Once upon a time, there were two mechanics named Briar and Malena. This is their story.
“Lena, where are you?” Briar looked around the large room at the assortment of steam carriages and automobiles being worked on.
Her fellow mechanics Fleur, Faun and Mary each looked up at her from their respective tables, where they were each repairing something. The three turning their gaze towards her at the same time looked eerie with their eyes covered by goggles. Especially Mary, who had attached the lenses of magnifying glasses to hers. Removing the goggles from her face, Fleur pointed to the far side of the room.
Looking over at where Fleur pointed, Briar spotted Malena, or rather, Malena’s boots coming out from under a steam carriage.
“Lena, the prince wants you to work on his airship tomorrow,” Briar raced across the room.
Malena pushed herself out from underneath the steam carriage and flipped her welder’s mask up above her head so that her face showed. Her black hair was tangled from spending so much time underneath a carriage.
“The prince?” Malena raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t he have his own mechanics? What’s so wrong with his airship that he wants me to fix it?”
“Don’t be so modest,” Briar helped her friend up off of the ground. “You have been in the papers three times already for your inventions, so people are starting to talk about you. They are calling you the best mechanic in the whole kingdom.”
“The prince didn’t say anything about what the problem is with his airship?” Malena wondered.
Briar shook her head. “No, the letter just said that it isn’t working.”
Malena sighed. “Alright, I suppose I will have to prepare for any possibility.”
“So you’ll do it?” Briar smiled.
“Only if you will come with me. The prince can’t expect me to fix it all on my own, after all.”
The next morning found Malena and Briar at the castle. Perched on Malena’s shoulder was her mechanical raven that she had built with spare parts.
“Did you have to bring the raven?” Briar nervously picked at the split ends of her blonde hair.
Not bothering to answer, Malena patted the raven on its copper-plated head. It was never any surprise to Malena when others found her mechanical familiar creepy. Its eyes looked like miniature telescopes, and it exhibited extraordinarily lifelike qualities. She barely understood herself how she had put it together so well, and it was a good demonstration of her skills with machines.
The raven squawked as the footbridge was lowered. Once the heavy wooden door hit the ground in front of them with a thud, a figure walked out to greet them. Not the prince, Malena realized, nor either of his parents, but a humble representative.
“I assume you are the mechanics?” the man lowered his spectacles at them. “Which one of you is Malena?”
The raven squawked again, sending the stranger jumping back in surprise.
“Sorry,” Malena extended a hand. “I am Malena. This is Briar, here to assist me.”
The man looked tentatively at her hand before shaking it.
“My name is Balthazar, and I will be your guide. If you will follow me, I shall take you both to the prince’s airship.”
Upon taking her first glance at the airship, Malena gasped. The stern of the ship was so crumpled up that it did not fit into the scaffolding that was holding it. One propeller was missing, while the other was missing half of its blades. The balloon itself, which held up the ship, was missing its bottom rudder. The green paint on its side was partly scraped off, the scrape sparing the royal seal in the center.
“How did that happen?” Malena could not help but ask.
“Lena, you can’t just ask something like that,” Briar warned.
Balthazar sighed. “I’m afraid his highness prince Stephen is not as adept at piloting an airship as, well, his pilot.”
“I’m afraid this will take at least a week,” Briar estimated.
“His highness is willing to pay you for as much time as it takes,” Balthazar informed them.
With a squawk, the raven flew from Malena’s shoulder to the ship, flying in a circle around it.
“Do you have the other propeller, the missing blades and the missing rudder?” Malena asked Balthazar. “I may as well attach those now.”
As soon as Balthazar left to fetch the missing parts, Malena took off her cloak to reveal a leather vest with two wings attached to it. Pulling at two strings on either side of the vest made the wings snap open. The brown leather tarps attached made the wings look like those of bats or dragons. Though they were not strong enough to hold her up in the air for very long, she could use them to fly up to higher ground and back down. They were also a security measure for in case she fell. She had broken a leg and a few fingers while building them, but had since worked the kinks out.
When Balthazar returned with the missing parts, Malena flew the missing rudder up to where it belonged and, finding a seat on some scaffolding, began welding it back into place. Briar, still on the ground, brought her goggles from her forehead to her eyes and began attaching the propeller blades to the broken propeller.
Before Malena realized it, nearly a full day had passed. Lunch had been brought to them at midday and they had taken a short break to eat it, but that was the only time Malena or Briar had ceased working. After Briar had attached the missing propeller blades to the detached propeller, Malena had flown her up to the ship, where she had proceeded to work on repairing the body of the ship from the inside. As Malena finished welding the last propeller blade to the still-attached propeller, the raven squawked in warning.
Looking down from her perch atop the scaffolding, she saw a young man staring upwards at the body of the ship.
“Are you Malena, the mechanic?” Prince Stephan was asking.
“No, but she is,” Briar’s voice answered.
As the prince turned his face towards her, Malena froze. Though he was far below her, on the ground, his stare made her feel like a bug underneath a microscope.
Snapping her wings open, she stood up on the scaffolding and jumped, gliding up to the body of the ship, where Briar waited. Wrapping her arms around her friend, she made sure that Briar, who jumped up into her arms, was holding on just as tightly before jumping from the ship. Wings outstretched, Malena landed on her feet in front of Stephen as Briar placed her own feet onto the ground, releasing Malena.
Bowing slightly, Malena said “I am Malena, your highness. This is my friend Briar.”
“Thank you for working on my ship,” Stephen looked from Briar to Malena. “It is an honor to have such an accomplished mechanic here in my castle.”
