Into the Second World, Ch.1

sknox

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#1
I'm posting the first two chapters of my next novel, currently under heavy edit. These chapters at least have had a second pass, so they're presentable. I gratefully welcome all comments.


Because I arrived late into Salzburg, I very nearly missed my chance. Some fool of a dwarf had got the mix wrong coming out of Ingolstadt—I heard the coachman say something about impurities in the phlogiston tank that resulted in weak Steam pressure. It could have been pixies in the fire box for all I cared. All that mattered was that I reach Salzburg in time to join the Queller Expedition.

I was in a perfect frenzy those last miles, as the engine hauled its seven cars up from the Danube. I’m sure I presented something of a curiosity to the other passengers—an unaccompanied woman dressed in a split wool skirt with a heavy top and hunter green vest—for all the world like someone out for a brisk country walk. I paced the aisle, stopping only to peer out a window briefly or to rummage pointlessly in my rucksack, not caring what the fine gentlemen and two ladies might think of my appearance.

I was just that nervous.

This was my chance to make my name as a journalist, a profession resolutely closed to women, unless we are content to write about Kinder und Küchen, as if females were interested in only those two subjects. I had, from my earliest years, been afire with a passion for Science, and scientific journalism was my life calling. I had spent years pounding on doors, enduring the skepticism of men (or worse, their leering patronage), and having a dozen sound articles rejected by a score of magazine.

But now I had a “story” as the newspapers call it. I was working at a newspaper myself, reluctantly enough, sent to join an expedition to rescue the great Fournier from the depths of Lamprecht’s Cave. My paper had agreed at the last minute to finance Queller when he encountered unexpected expenses. The terms for the financing was that a reporter (oh how I loathed that word!) must accompany the expedition. There was only one problem: my publisher had chosen not to mention that reporter was a woman.

I carried with me the bank draft that would ensure my passage, for I was determined not to hand it over until the Professor had agreed to add me to his company. I did not think Queller would leave without the money, but I could not be sure, for my publisher had told me little. As a reporter, an employee, and a female, I probably thought all matters financial to be beyond my comprehension. However much the money was needed, though, my being late was hardly going to put me with my best foot forward.

The train arrived an hour late, a scandalous breach of practice for the Royal Bavarian Steam Line.

Before the huge engine had passed the final signal post I was already standing at the coach door, ignoring the coachman’s urging that I should, for my own safety, please sit down. Warehouses and shops slid past as the long, peculiar sigh of phlogiston Steam vented from a hundred valves, and the train eased to a stop on pure water vapor. At any other time I would have savored this display of magical engineering that is a modern Steam train, but today all I wanted was to get off as soon as possible. My feet would not stop; my eyes darted this way and that; my hat was on, pack on back, walking stick in hand.

The coachman sternly refused to open the door until he’d had the master signal, despite my scowls. Once he finally opened the door, I nearly bowled him over. His “your pardon, Fräulein,” was not at all sincere.

At least I was out.

The Salzburg Station is new-built and quite lovely, or so I am told. I scarcely noted the vaulted windows, the glass ceiling, or the colored phlogiston lighting—miracles of the Modern Age. I looked only at the people, a few score of them, who had come to greet the passengers: fat businessmen stuffed into their suits greeted by wives and families, or by equally fat associates; students meeting chums; holiday makers snapped up by relentlessly helpful taxi men. All these milled in search of their luggage and then, once united, all disappeared through wide doors that led to the city proper, leaving a handful of stragglers and two beggar gnomes, one stationed at each end of the platform. I was too near one of them.

She stood silently, as they all do, back against the brick of the station wall, head lowered just enough to still make eye contact. Her hands made the begging gesture: outstretched with palms up, then brought in so her fingers touched her chest, then out again. A slow, piteous rhythm.

The gnome caught me looking and ducked her head further. Fingers touched chest three times now before her hands extended. Pleading.

I fished two silver pfennige from my pouch, and placed them in her hand. The fur was badly mottled. The mewling sound she made might have been a thanks.

I turned away quickly. Beggar gnomes are found all across Europa. Most people, myself included, walk past them as if they were not merely small but were invisible. I cannot speak for other people, but for myself I hurry in part because of a vague sense of guilt. For what they have become, what they once were, and the part humans may have played in that sad transformation. Once in a while, though, the whole business catches up with me. A few pennies help me forget, for a little while.

Most of the stragglers were gone, leaving two rather exceptional-looking men. One wore black boots knee-high and well-worn, a khaki pantaloons, a wide black belt, rugged brown shirt, and a gray felt hat. He looked like a character from some Bolivian adventure book.

The other man was an ogre.

They were almost surely my contacts, for they stood looking up and down the platform in search of someone, but the ridiculous man was no professor. Still less, the ogre. We looked past each other, each plainly searching for anyone else. I’m sure I struck them as unlikely. At last, however, the matter was unavoidably evident, and we approached, as uncertain as children.

