Sunday, June 19, 2016
1st Five Pages June Workshop - Bartlett Revision 2
Name: Claire Bartlett
Title: Night Witches
Genre: YA Fantasy
Valka is a double amputee who wields illegal magic. Linne’s a soldier that got caught masquerading as a boy. Neither of them expected to be used in the war effort. But the Union of the North needs bodies, and Valka and Linne are sent to fly experimental aircraft with a newly formed women’s aviation unit. There they must learn not only to combat the enemy, but to defy the stereotypes the men of the base have for their new female comrades.
Success means earning their right to die. Failure means living down to the expectations of what women do and how they behave. By day they do twice as much work as the men to receive half the credit, and by night they risk their lives for the same men. Their allies wish they didn’t exist, their enemies would do anything to get rid of them, and they can’t even stand each other. But they are the Night Witches, and nothing short of death will bring them to the ground.
NIGHT WITCHES is a young adult dieselpunk fantasy of 90,000 words.
When the war came to Valka, she didn’t even notice. She sat at her post like a good Union girl and let the organized cacophony of industry fill her to the brim, oblivious to the oncoming storm until her supervisor appeared beside her.
Her stomach twisted when she saw Mrs. Rodoya. God, she thought, even though good Union girls weren’t supposed to think about God anymore. I’m fired. They’d only taken her out of a sense of charity, and she’d been waiting three years for Mrs. Rodoya to realize her mistake. How could a girl with no legs work in a factory that made them?
Slim, shining beetle legs drifted past on the conveyor belt, twitching and trembling with traces of magic. Valka picked one up and checked the joints, tested the gears, working her fingers along its oily bones. She tried to calm the leg as she worked, but her hands fumbled as she waited for Mrs. Rodoya’s judgment call.
“We need to evacuate,” Mrs. Rodoya said. Her usually tidy hair had fallen from its bun and lay half unfurled on her square shoulders. The leg fell back on the belt with a sharp clang. “Get your things.”
Valka forgot her work. “What’s happening?” she said. But Mrs. Rodoya was already spinning away, running around the belt to the girls on the opposite side.
She knew what was happening. If Mrs. Rodoya said evacuate, it meant the Elda were coming. Valka’s breath caught as she imagined regiments of blue and gray men, marching through the smoke in their monstrous gas masks, bringing the hard mercies of conquest. But that was a stupid fantasy. The Elda wouldn’t march into Tammin. They’d obliterate it from the sky. And everyone in Tammin Reaching knew that when the Elda finally attacked, they’d aim for the factories. The Union army relied on the high quality production of the factories in Tammin, which meant the army relied on Valka. Which meant that when she abandoned her post, she’d abandon the Union.
The hissing, ratcheting, clanging of the factory faded until every machine on the floor had stilled. Whispers swept around the room in soft, hissing syllables as the machines wound down for the first time in years. Even when Valka finished her shifts, another girl came to oversee the machines as they ground through the night, churning out parts for the army. Now silence descended like a blanket of snow. It felt like a promise broken.
For a moment it seemed as though that the world had turned off like a radio. Then she heard it - a low hum, like some enraged cloud of insects. Elda aircraft. Elda witchcraft. The fear doubled.
“Girls!” Mrs Rodoya’s trembling voice rang out over the factory hall. Valka turned her wheelchair away from the conveyor belt and pushed towards the sound of Mrs. Rodoya’s voice. Her hands slipped on the wheels, shaking and slick with oil and sweat.
Mrs. Rodoya stood in the middle of the hall, tall and straight, her hands clasped just over her belly. “We’ve practiced this before, girls. Let’s make an orderly exit, please.” Mrs. Rodoya loved order. She probably cared less about their impending death by fire than about the shame she’d feel in allowing her girls to disturb the precious order.
Valka pushed her chair towards the door, fighting the oil on her hands and the metal filings and barbs that the chair had picked up from the factory floor. Slivers of living steel bit into her palm. She’d worn prostheses for years, but Mrs. Rodoya had doubted her ability to stand on them day after day, and had insisted she come to work in a chair.
The girls lined up - neatly, of course. Their shelter was a ten-minute trip and right now Valka wanted nothing more than to stay where it was warm and safe. Except it wasn’t safe here. It would be better out on the street, where she could see the Elda dragons and their bombs as they came to kill her. The others formed a line of pairs, hands clasped, throats bobbing as they swallowed their panic. They bent their heads together. “Maybe they’ll pass over,” the girl just in front of Valka said. Her friend gave a reassuring squeeze.
Valka had no partner. She got to be at the end of the line, and Mrs. Rodoya was her partner. Everyone assumed she’d be too slow to keep up.
Mrs. Rodoya opened the factory door and shushed each pair as they went through. Valka moved forward and Mrs. Rodoya grabbed the back of her chair and began to push. Valka had asked to push herself during practice raids, or at least walk like everyone else. “Now, now, we want speed over pride, don’t we?” Mrs. Rodoya had said. Now she had to stop herself from reaching back for Mrs. Rodoya’s hand.
The factory girls took measured steps, moving in a regulated dance. Valka and Mrs. Rodoya followed behind, half lurching as one of Valka’s wheels caught on a loose stone at the edge of the road. They moved away from the building, down a street lined with standard issue factory blocks that churned out legs, carapaces, rifles, helmets and other army equipment. Twilight deepened the cloudless sky above. The moon hung like a fruit, a fat crescent surrounded by stars. On an ordinary night Valka might watch it thread its way to the horizon. But there were other things in the sky tonight, things that hummed and growled, things that promised fire and hid behind the city’s skyline.
A shudder ran through her. She wasn’t the only one. The line of girls undulated as the dance began to unravel. “Calm, girls,” Mrs. Rodoya said. Did she even know the meaning of the word? Calm was easy during a practice raid. Just hold your head high and follow the War Ministry’s approved path to the shelter. When the hum of aircraft resonated against the buildings to either side of them, holding her head high was a whole lot harder to do. Valka folded her hands in front of her, clenching them until she couldn’t feel them shake anymore. Don’t be such a coward, she told herself. But she hadn’t been brave in a long time. Sometimes she felt like when the doctors cut off her legs, they amputated her bravery as well.
They’d make it to the shelter. They had to. Mrs. Rodoya would see her through. Maybe the Elda would just pass overhead, on the way to do reconnaissance or bomb another target. She knew how selfish it was, hoping that someone else could die so that she might live. But the farther they got down the street, the more relief filled her.
They made it to the end of the street before the first explosion hit the edge of town. Two girls screamed. Valka’s pulse throbbed in her ears, drowning out whine of the aircraft as they swung about. The girls ahead quickened as the balance between order and panic began to twist and destabilize. “Calm, girls.” Did Mrs. Rodoya have to keep saying that?
They pressed on in the growing darkness, past buildings that were uniformly squat, uniformly square, and uniformly grayish-brown. Tammin would never be a wonder of the world. It was most beautiful during snowfall, but the city hadn’t been built for beauty. It had been built for one purpose, and that purpose was industry.