Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Everburn Sample

Well, I've wanted to pick out a writing sample from the book I just completed and I think this one is it. Even though this comes much later in the book, this is what I consider the turning point of the story, where the characters finally start to figure out what Wildworth is up to and decide to put aside their differences to stand against him.

Basically, what's happened in the story so far, is the main character, Orel, has discovered that he isn't a human being, but a member of the Aves tribe. The Aves were group of human-like beings with large bird wings that possess the ability to communicate with the spirit world and summon nature spirits. Orel's wings were amputated as a child when he fell from the sky during a storm. He grew up thinking he was a normal human being.

When Wildworth, a railroad baron, buys the coal mine that his town depends on, Orel is blackmailed into working for him in Aston City with the deed to the mine. Orel's best friend, Mika, stows away with him and becomes a mechanic for Wildworth in the process. From the moment they began working for Wildworth, they know that something is wrong. The spirits that Orel summoned for him mysteriously disappear and no one knows why he has his Aves workers summon them in the first place. Orel's steam spirit, Arden believes that somehow Wildworth is using the the other spirits to make his "Everburn" fuel.

In this scene, Mika has just witnessed a very bad fight between Orel and one of the other Aves workers named Flynn. Flynn caused a fight between Mika and Orel the previous night by spreading gossip to Mika about Orel's relationship with one of the other Aves workers. Tension is very high between them anyway, so she leaves him to start her job early. In this scene, Mika finally sees the machine that makes the fuel for the first time, and realizes they have every reason to be suspicious of Wildworth's intentions.

Mika walked down the hall trying not to think about the fight, but images from it kept haunting her, flashing before her eyes as she headed towards the machine shop. She could still see the angry yet satisfied expression on Orel’s face as he punched Flynn in the eye, and the ashamed look that replaced it when he saw her watching them. His face was flicked with blood like freckles on the face of a young boy, and that only added to his childlike expression of being caught and ashamed. Both of the fighters appeared to be in bad shape, but she knew who started it from the moment she saw them.

Mika thought, “I started it. I never should’ve told Orel anything. He thought I left because of Flynn, so he took it out on him. This is my fault entirely, and somehow I’m going to make up for it.”

Mika quickly composed herself as she entered the mechanics’ workshop. The huge warehouse still caught her off guard. It was attached to the Wildworth building and was at least five stories high, but as tall as it was, it was only one floor. The ceiling rose up, like an airplane hanger, but there was a pulley system that would allow the ceiling of the building to open up as well.

“The Everest,” Wildworth’s private zeppelin, sat in the corner, like a large silver buzzard watching them work. Still, there was also more than enough room for the damaged boilers, Wildworth’s steam powered carriage, and even the caboose of Wildworth’s private train, which was waiting to be serviced. There was even a normal propeller powered blimp hanging off to the side on the ceiling called “The Edwin,” named after Jones’ first name.

Something about the drafty, leaky machine shop reminded her of a tomb. Her Father’s workshop always seemed warm and welcoming, despite his presence in it, but here she felt as though the machines themselves were watching, scrutinizing her every move with their clear glossy windows for eyes. The others in the shop seemed to notice it too and the other mechanics often laughed loudly at the most foolish of jokes, if nothing more than to cut through the eerie silence.

The atmosphere around her made Mika feel even worse, but it wouldn’t do for the others to see a vulnerable expression on her face. To gain their trust she was very careful to come across as “just another one of the guys.” So far, it seemed to be working. When she first came in, she was surprised to see that most of the men were human instead of Aves, and they greeted her with catcalls, but the moment she proved herself to be skillful and tough, they accepted her immediately. She was glad to see that she was actually more skilled than many of the men that Wildworth hired. The foreman seemed to know it as well.

He called to Mika, “Hey, Mika, I told you, only one hour for lunch…”

Mika said, “Sorry, Mr. Acres. There was a fight in the hallway, so I stopped to watch. Two Aves were beating the crap out of each other.”

