A community organizer and teacher, Maurice Broaddus's work has appeared inLightspeed Magazine, Weird Tales, Apex Magazine, Asimov's, Cemetery Dance, Black Static,and many more. Some of his stories have been collected inThe Voices of Martyrs. He is the author of the urban fantasy trilogy,The Knights of Breton Court,and the (upcoming) middle grade detective novel series,The Usual Suspects. He co-authored the playFinding Home: Indiana at 200. His novellas includeBuffalo Soldier, I Can Transform You, Orgy of Souls, Bleed with Me, andDevil's Marionette. He is the co-editor ofDark Faith, Dark Faith: Invocations, Streets of Shadows, andPeople of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror.

Pimp My Airship by Maurice Broaddus

Warning: Don't Believe the Hype!

All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP's radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protestor known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be.

When young heiress Sophine Jefferson's father is murdered, the careful life she'd been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She's quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight for their freedom. Chased from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, they encounter outlaws, the occasional circus, possibly a medium, and more outlaws. They find themselves in a battle much larger than they imagined: a battle for control of the country and the soul of their people.

The revolution will not be televised!


Chances are you haven't read steampunk like Pimp My Airship. I'll leave it to others to decide if it's steampunkesque, steamfunk, or something else, but this is clear: Broaddus' alternate US history (where the US lost the Revolutionary War) engages with its depiction of social unrest and the insidiousness of racism, the gulf between the poor and the privileged, and a healthy helping of humor. – Tenea D. Johnson



  • "Imagine the anarchic spirit of Sorry to Bother You given a turn away from body horror and toward steampunk."

    – B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog
  • "Broaddus has managed to create what could be considered a steampunk classic in the years to come. The contemporary relevance, prose, and characterization make this a book that cannot be missed."

    – Pyles of Books





Vox Dei Data Files: If decent citizens wish to go slumming for their entertainment, the Two-Johns Theater caters to mostly laborers and local residents. Originally opened as the Little Doo in 1909, by two owners both named John, the Two-Johns Theater officially launched in 1911. Easily among the most clever of the colored performers featured there, Miss L. Tish Lee made her initial appearance at the theater. The theater hosts a variety of entertainers to this day.

SLEEPY WAS A DREAMER. He closed his eyes and imagined wide-open spaces, the feel of grass beneath his feet, and a small place to call his home. He dreamed of a short walk to an ocean beach, not that he'd ever even left the city, but he'd seen pictures and guessed at the smell of salt air, which would fill his nostrils. A cool drink in one hand, he'd watch pretty women stroll by in all manner of bikinis (he'd heard tell of the immodest fashions of Albion, especially along the French Riviera). Most of all, he dreamed of the sun. A bright, incandescent ball he couldn't quite focus on, set against the clearest of blue skies, in whose warm light he'd soak in every bit.

Too bad he had to open his eyes.

A sharp jerk of the train sent bodies pressing in on him from all sides. The train rattled and clanged, the tough grind of gears jostling the cabin of bodies as it rumbled along the tracks. The cabin space had been designed for maximum occupancy, not comfort. Folks still had to get to work. A protrusion of elbows encroached on either side of the slight berth Sleepy managed to call his own. Despite this, he counted himself lucky to find a seat on the underground railway. The only reason there were any benches in it at all was due to a lawsuit after a pregnant mother was trampled to death when she doubled over in labor pain. The lawsuit was dismissed, after all, she was still only a dweller, but the Parliament pressured the train manufacturer to add a row of seats to the cabins as a gesture of good will and common decency.

"One seat per passenger." A white man stared down his wire-rimmed, round spectacles at him. His rumpled business suit and crushed bowler marked him as little better than a dweller, but his eyes scored Sleepy with the expectation of deference. The man eyed the spot on the bench and clearly assumed Sleepy would give up his spot, or at least accommodate him. This was the usual dance of polite society.

"Excuse me?"

Sleepy rolled his eyes slowly to him, not in the mood to put up with anyone's foolishness.

"The law says one seat per passenger."

"Do you mean to suggest that I'm … a lawbreaker?" Sleepy smiled a crocodile grin, cold and predatory. Shifting his wide girth, he spread his massive legs just a little further.

"I mean to suggest …" the man continued with the measured pause of consideration.

"Choose your next words carefully, like your life depends on it. I don't want there to be any misunderstanding." Sleepy didn't let his smile falter. In fact, he parted his lips wider, presenting rows of bright, pianoforte key-white teeth. They were his pride, tended to each night with exacting care. Unlike the orthodontic nightmare that seemed to be the height of fashion in capital Albion. No hint of a glower nor of menace presented itself. Except, maybe, in his eyes.

