Inside: Trans woman protagonist, Victorian fashion, steampunk inspired science fiction/fantasy
The dresses were amazing. Everyone was so vibrant and dapper, but the dresses were always the best part of these galas. Each year, the Nobles all gathered at the Floating Palace for The Ball, a night of dancing, food, and liquor. It was always a grand night.
I stood at the edge of the crowd, fingering the lace edge to my fan. It was a midnight blue fabric, painted to look like the galaxy The Ball took place in. The nebula on the left side gave it away. The dark silk of the fan matched the dark details of my own dress. It was an 1870’s Victorian type of dress, with a wide neckline and tournure to prop up the back end, gathered up with several delicate bows and with exquisite lace detailing. The layers alternated between a simple white silk and a deep cosmic purple with a blue shimmer.
It certainly was something to be seen in. Had I been in the 1870’s, I would certainly have been wearing a suit, though.
There were, of course, all sorts of eyes on me across the room, from all kinds of genders. I noticed one pair in particular belonging to another dress-wearing party-goer near the end of a table, partially hidden behind a fan to match the outfit. For now, I pretended not to notice. After all, the party had just begun, there was plenty of time to flirt later.
Instead, I moved along the edge of the dancers, greeting folks from all sorts of places, receiving curtseys and bows and air-kissing aplenty. One stranger invited me to dance, but I declined. I wasn’t ready just yet.
Another stranger that caught my attention along the edge of dancers was a young thing in another Victorian dress, though from an earlier year. There was no cage crinoline and the bodice came to a point in front, as was typical closer to the turn of the century.
“Sally-mae,” introduced the stranger, “How do you do?”
“I’m Victoria,” I returned, curtseying lightly, “And I’m doing fine.” There was a short pause to smile at one another. “What pronouns do you use?” I inquired, holding my fan loosely in my right hand, signaling contentedness. I wished to find out if they knew old fan etiquette, too.
“Zie, zir, and zem,” zie replied. “Yourself?”
“She, her, and her,” I answered. It was polite to counter a stranger’s pronouns in the same way presented at first at an event like this.
Zie smiled, fluttering zir fan quickly in front of zir face. I am engaged.
I smiled in return, a bit disappointed but not deterred. “Are you alone tonight?” I drew my fan across my eyes. I am sorry.
“No,” Zie laughed, “My fiance is somewhere in the crowd.”
I hid my widening smile behind my fan. It appeared that zie did know old fan etiquette! Excitedly, I laughed in return. “Of course! Someone as young and beautiful as yourself would be snapped up so quickly!”
My smile nearly faltered when she closed her fan carefully and held it in her right hand. You are too eager, it said. “You flatter me,” she said, giving another tittering laugh.
Collecting myself, I turned the topic away from my conversational partner’s beauty. For several minutes we chatted about the Ball, and when zir fiance returned the conversation turned to personal politics. It was a topic I had no interest in.
So, with another gesture of apology, I made my leave to skirt the crowds again. My eyes kept drifting back to the ones hidden behind a fan, however. They were simply exquisite, but I didn’t wish to appear desperate again. A lapse in judgment I wouldn’t repeat.
No other folks with fans seemed to know Victorian fan etiquette very well, if at all, or their messages were erratic, jerky, and clearly unpracticed. Stopping to give myself a break from the social scene, I carefully made my way to one of the many floating fountains. They were held aloft with magnets that thumped rhythmically under the marble flooring, powered by steam and clockwork machines. The floating fountains each had tables placed around them, with refreshments being replaced all night, a tactic to make sure that each trip to a table was new and exciting.
There were pastries at the table I found myself standing by, so I picked a few from the selection that looked both colourful and delicious while I let myself have a moment to breathe. And snack, of course.
It was when I was making my way to the next table, one with intricate flowers made of cheese and meat to devour, when the mysterious other I had my eye on approached me. It was a bit of a surprise, as I am usually the forward one.
“Hello,” they said, smiling behind their fan.
I smiled back, “Hello,” I said in return. “You certainly look lovely tonight.”
Their smile grew fond before they drew their fan across their forehead, turning with it in their right hand in front of their face. We are being watched, follow me.
My heart could have skipped a beat. Not only was this gorgeous person acknowledging me, they knew fan etiquette too!
