Tasta practically spun the screwdriver as she rushed to unfasten the hatch. Within moments, it fell with a clang onto the gantry, revealing the mechanisms within.
This was one of the last of the great springs still moving. The rest had wound down, their mechanisms too clogged with dirt and old oil to keep going without constant maintenance, the city’s inhabitants too taken with other cares to keep their home alive. They had socialised and celebrated, chased money or art or fame, while their world fell into neglect. Even now, on what the experts had calculated to be Wonburg’s final night, most of them were holding a party in the upper tiers.
Those who hadn’t fled already, terrified at what the city would be like when its mechanism fell still. There would be no transport, no heating, no cold storage, no factories to make clothes or boots, no hospital machines. Wonburg was dying and Tasta’s peers were drinking their cares away.
But she wouldn’t give in. She climbed through the hatch, pulled a cloth from her tool belt and wiped dirt from the spring, dirt that should never have been allowed to accrue. Then she took a crank handle, slid it into a slot in the wall, and started to turn it.
“Tasta?” Fnell’s voice came softly through the open hatch. “Are you in there?”
“Someone has to be,” Tasta snapped.
Fnell stepped through the hatch, wearing an evening gown of blue silk and her finest gold jewellery, the pieces Tasta had given her on their wedding day. She smiled sadly as she looked at Tasta.
“Won’t you come out and join us?” Fnell asked. “It’s a lovely night.”
“It’s the only night left, and I can’t waste it.”
The crank wasn’t working. The gears hadn’t been properly maintained and now they clicked across each other instead of meshing and turning. There was no time for finesse, so Tasta pulled out a crowbar and started prying open the wall.
“It’s too late for this,” Fnell said, laying a hand on Tasta’s shoulder. “It was too late before we were even born.”
“We can’t be sure. A city has never unwound before.”
“And with luck it never will again. We’ll take to the carts and find others, to warn them about what happened here. But first, let’s celebrate what we had.”
Tasta flung the crowbar down, then the chunk of panel she had ripped free. The gears lay exposed.
“How can you celebrate a disaster?” she asked, leaning in close to see the gears. “How can you dance and drink now?”
“We’re not celebrating a disaster.” Fnell wrapped her arms around herself. “We’re celebrating the life we had, the life we’re losing.”
Tasta sighed. The gears were too far gone. She would need to find replacements, but where from?
“I have to go find parts,” she said, pulling out one of the worn gears. “It’s our only hope.”
As she slid past Fnell, her wife grabbed her by the arm.
“Please, Tasta, let this go. Come and make a memory with me. Don’t let this be how Wonburg ends for us.”
“I can’t.” Tasta refused to meet her gaze. “I have to keep trying, don’t you understand?”
She squirmed free and out the hatch, but a sob caught her in her tracks.
“Don’t you understand?” Fnell asked, tears running down her cheeks. “You can’t save the city, but there’s something here you can still save.”
Tasta looked down at the gear in her hand. It had been worn away by the centuries, like so many others she’d seen. Perhaps there had been spare parts to replace it once, but not anymore.
It was over.
She dropped the gear. Tears ran from her own eyes as she turned to hug Fnell.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I just…”
They clung to each other for a long time, while the spring wound down behind them, its curved steel unfolding into entropy. Then Fnell took Tasta’s hand and led her up to the roof of the city.
A band was playing melancholy songs in the moonlight. The city’s remaining inhabitants waltzed or drank champaign or just sat and talked in hushed tones. There was sadness, even tears, but not despair, not that dark pit Tasta had feared she might fall into if she ever stopped.
Fnell led Tasta onto the dance floor. Everybody else was in evening dress, but they didn’t seem to mind her overalls. Friends and neighbours smiled, happy to see her sharing the end with them.
Tasta could barely feel the trembling of the city’s mechanisms through her feet. Once as constant as her own heartbeat, it was faltering, almost gone.
But the city wasn’t a body, was it? It was a thing once made, so long ago that no-one remembered how. Could they make it again? Could they build something new from whatever remained? She imagined gears repositioned, walls rearranged, springs set aside in place of some new motive source. Perhaps, just perhaps…
“What if we don’t go with the carts?” she asked, looking up into Fnell’s beautiful blue eyes. “What if we stay and try to start over again?”
“In a dead city?”
“We’ll be alive. Isn’t that what counts?”
The moonlight shone gently down on Fnell’s smile.
“Yes,” she whispered.
They kissed, and for one last night the band played on.
A story about finding hope in a world falling apart? Can’t think why I’d write that right now.
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Dirk Dynamo is used to adventure. He’s chased villainous masterminds across the mountains of Europe, stalked gangsters through the streets of Chicago, and faced the terrible battlefields of the Civil War. But now he’s on a mission that will really shake his world.
For centuries, the Great Library of Alexandria was thought lost. Now a set of clues has been discovered that could lead to its hiding place. With the learned adventurers of the Epiphany Club, Dirk sets out to gather the clues, track down the Library, and reveal its secrets to the world.
Roaming from the jungles of West Africa to the sewers beneath London, The Epiphany Club is a modern pulp adventure, a story of action, adventure, and romance set against the dark underbelly of the Victorian age.
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