QSFer Michelle Browne has a story in a new alternative history anthology:
The future is history… From Samuel Peralta, creator of the #1 bestselling Future Chronicles anthology series, comes a new speculative anthology series that turns the world you know upside down.
In Alt.History 101, thirteen top speculative fiction authors re-imagine the world – as one where the inventor of the smallpox vaccine died before he’d created it, as one where the women’s suffragist movement failed to win the right to vote, as one where the death penalty exists but where all forms of capital punishment are ruled inhumane – and ten other compelling stories charting the histories of these worlds.
Enter worlds so much like our own, yet so different – where everything you know… is history.
Martha grimly rolled up her skirt. Every inch of her skin was covered in sweat, the fabric a clingy mess. Soot streaked every inch of exposed skin. The steam from her exertion blurred the lenses of the goggles.
Next to her, Juniper wiped her brow, panting. Her small breasts poked through her shift and the work shirt. Martha looked away from the distraction of her nipples through the shirt. Juniper adjusted her hat and tucked her hair beneath it. Pulling her goggles down for a moment, she cleaned them of sweat.
“Get back to work!” bellowed an Overseer. He glared at them and strode back into his office. The girls glanced at each other. Martha kept working the pump on her side, pounding the pedals with strong, strained legs, and Juniper resumed as well. They guided the presses, working the bellows with the grim determination only slaves can muster.
Martha’s legs ached, tension singing up through her muscles to make her back a mass of agony. Her skin was raw from scraping against the fabric. It seemed like an eternity passed before she finally heard the blare of the horn, signaling the end of the day’s suffering.
Juniper slumped backwards, wincing as her blistered feet hit the ground. Though both of them wore boots, they would feel the pump’s ridges in their feet for the next hour.
She came close to Martha, lifted the goggles above her eyes. The other women and men were slumping off of the bellows as well. The next shift would be there soon, but for now, they could eat and rest. She had avoided the Shepherd’s whips for the day; that was enough to put her in a good mood.
Juniper limped ahead. It made Martha’s heart ache to see her limping, and in spite of her own burning body, she longed to hold her up. Taking a deep breath, Martha offered her a hand. Juniper took it, surprised. She leaned against Martha. Her slim form pressed against Martha’s, her hips firm and trembling.
“Let’s get to the showers,” Martha rasped. “Cor. My throat’s ‘alf gone from the smoke.”
“Allus is,” said Juniper. Her slim lips curved in a tired grin. Martha licked her own parched, chapped lips in response.
A Dispenser came by, clanking, and silently took their bone-dry bottles. The water was lukewarm but clean; both women seized their canteens and guzzled the soothing nectar.
“Least they haven’t started rationing water yet, eh, Ng?” Martha’s voice was a little clearer and stronger. She wiped her mouth and grinned.
“Doan’ ‘old up the line,” grumbled a man behind them. He prodded Juniper in the back.
“Oy! ‘Ands orf,” snapped Martha, slapping his hand. “C’mon.” The man glared at them, but didn’t pester them further. None of them wanted a taste of the whips.
Martha and Juniper limped away from the blazing furnace complex of the factory’s refinery towards the sweet heaven of the showers. It was a cool night; stars glittered through the shimmering heat and dirty air.
The cobblestone path was worn smooth; their boots clacked dully as they entered the building. Wrenching their goggles off, Martha and Juniper took deep breaths of the heavy steam-filled air, soothing to tired lungs. Each of them pulled their boots off and crossed into the enormous, slick hall in front of the showers. Half an hour to relax—one of the few kindnesses allowed them. The owners knew what they were doing. That half hour of freedom made everything else a little more bearable, and Martha intended to savour it.
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Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer from Calgary, AB. She has a cat and a partner-in-crime. Her days revolve around freelance editing, jewelry, phuquerie, and nightmares. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people’s manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible. She is all over the internet, far too often for anyone’s sanity, and can be found in various places.