Title: Steam Tinker: A Buffalo Steampunk Adventure
Author: Laura Strickland
Genre: Steampunk Romance
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Known as the Steam Tinker, Lionel Pike rebuilds aged automatons, those cast off and bound for the scrap yard. When Sofia Gregory brings him her wrecked steam unit and confides it's also her best friend, he agrees to attempt a repair. He doesn't suspect his kindness will open a door to peril, or that he'll end up risking his heart.
Although she's attracted to Lionel, Sofia recognizes he's a mechanic first and a potential lover second. She thinks she can live with that, until Lionel engages in a competition to build a gladiator automaton and she loses his attention. When the ultimate danger comes, will Lionel fight for his lady? In a city torn by the struggle for automaton rights, can they win a future together?
The woman stepped farther into the shop and extended a gloved hand. “My name is Sofia Gregory. I am pleased to meet you.”
Lionel stared at the glove—white, immaculate. His own fingers bore smears of grease and a generous coating of soot. He folded them behind his back and gave a slight bow.
Her hand froze for an instant before dropping back to her side. Uncertainty flooded the large, brown eyes. “You are the one they call the Steam Tinker?” she inquired again. “I’ve been told you can repair almost anything.”
He could, though he didn’t particularly appreciate the name that came along with the ability. Tinker implied a jack-of-all-trades mindset. What he did required a specific skill set. But he nodded. “Yes.”
“Good. I hope you will be able to help me. I have someone outside. Might I bring her in?”
Someone outside—in this rain? Lionel exchanged incredulous looks with Sammy before he nodded again. From behind him he heard Mordred, his steam unit, start forward, his wheels giving off their familiar, faintly-squeaky rumble.
“Sammy,” Lionel murmured, “perhaps you can assist our guest.”
Sammy hurried forward. At eleven, he had nearly attained a man’s height, though he was all bones and angles, no matter how much Lionel fed him. He outgrew his clothing at a prodigious rate.
Now he, and Mordred, watched as the boy and the woman ducked outside, only to return towing a cart.
The cart bore an obviously-aged steam unit in a state of woeful disrepair. It lay on the cart like so much scrap metal, only loosely connected at the joints, painted eyes staring upward.
Curiously, it wore clothing. The garments had been fashioned around its sculpted metal body and articulated limbs. At the moment they, along with the cart itself, were soaked through.
Lionel wondered if the woman—this dainty lady—had pushed the cart here by herself, all the way from wherever she’d come. The image near blasted his senses.
“Her fire has gone out,” Sofia Gregory announced with a quiver in her voice that betrayed great distress.
Lionel, who observed much with little effort, could not miss that quiver. It made him far from happy. He didn’t deal well with women. If this one started to weep, he had no idea what he would do.
In what he hoped was a soothing voice, he said, “If the fire in the thorax has extinguished, you have only to rekindle it.” Surely she knew that. Why come here and bother him? But, eyeing the sprawled and sad-looking unit, he doubted lack of fire was the major problem.
Miss Gregory shook her head. Raindrops glittered on her hair and shivered—indeed, like tears—on her cheeks. “No, Mr. Pike, that is not all of it. She’s—she’s very old, near as old as me.” A smile trembled across her lips. “I received her as a gift for my first birthday.”
“I see.” Again, Lionel ran an eye over the woman. Not as young as he’d first surmised. She had to be nearly thirty. “Extraordinary. This must have been one of the first units made here in Buffalo.”
“And it’s been operative all these years?”
“She,” Miss Gregory stressed the pronoun slightly, “has had many repairs. Her original components were rather—well, crude is the only word I can employ. Since I reached my majority, I have purchased several upgrades. I had a man who worked on her—Darin Gordon. Do you know him?”
“I did,” Lionel acknowledged. An elder craftsman, Gordon had a reputation for being fair as well as highly-skilled and clever, an attribute, in Lionel’s opinion, even more valuable. He’d died recently following a long illness. “I met him a few times.”
“He was able to keep her running. But these last months, when he was too ill to take on jobs, I am afraid she deteriorated. Last week she just—just quit.” Miss Gregory’s lips worked for a moment before she spoke the word, “Failed. I took her to another repair shop but they—well, they ruined her.” She waved her hands over the object on the cart, distraught. “As you can see. Worse, I think they stole some parts.”
“Where did you take her?” Lionel asked, surrendering the fight over the pronoun.
“Starr and Williams, on Pearl Street.”
Lionel snorted. Sammy, who’d retired to his side, gave a soft echo.
Lionel said, “You would have done better taking her to the steamies.” Over the course of the past year, the steam automatons of Buffalo—hybrid and standard alike—had formed a coalition and set about attaining their rights. Owners of the units were now supposed to pay them a wage. They pursued legitimacy that would prevent them from being turned off—which to them equated with death—without due cause. They married among themselves, and in rare cases with humans, and a human-steamie couple had just adopted a human child.
It was said, too, they hovered on the brink of creating children of their own—not pure steam units, but the highly-sophisticated hybrid ones covered with skin, and with human hair and eyes. Steam units, so it turned out, were best at manufacturing more of their own kind.
“I did not think they would be interested in repairing so ancient a steam unit,” Miss Gregory admitted. “I heard you do, on a regular basis.” She looked around the shop, crowded with old components, before her gaze returned to him, compelling. Besides, they say you are the best in the city.”
“He is,” Sammy spoke up staunchly, if without invitation. “He can tinker anything.”
“If that is true, Mr. Pike, then save her for me. Please.” Miss Gregory reached out and clutched Lionel’s arm, her very touch an appeal. “I beg of you.”
Women rarely came to Lionel’s door, no. They certainly never begged. The fact that his woman had beautiful, expressive eyes that displayed her every emotion, that he could catch the scent of her sweet perfume, competing with the smell of the rain, and that she had an endearing accent notwithstanding. Lionel could not allow himself to be seduced.
Slowly and carefully, he examined the unit on the cart once more, before shaking his head.
“She may be past reanimation.”
“She can’t be.” Miss Gregory’s fingers tightened. “Anyway, I’ve heard you can perform miracles.”
Lionel attempted to withdraw his arm from her grasp. She refused to release him; their joined limbs extended above the mess on the cart.
“He sure can,” Sammy piped up. “Why, he resurrected Mordred here, and he’d been near pulverized on the street.”
“Mordred?” Miss Gregory looked startled, as well she might.
The battered unit rumbled forward. Lionel had done his best with him, polished his outer skin to a dull silver and replaced the worst of his battered parts. In truth, the unit had been put back together from a score of others that would never run again. A more apt name for him might have been Frankenstein.
As it was, he creaked persistently. No matter what Lionel did, he couldn’t quite chase that squeak. But he was still Mordred, dented face and all.
The unit surveyed the contents of the cart with interest. When he spoke, his voice box wheezed alarmingly. “Master Lionel, she is beautiful.”
That made Lionel stare at the unit in surprise. Mordred did not have many opinions. That was he did, but he rarely bothered to express them.
And, the broken unit on the cart possessed no beauty. Just worn metal and rust and wrecked gears. And that was only what Lionel could see in a cursory glance.
Slowly, and with regret, he shook his head. “I am sorry, Miss. The damage here is—extensive. I am not sure these parts, as we have them here, can be repaired.”
“Please.” Miss Gregory leaned toward him in appeal. Her eyes gazed directly into his. “You are my last hope.”
“I—” Lionel began unhappily.
“Her name is Verna, and she is my best friend.”
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Barnes & Noble: