Published in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Lesbian erotica | Speculative | 2011
As one of ten-thousand elite workers in the domed capitol, I worked between grinding benches that spewed iron flakes and vents that wheezed coal dust. Lesser workers delivered supplies to the factory, and those who didn’t pass their grafting efficiencies were left to scrape the dome clean with machines that belched brass slivers.
The Archibald & Shafer Engine Works had manufactured carriage axles for nearly fifty years before reinventing itself with the most famous aerocar engine in the world: the Steam Eagle Compound V. One out of every three aerocars in the world used a Steam Eagle, and only one factory produced them.
I’d trained for a decade in steam mechanics after receiving my graft. A predatory patience and electroreception had made my labor record perfect for eleven years. Such was the advantage of a shark. Such was the advantage that had made life unbearable.
My oldest friend recognized the futility of success at the tender age of fourteen. She apprenticed to an optics factory, where her skill at crafting lenses gained her a nine-hour workday and a lifetime exemption from the air tax. She entered the Aether Society, bought a luxury aerocar, and threw herself off the Comstock Clocktower one Saturday morning. Only death could make her utterly average, which is all she ever wanted.
What did Danielle know already at fourteen, when her insect-enhanced vision began to find such minute distortions in glass that telescopes around the world preferred her perfect lenses? Did she imagine herself at twenty-eight and understand that happiness would elude her, especially if she had everything she thought she wanted?
The disappointment of success was merely collateral damage from the isolation. I thought success would sustain me through the hollow moments, but every time I met Rip’s burning eyes from across the factory floor, I knew that was a lie. Duty can’t salve the wounds of my orphaned desire. Duty can’t overcome the craving that eats at my skin. In a world more archaic, when people had souls, I might have had a chance at disclosure, but nothing so unruly as desire can be honored where duty’s hegemony eclipses the soul.
If I could talk to Danielle, I would tell her you don’t live in the long view, eyeing the years as if they’re the culmination of a well-drafted plan. You live in the ink spills, and whatever you need to make each moment significant is what you use, because the only substitute for significance is suicide. And I have nine-hundred engines to go.
I watched Rip working a wrench on the factory floor. All I wanted was to touch her magnificent shoulders. Her arm pivoted as she tightened a bolt. With each plunge of the wrench, shadows cut into her flesh as muscle tightened under pressure. An eruption of lines and veins flowed down the smooth skin of her arm, followed by sweat.
I knew her before she ever spoke to me, before she breathed into my mouth or spread her legs. Her body’s reckless current once made me think she served the same compulsion, but she was a different breed. I spent nights between her legs and hated the lies, but the lust of those moments was never a deformity to be confessed or resisted. She was the hope of pulse and breath and warmth.
She paused to tip her cap back and spied me. She winked. I smiled. Then I stiffened. I smelled the Overseer before I heard him. He was standing behind me, his consumptive breath crackling. He coughed and leaned down to speak into my ear. “You failin’ your quantity, Meesh.”
My station was at the end of the line, checking completed engines. Rip worked on the auxiliaries, which included the water pump and feedwater heaters. The Overseer was an observant man. He recognized my distraction. This wasn’t the first time he had come upon me watching Rip.
He leaned close, his stubbled beard scratching my ear. “The Master’ll strap you for each an’vry loss. Eight’s how I reckon it. Eight behind. Eight straps.” He laughed as he straightened, taking his diseased heat with him.
“Yessir,” I muttered.
“I’ll be there watchin’. I’ll be there.”
“No straps,” I said, trying to sound calm. “I’ll make it up.”
As he moved on, his broken laugh faded behind the metallic grinding.
By the time my shift ended, I was only two engines behind. I was running one when the Overseer took my lamp away. “Master’ll see you now.”
“Let me finish.” I reached for the lamp, but he blew out the wick. “Let me finish,” I said with futility as I followed.
Rip and I lived in the same workhouse. When I arrived home, she was waiting in my room. My eyes were still damp from the tears, so she took me into her arms. Her scent was strong despite the machine oil that stained her skin.
