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  • Fatclub

    Well here it is, in all its incomplete "glory".

    Given the lack of editing (and indeed, the lack of most aspects of a proper story), if anyone does feel like reading it, please feel free to use it as an exercise in editing. There's going to be no defensiveness on this one! Sadly, the mostly edit would be straight to the bin...

    But with no more ado, no more hyperbole, no more waffle, here it is: the first rule of fatclub is tell everyone about fatclub...!

  • #2
    "Bloomin' hell, it's cold out!" she thought as she bashed her mitts together and stomped her feet in the fresh fallen snow, ruefully apologising for her common turn of phrase - even if unvocalised - to whatever greater powers may have been listening from the sullen heavens above. All this snow and it was only just autumn. What with the shoddy summer they'd had, it was looking like a real shocker of a year, weather wise.

    Shuffling down the path to the main road, steps flat and even to avoid slipping, it was clear that most people must be taking the bus today as there were very few folks to be seen on the sidewalk. A bundle of puffed-up goose-down stitched into crassly vibrant cloth wearing a hat that might as well just scream "fashion-victim" was walking towards her, great puffs of breath escaping from the gap between the two sartorial abominations.

    "Morning!" cried Mrs Keith, adding an "Isn't it lovely out?" without pausing in either speech or movement. "Yes indeed" she felt obliged to answer, with a half-hearted twist of her torso to point roughly towards the now-departing Mrs Keith and a smile that was only just up to the task. Mrs Keith was one of those types that everyone knew and put up with: loud; opinionated; not the least bit interested in what anyone else had to say (even those that were agreeing with her) and so on. However, unusually for the country set she aspired to, Mrs Keith was also an enthusiastic exponent of technology. Not just the refined (and expensive) clockwork the middle classes loved to coo over but also mass market steamtech with its noise, vapours and endless calls to the plumber. She herself had a more practical approach to the new "marvels of the age" as the newspapers were wont to say. She distrusted their simple allure as demonstrations of the advancement of the Empire, their rarely fulfilled promises to ease the burdens of life from the common man and, in somewhat simple terms, their sheer bulk and weight. Hi-tech fasionistas like Mrs Keith would drag hulking contraptions of brightly polished brass and steal hither and thither to accomplish some task better left to nature, chance, or as an employment opportunity for the unworking classes. That's not to say modern technology was all bad, she conceded. After all, with the city forever growing as it was, how else could food and fuel and folks get in, out and about if not for Brocc Ltd's ever improving steam busses? (lovely and warm inside she thought: but no! This was a walking opportunity!) The advances in high-pressure medicine were seemingly lost in a sea of whining regarding the inconvenience of illness and the high cost of cures that were impossible to imagine just a decade ago. The escape to sunnier climbs on an international-class ship from Corvid Industries, Laridea & Sons or whoever did wonders for the soul. Or would she imagined, if she could afford one. That's two out of three skewing to heat there she grinned to herself: perhaps she should think of something other than the cold?!

    She was of course just distracting herself from her own excitement, ruefully fuelled by a new marvel of the age that she should know better than to trust. The leaflet she had picked up from the club last week was in her pocket even now. But she'd keep her head and wits, listen closely to the presentation to make sure there was more than snake oil to the pitch, before she would take the plunge. She'd tried many schemes in the past. Each time, she would go through the mantra: maybe it will work, maybe it won't. If not, then it's only a little money, and doing nothing is worse. Everyone says so. But it was always more than that. It cost soul and will and self every time she tried and failed. She could feel her failure everywhere. In the fake smile of Mrs Keith with her distain and her ski holidays and her organic walnuts. In the laugher of kids as she passed. In her house; her sofa; her bed. Just her. At work, all the single girls would chat about the latest new start or whatever until she arrived. They'd never give the game away with a sudden silence or anything so crude, but the sense was always there: "we were talking about the men but now we can't because you're here". A bright "Hi!" or "Morning!" is what they would say, pitying smiles on their faces. Whores.