"I merely suggest that a portly gentleman such as yourself …" The man's composure began to falter.

"Portly." With his forefinger, Sleepy nudged his thick, black-rimmed glasses higher along his nose.

"… may need to bear additional consideration …"

"Consideration." Without breaking his gaze, Sleepy popped the knuckles of each hand, then bridged his fingers in front of him.

"… when it comes to his fellow passengers."

"A … portly … gentleman, such as myself, may indeed require his own measure of consideration after a day's work managing your waste. Allow me to suggest that you kindly shut the fuck up and enjoy your ride."

Shocked by the affront, the gentleman broke his glare long enough to give Sleepy a fuller inspection. Stepping aside, he allowed him more space. The crowd around Sleepy stared with a mix of disdain and pity, undergirded by the presumption that he had been abandoned as a ward of the state from birth and was just another pickaninny fulfilling his destiny. That he grew up with flash mobs of urchins on the streets, pickpocketing the hapless innocent citizens of the overcity, only to graduate to organized gangs before being shipped off to the criminal finishing school, the Allisonville Correctional Facility, a place colloquially known as The Ave. He'd probably be more offended if society didn't seem so hellbent on ensuring that all of his class shared similar stories.

The reality was that most days he might have given his seat up to the man simply to maintain the peace of things. Sleepy valued quiet and order, content to drift through life without confrontation or undue attention. He'd left his unipod at sixteen and was lucky enough to immediately find work at the White River lift station, though as a sewage scraper.

The city experimented with privatizing some of the public works. Commonwealth Waterworks was one of the better ones. The company was steady pay and Commonwealth provided a measure of benefits to their employees. Being a steam engineer, he processed water for the heart of the Indianapolis undercity, the area the residents had nicknamed Freetown Village. Twelve hours of shoveling coal and tending to the machine works. A maze of tunnels and pipes formed the ironworks of the plant processing engine. Fans funneled gas out. Torrents of waste, gravity filtered and captured in basins, left the gray water directed to the steamworks. The mildew veneer of the constant sheen of sweat. A heavy, dull scent of hot, moist funk clung to the air like lavishly applied perfume to a prostitute. He reeked of industrial lubricant, coal, and sweat, all congealing into the sweet tang of fermented grime. With its white stone walls and ornate columns, it was like a temple of waste. And he was its minister.

His uncle worked there before him and continually reminded Sleepy that fortune favored him not only to have a job but to be brought into the plant at so young an age. If his providence bore out, he could retire from the plant. His life was set. Sleepy never—well, rarely—complained. Though he'd worked there only a few years, the many similarly empty, sweat-filled days ahead of him made him wonder if there was more to life than shuffling through a sunup-to-sundown workday six days a week. Earning just enough credits to scrape by, teetering on the edge of financial ruin should he ever miss a paycheck. Needing to fill the settling ennui between work shifts simply because the expanses of idle nothing left plenty of time to remind him of his utter worthlessness to the greater scheme of things.

This was exactly why he couldn't wait to get high.

The gleaming thundering worm rumbled along the raised rail, winding through the intestines of the undercity. Exposed pipes lined the top of the car. Steam coursed through them like blood through constricted capillaries. The heat produced by them added to the swelling temperatures and casual discomfort. Most people chafed within the scratchy material of their clothes, which neared the texture of burlap, given the heat. The air grew heavy with re-breathed effluvia. Sleepy ignored the forest of buttocks crammed into his eyeline. Snatches of the city could be spied from their vantage point as they ringed the city along sub-system 465. The airship docking station. The Indianapolis Aeromotor Speedway, home to the largest airship race, and fastest racing autocarriages, in the world. The heart of downtown, a glistening dream in the distance. The spires of the Indianapolis overcity loomed. Their waning shadows in the sunset plunged the undercity into deeper darkness. The bustle and jolting of the train faded into comforting white noise.

"Don't mind him, brother." One of the eye level asses turned to the side. "Despite the fact that he finds himself riding the same train as us, he believes he's entitled to more. Too many of us never speak to the truth of the matter. Too many of us have forgotten who we are."

"Uh huh."

Sleepy watched the first gentleman inch away from the two of them, scooting out of earshot to pretend that they weren't talking about him.

Turning to the window to study the shadows of the undercity, rather than have a conversation with the profile of someone's trousers, Sleepy focused on his checklist for the night. He performed tonight, and nothing was going to spoil it. "No worries, man. We good."

