It was an honour to have fantasy story Victoria Chase shortlisted in for the 2013 Aeon Award, run by Ireland’s Albedo One magazine of speculative fiction. While Victoria Chase didn’t make the final six, it was fantastic to see a third story make the Aeon’s shortlist (previous shortlisted stories being Swan Wing in 2008 and Darke Wing in 2011).
The full list for 2013 can be found here.
Now to come up with something for this year’s Aeon! And to the short story writers out there, why not give it a go! The award has an excellent prize, and is run by very nice folk.
Victoria Chase is set in a parallel future London, run by automata….who are slowly reverting to a ‘natural’ state, and a deeper awareness of what that means. I’ve written a few stories in this world, including Darke Wing, and am currently putting the finishing touches to a tale called The Girl with Peacock-feather Hair. Meanwhile, here’s a little snippet of ‘Victoria’:
“Don’t twitch your tail at me, young lady! And don’t come back until you’ve found your manners!”
The door slammed at Victoria’s heels. She took the steps in a leap, between a pair of matching white pillars. Her booted feet hit the pavement with a loud crack. Ordinarily, she would be considerate at this hour of the morning. People were asleep in the houses lining her street – or as asleep as any mechanica could pretend to be. She pursed her lips and strode on.
A hot flush mounted in her skin-crafted cheeks. How dare they throw her out! Her own family. Victoria’s fingers trembled. She brushed them down the front of her dress, smoothing the violet ruffles and pleats below a darted bodice, and fastened the pearl buttons on the sides of her gloves.
“I’m only telling the truth,” she muttered.
The intricate compressor inside her chest beat harder. Her every response mimicked the vanished naturals, of that she was well aware. This whole world…
She stamped her feet harder and turned a corner. Crumbling white porticos framing the doors of terraced houses faded into fog rising from the river. Victoria headed for the dim embankment. She would walk off her frustration. What she would do after that, she hadn’t the faintest notion – yet.
“Roses. Daffodils. Carnations.”
The thin voice of a flower-seller drifted on the air. Victoria liked to buy flowers, roses especially, and fancied they had a perfume, as the organic version had in the era before plague. Today, she sighed and kept walking.
I want to see something real.
The thought drove her on towards the arch of Night’s Bridge. Balls of lamplight described its curve through the mist. Water lapped at the bank, gurgling through cracks in the stones. Victoria slowed and sent her wish out harder.
A dark shape swooped down from a rooftop near the bridge, near enough for her to hear the whistle of wings, the flap of a coat. A man landed on the cobbles, young by his easy motion, and knelt by the gutter beside the bridge.
Ah! A glint of blue. And that slightly bittersweet tang on the air. Victoria didn’t approve of laudanum, although her Uncle Albert used copious amounts of it to ease his aching articulations. She came to a halt at the man’s side and tapped her foot briskly until he looked up and straightened, settling a rather fine pair of wings behind him.
“Why don’t you get a proper job, pretty boy?” Victoria’s tone was sharp, although the epithet she’d chosen was well-suited to this agile, if ethically questionable, individual.
His type only fed the illusory pains her uncle lived with, and she didn’t want to pay too much attention to his fine features or brilliant amber eyes. They were beautiful, so bright she couldn’t see their glassy backs at all. She waited, but he didn’t defend himself.
“Fox got your tongue, poppy-scraper?” Victoria tapped her pointed boot harder.
The young man drew himself up. His bright gaze was cautious, assessing. “What’s a fine lady like you doing out at this early hour?” he shot back.
Victoria laughed and let her own gaze rove over him with the forthright appraisal he would expect, if he thought her a whore. He arched a brow, remarkably self-possessed for one of his ilk.
Relenting, Victoria held out a glove-encased hand. “My name is Victoria. Victoria Chase. Whom do I have the honour of addressing?”
“Darke.” He took her hand in bare fingers. “Darke Wing.”
Victoria studied the outline of charcoal-grey feathers – from shoulder, to crest, to the pinions tucked behind his ankles. ‘Darke Wing indeed.” She smiled faintly. “You may call me Vix.”
She gave her magnificent fox-brush tail a swish, so that it peeped from either side of her dress, a perfect match for her russet curls except for the splash of white at its tip. She took pleasure in her tail, which could be real, if too large for the animal it had been crafted from.
Darke’s eyes followed its movement. “Are you going to answer my question?”
Victoria sniffed. “Should a lady have to explain herself?”
The brightening light streaked Darke’s feathers blue. He waited, his expression mild.
“Oh, very well,” she said, softening. “I do not like drawing-room teas with empty cups, varnished scones served with alabaster cream.” She felt a twinge, thinking of her family, her comfortable home. But Darke smiled.
“Ah. You are an adventurer.”
Victoria lifted her chin. “I am an anarchist.”
“In which case,” Darke returned drily, “you would do well to keep your voice down.”
He looked over her shoulder into the shredding mist, and slipped the laudanum bottle into his coat pocket. It had only a drop in the bottom, but Victoria knew how scrapers made their living, gathering discards, decanting them, selling them on as new. Her judgment had dissipated, however. Instead, she noticed the black strands escaping from Darke’s ponytail, the worn patches in his knee-length coat.
She curled her gloved fingers over his arm. “So, will you show me your home?”