I spoke first.

“Professor Queller?” I asked, though I knew it was impossible. The man was too young, too outlandish, and not in the least scholarly.

He snorted. “Not hardly,” he said in a pleasant voice. “I’m Niklot Thesiger. Professor Queller is my uncle. Are you from the Zeitung?” Despite his smile, he could not keep incredulity from his tone, and he glanced over my shoulder as if he would spot the real reporter striding up. I chose not to bristle. This was too important.

“I am,” I said. “My name is Gabrielle Lauten. I am the journalist who is to accompany you.”

Herr Thesiger laughed out loud. I expected that.

“I have brought your bank draft,” I added, levelly.

Thesiger’s manner sobered at once. “Ah,” he said. “Of course. Your pardon, miss. I didn’t know there were female journalists, or that a publisher would send one on so dangerous an enterprise.”

“One what? A journalist? Or a woman?”

That would have to pass for temper-keeping.

He laughed again, easily and with good humor. “Both, I suppose,” he said. Then he seemed to look at me anew.

I am accustomed to the looks of men—they possess only a few. This was neither leer nor contempt nor indifference. His glance was more an appraisal—sizing me up, as the English would say. I bore his look, even when he gazed at my face and into my eyes. I returned the look with more frankness than politeness, and took my own measure of the man.

He had a sturdy face, a little heavy and square to be called handsome, but his generous mouth and brilliantly green eyes held interest, and his rich brown hair tumbled from under his hat in a charmingly boyish way. I made a guess at his character—it was not charitable.

I had not the least idea what opinion he formed of me.

“Are you fit?” he asked at last. The question caught me on the off foot.

“I am not sickly,” I replied, “if that’s what you mean. Nor am I frail. I do not shy from hard work, and I am not afraid of bugs.”

He chuckled, but was instantly serious again.

“We shall face rather more than bugs, Miss Lauten,” he said. “There will be long marches on short rations. As to dangers, most are yet unknown. Are you afraid of the dark?”

“Certainly not. I am not a child!”

“Are you afraid of heights?”

“None I’ve encountered,” I said.

“Your accent is Plattedeutsch,” Thesiger said.

“I’m from Rostock,” I replied.

“Not too many cliffs along the seacoast,” he observed.

“You’ve not stood on the cliffs of Rügen.”

He raised an eyebrow in reply.
 
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The Judge

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#2
You forgot the word limit here in Critiques! It's 1500, and this chapter came well over that.

I've edited it down to the limit, so this thread is now OK. But that creates a gap between the end of this extract and the beginning of chapter 2, so makes it difficult to carry straight over. We don't encourage multiple posting of threads in Critiques anyway, since it can be seen as a way of evading the word limit so I'll remove the whole of that chapter 2 thread -- which I see is itself over twice the limit allowed!

In a few days when you've had feedback which you've acted upon, you can repost the end of this chapter and the beginning of Ch2, and so on and so on thereafter, if you still want the whole of both chapters up, always remembering to keep within the 1500 limit each time.
 

sknox

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#3
I apologize all over myself. I didn't forget the word limit, I straight up never checked the rules.

I'll do better next time. I promise.
 

Brian G Turner

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#4
My big concern here is that this all seems to be just introducing background before the story begins. It takes nearly a thousand words for her to meet her employer's representative, and when she does, they chat.

Perhaps it's part of the style of the piece - but I think this could be condensed down to have a much more punchy impact.

Also, while you have some decent indignation on the part of the main character, we don't get anything else - surely there's a sense of nerves, a growing anticipation? Tapping into feelings of tension/conflict would help drive the character experience more.
 

tinkerdan

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#5
I like the idea--however I think there could be room for tightening things.
What strike me the most about this writing is a sense of passiveness that seems to come from the first person narration--that reminds me how the old classics used to do things. Not a bad thing however you might consider tightening taking out filters and adverbs and passivity.
Because I arrived late into Salzburg, I very nearly missed my chance. Some fool of a dwarf had got the mix wrong coming out of Ingolstadt—I heard the coachman say something about impurities in the phlogiston tank that resulted in weak Steam pressure. It could have been pixies in the fire box for all I cared. All that mattered was that I reach Salzburg in time to join the Queller Expedition.
This is what I'd do to clean it up--however it's never what others would do--so I don't expect anyone to do it this way::
I almost missed my chance, by arriving late. The fool of a dwarf's mix was wrong. Coming out of Ingolstadt—the coachman mention impurities in the phlogiston tank, resulting in weak Steam pressure; however that's pixies in the fire box for all I cared. What mattered was reaching Salzburg in time to join the Queller Expedition.

This whole piece could use some clean up along this line, and I think when you do it will discover a new form of punch that it needs.
 

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