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   Chapter 2 No.2

Free-Wrench By Joseph R. Lallo Characters: 5179

Updated: 2018-01-19 12:02

"You're looking excited, Drew."

"Why shouldn't I be?" he said, stepping close to add in a conspiratorial whisper, "The airship is coming in tomorrow. I thought I'd swing down and see what they've got to offer. Did I show you what they sold me last time?"

"I don't think so."

He glanced around in a way that did more to make it obvious he was hiding something than it did to keep it hidden, then pulled a leather portfolio from the messenger bag. Nita took it and flipped it open. A passel of thick pieces of paper lay inside, each bearing a grainy black-and-white image. They weren't drawings, or at least not any sort of drawing she had ever seen. As she flipped through them, she came to notice a theme in what the images depicted. They were all pictures of women, each one wearing lacy clothing, and often very little of it.

"Drew, really?" Nita said with a disapproving smirk. "You shouldn't be buying anything from those black marketers from the mainland, and certainly not something as crass as this."

"It isn't crass."

"Oh no?" she asked, plucking out an image of a woman wearing a corset that had nothing to do with supporting her back and everything to do with the more common task of accentuating certain other assets for display.

He snatched the image away and tucked it back into the portfolio, which he then dropped into his bag again. "I was admiring the fashion. My sister is a seamstress after all. I thought she might find some inspiration. Besides, have you ever seen such things? They call them pho-to-graphs. Apparently you needn't be an artist to create them. They use something called a cam-er-a." He said the unfamiliar words syllable by syllable, as though they were in some alien language. "A push of a button and a puff of smoke, and you've got one of these. If it is that easy, I might finally find something of mine hanging in a gallery. I'd need only find the proper things to point the cam-er-a at. I'm hoping they will have one for sale. I imagine there are any number of models who would jump at the chance to be among the first to stand in front of my cam-er-a."

"And no doubt you would ask them to display this wonderful new 'fashion' while they did so?"

"Who knows? One must go where one's muse leads!" He winked at her, then turned to leave. "See you later, Nita."

She waved and carried the coil boxes over to a spindly vehicle near the gate. It looked like a horse-drawn carriage—if someone had been challenged to design one using as little material as possible, and the first thing on the chopping block had been the horse

itself. The frame and chassis were little more than thick wire. The wheels were hoops half her height with thin spokes and narrow treads. She opened a container between the rear wheels and slotted one of the coil boxes inside. Once she had flipped the switch on top, she climbed into the seat and twiddled the levers a bit. Gears clicked and spun, and the vehicle rolled quietly into the street, powered by the unwinding spring inside the coil box.

Amanita still lived on the Graus family estate, on the far side of the town nearest to the steamworks. Since the Hub was considered something of an eyesore by the locals, even the closest towns were a fair distance away, but she didn't mind. It gave her a chance each day to take in the scenery of the breathtaking Tellahn countryside. The islands were fortunate enough to enjoy temperate weather through most of the year, and the local flora was lush and tropical. This came at the price of a vicious storm season each year, but that was well behind them for now, and she was free to enjoy the morning breeze and fresh air.

For one who had never visited Caldera, the splendor of even the lesser cities was a sight to behold. Dell Harbor was anything but small and shone as one of the brightest jewels in Tellahn's crown. Even Amanita, who had spent her life here, was frequently struck by the beauty of the place. The Calderans valued inspiration and creation above all else, and it showed in everything they did. Elegant columns and intricate statuary adorned even modest homes. The streetlights were cast and polished with the same care as a set of fine silverware and gleamed in the sun.

She passed through the flowered trellis of her family's tastefully landscaped front garden just as the family was gathering around the breakfast table. As they did every morning, her mother and siblings took their breakfast on the family's sun porch where they could enjoy the sights and aromas of their front garden in the warmth of the rising sun. Amanita quickly took a seat. Already at the table were her fraternal twin sister, Analita, and her younger brother, Joshua. Both were dressed in their pajamas, more accustomed to starting their day with the sunrise than finishing it, as Nita did.

"Late again, Miss Amanita. Trouble at the steamworks?" asked Marissa, the cook. She was a matronly older woman with a frizz of silver hair barely tamed by a white bonnet. In her hand she held a basket of freshly baked rolls, which she added to a table already set with fine china and an assortment of fruits, pastries, and hot cereal.

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