    She retreated from such painful embarrassments back to the instant, to where her face was wreathed in its own wheezing steam. "I can't even bloody breath!" she shouted inside her head, no longer mindful of God, "Just going round the bloody corner and I can't even bloody breath!" Cheeks flushed, excitement banished by anger and resentment, she reached the street corner where a few others were huddled waiting for the cross-guard to slow the traffic so they could cross. A young-un was looking intently for potential gaps in the passing vehicles, not that there were any. It was still early morning and Brocc's busses were full to the gunnels with menfolk making their way to the outskirts of town to start a day's work in the forests. There were a few personal carriages taking the wealthy to a morning of pointless paper pushing in the city before lunching on expenses, but at least the snow had put a temporary stop to the crazy clockwork contraptions the kids were using these days: always jumping junctions and careering down the sidewalks without regard for anyone else: they shouldn't even be there! The sharp "toot! toot!" of the guard's whistle woke her from her reverie and she looked up to see if it was their turn. No. Typical. Just traffic the other way. She stomped her feet again to keep the blood flowing as she waited. The young-un took the chance to slip across of course, lucky not to slip under the tracks of a steal carriage given the chance for ice, and for what? Another 10 seconds? "Kids eh?" she muttered out loud to approving glances from the others.

    The walk to the club only took five minutes normally, but she hadn't really factored in the weather so was running late when she arrived, squeezing into the entranceway with the other stragglers. A few impersonal greetings and much bashing of boots to knock off the encrusted snow ensued, which elicited a "Can the people coming in keep it down please? We've already started" from somewhere ahead. Some people were so rude. There were a lot more here than usual, so the adverts had done there work. She tried to look nonplussed by the disapproving glances as they entered late, her general distain towards newcomers or fair-weather members being shield enough for the moment. With all the people here, she had assumed they won't be bothering with all the weighing palaver they did every other week, but no. Mirabella was taking the opportunity to make the most of her time in the limelight and was drolling out her usual platitudes; homespun and ill-conceived proverbs; unconvincing group-bonding and unintentional put-downs. God save them all from new-wave self-help books! Alas, God clearly hadn't been looking out for Mirabella on that front (or indeed, many others), as the talk she was giving was clearly based on some gobbledygook trawled from one of those nonsense sources.

    She let Mirabella's spiel flow over her, as it always did, looking beyond her to the back of the hall where a large area had been curtained off, no doubt for the presentation to follow. The leaflet in her pocket (and the large posters in the entryway) proclaimed that behind that curtain would be the latest marvel of the age, using ionised aether in a multi-pressure chamber to achieve the true goal of a market-savvy alchemist: the secret of weight loss. Of course it was probably just claptrap.

    When her turn arrived, she took her place on the scales. Shelly was taking the readings this week and gave her the first genuine smile of the day, which brought a wide smile in return. Shelly was very young for this crowd but with a run of bad luck (i.e. partners) that nobody would envy. So Shelly had taken that oft-travelled route from sadness to comfort to here. It was Shelly and Dinka and Holly that gave her the support to turn up here every week. Good, true friends. Others had been helpful too but, once they had hit their targets, were gone: off to a better life amoungst the thin.

    "Down 2!" cried Shelly with a grin, garnering a general murmur of congratulations from the crowd and a smile as fake as that she had given Mrs Keith from Mirabella. As the next person in turn stepped forward, she escaped from the eyes of the crowd again. Quickly she put her chunky, loose jumper back on, its warm folds protecting her from more than just the cold. Not that it was cold in here anyway: with all the extra bodies - large bodies - it was actually very warm indeed. She flapped the hem of her jumper to help cool herself a little as she waited for everyone to finish.

