Steam in Disguise
The Rogue Tinker
Safe for All
When Ysabelle was little, her father used to tell her grand tales of airships and adventures. Sailing into the evening sky, chasing the setting sun while fighting off pirates and the creatures of the air. Interestingly, he never mentioned being terrified for his life.
Now, here she dangles, desperately hanging by one hand above the ground far below. She could see the lightning front moving in, and if she couldn’t repair the bushings on the rudder tie rods, the front would hit the ship broadside, tearing it apart. She rubbed her fingers across her goggles, trying to clean them enough to see clearly. From above, the rope tugs impatiently.
“Done yet?” the gruff voice of the boatswain.
“Almost. Just a few more minutes.” She tried to sound more confident than she felt. One slip, either of her hands, or of one of the crewmates above, and she’d find herself crashing down to the ground like a shooting star, but without granting any wishes. Only a few days out of port where she’d been taken on due to her study under the famed steam engineer Wilhelm Markov, better known as Wilhelm the Whistlestop for his work fixing steam engines. She’d encouraged the captain to believe that she was an apprentice to him, rather than a relative. She’d also encouraged him to believe that she was a boy.
Locking down the bolts on the housing with her father’s ratchet, she called up even before moving. With a cry of “Finished!” she could feel the ship almost instantly begin to turn. She smiled and allowed herself a moment of gazing into the storm. The lightning arcs stretched from cloud to cloud, with sheets of rain visible from several miles away. The turbulence tore and twisted the dark shapes like dough under a baker’s hands, and she knew that she’d kept the ship from being treated so indelicately.
After being hauled up onto the deck again, she headed below decks to avoid the worst of the rain. Even though much of the crew didn’t mind having a layer of grime washed clean by the rainstorm, she couldn’t bear to have her disguise found out. So, she stayed in her engine room every chance she could.
After the funeral, the family had tried to make her into a lady. Her father had been the only one to recognize her gifts with metal and mechanics. He taught her in secret, while making sure she did what society expected as well. Soon, she was as handy with a riveter as her schoolmates were with a sewing machine. After her father’s murder, she disguised herself, cut off her hair, and signed onto the first airship that would take her. She didn’t care how long it took, she’d learn what she needed from this crew of merchants, and kill the pirates who ran him through instead of paying for their repairs.
In the meantime, though, she had the chance to keep this ship in the air despite storm and struggle. So far, the job of a junior engineer was dirty and long, but she’d excelled, no matter how hard she tried to avoid the Officers’ attention. Every time she noticed the Captain looking at her she could feel his eyes piercing her disguise, laying her soul open for inspection. She spent as little time on deck as she could.
And besides, the port docking coupling was acting up, and if she wanted to keep her position, she’d need to get right on the job.
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