Mr. Acres chuckled and said, “And I missed it? Too bad, that’s always quite a sight and it doesn’t happen very often. Plus, it's always fun to bet on the winner.”

Mika said, “I didn’t know they could move so fast, or hit so hard.”

Mr. Acres said, “Yeah, I certainly wouldn’t want to pick a fight with one.”

One of the few Aves mechanics laughed from the top of the zeppelin and yelled, “Yeah, normally you wouldn’t last a second, but I’ll bet if you hit one of us with that beer belly of yours, you might just win the fight. You do have a lot of weight to throw around…”

There was a roar of approval from the other mechanics.

Mr. Acres shouted, “Corbin, I asked you to check the lining of the zeppelin, not gab all day long.”

Corbin said, “Yeah, yeah.”

Mr. Acres said, “Well, I’m glad you’re here, Mika. Mr. Jones told me to pick a mechanic to work on the big machine, and today it’s you. Think of it as your initiation.”

There was something very solemn in his expression that Mika didn’t like.

She said, “The big machine? What’s that?”

Mr. Acres ran a dirty rag across his forehead and said, “It’s the most important machine in the building. It’s where Wildworth produces the Everburn fuel.”

Mika asked, “Oh, so will I get to see how the fuel is made?”

Mr. Acres said, “No, and don’t you ask about it either. Wildworth keeps that secret close to the chest, he does. Everyone here has worked on the machine before, but none of us know how he makes the stuff.”

Mika asked, “Then who makes the fuel?”

Mr. Acres whispered, “I hear Wildworth and Jones make it themselves.”

Mika said, “But Jones is a doctor and Wildworth doesn’t strike me as the type to know much about fuel…”

Mr. Acres said, “From what I know of Wildworth. I think he knows a little bit about everything.”

Mika said, “So what do we repair on the machine?”

Mr. Acres said, “The parts of the machine we work on are the manufacturing parts. Basically, there are several large metal tubs already filled with fuel and the liquid is pumped into storage barrels that run along a conveyor belt beneath it. There’s also another part of the machine that sprays the fuel onto pieces of coal. I’m not sure if it’s the sprayer that’s broken this time or the conveyor belt. Either way, it shouldn’t be hard for you to fix.”

Mika said, “Okay, then I’ll do my best.”

Mr. Acres said, “I know you will. That’s why I picked you. Jones will be along any minute to get you. Now, I want you to be on your best behavior. Don’t ask about how they make the fuel, don’t stare at things that don’t concern your job—get in, get out, no fucking about. Got it?”

Mika said, “Yeah, I’ve got it.”

Mr. Acres mumbled, “Trust me, once you get in that place, you’ll want to get out as fast as you can…”

Mika was about to ask Mr. Acres what he meant when Jones came through the door.

He said, “Mrs. Mika, please follow me.”

Mika followed Jones back into the main building down the familiar hallways and stairwells. As they went, she noticed some of the Aves pointing at her and whispering. She didn’t have to hear them to know what they were whispering about. Now, instead of simply being the only human living among them, she was the girl that Orel had fought with Flynn over. The thought made her feel slightly ill. She wanted her own chance to prove herself to them, but it seemed that her worth was proven for her, and something about the thought didn’t sit well. It made her suddenly very glad that she wasn’t spending another night with Orel.

They turned to a door at the end of the hallway on the first floor. There were two guards with large guns standing in front of it. The guns immediately drew Mika’s eyes. Both guards had what looked like smaller versions of Gatling guns. The firing mechanism was clearly steam powered, as with most guns. It would unleash a full round of bullets with just a pull of the trigger. The young guard stroked his gun suggestively, causing Mika to blush and quickly look away. Jones took a small silver key from a chain around his neck and unlocked the door, revealing a long spiral stairwell that seemed to stretch two floors beneath them.

Jones answered her question before she could ask, “The basement has to be tall to accommodate the machine.”

Mika said, “So this building is more like twelve floors then.”

Jones said, “Thirteen if you count the clock tower.”