    And wait they did, even after all the weigh-ins had finished. Mirabella continued hogging the limelight, seemingly unaware of the tapping boots; exasperated sighs; furrowed brows and even a little tutting. Finally, somebody somewhere broke and "get on with it" floated over the heads of all assembled. The sudden silence that followed was unbearable. Nobody knew where to look, what to do or say. Eyes rose to the roof; sunk to the floor; focused on some minute detail on their jacket cuff or the like. Feet shuffled. Nobody spoke. "Well!" Mirabella fumed. "Well, well. Some people! This is a reputable establishment, not some commoner roughhouse! You have shamed yourself, whoever you are. Shamed!" With a snap turn, Mirabella marched towards the rear of the hall where the curtain took immediate and total attention. Still flushed from her embarrassment, she was nonetheless regaining her composure, which hopefully would get her off the stage all the sooner. A few deep breaths later and she continued "My thanks to all of the polite people here today. As I've explained, we are all truly in control of our bodies if we choose to be. But that is not to say we should refuse help when offered. And that is exactly what Colonel Sanders has brought to us today. Please welcome if you would, the Colonel's industrial partner, Mr Atkins!"

    To some unusually enthusiastic, somewhat undignified, clapping, a small man slipped out from behind the drapes wearing a a smile so huge it couldn't be real, and yet which lacked the sense of fakery she expected. Well dressed, clean, of sufficient age to be respected but not yet so old as to be easily ignored, Mr Atkins thanked the crowd for their warm welcome and interest in the Colonel's latest invention. The Colonel's credentials were of course impeccable (said Mr Aiken), including as they did his now famous high pressure frier, present in many of the wealthiest homes; his deap-sea submersable bellcraft (as used by the Royal Navy); his aether bone scanner which had revolutionised hospital first aid and, in a lighter vein, his rocket kites; automated dog walkers and inflatable body balls.

    "But today, today you will see the birth of a new understanding that will introduce another age of wonder to the world. Utilising his twice-patented aether ionising vortex system, carefully and precisely controlled in a gyroscopically isolated pressure chamber, and utilising... " (he broke the flow for a conspirital glance left and right), "... a newly discovered high-density tonic recently brought back from the far East by the Colonel himself!" With that, he pulled back the deep velvet curtains to reveal the machine at last. And, knowing his trade, stood back to let the silence work.

    It was a marvel of mechanics if nothing else: a set of massive concentric brass rings, each set on its own axis, slowly rotated about a sphere of shining steal that hung motionless - seemingly weightless - in the centre, its surface covered by a hundred or more short crystal-tipped tubes. Hidden amongst the pattern of tubes, the outline of a door could be discerned; large enough for a person to enter the sphere as they were no doubt intended to. Four large steam generators were positioned around the contraption, squat and business-like, each with a number of steam connectors neatly rolled around their base. Above the contraption however was something she had only read about: it somewhat resembled a chandelier where each candle was wrapped in a focussed mirror (pointing to the sphere) and each candle replaced with a large yellow-white crystal. She had seen images of similar devices in magazines, though never this large. It was the Colonel's aether ioniser without doubt, but on a huge scale, Goodness only knew what all the crystal cost, let alone the expert metalwork and the scientific secrets the combination embodied.

    The crowd had begun an encouraging low muttering, appreciative gasps and exclamations weaving amidst hushed and low toned chit-chat. Mr Atkins kept his smile broad and, after allowing the them their own private time, brought the crowd back together again. "The product of five years of engineering enacting a lifetime of scientific research. Combining high pressure, centripetal and centrifugal forces and highly focussed coherent inonised aether, this device creates a transmutative energy within the sphere that quite literally shatters the very building blocks of the fat that so blights our nation. Using a series of controlled exposures, the Sander's Crucible is guaranteed to achieve what others merely suggest... weight loss."

    The crowd where impressed if the silence was anything to go by. Their eyes kept running over the hoops and tubes and surfaces of the Crucible, taking in its immense sense of presence, its otherworldly technology and its seductive hope. Could its sheer scale dispel their well-rehearsed scepticism? Nothing on the subject of cost had been mentioned thus far, but this was no market-stall sale; the crowd here, though fairly well healed, would have nowhere near the funds to purchase something of this nature. So why was it here? What had inspired Mr Aikens to spend his time entertaining the natives with what would be beyond their means? And where was Mr Aikens?

