The presence of Her Majesty’s Royal Engineers in the Martian colonies is not a large one. One of the six species on native Martian – the K’zzuwatna – are burrowing creatures adept at tunnelling and digging, and most of the role usually filled by the RE is instead filled by K’zzuwatna sepoy regiments.
The RE does maintain a supervisory and oversight presence, however, and all mechanised Engineering troops are humans because most of the violent Martian native species are considered too immature to be trusted with advanced mechanics. Major Arkwright Henry Galbraith is one of these human Royal Engineer troops, based in the chief city of Her Majesty’s Martian colonies, New Surrey. Actually born on Mars to some of the first British colonists, Major Galbraith’s aptitude for mechanics naturally led him into the Army, where he developed the Galbraith No. 7 Sapping Machine.
The No. 7 Sapping Machine is a drill-armed mechanical walker used by Major Galbraith’s own Royal Engineer regiment to dig entrenchments, bunkers and tunnels through the hard Martian bedrock. Its designation as a “Sapping Machine” comes from the nickname of Her Majesty’s Royal Engineers, the “Sappers”; a “sap” being a trench dug towards a fortification for the means of assault.
As a decidedly unofficial development, the No. 7 does not officially exist, but its ability to out-bore and out-tunnel any of Her Majesty’s Government-approved Army sapping machines has meant that Major Galbraith’s superiors have gone out of their way not to take notice of the fact that the 127th Martian RE Regiment has an unapproved drilling machine.
The No. 7 Sapping Machine first proved itself when Major Galbraith was made part of a small team sent to rescue noted areo-archaeologists Lord and Lady Hamilton when their dirigible went down in the middle of the massive Thark Uplands region between the Grand and Syrtis canals. The machine can be seen here with the other members of the team: Imperial swordmaster Tsien-Lu (“Stan”) Li of the Chinese court, the ornithopter pilot Flight Lieutenant Edward St. John-Smythe, noted markswoman adventuress Miss Coraline Drood and Mka’i Martian native Kamash Kesh.
Tsien-Lu Li, Miss Coraline Drood, Flight Lieutenant St. John-Smythe and Kamash Kesh
Oppa Steampunk Style!
It’s been simply ages since I built a mech, and even longer since I built anything remotely steampunk, so it was obviously high time I rectified that oversight.
My single large gear wheel caught my eye, and of course, “stick some gears on it at random” is practically some people’s definition of steampunk, so the connection was obvious. Playing around with the gearwheel, I hit on the idea of a drill. With, unusually for me, real Technic functionality. There’s a little handle on the big gear wheel that you can turn to spin the drill. Okay, the other gear wheel in the other direction is pointless, because all it does is turn along with the big wheel without achieving anything, and apart from its poseability that’s it for play features. But even marginal functionality being such a rarity from me, it’s always nice to make something that works. Ish.
The backstory is set on Mars, because the idea of a sort of steampunk-powered colonial Mars based on a sort of “War of the Worlds in reverse” milieu has been quietly gnawing away at my hindbrain for most of a decade now. I think my initial inspiration came from some Internet pictures of miniatures from a wargame or RPG called Space:1889, but as a small child I used to give myself nightmares listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds, so it’s probable that those RPG miniatures simply plugged right into the “Mars: what a good idea” slot in my brain. Since then, I’ve also read most of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian chronicles and CS Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, so the slot is quite well established by now. And Mars’ rust-red colour and iron-rich nature just seem to lend themselves to steampunkery.
I can’t leave well enough alone, however, so my steampunk Mars has its own crop of native species. At least one of which is going to be cephalopoid, of course, because there are conventions you need to follow if you’re running The War of the Worlds backwards. Right now I don’t have a lot of really alien aliens to rebuild into proper Martians, but I’ll see what I can come up with. And Bricklink is always there if I need to get some interesting new heads.
This piece of walking ironmongery may not be quite as impressively fancy in technique as the Q-Mech (which I still think ranks first place among my personal mech builds), but I’ve come quite a way from the old Brass Monkey mech that constituted my first ever piece of LEGO steampunkery, and my first self-designed mecha. I never did walkers as a kid, strangely (apart from numerous attempts to build an AT-AT with my limited first-generation Technic bricks back before they had friction pins), because I hated the slidey way the legs worked on the official sets.
But now, in the era of balljoints? To paraphrase Benny: “We can build a mecha!”
Balljoints Are Your Friend, which may be why I always default to those and forget all the more creative ways I know about now to arrange a mech limb joint.
I’m also somewhat amused by how perfectly the TIE cockpit window goes with a steampunk creation. There’s a reason why there are so many steampunk versions of things from the Star Wars universe, and it’s only partly because so much of the hardware shares the same Rule of Cool-powered impracticability.
The small team of steampunk minifigures was something of an afterthought, but I think they work. And they’re some of my first invented minifigures that I’ve taken the trouble to build rather than merely LDDing. Bonus.