To celebrate the soft re-launch of my first novel, The Future that Never Was, here’s a piece that got left on the cutting room floor. I’ve edited it a little to flesh it out. This piece was originally about my cat Zoe, who likes to lick me awake for breakfast.
Future is a steampunk alternate reality novel written in part as vignettes. Each piece was done as a first-person episode. I wanted to showcase each character to say that the story isn’t just about one person. The world is a character, and everybody is an island in it. Quite rightly, my editor Heather at City Owl cut a few of these pieces and we re-wrote the rest as third person. Go check it out today!
In this episode, our protagonists have just left the pub to find their airship has been stolen. Only a flying longboat and a letter remain. We discover that our Captain Albion has spent the better part of the night streaking through the pubs of the Hook to recover his effects: a distraction, to seduce him away from his beloved ship. Our crew catches up to the thief only to realize that she is only a very small, very ginger prepubescent girl.
Whatever Happened to Kitty Desperado?
My amorous Captain,
Despite my efforts, you refuse to acknowledge my feelings of intense admiration and overflowing love for your person. Normally, a girl in my position would draw back out of some foolish modesty, or perhaps shower you with presents, to better appeal to your attentions. I have chosen differently. To show you how serious I am in my love, I have stolen your precious vessel, the Huckleberry, with the conviction you will go to all lengths to recover it. I will see you soon, my delicious Captain.
PS: I did adore your cute dimpled buttocks as they came streaking by. I look forward to pinching them. ❤
The story of Kitty Desperado was merely an exceptional one- meaning, it was one we had heard hundreds of times scouring the bars of the Hook. She was one of the one of the faceless multitude orphaned during the last Great War, then only a babe in arms. A Welsh relief corporal had nearly tripped over her, nestled in the debris of a bombed Glasgow hotel and clothed in a pile of evening gowns and hangers.
Dropped from one of the still new Eastern Conglomerate dirigibles, steamcraft bombs left flesh melted off bone, pillars warped and broken in its wake. The closet and room had taken the brunt of the attack, but a mother’s careful wrapping had saved the child, wound in a dress meant to keep a lady protected near searing hot engines. These costly thermal materials were just then coming into fashion, driven by a fiercely progressive and practical new London femininity.
Near as the corporal could figure, the girl had been abandoned not long before the bombing, along with several ready milk bottles and a bell looped round her wrist to attract attention. It was a common enough tale. Like as not, the girl was the secret fruit of some society debutante and a handsome, transitory soldier. It was common for children to be hidden away in the interests of the aristocracy. The tenant of the room had used a false name, borrowed from a popular series of propaganda pictures playing at the time, about a Spanish thief turned spy for the Western Partnership.
The name of the thief had been Kitty Desperado.
The modestly retained corporal had been thoroughly moved, but in the end had been forced to give up Kitty to the state’s care. Britain’s deficits during the war were well- documented, and it had been a miracle the military even managed to build their flagship dirigible fleet, the Knights of the Round, which eventually won the war. Orphans who could contribute nothing were summarily shipped to the filing cabinets of military orphanages, and as early as the age of six, were sent into the reserves as yeomen and engineering apprentices. Their deft fingers were made to mend the engines of war.
Kitty Desperado nearly never met with her gallant rescuer, not until she was well into her service as a knocker-up aboard the pressed-helium medical carrier Richard the Lionheart. The job was simple: at the appropriate times, according to the shipboard clock, she had to run down to the appropriate officers or midshipmen and wake them at any cost. These hardened officers worked twenty-hour shifts, and were hard drinkers. Often she had to pick the locks, or wriggle in through the heating vents, to slap the man or woman awake with hands stinging from another officer’s stubble.
Kitty learned to be as stealthy as her namesake. Waking a soldier who had seen terrible things was often a dangerous activity. But she learned to quietly remove a soldier’s gun from his bedside, and to stay low, under shooting height. Kitty learned to throw her voice. She talked to all of the ship’s engineers, learning the ins and outs of airships. She was so good at the job, pretty soon the officers learned to wake at the chime of the bell on her wrist, lest Kitty give them a good licking.
It was the reputation of Kitty’s alarm bell that alerted Kitty’s corporal, then a major by the name of Topher Kien, to Kitty’s existence. Fate was not kind. By the time Kitty received the major’s message, Kien had succumbed to bullet wounds in a quiet corner of the Richard’s patient quarters. He had been shot in the head, and the bandages were so thick beneath the breathing apparatus, Kitty never saw what the man looked like. The only image she retained was the large, round lenses atop the breathing apparatus, sat there like a toad on his face.
Kitty could not have known, but as she knelt at the feet of her rescuer, the British military was preparing to jettison its orphans out into the world. By the time Major Kien passed, peace was well under way, with the remnants of the Eastern forces driven back behind the riveted partitions of the Ottoman Empire. The new Balaenopteron-class airships, spearheaded by the Knights, were large, well- armored, and could punch holes the size of lakes in the Ottomans’ aerial blockade.
Standing in the busy dirigible port with her few belongings on her back and the military’s meager pittance in an envelope in her pocket, Kitty found herself abandoned. She didn’t know the name of the port, even, or the city it was situated near. The shops sold unfamiliar goods, and the water tasted foul, slimy, compared with the clean precipitate of dirigible runoff. Even at such a young age, she had some idea how a young girl could make a living in the world. She could see the tarts flitting about in the shadows of the alleys and taverns, the hint of garters like frilled creatures peering out from the lager-scented undergrowth. The idea made her want to run to the bog and wretch.
Deliverance came in a most unprecedented form- in the conversation between two airmen, recently detached from a Salvation Army aid ship. Kitty had sat herself at a table across them to figure herself out, in a cafe not far from the Richard. Funny- it had seemed something like a home yesterday. Today it was merely a ship, one of a thousand moored far overhead. The airmen took no notice of them, instead discussing something that seemed of all-encompassing import.
“I’m telling you, Eriksson, they’re all right. They never target our ships, only the Ottoman gunships and patrol scouts.”
“Maybe not the ones you’ve heard about, Bernard, but they’re pirates all the same. No two are alike. Make ‘em desperate and they’ll do anything.”
“You’re saying now the war’s over, they’ll start poaching civilian vessels,” deduced the one called Bernard.
“It’s easy, even if you haven’t got a ship,” replied the one called Eriksson. “You simply sneak aboard, hide in a smuggler’s nook or cold steam vent, and wait until everyone is asleep. Then you slit their throats, or take what you want and bugger off on a longboat. Not a soul to stop you in the open sky.” He seemed engrossed in the logistics, never mind who was listening. “I know a soldier or two who haven’t put their war pay aside. What other trade have they?”
Eriksson was right- their table was one of many filled with airmen, talking about the same thing. What would they do now the war was done? But the coffee was good and the café was busy. Not many would have bothered to hear hypothetical piracy from a faceless airman. Not many, but a little girl with red, red hair.
“Pirates are a noble bunch, I say,” the one called Bernard insisted stubbornly. “Descended from ancient rebels, fallen kings. Deposed lineages. It’s like there’s something bigger behind them, telling them where to go, what ships are safe to plunder. I’ll just bet there’s a band waiting to take down the Turkish trader two towers over.”
But the little girl had heard enough. Kitty Desperado, having spent her time in the service of the state opening doors and delivering painful messages, was preparing to apply herself the only way she could conceive: as her namesake, a master thief. And the first thing she would steal?
Why, they were hanging right over her head, fruit ripe for the picking.