    Somewhat alarmed by his disappearance, she looked towards Mirabella to see what would happen next, but Mirabella was still gawking at the Crucible, unaware that their guest had vanished. "Ms Mirabella! Mirabella!" She tried to grab her attention, but one of Mirabella's most notable features was a remarkably selective sense of hearing, which was probably just as well given the state of her other notable features. "Mirabella!" This time she got though. "What is it?" Mirabella snapped back, displeased to be at anyone's beck-and-call. The distraction was enough. "Mr Aitkens...? Mr Aitkens!" Mirabella called out in a voice that wanted to be sugar coated but rather grated. "My my, where has he gone?" Mirabella mused as the crowd found its voice again and began to shuffle forward to get an even closer look. "Goodness! What do you think you are doing?! Get back now!" Mirabella took to the role of owner-by-proxy with some alacrity and the crowd, only slightly disappointed, fell back. As Mirabella closed the curtains, bringing the show to an end, the crowd began to disperse about the hall to talk to each other in small huddled groups, conjecture and pseudo-science filling the air with agreements and refutations being articulated in equal measure.

    "What do you think?" asked Shelly, who had appeared by her left shoulder. "About what?" "The machine thing, silly!" She took a moment to reply. "Why is the question, isn't it? What does he want and why here, why us?" "No, I mean, will it work?" insisted Shelly. "Well how do I know? He didn't even turn it on! I was expecting some poor once-fat dog, "experiment number one", and some sequence of photos of a lady we might meet, but nothing. Not even the salesman it appears!" Shelly, somewhat startled, looked around and around, jumping a little to see over heads taller than her. "Gosh, I didn't notice he'd gone. I wonder where? Do you think we could find him? He must be just outside." Mr Aitkin's disappearance had become noticed by all by now and the general talk had turned to the subject of the mysterious gentleman rather than his mechanical marvel - something they surely would frown upon in salesman school.

    One or two more adventurous souls, or closest to the door at any rate, had nipped out to look around but returned with a shrug and little else to show for their efforts. It was all starting to become a bit of a disaster. Unitl the noise started. The easily identifiable noise of steam. Whistling and chuffing, with its bedfellows of mechanical movement playing their accompaniment. Everyone turned to face the curtain again, above which the steam was quickly building, soon followed by yet more steam escaping from below. "I'm sure we're all ready to see a little more, are we not?" inquired Mr Atkins, reappearing from behind the curtain, this time simply pulling them to the floor (by some well hidden, elaborate and tidy means). The tubes from the generators were now attached to the Crucible which hummed with constrained power as Mr Aitkens prodded each of the generators in turn, peering at dials, and twisting a few controls until seemingly content with what he could see.

    "We will of course need a volunteer..."

    Immediately Shelly gave her a big push from behind. "Over here! Over here!" she cried. Not alone however - many other ladies were equally as keen to see their friends handed over to the machine, some even keen to do so themselves, but Mr Aitkens had already picked his volunteer. Ms Mirabella, if you will..." his hand welcoming, beckoning. His smile never wavered. Mirabella's did. She looked ill at ease, caught between fear of the Crucible and fear of losing face in front of the crowd. "Mirabella, if you will" Mr Atkins voice was pure honey silk, rich and melodious, sonorous and calming. Mirabella took a step or two forward, beginning to mouth some questions. "There is nothing to be worried about my dear" continued Mr Aitkens, "my own wife has sat within this very machine and I can assure you, I was pleased by the outcome!" His little joke broke the tension in the crowd; whos low murmuring voice now urged Mirabella on. "Of course, I'd be delighted" Mirabella said, in tones very much lacking in delight. But the look of fear had dissipated, resignation now in its place.

    "The procedure is rather short and do not expect to see great results today. Once the Crucible has worked its wonders, the body must be permitted some time to perform the rudimentary and entirely natural clean-up which will remove the rended waste from the inside to the outside. A harmless, barely noticeable process Ms Mirabella, but a vital one I'm sure you'll agree." He had a hold of Mirabella's hand now, his smile still as it always had been, as Mirabella came face-to-face with the sphere's door. With his free hand, he turned the handle on the door to reveal, well very little. Inside the sphere was a blackness, total blackness. Some trick of the light no doubt.