She stroked my hair. “Michelle,” she whispered. “Was it bad?”
“You mean worse than usual?” Rip had never been strapped. She had never fallen behind. She was the perfect worker: dedicated and lacking imagination, strong and obedient. Muscle from a thoroughbred enhanced her hard body.
I kissed her cheek and dressed for the cool night. I needed little sleep, and some nights, none at all. Rip never asked where I went. She’d resigned herself to sleeping alone long ago.
After midnight, when the lamplit streets broke free from the steam and smoke, the city re-emerged in blue silhouettes of stone and iron. Comstock Clocktower’s spire nearly touched the top of the dome and reflections sparkled from its thousands of glass tiles and brass fittings. I loosened my black frock and sat on a marble gargoyle, peering across the river at the stealthy movement in Overbridge District.
Whores wandered near the curbs while potential customers kept to the shadows, but I saw some and sensed many more–all driven to satiate the hunger in their loins. Like fish hiding behind coral, they cowered and waited, thinking not seeing was the same as not being seen. But the body of every creature expressed a current, and the amperes spattered my skin like hot rain.
Those who worked life at the edge of a fist or a knife were usually young and poor. Those who rented them, neither. As I watched their transactions, I imagined living without purpose and breathing for free, but these hybrids were failed grafts, some of them horrible: tissue that rotted, senses that betrayed, mutations that debilitated.
Each of us under the dome had been selected for an endogenous suitability to animal nature. Hand-in-hand, science and industry had found a way not only to tame nature’s ferocity but to harness its capacity to work. Some of us received the grafts of domestic animals and expressed skills of durability and obedience. Others received the powers of wild beasts to enhance production with unique senses and indomitable spirits. But not all grafts took. Not all people managed the duality. Not all bodies accepted the violation of their natures.
Parliamentarians told us our streets were infected with a worse disease than cholera, and the Engine Works had been promising to cure it for decades. But the contagion was their doing. They infected the dome with these damaged hybrids, and despite the rhetoric, no one hindered the night trade. Chaotic natures needed an outlet and unskilled workers needed a livelihood.
The western edge of the city was like an exotic preserve where breeds of all kinds crawled over each other, merging into heaps of flesh whose electric fluxes pelted me with degrees of warmth. But someone different was here this night. Despite the scores of hot bodies, one felt quite different from the rest. A strange sensation prickled my cheeks, and icy needles made my chest shiver.
I slipped from my perch and climbed over a crumbling wall. After creeping across the bridge, I breathed in the stench of burnt oil. Moths spiraled and black smoke curled around the flames. The lamps provided little light of use to anyone but the moths. The larger carriages provided their own light as they traveled, but most lurkers managed with the ambient light provided by distant traffic and the dome’s “stars.”
High above the streets and buildings, the sky lanes were lit with unsteady lights of passing aerocars. The wealthy flew the Aether lanes, out of sight of the noisy markets and narrow streets. Few had ever seen the eastside markets, where steamwashers purged the paved streets every night. Far fewer had seen Overbridge, where trash, horse dung, and the innards of butchered animals smeared the cobblestones until a manufactured rain might wash it away.
The alley behind Butchers Row stunk of rot, but it didn’t deter me, since my chest continued to tingle. I passed a woman on her knees, her hands pumping against a man’s trousers. His head was thrown back. He radiated fire on my senses, but the woman’s current was as low as if she were sleeping.
I passed a factory that made oil cloth and a limehouse before reaching an alley behind an opium den. Sounds of whirring traffic above and horses blocks away echoed off the buildings. A breeze carried away the smell of the sweet drug and returned a sweeter mustiness of growing things–a garden perhaps.
Farther along, a boy leaned against a wall, pants down, while an ugly man with patchy hair screwed him from behind. A thin woman with a noticeable tick and gills on one cheek tried to solicit me. A few whores saw me and grew nervous, their senses undoubtedly enhanced by grafts from prey.
