First came Cappadocia, where we floated for days, climbing down from our balloon to explore the caverns in thick leather goggles that kept the dust from our eyes. She’d hidden a clue here, she told me, and deep in a small, frescoed cave I found it: a charm in the shape of a lyre, hung on golden chain, with a thrice-folded note: “Like music, it rises from the throat.” I begged her to tell me what it meant, as we went hand-over-hand up the rope, but she only laughed, saying, “Oh, but it wouldn’t be any fun if I told you! We’ve got so far to go.”

She flew us next to Ephesus. We anchored the balloon above the ancient library and spent the day picnicking among the ruins, gazing across the grassy fields with the brass binoculars she had built. Picking our way through the fallen pillars at the Temple of Artemis, I found, upon a stone, her second clue: a book, blank but richly adorned, with a cover of blue and green, like undulating waves. On the first cream-colored page, she had scrawled a single line: “Like a melody, it will carry you far.” I pouted, perplexed: she kissed me and laughed again, her secret still safely submerged.

We arrived, finally, in Istanbul, where we ate and drank until morning, then spent the day combing bazaar stalls and junk shops, ducking into cool cafés to escape the sun. We climbed back into the balloon as the heat began to ease, and she anchored the balloon over the bridge crossing the Boğaz, the blue-green strait running through the heart of the city—I’d known once what its name meant, but had forgotten now.

I sat at the balloon’s edge, my bare feet dangling over the Boğaz. “It looks so refreshing,” I sighed.

“Care for a dip?” Her hands came to rest on my shoulders.

“Maybe, but where would I—oh!” The words were lost as she pushed me, in a single shove, out of the balloon and into the air.

My body tensed for the plunge, but no sooner had I begun to fall than I felt my dive arrested. I looked to my ankles and wrists, now raised high above me, and found at each corner my saviors: dozens of mechanical parakeets of stunning intricacy, and a strength their size belied.

I looked down to the waves of the BoÄŸaz, and there saw her creation began to rise: first the slim smoke stacks, stately and steaming; then the calliope, glistening, gold-tipped; then the steel hull, shining orange in the light of the setting sun.

My flock set me down as the ship completed its ascent. I stepped upon the deck, marveling at the beauty of this beast, which seemed, with its puffs and ticks, a living thing.

She stole up behind me as I came to the helm, though I hadn’t seen her come down from the balloon.

“I thought,” she whispered, “that we could take the next leg by sea.” Slipping an arm around my side, she pushed a brazen lever, and the ship started forward, towards the bridge and the sea beyond. “Happy Valentine’s, my love. Welcome to the SS Erato.”

About the Author

“The prize for this contest is an excellent example of why I love steampunk: it fuses together an imaginative take of technological invention, gorgeous aesthetics, and plenty of leather. What’s not to love? As a writer and a frequent traveler, I chose to write a love story about traveling through Turkey, a land I love. (A hint for anyone deciphering the first ‘clue’ in the story: ‘throat’ in Turkish is ‘boÄŸaz.’ Remember that!)”