The Golden Stores of Dr. Silvertongue
with M. K. Wiseman, author of “The Silver Scams”
Steampunk author M. K. Wiseman, creator of the story “The Silver Scams,” arranges a walk for me with two rather shady characters.
I have, upon this occasion, traveled all the way to Holland to speak with a most impressive gentleman who has promised to raise the country above sea level. Dr. Thomas Silvertongue, has extended to me an express invitation to tour his facilities, promising to answer any questions I might pose.
Or, that’s what I want him to think.
It bears mentioning here that I must rely on my limited knowledge of costuming in order to meet this man. Already, I am sure that I am dealing with a con artist, and I want to know for sure. I must appear as someone who would perk his interest, and not in a male-female way. He must believe me to be in a position of political power. I think I can pass for a guy, but not easily. The era of Victorian Steampunk clothing helps — there is more for me to put on, and less chance of discovery. I am hoping that Dr. Silvertongue does not care enough to notice my heavy makeup and thick overcoat. Well, anything for an adventure!
Approaching the site, I already find myself impressed. Though the building is not much to look at from the outside, there is much commotion within. Sheets of metal lie about the floor while the man himself, Dr. Silvertongue, oversees production from a makeshift office. I see he has secured a chair for me.
Rising to his feet, Dr. Silvertongue approaches, hand outstretched in greeting and a smile upon his face. It is odd that, considering the tailored aspect of his suit and the crisp freshness of his voice, Silvertongue does not appear out of place in such rough surroundings. Perhaps he is so accustomed to taking charge, applying his massive intellect, that he seems so at home here. Magnetic. That’s the word for him. Even his mustaches seem specially oiled to hang like a frame about his lips as he calls his greeting.
“Thank you for coming. I trust your journey was a pleasant one, Mr . . .?”
I stop worrying whether the title “Mr.” even fits my appearance, and I hurry to shake hands. “Dr. Silvertongue, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am Mayor Goldstores from the mining village of Panaglia, Switzerland.”
Silvertongue’s eyes light up for a moment, clearly recalling the details I had provided in setting up our little interview. He begs me sit and produce any question I desire. And so we begin.
Question: Perhaps you have heard of us? Our gold mines are world famous, after all.
Again Silvertongue’s smile flashes in and out from beneath his oiled mustache, a match to the glimmer in his eyes, “But of course. Mayor Goldstores. Though, I have not had the pleasure of visiting your town myself, I am aware that some of the more fascinating breakthroughs in digging technology have come from your little corner of the world. I think of your people as brothers in arms. Thinkers. The makers of the impossible. It is indeed a pleasure that you should have thought my humble operation worth the look . . . even in consideration of how high the Staten-Generaal might have painted it.”
A veritable mountain of a man has slunk up during his boss’s greeting. I have the distinct impression that he’s not happy that the good doctor does not introduce him. Clearly he desires to say hello but has the sense not to interrupt. I study him with interest, my eyes following him across the room as he slides into the background a moment later, dull as the scrap that surrounds him. It is tempting to judge the man badly. Although he is as tailored and trim as his companion, somehow the garb looks out of place on him. But then everyone seems to pale in comparison to the doctor. Somewhat reluctantly I resist the urge to ask about Silvertongue’s assistant, instead pressing forward with my own questions, prepared in advance.
Question: I am impressed with what I have heard of you. You are a superior intellect! I also hear that you are a philanthropist. How did you come across that poor young lad with his finger stuck into the dike?
At this that curious assistant comes sneaking around again and his desire to speak is, this time, palpable. It is Silvertongue who sends him off with a dark look, quickly speaking to cover the one syllable that his assistant manages to squeak out: “Ah, yes. That poor, poor boy. And the beginning of all this—” Silvertongue gestures at the varied manufacturing that lays about the warehouse. “I count myself fortunate for simply being in the right place at the right time. There were no heroics. Just myself, and Jan—my engineer, looking to do a bit of surveying. The countryside could really count itself doubly lucky. For the break that we subsequently patched up would have been most disastrous had it been allowed to continue. The boy is the real hero here.”
I do believe I detect a tear in Silvertongue’s eye as he speaks the words. Off aways his partner gives a snort. He really is a roughish character.
Question: I understand that you want to elevate the entire country of Holland above sea level. Have these county officials received your plan with joy and excitement?
“In truth, the plan was theirs to create.” Silvertongue is self-effacing in his answer, his eyes shifting to his engineer, “As I said, we were in the right place at the right time. When the people of Holland saw firsthand how dangerous their perilous little system is . . . Jan and I are, of course, obligated to do what is right, to show them the way out the dark ages, if you’ll excuse my terms.”
Jan is now uncontainable and Dr. Silvertongue allows him to exude praise. The engineer’s voice is ugly in comparison to the doctor’s but it isn’t as rough as his appearance.