I continued on to the edge of the city, where great turbines fanned the stench from the slaughterhouses out through the dome’s vents. I still hadn’t found the origin of the cool current or the garden, so I walked until I’d traveled full-circle, returning to the opium den.
I realized I’d been thinking like a street rat, but there was another direction for me to travel. Since I couldn’t find an open door, I stacked crates and reached a brass trellis around a window. From there, I scaled four floors. As my vision broke over the roof line, I saw an aerocar sink down onto an adjacent building. A man emerged and joined a woman on a bench beside a broad square garden that grew on a platform.
They were soon in an embrace, and his hands dug under her clothes. He kissed her cheeks and lifted her skirt. He pulled her undergarments down and climbed on top. After he rocked a few times, he was done. He straightened his clothes and accepted a tin of opium from her before leaving.
The woman’s energy changed then, growing colder. Only then did I realize the coldness arose not from an electric field but from an electric vibration. I couldn’t judge her distance, as if my eyes weren’t focusing together. I saw two images, one closer than the other, but I took the chance and leapt across the narrow space between our buildings. I landed so poorly, I hurt my ankle. Shaking off the pain, I glanced from her to the garden and back. I was curious about so many things.
She seemed to be waiting for me. After I sat down, she leaned toward me. Her eyes were golden and her pupils large. “You stink of death,” she said.
In this place of indistinct echoes, her firm accusation startled me.
She laughed with the enthusiasm of the insane. “Sir Henry of Cinnamon lost his candy. He was a bad boy.”
“What breed are you?”
“Threw away his monogrammed riding crop. That’ll do ‘im in for sure.” She even spoke like the insane.
“What breed are you?” I asked again.
She laughed until her madness infected me. Seizing her shoulders, I forced her into the garden. She was sly and beautiful, and she had lured me here. Was I like her aerocar visitor, succumbing to a Siren call, to be used and discarded?
“Tell me what you are!” I demanded, pressing her into the dirt.
“He’s done in for sure.” She laughed again. “That’s what I told him. Tell you, too.”
I kissed her and found her teeth sharp. She drew blood from my tongue, and the iron taste filled my mouth. She drew my lips to hers again, and her tongue rooted through my mouth as if searching for something. She worked herself into passion and I followed.
The night became a blur of skin and screams. We struggled with each other. We struggled against each other. I stripped off her clothes and she shredded mine. Naked and clawing, we tore the garden apart, uprooting flowers and weeds as we sunk into the cool soil.
She pulled my hair, and I slapped her. She tried to climb on top, and I held her down, riding her pussy with my own. She gave in to pleasure and spread wider so our warmth and wetness mingled.
With skin like an ivory statue, her sculpted protrusions cast purple shadows. I squeezed her pendulous breasts, and with abusive hands, I rubbed, grasped, and pinched her thighs and belly, but I was powerless. She controlled everything. My skin was no longer a passive receiver of the world but dragged me into it. Something in me craved her. I drank in what she gave, and what she gave was fire, was the sun.
I wanted that singular moment of bliss that let everything else vanish, but what had I found? Nothing mattered but that one moment. Nothing mattered but finding an end.
I rode her, trying to climax. Though I tried with all my will, my body couldn’t find release, so I slammed her against the ground. I cursed her, and she laughed. When I wrapped my hands around her neck and imagined choking the life from her, she stopped laughing. Her lip twitched an invitation. Her eyelids drooped with contentment. She had been searching for me, too.
But I couldn’t. I released her and backed away. My linen shirt was a rag, so I put on my torn trousers and coat. As I dressed, she writhed in the dirt, her fingers stroking her enflamed gash. Little remained of the beautiful garden. Little remained of her. For a long moment, I stood mesmerized by the sight of ivory streaked by dirt with a pink rose at the center. She was sensation. She was emptiness. She was madness and freedom.
I ran from the roof and dropped down a fire escape into an alley where a man with one arm stood over a body. He started at my sudden appearance but said nothing. My electrosense registered the dying boy at his feet. My silent question was answered when I saw blood drip from something shiny in his hand. When he stepped toward me, I ran again.
