Friday Flashfic: The Octopus Society

A little preview of a world I’ve been playing in recently. If I ever finish Princess (and Salvage) there might be a novel about lady inventors and Science and exploration and the delicate politics of being an independent city-state within a huge-ass steampunk empire. Grown-up Adeline will have a big role.

Adeline tumbled into bed, completely exhausted.

She had planned on working tonight – the candle stub she’d fished from the refuse pile was still large enough to light, at least for a little while. It was almost done. A few finishing touches only…

The other girls had laughed when she said she was going to be an inventor. It wasn’t that she was female — all the scientist’s associations in the city accepted women now. It was that here in the workhouse, it was hard to have dreams.

And no surprise, when she came back from hours at the mill barely able to stand.

***

It worked. It worked!

The little clockwork sparrow flapped its wings, and hopped, and cocked its head to the side, and chirped. It didn’t fly — too heavy — but it could glide from the bedside table to the floor.

“A controlled descent,” Adeline said.

The girls crowded around, wide-eyed. “Oh, Addy!” breathed one. “You did it!”

***

The Academy of Sciences accepted students only one day a year. Prospectives were invited to present their work before a panel of judges, and only those with the highest marks were accepted.

Addy hurried down the street, her clockwork sparrow cradled to her breast. She was missing work to be here. They’d fire her tomorrow, and then the workhouse owners would beat her for it.

But she had to try. She had to. 

***

They laughed her out of the room.

***

Adeline lay in bed, too broken-hearted to cry. The sparrow sat on the bedside table, and every so often let out a soft cheep. “No, it’s no use,” she told it. “We weren’t good enough.”

She could hear footsteps coming down the hall — the night monitor. Adeline grabbed the sparrow and stuffed it under the pillow, her heart pounding…the footsteps faded away.

Adeline frowned. There was something else under her pillow.

Slowly, she drew it out. A ring in the shape of an octopus, perfectly sized for her finger. A card, printed on thick stock and lettered in black. She held it up to the window, squinting to read it.

Welcome to the Octopus Society.

Adeline smiled.