Black girl Plaquette works as a mechanical/automation engineer on porter robots for Pullman Company in a steampunk version of New Orleans. Her white boss Msieus exploits her but she can’t give up the job because her parents need the money: her father can’t continue working because he’s got Jake paralysis from consuming the eponymous poisonous drink. She has lots of dreams – romantic episodes, but also working as an author.
The story works very fine at the setting with New Orleans’s French influences, the oppressing labor situation mixed with typical steampunk elements. Plaquette’s motivation to go a very different path than her dead-end future is well-founded and works on various levels.
The story is included in the anthology A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, and one doesn’t have to dig too deep to uncover the reference: They Fly at Çiron is Chip’s story from 1993, and it is cited as
Claude’s other novels were all rich folk weeping over rich folk problems, white folk pitching woo. They Fly at Çironia was different, wickedly so.