was for sissies.

The target was about twenty yards out, so I could see the hole, one ring out from the center. This wasn’t competition shooting, so in the black was good enough as far as I was concerned, especially since the target frame was shaking a bit from the wind and engine vibration. The shooting was fine, but his stance was terrible, sideways with his right shoulder forward, right arm straight out, left arm at his side. It was the classic dueling pose, probably good for standing inside a red-coated square and picking off Fuzzy-Wuzzies, but worthless in the sort of combat we were likely to see.

I dug some cotton out of my kit, chewed on it to get it wet, and packed it in my ears, then took my stance — left shoulder forward, both arms slightly bent, left hand supporting and steadying the pistol hand. I raised the pistol but ignored the sights and just focused my eyes on the target. I fired three shots in as quick a succession as I could manage, given the stiff action, and then took a step to the left. The recoil had been strong but controllable. That’s the beauty of a heavy pistol like the Webley or the Colt .45 automatic: it can handle a powerful round and not jump all over the place. It felt good to shoot.


This entry was posted in OtherAuthors, Snippets. Bookmark the permalink.
Skip to top


24 Responses to The Forever Engine – Snippet 32

  1. Scott says:

    Gordon, “oh, good shoot for a first timer, old boy!”

    • Stanley Leghorn says:

      Part of me is thinking he missed, part from being out of practice, part not wanting to show up Gordon. The rest is thinking he put all the shots in the bullseye, out of reflex, and he is going to have to do some more buttering up.

      • Robert Krawitz says:

        I don’t think he wants to go out of his way to insult Gordon, but he does want to bring him to his senses.

      • Cobbler says:

        Personal politics don’t matter to a dead man. Fargo is going into action. The only thing he should be concerned with is learning the new revolver and buffing up his marksmanship.

        To hell with Gordon. Fargo can empty the butter boat over him off the range.

      • marcel says:

        Impossible, any man has to zero a weapon when it is issued. On 19th century manufacturing the sight will be of by a bit, the barrel has probably been bored and rifled slightly of bore.
        It is good solid stuff, but you have to find out how it aims before you can hit targets.

  2. Cobbler says:

    This makes sense in Her Majesty’s Navy. The fish don’t mind if it starts raining bullets.

    If I was an Austrian beneath the Intrepid, it would irritate me.

  3. Scott says:

    I shudder every time that I see someone on the nightly news fireing wildly in the air.
    Don’t these people know that what goes up must come down?
    Fargo needs to be comfortable with his weapon, I agree Gordon will just have to get over it.
    Although, it’s amusing that he doesn’t know just how well Fargo is trained.
    By the time this book is through he’ll have a hatred for history professors.

  4. It’s ellipses time. And very clearly Fargo has not figured out that the time lines are way different.

    With respect to Venus and Mars, their orbits actually wander appreciably on extremely long time scales. If here Venus orbits at ca. 85 million miles form the sun and has a large moon, it would be as seen in Space 1889 (moving the orbit of Mars in to 105 million miles also helps, as does making it larger.) Of course, under these conditions Venus would have a visible disk; it is just short of that now.

    I infer that Martians cannot live on Earth, in that Fargo has not seen one or heard mention of one being seen.

  5. Scott says:

    Someone needs to hit Fargo with a clue stick.
    I mean it doesn’t matter what history changes you make hear on earth it’s not going to give Mars a atmosphere or alter the layout of the solar system.
    Surely he’ll twig that he’s moved sideways as well as backwards?
    What’s the bet he manages to take Gabi with him when he returns to his own universe?

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Either Gabi goes with him, or he decides to stay with Gabi in this time line.

      • Mike says:

        The bit where he explained in great detail how his daughter would be just fine without him kind of sets up the possibility that he might choose to stay.

  6. Vadim Kaplunovsky says:

    Once the Solar system finished forming 3.8 billion yars ago, the mean radii of the planetary orbits — as opposed to eccentricities or orbital inclinations — stayed the same. If you want Venus to have a larger orbit that it has OTL, you need a different Solar system, not just a different history.

    Moreover, if you want the Earth to be at the same mean distance from the Sun as in our reality, Venus’s mean distance should be at most 75 million miles. (In our reality, it’s about 67 million miles.) Otherwise, the two planets would eventually get two close to each other, and suffer catasrophic changes of their orbits. One of them might even get thrown out of the solar system.

    The reason planetary orbits cannot be too close to each other are their eccentricities. Unlike the mean radii (or rather semimajor axes) of the orbits, the eccentricities change all the time. For example, over the last million years Earth’s eccentricity (which is currently about 1.5%) ranged from near-zero to almost 6%. And in earlier eras it might have occasionally reached 10%, although most of the times it was smaller than that. Likewise, Venus’s orbit is almost curcular now, but it varies in the same range as Earth’s.

    To avoid catastrophic close encounters between Earth and Venus — which would completely disrupt the orbits of both planets — the perihelion of the Earth’s orbit should be at least a couple million miles further away from the Sun then the aphelion of the Venu’s orbit. Allowing for 10% excentricities in the geological past, this means that the mean radius of Venus’s orbit should be at most 80% of the Earth’s, or about 75 million miles. (In our reality, it’s 67 million miles, or about 72% of Earth’s).

