The Lucians, in their long robes and dreadlocked beards, cursed the winds and rotated the Solar Sea into the sun. Power was needed for the Tourists. While strong gusts invaded the salt flats, the feeble rods secured the solar panels. A storm of light soon erupted from the reflected flashes that bounced off the panels. The Solar Sea crackled with the charge of energy.
Samantha noticed the light storm and stopped her hide-n-seek games with the urchins in the fossil-burner graveyards. Even those diversions couldn't arrest her hate for the Tourists who came to the Temple's South Wall. They always arrived on her birthday.
Tourists arrived by land and by air. Not sea -- the Cascadian Freehold used the basin's waters. Along with the other Western Powers, the Othered Americans added their numbers to the travelers. First, came the steam-wagons. Next, other craft. The re-engineered Pliocene megafauna made the best draught animals for the overland journey across the Great American Desert.
Then came the airships. Some glided in from the American Orient, the survivor cities of the Rise Up. But most came from the Western Powers, and in great streams of colors and the distinctive pageantry of steam contrails, they emerged from the shattered sunset’s direction and moored tendrils of hempen ropes to air-wharves and docks.
Samantha was twelve today, and her hair had fully turned a peculiar color. Red streaks made her a red flag. The Lucians would've called her a witch if that curse was still in vogue. But the energy-priests saved their curses for the Gasoliners.
Samantha walked through the crowds of stinkers. Adventium organ-grinders pumped valves and Deserite flautists danced on rugs. She tried to steal birthday snacks, but every vendor beat her with sticks.
Dejected, she heard a strange sound come from the docks, musical notes she’d never heard before, as if plates of different sizes had been broken on hard surfaces. The shatter of glass. Then silence.
The sounds came from an old airship that hovered off the ground. The hull was wood of a deep red color and soot from its single smokestack had stained its dual-mast sails.
A girl’s face greeted Samantha’s curious looks. A pair of goggles lay on their forehead. Close-set eyes and a tiny mouth -- that opened.
-You ever been on an air-streamer before?-
-Is that what this is? Seen them, plenty. Can I come on?-
-It’s my birthday, you know.-
-Then, you most definitely can!-
Samantha climbed over the wood railing and landed on the deck. The hull of the ship was narrow, but ladders and deck-holes suggested a greater dimension lurked below.
She heard the sound again. Broken plates, and delicate silences between each crash.
-What is that...music?-
The girl couldn't have been much older than Samantha. She moved effortlessly, as if wound-up by springs.
-Would you like to play it?-
The girl with the goggles grabbed Samantha’s hand.
-You have such big hands. Perfect to play.-
They walked into a hold. Dark. In the middle of the room, a broken heap of wood and, what looked like broken stones. White and black. Like rows of teeth. Attached to them, a hair nest of strings.
She touched one white stone and it depressed into a cavity. A tinkle sound came forth. She pushed another. The sound was lower. She felt it in her stomach. Samantha knelt down. Lost. She made a crash of sounds that echoed in the empty hold, never feeling the airship rise up and sail away.