Steampunk is about alternate universes. Ashes of Twilight is a story about a society that went beneath a dome when Haley’s Comet came too close to the earth in the mid 1800’s. After 100 years life has become stagnant and some want to escape it.
I love the process of creating an alternate world and filling in the everyday details of life. Where does the air come from? Where does the fuel come from? Their watersource? What are the politics? Where does my character live, what does she do, what does she want, who are her friends and her enemies? Below is the beginning of Ashes of Twilight.
The Bible teaches us that the heavens and earth were made by the one true God. I have heard these things all of my life but I dare not ask the questions that the lessons have created in my mind. I am certain I know quite a bit about the earth, as I spend most of my waking moments within its clanking iron bowels. The heavens, however, are a mystery to me as my world is hollow and my sky is made of glass. As I lie on my back and stare up at the thick dome that covers my world I still cannot help but wonder why?
Our history is taught in two stages. There is the before time, when man lived on the surface and roamed at will. He built great cities and sailed the oceans and conquered kingdoms. Then there is the after time when man created the great glass dome to protect all he knew from the mighty comet that came and burned up the sky. It is the ninety-eighth year since the world became the dome and I spend all of my waking moments trying to find a way to leave it.
Staring at the dome will not give me a way out. I do it to justify my wanting to escape. I am desperately seeking a sign that the earth has returned to what it was before the comet came. I need to know for certain that I will not be burnt to a crisp when I do find a way out. Occasionally, in the morning light, I see a shadow cross over, but the glass is too thick for it to be defined. I never see the flames that are rumored to be out there and I often wonder if the flames are just an excuse to keep us within.
“Hey now, get on wit ya.” I recognize the voice and know that it holds no threat, even though his words are harsh. “It the filcher’s find the likes of you up here they’ll be throwing you in the fires for certain.”
I am not supposed to be on the rooftops. Max is. It is his job to clean this part of the dome from the constant build up of ash and smoke. The rooftops are home to the gardens that supply the vegetables we need to survive. They are closest to the light and also benefit from the condensation that builds up on the glass and then trickles down to give the plants water.
The scientists who designed our world were geniuses. Unfortunately they are long gone and we have become victims of a sedentary government who will look no further than the dome that surrounds them. Max is right about what he says. I do not belong on the rooftop and if I am caught I will be punished.
Max goes to work with his long handled mop. I hear the squeaking of gears and see the men riding the baskets that will take them to the uppermost part of the dome. Day has come to my world and it is time for me to sleep.
I stand on my tiptoes and kiss Max on the cheek. “Thank you.”
He blushes. “I reckon I’ll see you in the morning.” I nod. “Be careful down there gel.”
“I always am.” I put my goggles over my eyes to protect them from the tainted air below. I could take the myriad of staircases attached to the side of the building down, but instead I head to the downspout. It is faster, and there is no chance of me running into a filcher on the way down.
“Wren!” Max came to where I’m propped against the building, my hands on the downspout and my feet braced. A sparrow swoops around my head and scolds me for being so close to its nest. “There’s rumors of a runner afoot.” Max said. “Don’t let them suck you in.”
A runner? My heart pounds. I need to know who but more importantly where? If there is a runner, then how did he or she escape? Max looks at me, his eyes expectant. He cannot see mine through the goggles. I have no choice but to lie. “I won’t.” I descended into the smoke.
It is getting harder and harder for the fans to clear the air. Some days are better than others. This is one of the worst. The government blames it on the coal, which means it is the shiners fault. Shiners is a derogatory name given by the royals to those who work the mines. They call us that because our eyes have a metallic cast to them. What they don’t know is that we can see in the dark, like a cat. Years of living and working underground has changed us.
The coal is running out. Exploratory tunnels have been dug, spreading out in all directions like a spider web. None have yielded anything so far. Without coal we can not survive. Coal creates the steam that powers the engines that keeps the fans going that circulates the air and keeps us from boiling beneath the dome. An underground river serves as a source of water and a coolant for our air. The engines are constantly going, their noise strumming through the dome and reminding all of us of the precariousness of our world. If one thing fails, the rest will follow suit and the world within will end, toppled as easily as a strand of standing dominoes.
I believe with all my heart that it would be a good thing to happen. It would force us to move, to look elsewhere, and to hopefully leave the dome. But what I believe is not to be spoken out loud.
As soon as my feet hit solid ground the alarms sound. “There is a runner.” I give voice to my hopes and set out at a run for the promenade.