Safe Haven is a love story between Lily Crill and Henry Stapleton, but it’s also an introduction to the complications of my steampunk world, The Steamship Chronicles. I mentioned my issues with developing Sam (the younger sister) as a character in an earlier post, but this one is about the characters that are critical but often overlooked.
Samantha Crill is a Natural. She can hear the dreams, fears, and hopes of mechanical constructs that have developed some level of awareness. Sounds fun until you learn all Naturals are considered dangerous criminals. Upon discovery, Naturals are locked up in asylums where they go mad from the need to interact with the mechanicals denied to them.
Conveying the reason behind the law was easy, but introducing a Natural who stands as proof those laws are self-fulfilling and far too broad was more complicated. Enter a character who had no lines, nothing you would even consider marked him as a character, and yet served possibly the most important role in the whole book.
A mechanical man, already transformed by a Natural, wanders the streets of London. He’s broken in both his construction and his bond to the Natural that brought him to full realization. We never learn whether the Natural died, or had been captured and confined, but Sam knows from the start this mechanical man is alone and in pain.
Even from his first contact with the story, this non-speaking, broken toy introduces Sam’s empathy. To Lily, though, the mechanical is the embodiment of her terror. This creature of springs and gears will draw attention to her little sister and condemn them all.
That’s a lot of weight to rest on metal shoulders, and it’s not the last key point this mechanical man brings to the story, either.
Sometimes, a dog, a stack of abandoned letters, or even a shopkeeper who welcomes the main characters plays this important part. These incidentals, whether human or not, can change a story from a self-centered text into a rich tale painted on a tapestry of life that stretches far beyond the main characters. Trina’s friend Piper from Shafter is another of these characters. He barely warrants a mention after the beginning of that book, and yet, he provides Trina with a strong example of different way to interact with her world. It’s an influence she never consciously recognizes, but is no less important for all it’s subtler than the mechanical man’s.
Can you think of a good example of unsung heroes from my stories or others? Drop it in the comments section for my readers to explore.
Meanwhile, enjoy a key moment with the mechanical man excerpted from Safe Haven.
There had been a time when Samantha’s joy would have brought an answering smile to Lily’s face, but now she had to force herself to take the last step. She concentrated on pushing the door open slow and quiet so as not to disturb the scene inside.Whatever she found could not bode well for their safety or this meager life they’d claimed. Where would she find a better place to hide her sister?Samantha sat on the floor in the middle of the room, her cheeks red with delight and her hands raised as though ready to clap.Lily pushed the door open a little further to reveal the source of Samantha’s amusement.A mechanical man, no higher than a rabbit, danced for her sister. Its little arms and legs, constructed of gears and rods, spun about in a vigorous Irish jig, or what would have been vigorous had the creature been alive.The door hit the wall before Lily even realized she’d shoved it out of her way. She ran forward and snatched up the mechanical, the way its limbs kept twitching against her palm making her skin crawl. “Sam, where did this come from? Why did you leave the barn? Whose device did you steal? You promised.” Her voice rose with each question until the last words came out as a wail. Lily struggled to control the erratic beating of her heart.As a counterpoint to her efforts, the little man twitched again.She flung it to the floor and raised a boot, intending to crush it.“Lily, don’t.”Sam was on her feet, rushing over to the object before Lily could apologize for mistreating it in her instinctive revulsion at this thing that moved with no visible source of energy.Her sister snatched up the mechanical man and held him against her chest, feet braced as though expecting a fight. “It’s not what you think. I didn’t break my promise. I didn’t go out. The dancing man came to me.”Lily’s legs went out from under her, and she landed in a cloud of dust. “You said you told them all to go away. That the mechanicals wouldn’t come here.”Samantha lowered her gaze at that, staring at the toe she ground into the dirt, her feet bare now that the stove made shoes unnecessary for warmth. “He slipped in through one of the broken boards. No one saw him. I couldn’t send him away. He was damaged. Hurt.”The dirt under Samantha’s toe suddenly took on shapes that didn’t belong as Lily realized her sister was nudging gears and other metal pieces strewn around the floor.“You have to put it back, Sam, back into whatever it was when it came to you. You have to send the mechanical on its way before someone comes looking. Bad enough mechanical devices seek you out. If people see little men walking around here, just how long do you think we’ll be able to keep this secret? Only Naturals can imbue objects with this semblance of life.”Samantha might have seemed older sometimes, but she was just a little girl. She wore emotions on her expressive features for all to see if any were there to look. She lacked the social experience to manage a lie even if it meant her life.Lily rose to retrieve their dinner from the entrance. Her feet dragged as she walked, but at least Samantha had not been discovered yet. With that thing about, though, it was only a matter of time.With the inner door left open, she could hear Samantha singing to the mechanical, that object the closest thing she’d had to a real playmate since her abilities first manifested. Lily had always been more of a mother than a friend.