For the next month I'll be spotlighting some of my lesser-known works with sample chapters and information. Today is all about The World of Tomorrow Is Sadly Outdated, a novella that is available in digital across all digital platforms! It is a parallel narrative between 1888 and 2088 where the past saves the future... Here are the first three chapters!
THE WORLD OF TOMORROW IS SADLY OUTDATED
Leanna Renee Hieber
New York City
“Shall we?” Evan Halford grabbed one brass wheel with both hands. His partner, Samuel, grabbed the other.
Together they turned the wheels to open the Receptor’s valves. It woke with a pumping hiss. Evan stepped back, grabbed the gloved hand of his wife, and murmured a prayer. At his “amen” there came a tiny flicker of light.
Grace Halford stared at the Receptor’s vast screen and her breath seized in a tightening squeeze, as if someone had drawn her corset strings too tight. The Receptor took up half the attic wall of their brownstone townhouse, surrounded by metal tubes that hissed like a nest of snakes; a glass-headed gorgon with a body of whirring belts, cogs, pistons and levers.
A point of light on the screen grew into a sepia square, expanding until the whole panel was a rectangle of amber. Text flashed before their eyes. It was tomorrow’s headline from the Eagle. The screen flickered. All three held their breath. The image stilled and remained.
They stared at tomorrow.
Evan scooped Grace up in his arms, her skirts rustling as he twirled her around. She’d worked so hard for this moment, she wanted to feel joy. And yet…
“Oh, my darling Grace, we did it!” He gave her a smacking kiss before turning to Samuel, who stood tall and austere in his modest suit. “Samuel Stein, by God, you genius you,” Evan cried, clapping him on the back.
Samuel’s cheeks reddened. He nodded, peering closely at the screen to divert further attention.
The information on the screen continued to hold Grace’s breath captive. In hoping to see tomorrow, she’d hoped she’d see a better day. But faced with it, she realized that looking into the future meant you might not like what you see.
“But darling, Evan, please look…” Grace asked. “There will be a tornado in Brooklyn tomorrow.”
“Let a hurricane come! We located the current!” Evan cried. “There’s Tesla’s Alternating, Edison’s Direct, and yes, by God, there is our Temporal Current!” He danced off to open champagne. The rolled cuffs of his dress-shirt loosened as he flailed.
Grace pursed her lips. “We should alert someone-”
“No force of ours could stop a tornado,” Samuel murmured, glancing at Grace before looking away.
Samuel’s raised hand stopped her. “The pact, Grace. We cannot stop, or alter time, only watch it.”
Grace folded her arms, knowing full well the hours they had labored over the moral quandary of undoing time, and the hard-fought decision to let it ‘be as it would’. They were innovators alone, seeking glorious answers to improbable questions, questing to tap into the Current, not to see if the Current could make them God. Shoulders tensed with worry, the capped sleeves of her blouse neared her ears. She didn’t want to regret their miracle the moment it lived. But it had been such a dream until now.
The Receptor flickered again then guttered.
Samuel frowned. Moving to the behemoth, he tightened gaskets around the screen before dropping to his knees. His head disappeared behind the massive wiring that surreptitiously leeched off the new 14th street electric lamps, drawing stolen current into their townhouse, up to their attic, to light the screen and extend up the tallest lightning rod in Manhattan. At least, that’s how Evan had explained the spire to neighbors staring horrified at their rooftop when he installed it: “You must understand, my dear Grace has a simply absurd fear of lightning…”
Samuel put a vise on a fray of copper wire and pressed a sequence of valves like a trumpet. Puffs of steam jetted from the corner vents, tiny brass lids lifting and settling. The screen flickered to life again. More headlines. Grace squinted at the text, compelled to look even though she was torn between dread and fascination.
“There’s a seal in the corner. New York Public Library. There will be a public library? How splendid!” She leaned closer, her coiled muscles easing. “And a word I don’t recognize. Inter-net.”
“Inter-net!” Evan said the foreign word with relish. “I set the Temporal dial to pick up the earliest dates, closest to our time. It must be picking up our location too!”
There was a loud pop, a flying cork and Evan busied himself with delicate champagne flutes. He tried to pass the bubbling flutes to Samuel and Grace, who both stood rapt in future newspaper stories, time clicking forward day by day as the Temporal Current fed into the Receptor.
“Come,” Evan insisted. “There will be plenty of time to examine the history of the future. We’ve worked too hard not to have a moment of triumph. We’d best celebrate since no one else will do so.” He forced the drinks into their hands. “A shame, that. Tesla and Edison get to have their little war over their currents, and here we are with something infinitely more exciting with ours-”
“Not again, Evan. We’ve discussed the dangers if the world knew,” Samuel said sharply. What few words Samuel said, he meant, and what he meant was generally sensible. He and Grace, from the start, had lobbied Evan to secrecy and drove home the necessity of their laissez faire actions towards future knowledge.
