“Anchor Me,” by Sarah Diemer
Isadora has the extreme fortune of inheriting her grandfather’s airship containing an automaton navigation system named Rosie, who happens to be much more to Isadora than a Steampunk GPS.
(photo by Amphalon)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Sarah Diemer
“It’s an older model,” says Papa, nose wrinkled as he gazes down at the tea-stained manual through his monocle. “But older models still have worth, even by today’s standards, Isadora, and my father took great pride in…”
“I know, Papa,” I breathe out for only the hundredth time this day. I stare up and up and up at its beautiful lines and curves, clutching my hat to my unruly curls.
And I say it again, both for his benefit and mine: “I don’t care if it was made in the medieval ages, Papa. After all, it’s not every day that a girl inherits an airship.”
He glances up at me and sighs for a long moment before he smiles, mouth crinkling at the edges. “That’s my girl.”
I close my parasol and hand it to Papa’s manservant, Duncan, who—like a very reliable piece of clockwork—snaps it back open and holds it over my head. “Papa,” I begin, yanking my leather gloves out of my coat pocket, “I’d very much like to take her out for a spin, if you don’t mind.”
“Isadora, I think that it would more decorous if you stayed grounded for at least the period of mourning entitled to your dear departed grandfather,” says Papa, his moustache becoming quite droopy at the prospect that his beloved daughter is actually going to fly said airship.
And why shouldn’t I? It’s a golden age, an age of opportunity and possibility, all ready and available for any girl with enough druthers to snatch it! I stare up and up and up at the McClellan’s Roving Airship, the very first variation, I might add, when they started to put in the automaton navigation systems. This ship, Grandpapa’s beloved Isadora, named after yours truly, was one of the very first with the chrome plates around the windows and the extra lifeboat topside, for life’s less than lucky moments. (It’s nice that it has an extra lifeboat—the default one that McClellan usually stowed on all airships would only seat a dog. And a very small one at that.)
Papa follows me with several splutters, and Duncan after him, still holding my parasol over his head—failing to keep it over mine—as I walk the gangplank up to the passenger level of the airship.
And there she is, seated in the first seat, legs crossed at the ankles as any good lady is taught. But Rose is not a lady.
She’s not even close.
The automaton rises as we enter the passenger bay, smoothly and with no creaking. She was built to resemble a girl, age fifteen, and they used real human hair on the automatons in the McClellan line, and though her skin bears a slightly metallic sheen, and her clothes are a bit more pressed than any human girl could keep for more than a heartbeat, she could pass for human if you didn’t look too closely. She glances at me, smiling, bowing her head.
“I’m sorry to hear of your Grandpapa’s passing, miss Isadora. He was very kind to me and will be sorely missed.”
“Did Grandpapa tell you what would happen to you…after the illness, Rose?” I ask. Papa clears his throat, as he often does when I’m being forward, but Rose doesn’t seem to mind. She smiles at me, cocking her head like a lovely wind-up bird.
“That I should be given to you. So the ship is yours now, miss Isadora?”
“Oh, do please call me Izzy,” I say, stepping forward, clasping her hands.
Even in front of my father and his man, Rose gives my fingers the slightest squeeze. My heart quickens at that, and I bite my lip, glancing sidelong at her, but nothing else seems to have changed in her countenance. She grins fetchingly at Papa and Duncan, dropping them a little curtsey.
“Rose, you must know that Isadora is not very well versed in flying airships…of any kind…” Papa begins, pulling at his collar as if it fits him too tightly. “I’m quite concerned, actually, about my daughter being up in the sky at any height…”
“I assure you, sir, I am programmed to make absolutely certain that the airship remains aloft and lands perfectly, each time. That is why they built the airships to have brains, after all,” she smiles, spreading her hands.
Papa’s moustache twitches, but he gives me a quick embrace. “I think I should be with you for your first flight…”
“Papa, it’s not my first flight,” I murmur, to which Rose laughs—but just a little, and I doubt they heard it. I usher Papa towards the gangplank firmly, and because Duncan must go wherever Papa goes, he follows obediently down, his own metallic skin flashing in the sunshine.
I wheel up the gangplank with the press of a button, and when I’m absolutely certain that Papa could not possibly, not even slightly, see in to the passenger bay, I step forward and take Rose’s hands in my own, threading my fingers through hers before I kiss her.
“Oh Rose,” I whisper, stepping back, holding her out at arms’ length. “Can you believe it? You’re mine now. We’ll go together across the world, we’ll go to the strangest lands, the best lands…different lands. But it won’t matter where it is that we are, Rosie, my Rosie…” I put my arms about her waist and press her close. She smiles up at me, her hands behind my head as she pulls me down for another kiss.
“Your grandfather would like you to know that he’s currently in the great Yukon, and perfectly well,” says Rose, head cocked impishly to the side. “He orchestrated his own death. Again.”
“He only does it about once a year now. Oh, Grandpapa and your delightful eccentricities,” I laugh, rolling my eyes as I kiss her mouth again. “But it doesn’t matter, Rosie. Somehow, Grandpapa knew about you and I. Somehow. And he did this…he gave you to me. And we’ll be together forever…”
Rose steps back, then, faltering a little. Her face still smiles, and so prettily, but I know something’s wrong as her fingers through mine grow slack. “What’s wrong? What’s the matter?” I ask her, my heart skipping at beat. She shakes her head, steps back and holds out an arm. The airship shudders to life, the engine beginning to put-put smoothly.
“Izzy…” she whispers, gazing out the window as the ground begins to fall away from us. “What if…what if you grow tired of me?”
I stare at her, mouth open, aghast. “What ever could have put that thought into your mind?” I cross the space between us, put my arms about her. “Rosie, I love you…”
“You’re sixteen,” says Rose, wrestling out of my arms, her hands against my wrists firmly. Her mouth is in a small, sad line. “Say that we go to these lands. And oh, Izzy, I want you to see the world, yes…but there are so many beautiful girls. Clever girls. Lovely girls. Real girls.”
“I don’t want any other beautiful, clever, lovely girl but my girl. You, Rosie,” I whisper, stepping forward, enfolding her in my arms. “I will love you as long as my mortal heart concedes to pushing blood. I will. I promise you.”
Rosie looks up into my eyes, her arms about my neck. For a moment, I see pain reflected in her face. The pain of two hundred years. The pain of having loved and lost before.
“I am, at the end of the day, just a machine,” she whispers to me. But I shake my head and I kiss her.
And there are fireworks in my stomach, as there always are. And the world tints a little brighter and a little lovelier.
“You anchor me to everything good,” I whisper as we rise. “I love you, Rosie.”
And she rests her head against my shoulder, content in that.
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Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
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