    "If you will..." he instructed. Mirabella placed a hand to her bodice, "Will I need to..." "No, not at all Ms Mirabella, the aether rays care nothing for fashion!" With that, he guided her into the belly of the machine and closed the door. It was all so quick.

    "Please ladies and gentlemen, if you will just step back a little... a little further... further still... my thanks! In order for the Crucible to act on Ms Mirabella, and not just pass through her without the slightest effect, we will have to play a little trick on those rays." He held up a vial of a pale blue liquid. "The Colonel's tonic is just such a tool. But first, we must raise the pressure inside the sphere so the tonic can be absorbed by Ms Mirabella from the very air she breathes." With that, he opened a valve on the panel beside him and two of the steam pipes on the floor jerked into motion. "This will only take a minute or two" he added.

    It was perhaps the tensest minute she had ever experienced. Not a sound said a thing, not even Shelly. They all stood, silent and still as statues, and watched Mr Aikens as he watched a needle move across a dial just above his hand. Perhaps it was a minute, perhaps more - it was difficult to say, as in that atmosphere, time itself was difficult to measure. However, pass it did and when the needled reached its destination, Mr Atkins closed the value again and approached the sphere. "You will notice I am not reassuring Ms Mirabella at this time. Rest assured ladies, I have not lost my manners! No, she cannot hear us from within the Crucible, so to do so would be mere showmanship." His smile never faltered. He knelt down and slowly unscrewed a small panel from low down on the sphere's surface. Quickly he placed the vial into the cavity exposed by the panel, then wound the panel back into place. His attention was entirely on the Crucible now as he moved around to check the generators, the dials and then flipped a switch. Nothing happened.

    "As we wait for Mirabella to fully breathe in the tonic, would any of you like to ask any questions?"

    Of course they would. A flurry of queries erupted, with animated hands and indignant glares at the others who tried (and perhaps succeeded) in getting their questions in first. "Please, please! Not quite so fast!" Mr Aitkens had moved forward towards the front of the crowd now and picked out a formidable looking lady in a no-nonsense heavy brown cardigan and an unadorned hat. "You asked how long it would take?" A confirming nod led him to continue "Ms Mirabella will absorb the tonic in only a few breaths. But we must let nature work too, so the tonic can move from her lungs to her cells before it dissipates. At our normal atmospheric pressure, the tonic would be long gone before that occurred but, in the Crucible, the pressure holds the tonic together for much longer. But that alone is not enough..." He had retreated to his control panel again and now, with quite a flourish, pulled down the largest of the levers. Immediately the brass bands began to accelerate in all directions, light flashing off their polished surfaces, ever and ever faster until the bands could barely be seen, visible only as a hint of colour and a continual flickering where they had once been. "From this side of the shell, nothing. But from inside..." He moved to the other side of the control panel and placed his finger over an innocuous green button. His eyes held theirs. He pushed down.

    From the great array of mirrored crystals above, an array of blinding rays shot down, each carefully aligned with the crystal tipped tubes on the sphere's surface. It was difficult to make out the details however, as the brass bands now erupted with scattered light, making Mr Aitkens little more than a shadow bathed in a sea of light. "The light is simply a by-product of the process" Mr Aikens shouted above the noise, "but do take care not to look too long into them. They are quite bright! The aether however passes straight through and is channelled into the sphere where it can begin its transmutation!"

    She, like most others, had raised an arm to shield her eyes from the blisteringly bright light, squinting to reduce the glare. The noise of the generators, the exhausts of steam, the rotating bands, the glare of the beams, it was all rather overpowering. She hadn't even noticed that Shelly had her other arm in a vice-like grip and, from the expression on Shelly's face, it seemed unlikely that Shelly was aware of it either. The tight grip was welcome though - something real, something certain.

    The light suddenly stopped and they were blind for some moments until their eyes readjusted to normality again. The noise too was abating as the brass bands slowed, though at a rate much slower than they had accelerated. Mr Aitkens moved here and there, checking one thing then another as the machine slowly came to rest....

    To be continued...?