Staring at her husband, Grace melted, finally accepting the champagne and toasted his glass. A hard-featured, thin man, Evan’s rarely absent smile kept his sharp face something engaging and elegant. His hair mussed, a sheen of anticipation glistened on his broad brow and his blue-grey eyes were lit. Grace wondered for a moment if the electricity they were siphoning mightn’t be wired right into her husband. His energy, smile and his mind were the reasons she’d fallen in love with him, and all of these qualities were on full display. She didn’t want to embarrass Samuel by kissing her husband deeply and so she decided to move to Samuel instead, toasting his glass with a polite nod, her doubled taffeta skirts swishing as she walked.
Evan bounced to Samuel’s other side, his enthusiasm contagious. “Quite a long way from sewing machines, eh?” Evan grinned.
Grace recalled the first time she’d ever heard Samuel’s name. It was years ago when Halford Garments hadn’t a single malfunction on its machines for an unprecedented year. When Evan finally asked if anyone knew why his Singers managed such uninterrupted perfection, a young German seamstress pointed to the then fourteen year old Samuel and said simply, “Why, he fixes them all, Mr. Halford, and has done since he started working here. You haven’t noticed?” Evan made Samuel a partner in the company that very day. Evan was a fair owner, unopposed to the unions so many of his competitors rejected, and he made Grace proud. She too took pride in the company, as many decisions had been made off her own advice.
“Machines. I trust sewing machines,” Samuel murmured, wincing when he saw news flicker across the screen that there would be yet another Garment District fire before the decade was through. An even worse one in 1911. Grace put her hand to her mouth at the death toll.
“Evan, you’ve got to help the unions with safety protocols-”
“I hope you’ve a way to hold this information, Evan,” Samuel interrupted, blinking back tears that had come to his eyes, “lest the future flicker away before we’ve examined it.”
Blocks of text and occasional illustrations ticked by like seconds on a clock face.
“Of course!” Evan exclaimed, beaming like a child. “Look here, I installed this yesterday.” Evan pointed to a round glass ball where a bright bulb flicked on and off in rhythm. “A print of each will be stored.” He pointed to a wooden tray below the screen where, one by one, papers fluttered to their rest. “An amalgamated history of the future, here, provided she keeps humming.” Evan carefully patted the corner of the Receptor’s thick screen.
Samuel grimaced. “A book of Revelations.”
Evan batted his hand. “You’re a Jew. You don’t believe in that book.”
“But he’s right about its power,” Grace said, understanding some of her own dread. “This cannot become some Nostradamus prophecy-”
“I pledged that nothing would leave this room. Do you not trust me? Truly?” Evan’s eyes flashed.
Grace moved to him, wanting to reassure his earnest, too-easily-hurt feelings. “Your excitement, my dear, is all that worries us, since it’s a difficult commodity to contain. Not lack of trust.”
She kissed his warm temple, wanting to set unease aside for joy and camaraderie.
But the room was no longer ruled by a loving husband, wife and a dear friend.
The room was now ruled by the Temporal Current, and it would not be denied.
An uncomfortable silence passed as they stared back at the screen, frozen. The only movement in the room became the tick of falling, revelatory pages and the rising bubbles of their champagne.
The Borough of Brooklyn
New York City still smoldered. Swaths of smoke and wisps of steam hung suspended in the stagnant air, hovering ghosts breathing shallowly. So many ghosts. Nearly all that was new fell away in the Meltdown, and only the old remained.
The skyline looked as it might have in the distant past, when the gothic Woolworth tower was the tallest in the world; looming mighty over downtown Manhattan. Except in that glittering past there wouldn’t have been rubble, hanging wires, corroded plastics or broken glass.
Woolworth stood defiant against a modern world that had never replicated its sumptuous terra-cotta exterior. A world that had left it, and everything like it, for dead. How ironic that it was now one of the few survivors.
None of the Brooklynites said a word as they rowed closer, gliding over the empty East River.
Thirteen year-old Jack Barton stared up at the jagged Manhattan skyline and thought about the pages and pictures he’d seen of old New York when he was training as an Innovator. It used to be so beautiful; churning with manufacturing and alive with industry. He salivated to think of those times, and how useful they would be to his people now.
Many glass and steel buildings stood; but only those that had immense metal around their windows to deter the destruction of the Formula. Downtown was now a foreign land, a well-resourced and unpredictable foe. The once bustling financial district was now filled with impromptu orchards, cultivated within those towers of glass and steel to produce uncontaminated food, protected by shelter.
A man in metal armor, helmet and goggles came into view at the top of the haphazard, makeshift barricade along the crumbling Manhattan shore. Anything that was protruding, sharp and unwelcoming, whether it was glass, pikes or beams, had been positioned out like poised weapons. “Halt or we’ll shoot!”
The group of rowboats bobbing on the East River bank bumped the edge of the rusting ferry terminal at the tip of the island. Their passengers looked up into the barrels of shotguns trained on them.
The Brooklyn battalion raised their hands. Jack watched as Borough President Frank Taylor, a blue and orange baseball cap slung haphazardly on his metal helmet, clambered from the front of the rowboat onto the jagged shore, keeping his arms raised. Jack’s father, John, was close beside.
