by boredgods (mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/169166.html)
by sixdora (mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/169403.html)
by morgie (mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/164246.html)
The red-dirt scrublands of West Texas had been blasted flat by the sun long ago, until there wasn’t so much as an anthill as far as the eye could see. Gnarled mesquite trees and tufts of desert grass clung to life wherever they could, adding a gray sort of green to the endless expanse of reddish-brown, but the scrubland and everything in it was dwarfed by the monstrous bowl of the sky overhead. The sun hung high, a tight ball of searing white light that roasted everything below to a crisp. There were railway tracks running on forever into the distance both east and west, the crossties a sullen, rusty black too hot to look at, let alone touch. A man could stand by the tracks and watch the train approach for hours, slowly growing larger without getting any closer at all, just swelling on the horizon like a fattening tick.
On weekends, the Timers usually let their iron grip on the city’s internal continuum integrity slacken. They said it was to keep everything from getting wound so tight it exploded. The people said it was because even Timers thought they needed a break. Most disagreed that this was so; after all, it is usually the responsibility of the person who makes the mess to clean it up.
The citizens were advised to stay indoors, and they usually did. People who left the safety of their own roofs tended not to come back. However, as with any general rule, there was at least one famous exception.
“Mother, I don’t see why you’re so desperate for me to go to this silly spectacle,” the young blonde said. He put a hand on his back nervously, feeling the strange metal that had been used to replace a part of his spine after his accident.
“Why, Warren, you used to love such things, don’t be so negative!” Lady Ackiss exclaimed as she fixed his tie. “I thought this would be a most excellent way to celebrate your recovery!” She smiled brilliantly at her only son. “And this particular show is apparently debuting some fantastic invention. Just go along with it, my dear. No one has to know.”
Warren sighed, slightly. “It’s a good thing that the Ackiss name isn’t well known in these parts, mother, or they’d all know anyways.” He finished tightening his ties and sat back on his bed to tie his boots.
Tomas stared from under the shrilling engines, hat pulled tight over his ears with mufflers tightened to try and muffle the noise and save his hearing, to where Viktor was yelling at him like it mattered what he was saying. Of course neither of them could hear the other, and Tomas was no good at reading lips and they knew it, but Viktor was still yelling and looking stern, obviously trying to get Tomas out from under the engine. Tomas, though, had no intention of coming out when he was looking like that, his mechanical eye glinting and leaking a bit of oil down into the corner of his eyes; it was an unpleasant sight that made his stomach curl and tighten up almost to his throat, one that made him busy himself even further.
I can’t hear you, he said to himself, like he would out loud. Even if the engines weren’t screaming bloody murder over my head, I’ve got the hat and the muffler, and I can’t hear your raspy owl screeching, old man. Get out of my engine room before a valve blasts into your face, accidentally on purpose.
Lex pushed his way through the crowd, wanting nothing more than a nice tall beer. The club was hopping as usual, but somehow he found himself out of place. He used to come here all the time in college, but his visits had gotten fewer and farther between; after he’d met Jared they’d started to taper off altogether. The last time Lex had been here was almost a year ago, back when things with Jared had been getting serious. In that year apparently everyone here had gotten younger. Not that he minded skinny barely-legal boys in tight shorts; eye candy was eye candy, after all, but Lex himself was closer to thirty than to twenty, and the idea that he might be getting too old for this was rather distressing.
The shop was mostly silent that morning, save from the constant ticking of the mechanisms filling the shelves. Sometimes a voice would drift through the open windows from the Sunday market below, but today London’s usually crowded streets were almost empty. In the wake of the previous day’s celebrations, most citizens were still abed or resting at home.
Vincent Thorne didn’t blame them for being only too willing to take advantage of the national holiday generously granted by the king. The joint efforts of their army and air force had given the Empire a great victory in India, and it was only natural that everyone would be in great spirits. There had been dancing in the streets and a great display of fireworks and many pubs had offered a round of drinks on the house to anyone who wanted to toast the king and his men.
Which was worse, Robert couldn’t say: the corset that pinched and squeezed his ribs and guts, making breathing difficult, or the clients who forced him up against the wall without regard to his comfort or safety. This most recent one had just pushed him, face first, his hand against the back of his head, hardly getting the pantaloons down before he had shoved his dick up his ass. Robert tried to keep his mind on his goal, but it was difficult to think about earning fare for an airship when his face was being shoved into a rough wooden house. He really should work better neighborhoods, he thought as the man thrust hard and quick against him. Somewhere with masonry and gardens he decided, a splinter digging into his cheek as the man behind him came.
Matthew found the shop with little trouble, but at first he entertained the possibility that he was mistaken. He paced the opposite side of the street, he watched cars pass by, he watched the lights change. When the sun dipped behind the buildings and foot traffic between the metro stations picked up, warm yellow lights were lit inside the shop and those that lined the street with it. It glinted off glass faces and gold buckles, and it slid down glossed leather like water. There were worse things to be mistaken about, he decided, and he crossed the street and entered the shop.
There was, as there always is, a boy. His name was Michel Valentine, and imagine for a moment if you will a tall, lanky figure with messy brown hair, a wide mouth with smiles tucked into its corners, and blue eyes that look far older and wiser than his nineteen years. He was on his way to Bytherand to look for work, as many do; he had apprenticed with the physician in his town for three years, and Doctor Louis had declared Michel ready for bigger things. Of course, he had only said so after walking in on Michel sealing a gash on an unconscious farmhand’s leg with nothing but his thoughts.
It hadn’t been easy parting with his mother, but Michel had carefully packed the reference papers from Doctor Louis, shouldered his bag and hefted his case, and walked bravely out into the world.
The first thing I noticed were his hands, which were stained beyond all washing by brown-black grease hiding in the creases of his knuckles and beneath what little of his fingernails hadn’t been bitten down to the quick. They were delicate, though, I could see by the way that he set his glass on the bar and ran his fingertips around the damp rim where his mouth had just been; he touched it like he’d touch a lover, I thought, long before I knew he’d never in his life touched a lover that way. The scent of new money rolled off him, not in that flashy, obnoxious way tasteless barbarians turn gilded lilies with a few extra notes in their billfolds, but like a man who’d come to enjoy all the things that wealth could get him but still didn’t feel like he fit in any of the places you had to go to get those things. He waited until the starched-collared bartender had wandered his way to the other end of the bar before inclining his head in my direction and saying to me, “I’ll buy you a drink if you let me see that arm.”
My head throbbed from a high receding too rapidly, and all I could think was, I didn’t come to London for this.
Jack Draper stood on the hotel’s balcony and watched the bright streaks of tracer fire from the Tower Bridge arc across the darkened sky. The dark was half a smothering dusk, low clouds, the threat of storm, and half stinking black smoke. London was burning. Three years of peace was too much to ask.
When Clarence awoke, the first thing he registered was that his body itched terribly. He tried to roll over, to get away from the sensation, but he found his way blocked by a wall of some kind. There was a wall on the other side as well, and then one above him, just centimeters away from his nose.
As anyone would do, he panicked. Shouting, he threw all of his strength against the wood that formed the ceiling of the box—coffin?—and never had he felt more relieved than when the lid gave way, sliding to the side and allowing sweet, fresh air to touch his face and fill his lungs.
It was only when he scrambled out of it that he realized he had been contained in a heavy shipping crate. How the bloody hell he had come to be there, lying in hay and wearing nothing at all, he hadn’t the slightest clue.