    • Mike says:

      If you want anti-gravity trees you need a different universe, not just a different solar system. There is quite definitely no point to trying to apply real physics to anything in this story.

    • Cobbler says:

      Do I have this straight?

      You have an Earth like planet

      In a different solar system.

      It begets life which

      Evolves into intelligent life

      Which is isomorphic with humanity.

      Which develops civilization

      Which follows patterns almost identical to OTL

      (Unless you look at The Year of the Four Caesars)

      And invents European style empirical science

      Just in time to create an almost Victorian age

      Full of people identical to historical individuals of the time.

      All of this happening in a different solar system?

      Is that what’s bothering you, Bunky?

      I should hope so. It sure bothers me.

  7. Different solar system leading to Victoria…Guaranteed to happen up to a set of measure zero if there are an infinitude of parallel solar systems.

    There are numerical integration calculations that I have seen described, but did not record details, that show that unlike the earth’s orbit the orbits of Venus and Mars are boundedly chaotic; I put Venus and Mars at the limits of what were alleged to be the bounds. I do not know if the calculations are currently viewed as accurate.

    • Cobbler says:

      Oh, I get it. A billion baboons banging on a billion keyboards, getting tech support from a billion monkeys, over a billion eons, will eventually plagiarize “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

      I admit I’ve skewed the argument. Monkeys could give me better technical support than I’ve had from Microsoft. Please adjust for the false positive.

      For all I can see, physicists postulating infinite universes should be classed with string theorists: Post-Copenhagen-Interpretation-Scholastics. As an argument topper, an infinity of universes is right up there with, “How many Hell’s Angels can dance on the cylinder head of a 409?” Until either school comes up with realistically falsifiable questions, I feel free to ignore them. Not least because infinite universes is a conversation stopper. Once you pull that hat out of that rabbit, there are no limits to the number of hairball headgear you can extract. It’s not just the end of empirical science. It’s the end of logic.

      Remember William Blake, “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.” Given an infinity of options acting on an infinity of choice points within an infinity of infinite universes, why should we assume infinity would bother to repeat itself? No, I don’t think that’s a real argument. But just as real as your assumption that infinity likes watching summer reruns.

  8. I think Fargo will take Gabrielle with him, unless he decides that it is time to liberate the workers of the world.

    • Cobbler says:

      Quoth our protagonist: Was I the only person here who got it? Was I the only one who saw all she was doing was taking the questions literally and then answering them? Apparently so. Maybe this was how most beautiful women got a reputation for brilliant conversation: just about anything coming out of their mouths sounded pretty good. It wasn’t that Gabrielle Courbiere was dumb; she was well-read and obviously intelligent. She just seemed oblivious to the most basic social cues.

      I don’t say Victorians couldn’t engage the foreign. Just looks at Sir Richard Burton. To fake your way to Mecca and get back alive requires more than language skill. It requires preternatural sensitivity to the social nuance of a foreign culture. Had Burton lacked that, his skull would be decorating a sand dune to this day.

      World War I blew Gabrielle’s world to flinders. Ever since then the juggernaut of technological progress has altered legal standards and social mores at an ever increasing rate. The cross time future is indeed another country. You can’t successfully logic your way into a new universe.

      Despite his slumbering demons, Fargo strikes me as a compassionate guy. Throwing a woman who is oblivious to social nuance into such a familiar-foreign country would be an act of wanton cruelty.

      • Mike says:

        I’m an engineer. I know LOTS of people who are highly functional and apparently reasonably well-adjusted to the modern world even though they are oblivious to social nuance.

        • Cobbler says:

          So do I. I don’t doubt that they can deal with their own culture successfully. Just as Gabrielle does with the French and German cultures.

          Throw such a person into a radically different culture. Learning what counts an as insult, when you just don’t get the need for social nuance, is a huge handicap. At home even geeks who can’t get a date have their own subculture of shared isolation. Throw one into a culture where high tech means a waterwheel and watch him wither.

          I don’t say Gabrielle would end up like missionaries in Melanesia who were killed and eaten for the sacrilege of touching the chief’s head. I do say she’d find herself lost in a bizarre new culture. I say she’d be stuck, and thoroughly miserable.

          • Robert H. Woodman says:

            That sounds like the inspiration for a game of “Survivor for Nerds.” Take a bunch of socially-clueless technical types from one culture, throw them into a radically different culture, crown the winner the one who successfully understands and navigates the culture’s social scene.

            Kind of like high school for some people I knew “back in the day.” :D

  9. Let me note that Courbiere is a *spy*. She is endeavoring as her job description to separate people from information. The ship’s Captain may be immune to this, but every other officer had fallen for her charms. You are seeing a debating technique, on that worked extremely well, at least on Fargo. If there are two worlds, and this is worked out in advance, she may very well choose to migrate to ours, the more advanced. Perhaps with a slip of liftwood in her pockets.

    • Cobbler says:

      If your reading of Courbiere’s character is correct


      A; My reading is quite wrong.

      B; I haven’t a clue about the woman. (Not the first time that’s happened in my life)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.