“We don’t want violence, we just need help, our resources are strained to the limit.” Frank’s bass, authoritative voice echoed in the tense quiet. “Let’s join forces. We’re all struggling for survival-”
“Nothing joins or takes from Manhattan. Boss’ orders.”
Jack watched as his father took his turn and clambered up onto the bank beside Frank. “And who’s boss in Manhattan?” John Barton asked.
“Steven Nevin. Husband to Jeanette Halford of the Manhattan Halfords.”
“Then I would like to meet with Mr. Nevin,” John said. He began to climb further up the vicious barricade spilling from Manhattan’s edges into the river.
A shot rang out. John screamed, falling back, blood pouring from his leg.
“Dad!” Jack screamed, rushing out towards his father.
Frank dragged John back into the boat and was pressing down upon the wound, pulling thongs from his armor to fashion a tourniquet. Dimly, Jack recognized the dreadful clicking sound of more readied ammunition above them.
“Hold your fire!” A firm, young female voice declared. Jack looked up.
“Says who?” the guard demanded.
“Says me,” she replied, undaunted. She strode towards the guard, ripping off her helmet. A stream of blond curls spilled down her shoulders. She was a striking young beauty in contrast to the ugly destruction surrounding her. Piercing blue eyes flashed with defiance. “I am Ellen Halford Nevin.” She lifted her arm, emblazoned with a red and white Halford crest.
“Miss, put your helmet back on or you’ll get Formulaburn!” another guard chided.
“I was making my point. I want you to listen to me.” She replaced her helmet, goggles and metal facemask.
“I’m not the one with a problem listening.” The guard gestured with the barrel of his gun at the Brooklynites below.
Jack tore his eyes away from Ellen, likely his same age, and again tended to his father who hissed in pain. The wound was shallow, the bullet having grazed the flesh. But a small cut could kill a man these days.
Ellen looked down. She was a small, metal covered body against a backdrop of useless, goliath skyscrapers. She could’ve looked insignificant. But she didn’t.
“Here, you’ll need this.” She threw a canvas bag down between the pikes. Jack caught it. Inside were a few emergency medical supplies; rare, lifesaving treasures.
Jack removed his helmet and facemask and stared up at her. His hands shook but he masked apprehension with a clear voice that had just dropped within the year. “Thank you, Ellen. I’m Jack Barton. I hope someday we can all be family.”
A curt nod was her only reply. Jack put his protective gear back on.
“Miss, please, tell your father it doesn’t have to be this way,” Frank Taylor growled as he pressed John’s leg. “We can’t survive separately forever.”
“I’m afraid we’re going to try,” Ellen said sadly, and turned away. Her armored form disappeared through the ranks of other metal-covered bodies that parted as she passed.
Evan stared at the Receptor, an amazed laugh tickling his throat.
Grace looked up from her sewing.
“There will be a World’s Fair,” he gurgled. “In Queens County, of all places! Queens!”
Putting down her embroidery hoop, she came closer. It would appear that in just nine years, the rural Queens County would become a part of Metropolitan New York City. And forty one years after that, what was currently a ragged string of small towns would host a fair. A World’s Fair, in Flushing. Who would have ever thought...
“Goodness, what is all this?” Evan exclaimed, tracing the screen with a fingertip. “The World of Tomorrow they call it. Fascinating! Automobiles. Oh, Grace, just look at what this company, General Motors, has in store for us in forty years!”
Staring at the pictures of the exhibition models; tiny vehicles on long stretches of roadway, like insects gliding endlessly along angled veins of leaves, Grace felt immeasurably sad. She frowned.
“How dreadful. People going their lonely way in those… pods… Isolated. Sterile. Where has our city gone? Just these cement tracts?”
Evan’s face twisted. “Darling, must you be so damned sour about this? Perhaps we should have tapped into the past’s Temporal Current since you don’t like what you’re learning about the future.”
Grace sighed. “True, I don’t. I’m sorry love, I don’t meant to dampen your excitement, but sometimes you don’t understand what you have wished for, or the consequences of those wishes, until they stare back at you.”
Not to be dissuaded, her husband gazed at the screen in wonder. “I think it’s fantastic.”
Grace pursed her lips. “I wonder what will come of it.”
(End of Excerpt)
Praise for World of Tomorrow:
"I finished this novella at exactly the correct time, because I needed this. I needed to grasp that silver thread and hold it fiercely in my hand, to cup it gently in my palm and whisper, "See? This is our future. Our present. Our past. These are the kinds of heroines who really lived, who are living, who will rise in days to come. These are the women we need so desperately. These are the women WE ARE. Imagine a world where not only *can* women save the world, but that they MUST. Buy this. Get it. Read it. Absorb it. And then go out and create that world. That is what Leanna is giving us here: a gentle pride of the past, a small hope for the future. It's a precious gift. Don't waste it." -- Kiaras at Waiting for Fairies waitingforfairies.com
See you next week for more free fiction material!
Cheers and happy haunting...