Broken

(The next piece is a flash written to help spark a brainstorming session about a grimy steampunk setting. Enjoy!)

Broken

Together we stand!

United in our will!

Unbroken, hand in hand

Unbreakable, even still!

The worker’s chants echoed down the brick streets, and I grinned. We had this one. Edison would know our names, and would give us back our dignity and pride that he’d spent so many years wiping his floors with.

James sat on the rooftop with me, looking down at the mobs. “A hundred, hundred-fifty.”

I nodded, “The entire day-shift. The factory’s a standstill.”

“Neddy’s will break us,” James grumbled, then spit. I glared at him. “No spitting on our own people, old man.”

James hated being called old. He was only 28, but the factory life had twisted him into looking like he was in his fifties. I was the only one who he let get away with it.

“Blackliner’s will break us, just like every other time.” He said again, not looking at me.

I picked up the hammer I’d stolen from the smith-end of the lines, “Tain’t true and you know it. We’ve got an ace up our sleeve this time.”

James watched me walk to the pulley system on the side of the building. “What’re you thinkin’, Jenny?”

I grinned the wild grin that always bubbled up when mischief was afoot, “Just gonna give the boys a little more to sing about.”

The pulley system creaked and groaned as I grabbed onto the rope. James looked grim, “Be careful, love.”

I shook my head. “If I wanted careful, I never would’ve come here. Remember, I’m unbreakable!”

He was about to give me a little reproach, but I leaned backward and saw his eyes go wide as I pitched off the roof backward. I laughed as he disappeared from sight, and as I twisted, I felt the air rushing past me. This was freedom. This was what I was fighting for.

I grabbed the rope half-way down and used my momentum to keep the gears and pulleys twisting, throwing my momentum sideways and causing me to swing out over the heads of our boys. At the far end of the alleyway were the Blackliners. Edison’s men, all waiting for the signal to break our heads and send us packing. The signal hadn’t come yet, and when it did, we’d show ’em what for.

But first, the boys needed a little more rallying. I could hear the cheer come up as a few of ’em saw me swing. I gave them the biggest grin I had, though most of ’em couldn’t see it from where they were.

I was right above the Blackliners, and some of ’em were beginning to realize there was a young woman dressed like a worker swinging above their heads. The wardrobe wasn’t a costume; I’d been working at Edison Wilford since I was six, and I’d already lost two fingers to the old place. Still, they’d taught me a lot there. How to work hard. How to be tireless.

And how to swing a hammer.

I twitched the rope and dropped three feet. The hammer came out and went straight into the face of a Blackliner who was trying to grab me. He went down in a mad crumple and screamed out.

The rest of the Blackliners lunged for me, a great wave-like mass. I slammed my hammer left and right as I pulled the second rope. More screams as I broke a hand and knocked out some teeth. Hands caught my coat, but I tore free as the ropes and gears responded, lifting me back up out of their reach. I saw one Blackliner reach pull a pistol out of his coat, but he was immediately stopped by one of his fellows. Edison’s Blackliners were good dogs, and they wouldn’t bite before the whistle was blown.

My boys were cheering like New Years, and my grin widened, as I slung back to another roof. I punched my fist into the air, and the workers roared! I’d never heard the like.

The Blackliners were getting back in order. It would be soon. They’d been bloodied and angered, and they were waiting to take it out on the workers. Their clubs and guns and shock-prods were more than our broken bricks and sticks, but this day would be different.

I ran to the other side of the rooftop to see our ace-in-the-hole. There, down another alleyway, were one hundred and sixteen more men, union men, armed with shockers. My brother had come through, just like I knew he would. It had taken two months to convince Randal to gather the union, and another month to steal enough cash to get them properly armed. I was a wanted woman, but what did it matter? Today we’d break the Blackliners and send them packing. Today we’d show what we were made of; that with unity and dedication, we were unbreakable.

I held the red banner low, ready to wave it when the Blackliner’s moved. That’d be Randal’s signal. The workers knew it, too. We’d managed to keep it secret. The banner had the workers’ motto on it as well; a little touch James had insisted upon. I couldn’t fault his vision.

The whistle blew. In this case, it was the actual factory whistle; the men were supposed to be on the line right there and then. In the early days of the strikes, the Blackliners would give us a few minutes to ‘sober up and get back to work’ before wading in. After two months, the orders had come down; hospitalize anyone who was standing in the way of Edison’s progress.

Together we stand!

United in our will!

Unbroken, hand in hand

Unbreakable, even still!

The boys started chanting, and the Blackliners began to charge. Bricks were thrown. A gunshot, then another. I saw two men fall.

And then, the entire alley was in chaos.

The Blackliner’s had every confidence, but even confidence doesn’t stop a brick, or a stick. I could hear the stunners, though, and the shots and the screams. On any other day, it would only be a few minutes before the workers scattered.

I saw one young man look up at me, expectation in his eyes. Yes. Now was the time.

I raised the banner, and those at the back of the workers cheered! I waved it overhead, the signal that would bring Randal’s men raining down on the Blackliners.

The unioners didn’t move.

I waved the banner again. And again. I ran to the edge of the building and screamed at them. Randal was at the head of the column. He wouldn’t look at me.

I began to scream, and my heart started to pound.

“Randal! Look at me!”

He raised his eyes. I waved the banner again.

He lowered his head, turned, and led his men away.

It was then I knew. We were betrayed. There was no union.

We were broken.

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