Revna didn’t realize the war had come to them. Not until the factory stopped.
She sat at her conveyor belt like a good citizen, oblivious to the oncoming storm from the west. The organized cacophony of industry filled her to the brim. Shining war beetle parts drifted past, twitching and trembling with fear and faint traces of magic. As the belt slowed, the voice of her supervisor emerged from the din. “Girls!”
The hissing, ratcheting, and clanging died away. Revna’s fingers were half-buried in the oily bones of a leg that shivered and twisted of its own accord. She soothed the living metal, trying to keep the sudden spike in her heartbeat from infecting it with her own unease. In her three years working at the factory, she’d never heard the machines go still.
She turned her wheelchair away from her workstation and pushed toward her supervisor’s voice. Machines towered around her like trees, frozen in the act of spitting out legs, carapaces, and antennae. Revna rounded the base of an enormous sheet press to find Mrs. Rodoya standing at the door of her office, hands clasped over her belly. Other factory girls crept out from behind conveyors and riveters, ducking under cranes. They clustered together in front of the sheet press, gripping one another with slick fingers.
Mrs. Rodoya took a deep breath. “We need to evacuate. Get your things.”
God, Revna thought reflexively, even though Good Union Girls weren’t supposed to think about God anymore. They would only evacuate for one reason—the Elda. She imagined regiments of blue-and-gray men marching through the smoke, bringing the hard mercies of conquest. But the Elda wouldn’t march into Tammin. They’d obliterate it from the sky, with Dragons of steel and fire.
And when they came, they’d aim for the factories.
Mrs. Rodoya sent them back to their workstations for their War Ministry–approved survival kits. Revna strapped her kit to the back of her chair, then wheeled over to the factory door. She could walk, but Mrs. Rodoya had doubted her ability to stand on prosthetics day after day, and Good Union Girls deferred to their supervisor’s judgment.
The girls lined up in pairs at the door, clasping their survival kits in one hand and their partners’ hands in the other. Revna went to the end of the line. She had no hand to grab, no one to whisper that it would be all right. She wasn’t going to the shelter for good citizens, for Protectors of the Union, but to the alternate shelter for secondary citizens and non-workers. She’d sit in the dank cellar and play with her little sister, Lyfa, and try not to see the worry in every line of Mama’s face.
Revna heard a low hum, like an enraged cloud of insects. Elda Weavecraft. Her heart jumped. The primary citizens’ shelter was a five-minute trip, but hers was ten and Mama worked even farther away. Revna wanted nothing more than for Mama’s hand to be the hand that clasped hers now.
Mama would find her in the shelter, she reminded herself. They’d be together there, and surely safer than out on the street with the Elda and their aircraft.
Mrs. Rodoya opened the factory door and counted each pair with a bob of her head as they went through. Then she grabbed the wooden handles of Revna’s chair and began to push without asking. Anger boiled up like an allergic reaction, mixing with Revna’s nerves and making her feel sick. She could get herself to work every morning—she could walk it, for that matter. Her living metal prosthetic legs had been called a work of art by Tammin’s factory doctors. But Mrs. Rodoya didn’t care what Revna or the doctors thought. “Now, now. We want speed over pride, don’t we?” she’d said in early practice raids. A different Revna would have punched her. But this Revna wanted to keep her job. As long as Revna had a job, there was money to set aside and extra rations for Lyfa.
“I’ll take you the first part of the way. But once the routes split I’ll have to look after the other girls. You’ll be on your own,” Mrs. Rodoya said. She’d said this every drill. But now her voice had an edge to it and climbed a little too high as she called out to the rest. “Quickly, now.” The factory girls began to move. Mrs. Rodoya and Revna followed, lurching as the back wheel of Revna’s chair caught on a loose stone at the edge of the road.
The factories of Tammin Reaching spat out legs, carapaces, rifles, helmets, all that was needed for the churning Union war machine. Oil and dirt coated everything—the brick walls, the windows, the streetlamps that never turned on anymore.
Even the propaganda posters developed a coat of soot a few days after the papergirls plastered them to the sides of the factories. Revna rolled past image after image of Grusha the Good Union Girl, her patriotic red uniform already spattered with grease and mud. Don't chat. Gossip won’t help build war machines, said one, showing her scowling with a finger to her lips. Night won’t prevent us from working, said another. Practice makes prepared, declared a third.
Revna found that laughable now. She’d practiced her trip to the shelter so much that she could go there in her sleep. But real life had surprises. Real life had Dragons.