Malena hoped that her goggles would prevent him from seeing her blush, though she knew it was not likely.
“The honor is mine,” she removed her thick brown gloves and glanced down at the watch on her wrist. “But it is time we should be heading home. We will return tomorrow to continue the repairs.”
“Or you could spend the night here, so that you will not need to come all the way from your homes in the morning,” Stephen suggested.
As Stephen led them to their chambers, he struck up conversation with Briar about her own mechanical accomplishments, while Briar blushed at his compliments. Malena rolled her eyes, mildly annoyed with her friend for reasons she could not explain. They were also invited to supper, at which the three of them were the only ones due to the king and queen’s absence that day.
“There are five of us mechanics at our location,” Briar was saying, “six if you count Malena’s creepy raven.”
Malena picked at her food, glad that she had made the raven stay in her room.
“And you made that raven all by yourself?” Stephen turned to Malena.
Malena nodded. “I did.”
“With spare parts,” Briar finished for her. “That’s why it looks so rusty.”
What was with her? Malena was beginning to regret bringing Briar to the castle with her, though she knew there was no one else she would rather have brought.
“Do you make a lot of creatures the same way?” Stephen addressed Malena again.
Malena shook her head.
“She’s making some kind of really big creature,” Briar spoke up. “I can’t tell what it is, as it’s not in working order yet and she keeps it in a closet covered in a sheet.”
“Really?” Stephen asked. “What sort of creature is it, Malena?”
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Malena began picking at her food again. “What about you, your highness. Do you build machines at all?”
“I’m afraid I lack any mechanical expertise, but I have some interest in horses, science and the medical arts.”
Malena wanted to pick Stephen’s brain about science, seeing as she herself had invented all sorts of explosives and other concoctions. But by the time she opened her mouth to say something, Briar was dominating the conversation again.
Throughout their week at the palace, Malena would constantly look up from her work to find that Stephen was again visiting them and that Briar had abandoned working, in favor of talking to him. It took everything Malena had not to get annoyed at her friend. Putting machines together was far more interesting than talking, no matter how interesting she found the prince. What conversations between Stephen and Briar that she did hear seemed too mundane for her to stop working to participate in.
At the end of the week, Malena stood looking proudly at her work. The airship not only had all of its parts, but had been straightened out where it had been crushed, and Malena had even taken the extra step of repainting it where the paint had been scraped off, which Briar had not helped with.
Balthazar handed Malena the cash, as the prince was not present to give it to her himself. No doubt he and Briar were still spending time together somewhere. Repairing an airship was one of the highest-paying gigs a mechanic could find, but what Stephen was paying her was more than twice the going rate.
Thanking Balthazar, Malena picked up the bag that contained some tools and her winged vest. With a squawk, the mechanical raven landed on her shoulder.
“His highness also mentioned,” Balthazar began walking her to the footbridge, “that he will have some spare parts delivered to your dwelling, to make more of your…creatures with.”
Malena smiled. “Tell him I said thank you. But…you wouldn’t happen to know where Briar is, would you? I can hardly leave without her.”
“I’m not sure,” Balthazar scratched his head, “but give me a moment, and I will find out.”
Malena was not surprised when Balthazar returned by himself, saying that Briar had elected to stay at the castle a bit longer and would return home at a later time. The train ride home felt longer than the ride there had been the previous week. Not only did she not have Briar to talk to this time, but several passengers stared at her, whom the raven rewarded with a stare in return, forcing them to redirect their gaze elsewhere. When Briar was around, most people just stared at Briar. And in a good way.
No sooner had Malena returned home, than she was bombarded with questions from Fleur, Faun and Mary, about the prince, the castle, the airship, and, of course, Briar’s whereabouts. Malena answered their questions as best she could, before getting to work on one of the many machines that had come in needing repairs.
It was late by the time Briar returned home. The next day, she was only there for a few hours of the morning before the prince showed up in person to pick her up. Malena knew this because Fleur ran to her and interrupted her work by squealing that Prince Stephen had arrived. Malena seemed to have no choice but to go and greet him.
“Hello, Malena,” Stephen stood in the doorway. “I hope you don’t mind that I am kidnapping your fellow mechanic again.”
“No, your highness,” Malena lied.
“I have brought some spare parts as well, in an extra carriage. You can take a look at them at your leisure, and I will send someone to pick up the carriage tomorrow.”
“Thank you, your highness,” Malena smiled.
“What is that creature that Briar tells me you have been working on, if I may ask?”
What was taking Briar so long? If she didn’t appear soon, Malena would be too tempted to show the prince her greatest invention.
Malena hesitated. Another moment passed.
“Would you like to see it?”
Malena led Stephen to her room, suddenly embarrassed at the amount of tools and gears strewn across the floor.
“Ignore the mess,” she left him in the doorway and proceeded to the other side of the room, where a black sheet covered something that was tall enough to reach the ceiling, and wide enough to block the entire wall. Taking a deep breath, Malena yanked the sheet off.
Stephen gasped. “It’s amazing!”
Malena’s smile grew wider.
“It doesn’t…breathe fire, does it?” Stephen asked.
“No.” Not yet, anyway, though that wasn’t a bad idea. Some lighter fluid and something to create a spark with, and it could work.
She glanced at the eye, which was still missing a few pieces. Some of the claws were missing, as were its two back legs and tail. The two front legs, not even attached yet, lay next to its head.
“It won’t move on its own like the raven,” Malena explained. “The idea is to ride inside of it and control it from the inside.”
Leading Stephen back out of the room, she closed the door behind her. By that time, Briar was ready, and Stephen left with her, not bringing her back for two days.