Author: Jana Denardo
Release Date: November 27, 2017
Format: ePub, Mobi
Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Theme: Seasonal, Steam/Cyberpunk
Word Count: 10300
Sex Content: Explicit
The Glow of Luminiferous Aether on Tinsel
Jana Denardo © 2017
All Rights Reserved
The icy night wind bit deep, like a dog gnawing down to the bone. Jacob Scarberry pulled his blue wool pea coat tighter as he shivered. The cold burned his fingers through his gloves, and he shoved his hands up under his arms. Thick charcoal clouds obscured the silvery light of the moon, making the night more forbidding. Jacob ignored the urge to yank out his pocket watch to test how much longer he’d be on the deck of the DeGrasse. It wouldn’t be much longer, but at this point, as the wind and the airship’s engines carried them lazily eastward, he’d be home soon.
Jacob wished he could wear a third set of pants to keep out the cold, but he’d never be able to move in them. A union suit and woolen uniform trousers should have been enough to keep out the December chill, except his metal prosthetic leg, a miracle of spring-work technology, conducted the cold straight through his stump, up into his jewels, and even made his bladder ache. His slow path around the ship’s deck as he kept watch did little to warm him.
He had one sure way to feel warmer: thoughts of a certain Dr. H. Alphus Troyer waiting for him back home. Theirs was a strange and beautiful relationship. He’d never understand why a man as smart as Al would want to be with an air corps man like himself. Al argued that Jacob, as the onboard tactician, possessed intelligence in abundance. Though it would seem not enough to figure out a way to avoid guard duty in the middle of the frigid night just before Christmas. The airship’s engines growled a bit as a crosswind caught the balloon, rocking them. Jacob braced himself, widening his gait to help keep his balance, and his heavy boots thudded on the wood decking. Above him, the airship’s bladder rustled from a strong gust. He’d need more than thoughts of his debates with Al to keep him warm if the wind got any colder. Luckily, he had many fond memories of sharing Al’s bed. Now those were warm thoughts.
“My goggles are frozen to my face.”
Turning to face Marion Rose, Jacob tried not to laugh at her sour tone. Her lovely hair had been jammed up under a hat, and her goggles did look fogged. They wore them mostly to keep the wind out of their eyes, and when it was this cold, Jacob appreciated the lenses. The same could be said of the thick hat he wore over his dark hair. Behind Marion, the tinsel some wag had hung on the inside of the railings fluttered in the breeze, dully reflecting the bright moonlight.
“Everything is frozen to us,” Jacob said, patting his right thigh just above the leg Helen, his prosthetist, had crafted for him. “My leg is probably giving my stump frostbite.”
She crossed the gondola and tossed her arms around him. Between her thick woolen coat and his, he could barely feel the embrace. “Hmmm, this should be warmer, but it isn’t.”
“No, not really.” He rubbed her back. If he had any interest sexually in women, he would have considered Marion a perfect mate. Maybe it was better this way. He could be friends with this bright lady mechanic without sex messing things up.
“I bet you’re looking forward to getting home to Athens.” She hip bumped him. “To a certain professor.”
“Hush.” He meant that sincerely. Marion had guessed his love for Al—he wasn’t sure how—but he didn’t want it to be common knowledge.
“No one else is on the deck freezing to death,” she replied. “But point taken. The both of us could find ourselves committed to Athens Lunatic Asylum. You, a wedded bachelor, and me, a woman who thinks independently.”
The bitterness in her words crystallized in the night air. Jacob swallowed past the boulder in his throat—The Athens Lunatic asylum. It was a real fear. It wasn’t unheard of that homosexuals and mouthy women who didn’t know their places were committed as insane. The asylum was a beautiful place—even had dances, inviting the town, to give the patients something positive—but Jacob didn’t want to end up inside its walls for good. He doubted the new age looming before them would bring fast changes on how women or homosexuals were viewed.
They were less than two weeks to the turn of the century—1900. The mere thought of seeing a new century excited Jacob. He didn’t understand the hysterical types who swore the world would end. It hadn’t ended with any other turns of the century. Why should this one be any different, no matter what the religious zealots said? Al already had a party planned for New Year’s Eve that Jacob looked forward to nearly as much as he did Christmas. Given all he’d been through with the military, Jacob counted himself lucky to see a new century. At least this guarding precious cargo detail should be an easy one provided they avoided airship pirates.
He peered over the upper deck’s rail. A large, inky snake cut across the landscape—the mighty Ohio River. Pinpoints glittered in the darkness from all the gas streetlamps lighting up the small river towns that had cropped up along the waterway. Gazing east, the darkness seemed endless, consuming all.