Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 2
Challenge #1: Steampunk. Gears, phlogiston, brass, outrageously skilled workmanship, class and all that.
Few cared to admit it, but Sebastian Lloyd had a head for business. It had been hand-fitted by Stanton Precision Instruments and was capable of processing more than sixty-two economic calculations simultaneously. If you wanted the best service, you went to Edwin Pierce Esquire or Jarvis von Hyde. But if you wanted the best price, you went to Lloyd.
Julius Foster rang the bell on the counter with a brass fingertip. There was a hiss of steam from the back room, and the sound of a chair being scraped back across the floorboards. Knowing the value of everything, and pursuing a more or less sedentary profession, Lloyd had not spared the same expense on his legs as he had on his patented pneumatic processor.
Foster took the opportunity to have one more look around the shop. The selection of wares out front was adequate—certainly a fair mix of parts—but there was nothing remarkable. Nothing befitting his steady rise into high society.
Lloyd emerged slowly from the back room, peering through his thick spectacles. Foster couldn’t imagine why he didn’t simply swap out his original eyes for a set of rock quartz optics—he had at least three in stock—but then, Lloyd knew the value of everything, and so there must have been a reason.
“Ah! If it isn’t Julius Foster, my…” the mathematical actuators in Lloyd’s left temple rattled momentarily, “fourth favourite customer.” There was a discount for the top five. “What can I do for you today?”
“I’ll be attending a summer gala this evening and I’d like to look my best.” Foster peeled the leather glove off his left hand, revealing a crude but functional Smith’s Hydraulic. “This one’s in good shape if you’d care to take it in exchange, but I simply must have a dress hand for the event. If I make an appearance with an iron arm, well…” he leaned in close, “people might think I was a servant!”
“I see.” Lloyd took a seat at the counter. From the waist up he was really quite presentable. “Do you have an upgrade in mind?”
“Maybe something in a Cyril Gardener style? I gather their latest designs incorporate some marvellous tourbillon arrays.”
Lloyd’s precision processor did a quick jig. “Awfully hard to come by. Batch-cast parts, you understand. Artisan engineering. I could order one in for you, but not in time for tonight.”
“What about if I were to collect?”
Lloyd arched his fingers. There was a staccato click of copper on copper as he drummed them together lightly. “Are you suggesting…a second hand hand?”
“If it’s in good condition.”
Lloyd’s processor worked a little longer this time. “Pneumatic. Triple compressor movement. Barometric auto-calibration.” He paused. “Rose gold case plating. That’s not to everyone’s liking: it’s not an ideal match for brass.”
Foster flexed his other hand. “If it’s to my liking, I could always go for a pair. I’ll take it.”
“Very good, sir.” There was a whirr as a slip of paper emerged from Lloyd’s lower jaw. He tore it off and passed it over “You’ll find your purchase at the address on the receipt.”
Foster stared at the receipt. The quoted figure, formed of tiny punched-out dots of paper, contained a couple more digits than he had been expecting. “Is this the price for your fourth favourite customer?”
“As I said,” explained Lloyd, “it’s a hard part to come by, especially at short notice.” There was a hiss of steam as he bent down below the counter, retrieving a small, phlogiston-lock pistol. He set the gun down on the wood. “If it makes any difference, you’ll be third favourite once you collect that hand of yours.”
Foster picked up the pistol. “Well well,” he smiled. “I am going up in the world, aren’t I?”
Lloyd smiled too. “Enjoy your evening.”
Foster nodded a thank you and made his way to the door. His iron hand was on the brass knob when Lloyd spoke again.
“One last thing.”
Foster paused. “Yes?”
For a moment, the only sound in the room was the rattling of Lloyd’s patented pneumatic processor.
“Do pay promptly.”