Authors: Nisi Shawl
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For Octavia, who knew this day would come
This novel derives from one of history's most notorious atrocities: King Leopold II's reign over the Congo Free State. The exact number of casualties is unknown, but conservative estimates admit that at least half of the populace disappeared in the period from 1895 to 1908. The area thus devastated was about a quarter of the size of the current continental United States. Millions of people died.
The steampunk genre often works as a form of alternate history, showing us how small changes to what actually happened might have resulted in momentous differences: clockwork Victorian-era computers, commercial transcontinental dirigible lines, and a host of other wonders. This is that kind of book.
I like to think that with a nudge or two events might have played out
more happily for the inhabitants of Equatorial Africa. They might have enjoyed a prosperous future filled with all the technology that delights current steampunk fans in stories of western Europe and North America. And more. In
Of course steampunk is a form of fiction, a fantasy, and the events within these pages never happened. But they
, 1/28/1873â8/3/1954, author, nurse, and intelligence agent
, 8/15/1858â5/4/1924, “The Poet,” a founder of the Fabian Society, married to Laurence/Laurie Albin, mother of George and Lily Albin, foster mother of Rosalie Albin and Laurence/Laurie Albin, Jr.
, 5/19/1860â6/19/1937, playwright, knighted in 1912
John/Jackie Herbert Owen
, 7/26/1856â8/13/1913, a founder of the Fabian Society
, a founder of the Fabian Society, married to Daisy Albin, father of George, Lily, Rosalie, and Laurence/Laurie Albin, Jr.
, son of Daisy and Laurie Albin, married to Martha Livia Hunter Albin in November 1897
, daughter of Daisy and Laurie Albin
, daughter of Laurie Albin and Ellen Main Albin
Laurence/Laurie Albin, Jr.
, son of Laurie Albin and Ellen Main Albin
Ellen Main Albin
, a Fabian Society member, married to Laurie Albin in April 1897
, an engineer and Fabian Society supporter
Christopher J. Thornhill
, a British intelligence agent
, 11/2/1894â3/7/1967, actress
Martha Livia Hunter Albin
, 8/10/1858â2/27/1964, married to George Albin in November 1897
Thomas Jefferson Wilson
, 10/16/1849â8/2/1923, missionary and military officer
, engineer and inventor, Martha Livia Hunter Albin's godson, brother of Winthrop Hunter
, engineer and inventor, Martha Livia Hunter Albin's godson, brother of Chester Hunter
, a Baltimore-based family of entrepreneurs
, 1875â6/22/1954, king of the territory sold to the Fabian Society by Leopold II
, 1865â12/2/1928, priest of Oxun, intelligence agent, Mwenda's favorite wife and queen
, 1888â9/16/1970, intelligence agent
, one of Mwenda's military leaders
, one of Mwenda's military leaders, trained to fly aircanoes in 1912 and 1913
, King Mwenda's chief counselor
, a fighter, elder, and representative for the Grand Mote
, princess and intelligence agent, daughter of Josina and Mwenda
, one of Josina's favorite attendants
, one of Josina's favorite attendants
, an intelligence agent for Josina and Mwenda and representative for the Grand Mote, cousin to Josina
, refugee, fighter, devotee and apprentice priest of Loango
, refugee, courier, representative for the Grand Mote
, the only other survivor of Fwendi's village, brother of her grandmother
, 1/18/1881â7/18/1978, engineer and inventor, representative for the Grand Mote, brother to Bee-Lung
, pharmacist, sister to Tink
Look for a long time at that which pleases you, and a longer time at that which gives you pain.
Burgundy, France, July 1889
Lisette Toutournier sighed. She breathed in again, out, in, the marvelous air smelling of crushed stems, green blood bruised and roused by her progress along this narrow forest path. Her progress, and that of her new mechanical friend. Commencing to walk again, she pushed it along through underbrush and creepers, woodbine and fern giving way before its wheels. Oh, how the insects buzzed about her exposed skin, her face and hands and wrists and ankles, waiting to bite. And the vexing heat bid fair to stifle her as she climbed the hillside slowlyâbut the scentâintoxicating! And soon, so soon, all this effort would be repaid.
There! The crest came in sight, the washed-out summer sky showing itself through the beech trees' old silver trunks. Now her path connected with the road, stony, rutted, but still better suited for riding. She stood a moment admiring the view: the valley, the blurred rows of cultivation curving away smaller and smaller in the bluing distance, the sky pale overhead, the perfect foil for the dark-leaved woods behind her and by her sides. Not far off a redwing sang, cold water trickling uphill.
She had the way of it now: gripping the rubber molded around the machine's metal handlebars, she leaned it toward her and swung one skirted leg over the drop frame. Upright again, she walked it a few more steps forward, aiming straight along the lane, the yellow-brown dust bright in the sun. The machine's glossy paint shone. Within the wheel's front rim its spokes were a revolving web of intricacy, shadows and light chasing one another. Tiny puffs of dust spurted from beneath the black rubber tires.
She raised her eyes. The vista opened wider, wider. The road laid itself down before her.
Up on the creaking leather seat. Legs drawn high, boots searching, scraping, finding their placesÂ â¦ and pedal! Push! Feet turning circles like her machine's wheels,
those wheels. It was, at first, work. She pedaled and steered, wobbling just once and catching herself. Then going faster, faster! Flying! Freedom!
Saplings, walls, and vines whipped by, flashes of greenbrowngreengrey as Lisette on her machine sped down the road, down the hill. Wind rushed into her face, whistled in her ears, filled her nose, her lungs, tore her hair loose of its pins to stream behind her. She was a wild thing, laughing, jouncing over dry watercourses, hanging on for dear, dear life. Lower, now, and some few trees arched above, alternately blocking the hot glare and exposing her to it coolwarmcoolwarm, currents of sun and shade splashing over her as she careened by. Coasting, at last, spilling all velocity till she and the machine came to rest beside the river.
The river. The comforting smell and sound of it rushing away. Out on the Yonne's broad darkness a barge sailed, bound perhaps for Paris, the Seine, the sea beyond, carrying casks of wine and other valuables. Flushed from her ride, Lisette blushed yet more deeply, suddenly conscious of the curious stares of those around her: Mademoiselle Carduner, the schoolmistress; and Monsieur Lutterayne, the chemist, out for a promenade during his dinner hour or on some errand, seizing a chance to vacate his stuffy shop. Flustered, she attempted to restrain her hair into a proper chignon, but at only sixteen and with many pins missing, this was beyond her skill. She began furiously to plait her thick blond curls, and the others moved away.
At last she was alone on the riverbank with her mechanical friend. She tied her plaits together, though she knew that momentarily they would slither apart. She stroked the machine's still-gleaming handlebars, then leaned to fit her forehead at their center, so. “Dear one,” whispered Lisette. “How can you ever know how much you mean to me? Who would not give all they could, everything they had, in exchange for such happiness as I have found with you?”