As soon as they reached the bottom floor, Mika stopped in her tracks. There were two more guards standing in front of the second door, but this set was wearing what appeared to be metal body armor. Still, from the wires running from one part of the armor to the next, and the metals springs and small pistons she could see, they were mechanized suits meant to enhance the wearer’s strength. There wore the same mini-Gatling guns attached to the armor of their right arms, while the left arm had what appeared to be a large metal gauntlet with a retractable blade built into it. She put her hands up in a helpless motion when they saw her, but Jones waved them away with a gesture.

Jones said, “You’ll have to excuse all of the security. As I’m sure Acres already told you, this is where we make our fuel and there are a lot of companies that would love to know exactly how we do it.”

He pulled the silver key from around his neck and paused before putting it in the lock.

Jones turned to Mika and said, “Before you go in, I need you to swear that you won’t tell a soul what you see in here—I mean that Mika, not a soul.”

Mika said, “From what I hear, I’m not going to see anything.”

Jones said, “Please, don’t make this difficult, Mika…”

Mika said, “I swear.”

Jones motioned to the guards and said, “Good, these men will hold you to that.”

The moment Mika entered the room, she felt as though she walked through a physical cobweb. Energy seemed to tingle through her body and it made her shudder. The temperature in the room was too cool, as though she had walked outside, and yet the room wasn’t drafty. It was entirely enclosed. Every strange feeling she had ever had in town when the spirits were nearby came back to her immediately in a rush that almost made her want to cry. The feeling also made her feel sick to her stomach. It halted her in her tracks and she felt herself rubbing her arms instinctively.

Mika looked around, wary. She felt as though she was being watched, but there was no movement in the corner of her eyes, and the silence was oppressive. The silence, however, wasn’t the only thing that felt oppressive. It was as though the very air around her was heavy, pushing down on her shoulders. The high ceiling was dizzying, and the only thing that kept her on her feet was the unreal sight in front of her.

The machine took up the entire room. She wasn’t sure why, but it seemed radiate an ominous feeling. She wondered if it was haunted, but something about the machine seemed too still and silent for even that. It was as though it sucked away any life and sound, and that everything about it was dead. At one time, the pipes were probably copper, but now they were a corroded green and brown color that surprised her. The machine looked ancient, but from what the other mechanics said, Wildworth had only recently created his fuel. He was still testing the effects of it because his clients were complaining that the fuel was sometimes unstable.

She could see the general layout of the machine. The large basins that were bolted to the walls were what contained the fuel. One half of the machine was devoted to packaging smaller amounts of fuel into steel barrels for transport, while the other side had a hose for spraying fuel onto a conveyor belt of coal. The entire machine was automated. Steam boilers powered the pulleys and conveyor belts, and, there was a pipe to allow steam to escape that ran all the way to the roof as a smokestack. Still, she could see why Wildworth needed his mechanics. If there was ever a catastrophic failure, the entire machine would have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Jones said, “I know. It’s quite a sight. You get used to it. What we need you to do is work on the spraying nozzle. It’s clogged up. Once you’re done with that, if you wouldn’t mind giving the whole machine a quick look over, I’d really appreciate it. I have a checklist that I usually have the foreman fill out, but if you think you can handle it, I’ll let you give it a try.”

Mika took the checklist absently and said, “Yes, of course.”

Mika tried to take in her surroundings as she walked towards the machine. It seemed there was an elevator leading from another part of the building to the basement floor because there was a small elevator behind her. Still, she knew she hadn’t seen an elevator anywhere else in the building. Then, she saw the outline on the floor. It almost blended into the dark bedrock of the ground, but it was definitely there. There was a pattern carved into the floor and it looked like the biggest summoning circle she had ever seen, circling all around the perimeter of the machine. Still, as she stared at the intricate patterns, she realized it wasn’t a summoning circle at all. She had never seen anything like it before, and she didn’t want to cross it.

Jones asked, “Is something wrong, Mrs. Mika?’

Mika said, “Orel always told me never to step across these lines.”