“That’s right. Those windmills. Clatterin’ and clankin’ away like that. Those big old walls of dirt and rock surrounding the ditches. It’s a shame how it wears at a man. I’ve known a good few souls ‘ave lost their lives to this big awful system that keeps the water at bay. Good men. And Pier— ah, Silvertongue is a . . . is a big old saint armed with marvels I hadn’t ever seen the like before. ‘S been a real pleasure seeing this come together. You’ll all be pleased if we can work it out. You’ll see.”
I carefully note the slip of tongue, so to speak. The engineer called a name that was not his master’s. I am sure, now, that there is no such thing as a “Dr. Silvertongue.” To watch the two of them is a little like watching a dog being house-trained by the master, complete with the adoring “Did I do well?” look that the engineer gives Silvertongue at the end of his little speech. Dismissed, the big man lumbers off, rattling off calculations and scratching his head as he circles a large metal cauldron that sits in the center of the room. Which, of course, leads me to my next question.
Question: That contraption in the middle of your warehouse looks like a submersible. How on earth do you intend to use it to raise Holland?
At this, Silvertongue’s careful genteel act is broken and he exclaims, “Ah, you know it? After my own heart, you are, Mayor Goldstores. Have you ever seen the like? Our plan is to use Holland’s network of waterways and channels against itself. When our project is ready for deployment, that beauty over there, will be integral to our plans. Best of her class, first of her kind . . . the best in modern luxur– er, technology fills the bulbous hull from nose to stern. I promise you, when I take the helm to deploy our pneumatic pylons underneath hill and dale, Holland won’t know what hit it.”
Completely unaware that he’s shown as much genuine excitement as his cohort, Silvertongue settles back in his chair, looking quite pleased that I knew his mechanical marvel by sight.
Question: Your machinery is impressive, Dr. Silvertongue, but I have to admit that this copper barrel up here is rather ordinary. Can you explain it to me? What does it do?
I was wrong. Silvertongue is capable of yet further emotion and he sweeps himself to his feet, gesturing that I stay where I am and speaking all the while. “That, my dear Mayor Goldstores, is the crux of this whole operation. That ‘ordinary copper barrel’ is a remotely deployable pneumatic naval mine. Controlled by waves of electromagnetism, these contraptions open like a lady’s parasol, blossoming like indelicate flowers and pushing the earth upwards. They are deployable from the submersible and Jan, over there, is the one working out the grid pattern to make it all come together. Wave hello, Jan.”
Silvertongue turns back to me, his eyes burning with bright fire once more, “You’ve heard that someday every mountain will be made a plain. That day might perhaps be sooner than one imagines. And at the hands of men of science.”
Giving a nod to my host’s reference, I find myself somewhat put off. Truly it is the stuff of miracles but it seems an awfully large task. I say as much and again Silvertongue passes it off on his engineer giving me the change in topic I was looking for. I seize upon the opportunity.
Question: I am a lover of numbers, Dr. Silvertongue. I was an engineer before I was elected mayor. So that engineer of yours, Jan was it? Hello, my good fellow! Can you tell me some more about the construction of this . . . contraption? I’m sure you have some intricate plans for raising this land above sea level. How, exactly, will that be accomplished, sir?
At my words, Jan freezes in place, his mouth fumbling for words even as his hands fiddle to conceal the large wrench in his hands. He looks like a school kid caught not knowing his letters. Then he starts to spout off equations and numbers, gesturing and talking technobabble. It occurs to me now that perhaps he’s not quite right, what the French call savant.
And then, it occurs to me, as I replay and parse his quick, terrified narrative, that none of his answer makes any sense. He has given me a random array of numbers and equations. Does he hope I will not notice? The clearing of a throat at my side calls my attention back to Silvertongue. Feeling it impossible to argue with Jan, I float my next question.
Question: I do not mean to pry, Dr. Silvertongue, but you see, my little village of Panaglia is in a dire situation now. We have money to hire someone, and we need a man of your obvious talents. You see, we live in fear of losing our city forever. Unlike Holland, we are many feet above sea level. We are up on the side of a mountain, and bits of us are always sliding down the hill when it rains. We have barrier walls and such, but the problem persists. Have you ever seen anything like that?
It would appear I have hit upon yet another of Silvertongue’s favorite topics. While I would not wish to accuse a gentleman of braggery, it is hard not to imagine the buttons on Silvertongue’s vest popping under the strain of his puffery as he expounds.
“Have I ever? New Orleans: has me to thank for a third of their land mass.”
“You and the Mississippi River, sir?” From the look in Silveretongue’s eyes, I am at once aware that I have nearly blown my cover. Beyond that, I have been considerably rude.
He puffs up again, undeterred, “You know of the Kingdom of Hawaii, of course? All my work, dear sir. I—” Silvertongue lowers his voice, leans in, “I have dined with Russian princes. There are buildings bearing my name, statues dedicated to me for my services in, ahem, dissolving the connexion betwixt them and that frozen rock of land they’re hoping to sell off to the Americans sometime soon. The so-called Alaskan territories. They call me Baron Bering up in those parts. I haven’t bothered to correct them.”
