We are at it again! Kicking off the year with a brand-new campaign: Full Steam Ahead!
Yes, we are funding more books. Yes, we would love if you would check them out, maybe show your support. But don’t think you have to do it blind. Here is a taste of Grease Monkeys: The Heart and Soul of Dieselpunk, an anthology that takes a look at the mechanics that keep the tech running and even mod it out beyond its original capabilities, striving for efficiency and peak performance or just keeping things going.
The other two books funding through the campaign are Grimm Machinations – the sequel to Gaslight & Grimm, bringing you even more steampunk faerie tales; and A Cast of Crows, a Poe-inspired steampunk collection created in conjunction with the Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival, but more on those later.
Over the course of the campaign, we will be sharing these excerpts so you can get to know our authors’s style.
My Mechanical Girl
Billie glided onto the stage to the applause of the audience, positioned herself under the lights on her mark, and struck a pose. Her music swelled. “It’s the loveliest of days when I’m near you,” she sang, “Robins chase the clouds out of the sky…”
Billie’s the headliner at La Fantaisie. Me, I’m her mechanic. I polish her steel face until she glows warm under the electric lights, lubricate her joints, and spend the dough to dress her in glam. I didn’t create the valve system that lets her sing in a voice like warm molasses spilling down the back of a velvet chair nor the hydraulics that allow her to spin and dance, but I know how they work, and I can build off what the old inventor did. My grimy fingers carry permanent stains from years in a factory. My nails are bit back to the quick and I cut my own hair. At any time, there might be a streak of ash or oil on my face where I scratched an itch without bothering to wipe my hands first. The powerful gentlemen who frequent the Fant expect to see people like me fixing their cars, not standing in the club watching them drink brandy. It’s okay, though. I stay out of sight, watching from the wings while my girl entertains the room. It’s best that way, considering how I make the lion’s share of my money.
La Fantaisie has always been popular with the higher-ups in the military, thanks to it being so close to the capitol building. Colonels and congressmen spend their evenings drinking expensive liquor and talking important talk while my Billie sings. I’ve installed nearly a dozen songs into her voice system, all the ones I like best. In between sets, she roams around the room on a magnetic track I built into the floor, stopping at every table to say something flirty. She knows eight different phrases, and I’m working on three new ones.
She’s a toy. Metal arms and legs. A complicated hydraulic on the inside to keep her moving. A series of delicate valves connected to a circuit board that serve as her voice box. She’s a mechanical girl. But I love her like she’s real.
George Dupree, owner of the Fant, used to hire human women to sing in his nightclub, pretty ones with white-blonde curls who sang and danced and sometimes slid the necks of their dresses down to show off their bare shoulders. Between that Hitler guy and his Nazi thugs in the newsrags and women being found burnt to crisps in alleys, the military brass ordered their bigwigs to stay away from ordinary singers and dancers. Might have been for fear of them spilling secrets over pillow talk, or maybe the burnt-up women were the results of some experiment gone wrong and the generals wanted to put distance between their scientists and the victims. Who can guess? George was left without dames for his customers to ogle, and business dropped off. He was on the verge of closing down until he met my Billie.
Billie finished singing, took a bow, and the music for her next song began. “It’s always summer when you smile at me…” she sang. Suddenly her chin jerked, and she stuttered, like a record player needle skipping. The music continued on, but instead of singing, her jaw fell open with a click, and words poured out, words I didn’t understand. “Eian saprue prace sius ceva iot…”
The audience stared at my girl, as confused as I was. This gibberish was not one of the phrases she could say. After a few seconds, someone at a table said, “Is that German?” Silence fell again, until another said, “Sounds like a numbers station.” Like a dam breaking, the whole room burst into chatter, and some of the officers rose to their feet.
I ran out onto the stage, grabbed Billie’s arm, and drew her with me into the wings. “Sorry, folks,” I called out. “Show’s over for tonight.” George met us backstage, his face redder than his cummerbund.
“Why the ever-loving hell did you teach her German?” he hissed. “You’re going to get me shut down!”
It hadn’t sounded like German to me. But George wasn’t wrong. These days, the whole country seemed to be on a witch hunt, and Germany was the devil. It was time to hit the road before the bigwigs out front found their way backstage. “This ain’t my doing. It’s likely radio interference,” I said, turning my girl toward the street door. Her full-length coat hung on a hook next to it, so I slipped it over her shoulders and buttoned it at the neck, sliding the hood up to shadow her face. She’d stopped talking at last, thank goodness. The noise out on the main floor rose, and I heard snatches of unpleasant comments. Things like “spy network” and “treason” and “federal custody.” “I’ll recalibrate her vocal valves. Something’s just gone out of whack.”
“Send me a message tomorrow,” he said, pushing his shoulders back and straightening his tuxedo jacket. “It’s apology time, and I don’t want her anywhere near here if she’s spouting more of that kraut nonsense.”
Thudding footsteps echoed from the direction of the stage. Time to make tracks. Billie has wheels set in the soles of her feet, so she rolls instead of walking. Tonight I was glad of it.
Misty Massey is the author of the Mad Kestrel series of rollicking fantasy adventures on the high seas. She is an editor for several small presses, and an instructor for the Speculative Fiction Academy. When she’s not writing or editing, Misty appears on the Authors & Dragons podcast sister show, Calamity Janes, as the cheerful, sundrenched cleric, Malibu. She’s a sucker for ginger snaps, African coffee, and anything sparkly. You can keep up with Misty at mistymassey.com and on Facebook and Twitter.
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