Encouraged, the set of trousers angled toward him. "I'm only saying that a hardworking man like yourself deserves a moment of respite."

"All I need is a glass of a little sipping something, a smoke, and a pork chop. Life don't need to be no harder than you make it."

"Pork leads to trichinosis of the mind."

"No pork leads to …" Sleepy ran out of clever retorts once he raised his eyes to meet the man, rather than talk to his crotch. The man's red-tinted hair sprouted into a series of twists, like gnarled fingers protruding from his skull. A beard and mustache framed his mouth. His stylized sunglasses rotated like the blades of a hand fan unfurling, shading studious eyes, reducing his face to glowering slits of eyes that tracked everything with a mix of anger and suspicion. His nose, broad and flared, seemed to snort air rather than inhale it. His thick, white cravat tucked into his burgundy vest. One hand looped through the leather handhold of the train, the other clutched a cane. He shifted his weight, failing to mask a slight limp. Sleepy waved the man off with a sharp flick of his wrist. He didn't have time to waste on all these folks attempting to crowd into his zone.

"You getting ready for something?" the man continued.

"A little something," Sleepy said. "Down at Two-Johns."

"You on tonight?" The man's voice raised with knowing excitement, the way a fan of his might.

At the possibility that the man might indeed be a fan, Sleepy issued him a measure of grace. "Someone's got to hold the mic down."

"All right, brother. I'm in."

I don't recall inviting you along, Sleepy thought. Then again, no need to be rude to a potential audience member since all performers split a percentage of the gate.

The train ground to a halt. Sleepy huffed, pulling himself out of his seat to get off at his stop. The man tipped his hat and parted way for Sleepy.

The train deposited Sleepy at the way station closest to his home at the 38th Street juncture. Two government-issued steammen attended the unloading platform. Their design inelegant, to be charitable, little more than lumbering metal boxes. Twin fans mounted on one of their backs, their air channeled through their body cavity and out the hose attachment on their arms to blow trash into the runoff bin for the other one to collect. The station was less crowded than usual. Sleepy pushed through the sparse queue of milling passengers.

The Eagle Town Homes nestled along the 38th Street corridor. A series of one room, two-story apartments, with a bedroom over a bathroom/kitchenette, they looked like upturned shotgun houses. The rows of townhomes occupied little space. The four-feet space from the sidewalk to the front stoop served as the yard. With the rows lined back-to-back, the city could cram nearly one hundred residences into a city block. Sleepy's neighborhood regulars already huddled about, someone bound to drink too much or get offended at some imagined slight to justify getting into a fight simply to break up the monotony of their day.

Sleepy kicked off his shoes once he crossed his door's threshold. Gaslit lamps lit up the small, gray box of a room. He opened a window to deal with the heat of his lights. With a somnambulant stagger, he stepped around the electro-transmitter equipment, which took up much of the room. A glass-fronted cabinet with spires to boost a signal, custom-built speakers, twin phonograms. With his portable broadcast unit, he had grand designs to broadcast his poems backed by music tracks. He even saved credits with the dream to one day fashion a studio in which to play and record his music.

Streaked with steam-driven coal mixed with oil, he peeled off his outerwear before he wandered into his bathroom. The same mixture coated him from head-to-toe, finding its way into places he didn't want to think about. The water shuddered through the pipes before pouring down on him in a lukewarm piddle. Hands pressed against the stall wall like he assumed a position to be frisked by the water spray, he suspected that if he spent the next week under its tepid stream, he wouldn't be able to fully remove the stain of his labor.

After twenty minutes, Sleepy wrapped a towel around his waist and staggered out of the bathroom. He paused in front of his floor length mirror, clutched the folds of his belly, and jiggled it. He never excused his shape with word games about how greater girth made for a greater man. He simply was who he was, and he was content with that.

Sleepy opened the armoire and selected his most elegant formal wear. Throwing on his black-stripe coulter shirt over his undergarments, he primped in the mirror. With the solemnity of donning armor, he fixed his black Y-back braces to his pinstriped pants and buttoned his red vest. With each new piece of clothing, he transformed from city worker to stage performer. Sleepy fussed with his silk cravat, adjusting it several times because it didn't quite look right to his exacting eye. Now was one of those moments he missed his brother. He'd always fastened his ties for him.

By the time he slipped on his formal tailcoat, gray gloves, and gray-felt top hat, Sleepy had transformed into a new man.