Jones said, “Not to worry. The circle isn’t active right now.”

Mika cast a furtive glance at Jones but then nodded and crossed the line. The moment she did, once again she got the strange feeling of crossing through an invisible barrier. She noticed her hair became charged with static, strands slowly lifting like puppets on transparent strings. The moment she touched the metal of the machine she got a nasty shock, but that wasn’t what made her gasp in surprise. There was something horrible about it, as though she heard a scream the moment the static charge hit her finger.

Mika thought, “Fast, work fast! I need to get out of here or I’ll lose my mind.”

Mika continued to glance at Jones as she started twisting the nozzle free of the spraying hose, but Jones wasn’t looking at her. He appeared to be glancing at the machine and running through his own personal check list. No, the feeling of being watched wasn’t coming from Jones. Instead, she thought that she knew where it was coming from, somewhere on the opposite wall with the fuel basins. Mika didn’t know why, but she felt like there was an invisible audience of people watching her, not only watching her, but wishing that she would see them.

Mika felt the nozzle come loose from the hose and began to poke around it with her fingers. She felt something smooth with ridges lodged in the nozzle, so she began prying at it with her tools. After a few minutes of fighting with it, she finally pulled the object out. She stared intently at it for a moment, not sure what she was looking at. It was a perfectly round ball of metal, like a ball for a musket, but there were lovely swirling patterns all over it. Someone clearly took time to make the markings, but how did it get in the machine? She examined the rest of the nozzle. There were also metal shavings that clearly came from the small metal ball.

Mika looked over at Jones. He was still glancing at the other side of the machine. Mika quickly put the small object in the pocket of her mechanic uniform and continued her work. There were more metal shavings inside of the tube and some very strange residue. For a moment, in the dim light, she thought the residue glowed green on her fingertips, but then it seemed nothing more than nasty grime created by moldy water.

Jones asked, “Did you find the blockage?”

Mika said, “Yes, some odd metal shavings and some residue. I’m guessing they came from the inside of the basins, but I don’t know what could’ve caused them.”

Jones said, “Ah, we’ve had that sort of thing happen before. I’ll check on it personally later. We’ll have a test of the nozzle and then you can get to the checklist.”

Mika said, “Thank you, Sir.”

Jones twisted a lever and steam billowed through the pipes, powering the machine. For a moment Mika forgot her fear, awestruck by the design. She had never seen a totally automated machine before. It was as though the parts of the machine had their own rhythm, twisting and pulling in time with one another. Still, suddenly she heard a shrill screeching sound, like the sound of an animal in pain, or a child crying. She put her hands over her ears.

Jones shouted, “That sound is one of the traits of Everburn fuel, kind of like a side effect of the process. Don’t worry about it.”

Mika nodded and hesitantly forced her hands away from her ears. Whether it was a natural sound or not, it sounded so much like a real scream it tugged on the empathetic parts of her mind, making her want to do anything to stop it. She followed the path of the steam with her mind, noticing a release valve on one of the large tubs of fuel in front of her. The valve rotated just enough for a hose full of fuel and then closed back up, awaiting the next burst of steam for the next rotation. The nozzle lifted up with the pressure of the fuel behind it, and began spraying a small stack of coal, lashing back and forth like the tail of a hungry lion.

Jones said, “Excellent work, Mika. Now, while the machine is running, please complete your checklist.”

Mika went through the checklist, trying to imagine herself as a part of the machine, trying desperately to separate her conflicting emotions from her professional attitude. She still felt dizzy and slightly nauseated, and something about the entire process made her feel dirty. She couldn’t place anything wrong with the machine or the fuel itself, but there was definitely something wrong with that summoning circle.

Mika thought, “Prematurely corroded pipes, check, and elaborate cable pulley system, check. There’s a loose portion on the conveyor belt where one of the barrels might eventually tip over if not straightened out—I’d better write that one down, but God please don’t let me have to fix it…

Mika didn’t even notice Jones was looking over her shoulder. His voice made her jump.