I am ready to say that, while his credentials are all well and fine, this isn’t exactly an answer to my question when a commotion in the doorway arrests our attention. A look of frustrated dismay crosses Silvertongue’s face as we watch Jan give a growl and hoist his massive wrench menacingly.
“Hello! Good sir engineer, are you all right? Why are those canal and dike workers harassing you through the doorway?” I cry out.
Aside, behind my hand, I manage to get out yet one more question that has been plaguing me since I first set eyes on this Jan fellow.
Question: I say, Dr. Silvertongue, that engineer fellow reminds me of a poster I saw this morning. Some drawing of an escaped convict. Have you vetted this fellow? I am not sure I would want him running about in my quiet little village of Panaglia.
He takes the bait. At this Silvertongue grows very cold.
“I vet all who are in my employ. Jan over yonder is at trustworthy as myself. A patriot. Routing those who’d waste the Staten-Generaal‘s good works. Some people are small minded enough that they feel they must start nasty rumors lest we overturn their system of clanking windmills and water-choked channels. Many a good man has given his life in service to their perilous system and giving it up doesn’t come easy.”
“Men like poor old Raff.” Jan has approached, his actions having scattered the naysayers for the moment. At my blank face, he explains, “Raff. Raff Brinker? A good man. Injured working on a dike during a storm. Two small children at home. Tragic stuff. Tragic.”
I have to admit that this tender side is one I did not expect to see from this giant of a man. Even so, he still gives my skin the shivers. Gentle or not, intelligent or otherwise, he’s still an imposing figure. I wonder that Silvertongue doesn’t also keep Jan on as bodyguard.
I decide to test my last question on him—and my real reason for coming here.
Question: Given all of your impressive technology, sir, I think you must have a solution for every problem in the world. How would you solve the landslide problems in my town?
Silvertongue seems genuinely cowed by my leading compliment and is silent for a long moment. When he speaks, his words carry the slight gruff of emotion, “Thank you for your kind words, Mr Mayor. Truly, I only wish to see that good is done. As for your particular problem . . . Now I’d have to see it, of course. Test the soil, the air surrounding, weather patterns. . . Weigh everything. But my instinct tells me your solution comes from above, rather than below. For example, I believe you mentioned that you have invested heavily in barrier walls. Yes?
“Very pedestrian. Very–ahem–Roman. Ancient, outmoded stuff. No, if I have it right, your altitude might make it possible to use the mountain above to lift your village, much like the hoops in a lady’s skirts, if you’ll forgive the colorful comparison. (I hope, sincerely, that he has not made me blush. I also hope that he has not discovered me yet.) I would, of course, make sure that it is a beautiful construct . . . which would, unfortunately, raise costs . . .”
This reads like the cue to leave and I rise to my feet, hand outstretched.
Question: Well, Dr. Silvertongue, I think I have all of the information I need. I shall be in contact with you soon. By the by, what might you charge a little village like mine, to save us from impending disaster?
Again Silvertongue looks thoughtful, finally answering, “The challenge might be its own reward. I should have to be compensated, of course, for my time, materials. . . I would require a new crew— Jan here . . . his expertise lays below sea level. Water on the brain, you know.” Silvertongue gives me a wink. Indeed he too has noticed what I have about his companion. That is both comforting and disturbing.
He continues, “I’ve a crew I worked with down in the Antarctic who had done some amazing work with gas-filled balloons— You see the submersible over there? Think of that but floating in air. Like a hot air balloon but much more robust. Wonderful stuff. Expensive. But we can talk about that when I start surveying. Your soggy season ends soon, yes? Please do be in touch. I am sorry but I must go see to Jan. Basic security around here has been touch and go of late.”
Silvertongue manages a quick handshake and then is gone, striding off after his engineer who has managed to disappear during our hasty negotiations. For a moment I have a brief twinge of conscience, as if my brain is asking “What have I gotten myself into?” and then the feeling passes. This is more than an adventure now, it’s rescue mission. I take one last look around the warehouse before showing myself out. Silvertongue does have some marvelous stuff here, but I am convinced that it is not what he claims. I have heard everything I wish to know, indeed. Holland is about to be taken for all it is worth! I am off to my next meeting, to deliver my entire narrative to the leader of the Staten-Generaal.
A Wisconsin gal with a Southwest soul, M. K. Wiseman can generally be found wandering happily amongst the pages of the largest book she can get her hands on. She came upon writing rather accidentally, finding that, sometimes, there are stories that simply must be told. “The Silver Scams” is her third short story published at Xchyler. Other titles include “Clockwork Ballet” in Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology (2013), and “Downward Mobility” in Legends and Lore: an Anthology of Mythic Proportions (2014). A fantasy novel is scheduled for release in 2015.
A techie with a penchant for typewriters, she is a magnet for misadventure, though her own story has yet to unfold. Harboring such dreams as someday possessing a library complete with hidden bookcase doors, piloting a hot air balloon, and running away in a sailboat, she currently subsists contentedly between worlds, plotting and dreaming.
Blog: http://mkfauble.wix.com/home | Twitter: @FaublesFables