Blocks later, I slowed down as a carriage rolled by, its prim horses belying the buggy’s somber contour. A slice of a pale, oily face breached the lamplight and then vanished back to the shadows. Other carriages passed, some of their clopping horses whinnying at a whirring propeller above, but most trudged quietly forward. They were domestic animals little different from those who wielded the whip.
At twenty-eight, I had seen every crevice of the dome. Only the night trade with its excesses had ever interested me. Like many visitors to the district, I thought the wild in me would find release, but Overbridge held nothing wild. It held only chaos, and my chaos had nothing to do with the shark whose life had joined mine when I was seven. In the dome, where vivisection obligated men to service, only the night traders were free, and only failure could open the world to possibilities.
Rip woke when I snuggled in beside her. Despite leaving my clothes on the balcony, the stench of Overbridge was on me, but she didn’t say anything. She took me into her arms.
She was naked beneath the tan sheet. I kissed her neck and dragged my face through her hair. It was black and thick, an inheritance from her Asian grandmother. She kept it short, and even after a recent haircut, the blunt ends were soft. She stirred as I began to suck her neck. Her energy flowed across me like a warm tide.
Her mouth covered mine as she took me in her arms, and her soft lips became insistent. She churned against me. The slide of muscle across my skin stirred a hunger I couldn’t fill with mere touch. I wanted to taste her, to fill myself with her.
I sucked her lip and dragged my teeth across her tongue. I massaged her hips and back, trying to feel all of her: the press of her nimble hips, the rise of her corded back, the spread of her thick chest. She dragged a nipple across my mouth, and I captured it, pulling it between my teeth and flicking it with my tongue. She groaned, and I wrapped my arms tightly around her lower back.
After sucking one nipple, I nipped at the other until she was whining. She dropped onto her back and spread her legs, letting me trace the lines that framed the cap of pubic hair. I teased her before walking my fingers into the furry patch.
I touched the wetness at the center, stirred the sensitive flesh, dug into the folds and then into her warm slit. I massaged her inside, pressing against the snug walls, and inserted another finger. Her body was hungry. She spread wider, trying to draw more of my hand into her. My gut clenched with a sudden surge of lust. This was the Rip I had fallen in love with–a mare running wild.
I pressed my mouth against her pussy. Her swollen clitoris throbbed between my teeth as my fingers stroked deep inside. I rubbed my face against her, smearing cream across my cheeks. The wetness heightened my reception of her body’s current. Pulse-by-pulse, my limbs grew weak and my chest tightened. But I held onto my desire, not allowing it to be spent. The intensity of pleasuring her made me senseless to every other impulse. My fingers dug into her and my mouth suckled her clitoris until orgasm shattered her silence.
As her desire ebbed, so did her energy. I gently licked the sweet afterflow until she drew me up to hold her. She wandered in and out of sleep several times before releasing me. “Go,” she said after a time, thinking I wanted to roam again.
Burying my face in her neck, I breathed her in and grunted.
“Tired?” she asked.
“Long day tomorrow.”
“Every day’s a long day.”
“Every day,” I echoed.
Rip was steady and strong, but I was sister to a predator. I swam a sea of possibilities she would never understand, and I wouldn’t bear the whip for anyone. All Overbridge could offer was a freedom measured by its limit rather than its fullness.
My years of sublimation hadn’t fooled me into believing tears and rain could quench the same thirst. I’d often imagined how love might be different if my life belonged to me, if I could choose my apartheid from among this menagerie, rather than being bred to it. Rip was what I needed, and someday she might be what I wanted. Her nature was palpable, was confirmation that there was no such thing as disembodied love.
Out beyond the turbines, there was a place where men were warmed by the sun and the air was free. The vents led to a world filled with men not good enough to serve and breeds not good enough to graft. I wondered if Rip could be content among the average. I wondered if I could find something without knowing what I was searching for.