The engine, the hydraulics in the legs, were so loud Samuel was certain he’d disturb her, but as he approached the window they remained seated, few of them even cocking their head to suggest there was a sound they couldn’t identify. Perhaps it was louder on the inside. He couldn’t say as he’d never been outside while it was running. This was the furthest he’d gone in the belly of his beast. This was its inaugural journey. This was the most important day of his life.

They surrounded her, talking amongst themselves, or with her father; their flowers covering every table in the room barely leaving space for the snack tray. She was perfect, wearing soft yellow sitting in a sea of admirers. Her tea cup had stalled inches from the saucer, as if she’d planned to take a sip before the whole world had been forgotten.

In her head, Carmella was engaged in a massive battle, each of the men trying in turn to win with brute strength while she danced lightly around them. Hers was a fencing sword leaving welts rather than trails of blood. Each time she managed another punishing thwap they grew more reckless with their sabers, less concerned about damaging her with their full-bladed weapons — or possibly, preferably, they fought with a growing respect for her abilities. She leapt from table to table, broken vases creating thorns for every overly safe flower they’d given her today, for every swaddled thornless flower they’d given her ever.

She rapped smartly on Sir Mitchum’s knuckles causing his sword to fly from his hands and imbed itself in the wooden floor, quivering neatly an inch from his well-polished boot. His hands raised in surrender… just as he cleared his throat and called her name. The trip back to reality was not welcome and she had to blink several times to see the room as it really was.

That was the only reason she didn’t turn to see the massive metal face looming in, blocking the light from the large windows on the west wall. Because it almost certainly couldn’t be real. She turned wide attentive eyes to Sir Mitchum and smiled.

Samuel carefully placed the legs around the nicely tended shrubbery and adjusted a few levers, the weights and balance to swing the face, the control pod, closer to the glass. Another few levers lifted a massive steel arm, placing it carefully with three fingers the length of a mans leg on the brick and only one against the window. The slightest movement, a tiny tap-tap and the glass barely cracked at all.

The men didn’t move, waiting to take their cue from her father. He sat holding his port and frowning at the window. After a moment he looked down at his glass and swirled it, setting the remnants of the golden liquid in motion. Then he looked up again, his frown deepening. The admirers began to look more flustered but Carmella was the first to move. As she reached the windows, several of them stood. When she turned the key, they stepped forward and when she flung the panes open they were only a few feet behind her, murmuring amongst themselves. They should protect her, but from that? How?

A few more levers and the other hand came up holding a rose of copper and silver almost as tall as Carmella herself; the flower alone spread as wide as her shoulders.

Carmella reached out to touch a metal thorn the size of her fist. Despite the size it was sharp enough to prick her finger. She smeared the blood with her thumb and grinned. The glass shield slid up revealing a small cockpit. Samuel — too busy to chat, too busy to visit, too busy to notice, Samuel — looked up, pressing a few more levers. The hand fell back and large metal head moved closer, now only a few inches away.

“Would you,” Samuel began. He cleared his throat and stepped away from the controls, closer to the window. “I mean, would you, Carmella, like to go for a walk in the park with me?”

Carmella sat on the windowsill and twisted, swinging her legs up and over to the other side. Her feet dangled just above the cockpit and those few inches loomed, larger than they’d seemed a minute before. Samuel’s eyes widened and he rushed to assist, catching her as she landed on the deck.

“Yes, please.”

“Yes, please?” he mouthed in the form of a question; his concentration obviously broken by her change in venue.

She lifted her hand from his wrists, still at her waist, and touched his boutonniere — a miniature model of the rose he’d offered her. “I would love to walk in the park with you.”

“Yes?” he asked again, as if he wasn’t sure he could entirely believe it.

“Yes.” Carmella said again. She knew exactly how that felt.

About the Author

“I’m Marilou Goodwin in person and Clothdragon online and I love steampunk for the beauty in its design. Things are made practical, strong, and useful but with flourishes – with extra detail so each piece of equipment is also a work of art.”