Jones said, “You noticed the loose conveyor belt. I’m impressed. You’ve already written a very thorough report, and you’ve had one of the fastest times fixing the machine. I think we’ve found our new machine mechanic.”

Mika said, “Oh, not me. I’m not nearly as experienced as some of the others.”

Jones said, “Don’t be so modest. This is the highest paying job in the entire facility, and I think you’re the right one for it.”

Mika thought, “I can’t say yes, there’s no way I could do this almost every day. But, if I say no, Jones will be suspicious, and I already owe him my life for taking care of my wounds and for allowing me to stay here…

Mika said, “I don’t know how to explain it, Mr. Jones, but this floor really unnerves me. Ever since I came down here, I feel very out of my element.”

Jones said, “I thought you might. I felt that way the first time I came down here as well.”

Mika asked, “Really?”

Jones said, “It might be the fumes from the fuel, or just the fact we’re so far below ground, but it makes you feel trapped and nervous. Don’t worry. Those feelings eventually pass. I’ll understand if you don’t like the responsibility of being the primary mechanic of this machine, but please, don’t pass up a good opportunity just because you have goose bumps.”

Mika chuckled. She could tell it was a nervous chuckle, but Jones seemed to think it was legitimate.

Mika said, “I wouldn’t pass up such a good opportunity because of that. I just, well, it’s like you said, that’s a lot of responsibility, and I just started working here.”

Jones said, “That’s true, you did only just start working last night—and, goodness, it’s already three o’clock. You must be exhausted, especially with your injuries. Why don’t you take tomorrow off and maybe the next day? That way, you can take your time making the decision, and I’ll be sure that a nice hot meal is sent to your room tonight.”

Mika said, “Thank you, Mr. Jones.”

Mr. Jones said, “No, thank you. And, take care, but remember your promise.”

Mika said, “I will. Mr. Jones, may I please leave the facility to buy some supplies?”

Mr. Jones sighed and said, “I’m sorry, Mika. The rules specifically state that none of our workers can leave the building. The rule is mostly just to keep people from knowing about the amount of Aves working here, but I can’t make any exceptions.”

Mika tried not to show the disappointment she felt on her face. She needed an escape, anything to forget about the terrible machine. Then, it came to her. There was a way that she could apologize to Flynn and Orel, and a way for her to forget her problems at the same time.

Mika asked, “Then, will you please do something for me?”

Mr. Jones said, “Anything. What do you need?”

Mika said, “I want a sketchpad and some charcoal pencils. I’d also like a bottle of the best vintage wine that my wages can buy and a bottle of the best whiskey I can buy…”

Mr. Jones pulled out a notepad and Mika waited until he finished writing to continue.

“A cube of lightweight wood good for carving and a knife for whittling. Also, a set of small watchmaker’s tools, normal tools, and gears and springs of varying sizes for watches. Oh yes, and some paint of varying colors, the faster it dries, the better.”

Mr. Jones said, “Your wages should cover most of it, though probably not the watchmaking tools. Still, I’m sure I can work out a payment schedule and go ahead and purchase them, but may I ask why?”

Mika said, “My favorite hobby back home was to make mechanical toys. The wood is for the body of the toy, and the gears and springs are for the interior to make it move. I can craft metal toys too, but I don’t think I have the money to buy the kind of tools I would need for that. The watch tools and regular tools are for putting it together, the paints are to decorate it, and the two bottles of liquor are gifts. The sketchpad is one of the few things I left behind that I’m wishing I took with me.”

Mr. Jones said, “They’ll be delivered with your meal tonight. For now, get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As Mika left the room, she desperately fought off the urge to run. She could still hear the sound of gears and pulleys grinding and thumping behind her. She had never noticed the sound before, but now that she had heard it, she could hear it in the very floor beneath her feet. Still, the worst sound by far was the sound of the Everburn fuel itself, screeching like a person in pain, screaming for anyone to help. The sound wasn’t natural, not natural at all. As soon as she reached the deserted Aves hallways, she burst into tears and began to run for her room.

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