• Jabe Stafford

One Page Worlds - Naval-Air Mutant

A whole world on a single page!

The short story morsels of One Page Worlds are flash fiction adventures of all flavors. Every Wednesday will feature a complete story in one page, or the first page of what could be a novel or novelette.

Sharing the fun and geekery is the best part of writing! Please tweet or comment with your guesses on what genre, character, and job is central to each tale. Enjoy touring new universes each week with One Page Worlds!

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“Five Physicks,” I hissed at the suited man in front of me. “Dr. Graycel, you’d make the sixth.”

His sharp-ridged nose furled like a ship’s sails on stormday. Eyes flecked with ice took in my deformity. When I spun the stump of a right shoulder, it flicked red locks back onto my shoulder blade. The rest of me was dressed for a cook’s duties. Apron, three-quarter sleeve smock, and brown homespun pants over steambalance boots.

Dr. Graycel levelled his gaze. “Any Physick in The Basin could augment you. Why barge in on me instead of one of them?”

“Sky Laws mandate a Physick be onboard every naval-air ship in the armada.”

“Ellus, you are deliberately—”

“And because I visited all five already.”

With a scoff, he swiveled his bald head to look out the porthole in the ward’s starboard wall. He drew the armored shutters apart with several cranks on the gearwheel that connected to chains through holes in the bulkhead. The plate-sized porthole spread into a top-to-bottom bay window filled in with temperglass. I stepped closer to peer out over the rim of the floorboards.

Clouds boiled up from the furnaces amid the brick and mortar buildings sprawling outward from The Basin’s Central River. Steamy wisps licked the window’s corners and rose to the Ceiling - an interwoven net of newfangled veined material The Basin’s engineers cooked up. Central, Slope, and Peake Rivers all flowed from the surrounding mountains into The Basin. The Ceiling fed any steam that the Basiners didn’t use in their naval-air ships back to the man-made sources of Slope and Peake.

When steam became gold, our engineers built an infinite mine.

“You lied to me Ellus,” Dr. Graycel snipped. “Your heart is in the augment, not the job.”

Smirking, I said, “What? The job has its appeal, and I am a cook. Your assumption is not my fault. Full crews on armada ships are there for reasons beyond legality. Captain Raen—”

“Captain Raen brought you onboard after your culinary dropout to fill a position and meet Sky Law. Your mere involvement with culinary school does not make you a cook. Our crew must be able to trust the woman who handles our food.”

“You can,” I breathed, brandishing a chef’s knife from the smock’s deep pocket. Twirling it between the fingers of my left hand, I grinned at the doctor. “Biscuits make good target practice. And oranges. And pirates. I could be of use before and after your augmentation.”

Eyeing me down his nose, Dr. Graycel said, “Why would a cook need knowledge of Sky Law and the armada? You seem to be hiding more motivations than you can count on two hands.”

Ignoring the barb and the question, I murmured, “How many meals and dead pirates are enough to work off the augment?”

“You are forgetting the culinary school debts,” he grumbled. “I’d toss you into the winds if those steambalance boots didn’t paste you to the deck. Twelve years. With a year off for each pirates’ ransacking you help prevent. It will require the Captain’s seal for me to perform this augment.”

Slipping the knife carefully into the pocket, I shook his hand. “And then I could throw knives with two hands. I like you, doctor. You’re a risk taker. Not many naval-air crews would take on a mutant that hasn’t told them everything.”

He raised both eyebrows and the grip tightened. “Captain Raen doesn’t give seals to deceivers on her ship. She will discover the truth about you before I build your gearwheel arm.”

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