An Unsubstantiated Chamber, Prologue by William J Jackson

The Bleak Reveal
Suppose you were inspired to write down your past accomplishments, only to find them rife with regret and remonstration. This is the task set before me in this memoir. From where I sit now, with the terrible events of the past behind, I finally understand the wisdom of hindsight. Within these pages, I, Aretha Tyne Astin, will make clear the foul workings of the Chamber Case, which still baffles those in the Missouri metropolis of Railroad City to this day. Sadly, I must also unveil my own youthful behaviors, the likes of which I no longer fondly recall. If you should see me some day, and wish to elicit your personal opinions, I ask only that you be kind.
Many have forgiven me, though I shall never forgive myself.

It has been said to begin at the beginning, though in this case, the event before the beginning is more appropriate. It will without fail play a key role into the unraveling of the mystery as the tale unfolds. The newspapers, such as the Rail City Chronicle and that slanderous Mouthpiece, could never interpret the clues that would lead to the solution. Fortunately, we reside in a city of miracles, where the pallid blue glow of the alien element negatrite has given the human race paranormal qualities suitable for our troublesome times.
Yes, the prelude. What falls next is the bleak reveal, snipped together from periodicals and word of mouth, for I had not arrived into the tale as yet.
The rain fell as liquid ice that morning of April the fifth, 1886. The whole of the city had since been quieted two years before by a legal injunction, a Federal mandate combining Army and Navy Aerial Corps into a single branch, to quell supposed paranormal uprisings. In truth, there never had been such a radical movement, save for one lone maniac with the power of detonation in his hands who leveled an armory in New England. This set up, including the military’s tragic loss of men and land to the natives in the Red Nations War, made them especially vile toward our race.
So on that morning, they were naturally on the hunt for paranormal agents. Anarchist became their word of obsession, and such supposed fiends they found beneath every stone. Under a sky choked out by an iron grey thunderhead, forty-five men with the new United States Regular Army stormed a palatial ruin; the abandoned estate of the runaway hero Alexander Amberson (hence called the Spaceman for the remainder of the story). Long ago invaded by creeping thirst vines and other critters, it was a daunting Queen Anne mansion longing for a buyer, yet finding none. Its hilly Ozark surroundings held a myriad of beauty and danger, of newly grown green leaves tinted blue and maroon.
The house possessed too many horror stories before the occupation.

The soldiers moved like ants to the command of an unseen queen, destroying the remains of the front yard as they marched. Away went the rotted stage where the Spaceman displayed a thespian flare in his youth. Down went several Grecian porticoes which lined the soaked gravel walkway towards the manor. Crashing and falling and destruction were the order of the day. After all, paranormals were deemed to be something akin to a demonic cult, and the Army, under Jacob Hurd Smith, took the Spaceman’s sanctuary to be a modern Baal temple to be thrown down.
It is a wonder, then, that the falsely accused ‘Pins’ continued to hideaway (paranormals caught often had their paperwork stamped ‘P/N’, hence the moniker). Surely they heard the rancor outside. With a chaotic swiftness common to invasions, the soldiers opened the black double doors, and immediately entered every room. They found nothing but cracked windows and mildewed curtains.
“Out to the rear,” their leader commanded.
Sergeant Leopold Powell watched from the door in fevered impatience. He was a bulldog for certain, short in stature, though atmospheric in his singular pursuits. He scratched his bulbous nose, and motioned his dogs out the rear of the domicile, where the thirst vines awaited. Truly the military had to be men obsessed in those days, to tackle uncountable beings that we (with our own enhanced talents) were terrified of ourselves!
However, men of cunning and greed should never be underestimated, for in their minds, scheming is a constant. Powell had brought along the finest in explosive ordnance, courtesy of the conniving Mister Carver. The vines slithered their way in the backyard turned lagoon, starving for living energy. They instead feasted on thirty rounds of high explosive. For a time, it seemed as if the lightning of the day’s storm had ruptured from the ground, and towards the sky, instead of the usual fashion.
Army soldiers arose from their cover behind dusty furniture, to find the back of the estate had now become a deep hole of blackened mud, already filling with torrential rainfall. The first of the Frontier’s obstacles had been laid to waste.

Powell ran at full gallop outside, carefully sidestepping the crater. The men made their way to the southwest of the land, where sat the highly understated gazebo. The Amberson family, long on wealth and eccentricities, constructed a gazebo like no other. Built to hold orchestras for private parties, it was fully enclosed with redwood panels, adorned in images of infantine cherubs and iron roses. It retained for years the title of being simultaneously astounding and morose.
Sixteen men in navy blue uniforms entered, while the remainder circled. Still, they found nothing. Out the back, they again found a series of personal chambers, supposedly changing rooms for outdoor excursions, each aligning yet another row of porticoes and columns.
Each door was kicked in, every chamber flipped over of its tattered furnishings to find their quarry. Again, the violence uncovered no one. The sergeant panted with anticipation and irritation. He stepped for a time into a space between the middle chambers, a square absence about thirty feet by thirty. Rain fell across his wide-brimmed hat as he took to thought. Men weary from constant hunts took a knee and waited.

Powell gazed into puddles of brown, before turning sharply out of the open air. He looked at the end of the porticoes, a dead end with a circle of bricks dressed in blue-green weeds.
“Gentlemen, does that look like an old well to you?” the sergeant’s staccato voice barked.
They at once ran to it, and disassembled it like eager children, which the ranks of young soldiers are oft comprised. Bricks were knocked out of place by soaking wet rifle butts, until at last a circular door was found. Powell and his men smiled, for the door was new, a recent construct of hastily nailed planks.
One lift of the door, and the prize stood revealed! The terrible anarchists who threatened the Rail and all of southwestern Missouri, if not the nation!
At the well’s bottom, shivering, were two paranormal boys and their tiny sister.
Attired more in ice water than in their muddy rags, they looked up at the men, but rain stole their clarity of sight. They shivered madly.
“H-Hello?” the oldest boy, later identified as Timothy Wark, whispered out. “Are you friendly?”
“Are you paranormals?” the sergeant’s voice boomed. The tiny girl, Sarah Lee, trembled and soon cried. The question by then had gained infamy for preceding one’s end.
It was as if they had aged in an instant at the sound of their pursuer’s voice. Three little heads hung down. Sarah Lee clutched her eldest brother’s shirt.
One of the men whispered to his superior, “Sergeant, they got fiery yellow eyes! They’re the right ones, alright!”
Sergeant Powell raised a hand, and took five steps back from the well’s precipice. He declared the children guilty of anarchy, sedition and murder. Every charge was as false as the steel in the sergeant’s artificial left arm.

The soldiers raised rifles, some the dreaded rocket revolvers, and aimed them into the pit. Black smoke rose as hard rain fell. Tragic fire ushered those children away from the world.
On that same day, a paranormal anarchist known to the public only as Mortar stormed the Federal arsenal in Indianapolis, Indiana. Hurting no one severely, and killing not one soul, he stole arms and ammunition for his unseen militia.
The bounty on his head doubled. Signs were posted all across the remainder of the American West for this man, with an artist’s rendering of a completely shadowed face bearing menacing eyes under the broad hat of an Asian rice picker. The sign bore only five words:

On that day, the chase began.

The first chapter of this book will be published on Steampunk Journal on 17th November 2015. Bookmark Steampunk Journal to keep up to date with the latest news, reviews, articles and previews.

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