I followed behind them quickly, admiring the rich details of their dress. It was gathered in behind with an elaborate bow, made with cream lace and iridescent sky blue silk, the body of the skirt a luxurious velvet in the colour of darkness between stars. The light underlayers peeking through to match the bow were a nice touch, too.
They led me away from the crowded ballroom to a terrace overlooking the planet we all hovered above. From up there it was easy to see the gears and cogs working along the belly of the venue, held aloft by steam machines and some kind of science I was too daft for. They curtsied to me when we finally came to a halt. There were some people around us, but it was much easier to talk in the cold air.
“What’s your name?” They asked. Their accent was hard to place, but it sounded like it was from our homeworld. It originated from there, in any case.
“Victoria,” I answered. “And you?”
They smiled. “Anabel.”
“I use she and her pronouns,” I supplied, unable to help the smile I hid.
“She and her, also.” She closed her fan, letting me know she did wish to converse with me – I followed suit. “Your dress is lovely, dear.”
“Thank you,” I said, “Yours is wonderful, too, Anabel.”
“Are you here alone?”
She chuckled softly, “That’s good.”
I raised an eyebrow, and she chuckled again. “Are you?”
I smiled with my teeth, almost laughing. “That’s good, too!”
Her smiled widened to show her teeth, too. She reached out and touched my arm lightly, saying, “I saw you talking earlier, but I noticed you weren’t dancing.”
“Oh,” I said. “Truthfully, I was saving my first dance.”
“Saving it?” Anabel giggled. “Whatever for?”
“Someone special, I suppose.” I felt heat rising in my cheeks and tried to will the blush away.
“Would that someone happen to be here tonight?”
I nodded, she giggled again. “She is,” I added, giving her a hint. Her eyebrows went up and I swallowed.
“Would she happen to be me?” Anabel lifted the handle of her fan to her lips and my heart did skip a beat. This was moving so quickly. She wanted to kiss me!
My blush grew. “As a matter of fact, yes.”
She giggled, dropping the edge of her fan and, in one motion, lifted it to hide her face. “Then don’t keep me waiting.”
I offered my hand, and she took it.
With a giggle, she dashed back towards the ballroom, taking me with her. She moved like a whirlwind, spinning me onto the dance floor with ease. She was my height, but clearly stronger and more energetic, both things making her incredibly captivating.
We danced for what felt like ages, laughing and spinning with the music, moving around the other dancers with a strange ease.
When the music finally shifted paces to a slower song, I expected her to lead me away for refreshments – but it never happened. Instead, she drew me close.
Her dress was in the 1850’s style, so our crinoline’s kept us apart, which was a shame, but we danced together regardless. Towards the end of the dance, Anabel leaned forward to put her head on my shoulder. It was an awkward position, but neither of us seemed to care. In any case, I certainly didn’t mind.
The song finished and we stood still, almost right in the middle of the dance floor. She looked up at me, and I smiled. Then, she kissed me.
It was a soft kiss, one I felt like I melted into. Her lips were like the velvet of her dress, and she tasted faintly of chocolate. She must have made it to one of the sweets tables before they changed over.
“Thirteen,” She said when we parted.
“Thirteen?” I asked. My face felt hot, and the rest of the ballroom didn’t matter.
“Kisses, of course,” she giggled. I must have looked lost, because she added, “I have kissed thirteen people tonight.”
I frowned. “That’s what that was all about?”
I drooped. She giggled. “I’m glad to be honored, then,” I said, tone sadder than I expected it to be.
“Oh, but,” she said, “You’re my favourite tonight.”
She grinned widely at me, leaning in for another kiss. I rebuffed her, turning my face so she kissed my cheek instead. “I don’t think I’ll be needing any more kisses after yours.”
I felt my blush returning. “You’re toying with me.”
Anabel sighed, holding me at arm’s length. “It was cruel of me to mention my activities, wasn’t it?”
“Then I’m sorry, Victoria. I didn’t mean to hurt you, but I am being honest when I say I want no other kisses but yours tonight.”
I held my frown for another moment before it melted. Why not have some fun on this special night, too? After all, I found Anabel’s forwardness very charming.
“Alright,” I finally said, leaning in for another kiss. She smiled into it, making me smile too.
As amazing as the dresses were at the Ball, I decided that I enjoyed Anabel’s company better. Even if after this we never saw each other again, it was going to be a night to remember.