*For once, there's no language or violence. Don't let this deter you.*
The harsh wind blew across the landscape, scattering whatever remnants of life remained in the parched and war torn desert. What used to be a lush and green haven in the middle of the Kansas plains had shifted with the advent of a weapon that destroyed everything.
Tucking my head down, I turned my parasol against the wind to deflect the dust and kept a hand on the front of my dress to prevent the petticoat being exposed. The city sat quiet at the noon hour. All the locals would be at the bank, negotiating their rations for the week.
When old Johnny Two-Bit stepped in as our leader, we were all so lost that no one objected. Nobody spoke up. When Johnny started haggling us, and taking our most prized possessions, we realized our mistake all too late. But what else were we supposed to do?
The government practically abandoned us. “Tainted,” they yelled, pointing their long, crooked fingers at us. “Diseased,” they whispered, and spread the festering lies throughout the country. The whole damned place turned against our little town, and forced us to fend for ourselves.
They rebuilt the entire country and abandoned us.
But I’m not bitter or anything. The bank sat straight ahead of me, already with people lining out of the front door. A deep sigh snuck from my chest before I could catch myself.
“Excuse me?” The sharp voice came from my left, just inside the shadows of the alleyway.
“I didn’t say a word,” I replied, my voice tart. I might pay for my attitude later, when the night sky sends a chilly breeze through my flimsy windows.
“You needn’t say anything at all for me to hear it.” The man partially stepped into the light. One side of his face was set with a mechanical sheen, and where his eye should have been a ticking clock mechanism whirred and twirled.
“My word,” I said, my voice little more than a shocked whisper. “Sir, what’s happened to your face, pray tell?”
“Well, dear lady, so happens I missed payment on a debt I owed to Johnny, due to the government taking my homestead.” He reclined against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, his coat tails falling around his knobby knees. I only just noticed his pants cut off short, exposing pale and hairy legs.
I stepped back and drew my chin up. “I am terribly sorry to hear of your loss, sir. If you’ll excuse me, I must make payment to the banker for my family’s weekly ration.”
No sooner had I taken three steps than he spoke again. “Pray tell, woman, what exactly you gain by giving the bankers two thirds of your meager income each week?”
Seething, I quickly backtracked and shoved him a little ways into the alley.
“Are you trying to get me thrown in jail?” My hissed words fell on deaf ears.
“I just wonder,” he said in a languid fashion, “if I might be able to interest you in an…arrangement, of sorts.”
My eyes narrowed. Of course. My family had the only hearty farm in the county, the only one turning enough of a profit to make the bankers take notice. If this man could get me on board with whatever crazy plan he had in mind, he might catch the eye of the very bankers who had cut off the side of his face.
“An arrangement.” I snorted and turned, my parasol prepared for the blast of hot wind. “You must take me for a fool.”
“No, I take you for a genius,” he replied with a soft and husky tone, grabbing my elbow before I could step into the sun. “You should come with me.”
“I don’t want to.” I made to jerk from his grasp, but just at that moment three burly guards from the bank strolled by. My words caught their attention.
“Oy!” The taller one peered into the shadows as I sank back. “Who be there?”
I cleared my throat and stepped forward. “’Tis I, Gwen of the McFarther farm.”
A low chuckle rumbled from deep in the man’s chest. “You should be at the bank, woman. You have dues to pay.”
“But if you’re leaving, the rations are gone.” My voice dropped to a whisper as the realization of my precarious situation set in.
“Oh, now,” said the second man. “We have some spare rations you can have.” His leering smile raised the hairs on my neck. “For a price.”
As they stepped forward, every instinct in my body lit on fire, telling me to go with the mechanical face man. I turned in the dark alley, reaching for him, and he caught my hand.
We tore through the narrow space as quickly as we could. Lucky for me, I’d chosen my boots to wear under the long petticoat. Who would have noticed, anyway? Just before we reached the sunlight, the world dropped out from under me.
My back hit a smooth wall and I found myself careening down a slide until I flew out on the other side and landed on a soft pile of blankets. When I came to a rolling stop, my dress was tangled around my limbs and sticking up in parts from the stiff corset. I heard soft laughter from the mysterious man and struggled to reign in the obtuse fabric as my cheeks burned red.
When I turned, my mouth dropped open. A machine sat in front of me, hidden in an underground cavern. Long and oval, and four times as big as I’d ever seen, it hovered on strings holding it to the ground.
“What is that?” I stepped back and landed square against my savior’s chest.
“That, my dear, is a zeppelin, and what we’re going to use to change the world.”
The magnificent flashers:
Victoria Blisse (m/f)
L. M. Brown (m/m)
West Thornhill (m/m)
Cherie Noel (m/m/m)
Julie Hayes (m/m)
Ryssa Edwards (m/m)