A trio of Christian writers exploring the world of steampunk fiction with a groundbreaking novel trilogy. Come in and join the adventure!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chapter One - Libby

Libby slapped the journal shut and stared at the wall. She felt like taking a pickaxe to it. Not that the poor wall had done anything to her. An outlet for the frustration building up inside her would have been nice, though.
They'd arrived at the bunker two days ago, and other than her brief foray into the forest, she'd been inside, helping Mrs. Monday set up a kitchen, unload the kids' schoolbooks, and generally try to settle into a semblance of normal life. She'd barely seen Skylar or Maricossa, and Hez had been nagging her every other minute about unloading the rest of the books so he could take off.
As if she was in charge of that anymore.
She twisted around in the chair she'd set to face the wall and frowned at the Professor, who was lingering over a late lunch with Mrs. Monday and Toddy. The Professor looked up from his sandwich. Libby ducked down behind the high stuffed back of the chair.
Darn it. She slid out of the chair, pushing her feet into the sandals she'd worn since Skylar's rescue. "Yeah, Professor?"
"Have you seen Skylar today?"
Libby twisted her hips and remembered she was wearing her linen pants. No skirt swished to fill the silence as she thought. "No, sir, I haven't."
"I have a job for the two of you. I'd like you to explore some of the back tunnels behind the control room," the Professor said, taking a bite. He spoke around the mouthful of food. "It's been a long time since I've been here, and I don't remember the layout as well as I'd like to. See if you can find anything useful, maybe a back way out of the bunker. There was one at one time, but I don't remember the location."
Libby nodded, the meaning of his words taking away a bit of the excitement at getting to spend time with Skylar. Even here, the Professor didn't think they were safe. He wanted a way out, an escape.
She couldn't wait until the day when they didn't have to find escape tunnels.
She followed the short tunnel to the control room, where stacks of computers banked the walls for several stories, metal-grate walkways providing access to the higher ones. Maricossa sat in one of the dusty chairs in front of a bank of screens, one hand playing with the stuffing that leaked from the chair cushion, the other turning pages in a book propped against his legs, which were kicked up on the keyboard of one of the computers.
"Seen Skylar?" she asked.
Maricossa looked up. "I think he might be on the ledge outside the bunker." He frowned. "He's not in a good mood. We were unloading books earlier and I thought he was about to take my head off."
"I'll be careful," Libby said quietly, remembering when she and Skylar had realized he'd saved her life when they were kids. If he hadn't hurt her then, he wouldn't hurt her now.
Maricossa nodded. "You're probably the only one who can even get close to him in this mood."
She gave him a suspicious glance as he went back to reading his book. Maricossa had seemed so cautious around Skylar since they left Shandor Rei. Did everyone really think Skylar was that scary? Libby crossed the control room and pushed open door. It protested loudly, the rusty hinges squealing. Maybe she was the only one who could see past Skylar’s metal shield to the tenderness underneath.
The air bladders of the Daniel Defoe nearly touched the ceiling and the metal walkways of the hangar, making the room seem small. A few crates and miscellaneous furniture stood near the gangway, looking like Maricossa had abandoned them as soon as Skylar had stopped helping. Hez lounged on a chair, staring at his ship, his arms crossed and his chin resting on his chest. He turned around at the sound of her footsteps on the grating.
"Hey, Lib." He jumped up. "Lookin' for Skylar?"
Libby put her hands on her hips. "You picked up on that quickly."
He grinned and shrugged. "Hey, listen, when you get the chance, we need to finish unloading all these books. Skylar and Maricossa were helping me earlier, but they got in a tiff about something or other. Not sure that I really get those two. Anyway, I've got places to be, so when you have a few minutes…"
"Yeah, I'll get to it, Hez, promise." Libby scooted along the metal walkway to the door set into the bunker's metal door. This close, she could faintly hear the pounding of the waterfall on the other side—as insulated as the door was, it kept most of the noise and water out.
She pushed the door open and stepped out onto the slippery ledge. The waterfall rushed down just a few paces to her right. On her left, the path curved back toward the waterfall and ended in an abrupt ledge that jutted over the whirlpool fifty feet below. Skylar perched on the edge of the ledge, rolling a rock between his palms and staring down the river in the direction of Shandor Rei.
Libby trailed one hand along the cliff wall as she picked her way to Skylar. It was surprising that he'd even come out here, given his usual caution when it came to mixing heights with his artificial limbs.
When she was a few feet away, the shadow of the falls cliff dropped away and the sunrays massaged into her shoulders. Libby stopped for a moment and closed her eyes, reveling in the way that the sun soothed away in the tension in her muscles. Even just a couple of days underground was too much.
"Hey, Lib."
She opened her eyes. Skylar brushed pebbles from his hands and scooted back from the edge.
"Hey, Sky. The Professor was wondering if we'd explore some of the tunnels behind the control room. He says he doesn't remember them very well. Plus I think he wants to know if there's another way out."
Skylar snorted. "I'd have thought the Professor would come up with some not-so-blatantly-obvious idea to keep me occupied."
Libby smiled weakly. "Well…whatever works."
"I suppose so."
When they got back into the hangar, Libby noticed that Hez had disappeared. Then she heard banging and muffled curses coming from the hull of the ship.
"Hey, look at that," Skylar muttered. "One person in a worse mood than me."
She patted his arm and pulled open the door to the control room. Maricossa looked up from his book, but Skylar passed through with barely a nod to acknowledge the older man's presence. Libby gave Maricossa a shrug, grabbed a battery-powered torch from a shelf, and followed Skylar as he turned right—not heading for the kitchen, but further into the dusty corridors that curved around and behind the control room.
Libby hurried to Skylar's side and switched on the torch. The yellowy beam flickered a bit as it illuminated the path. She smacked it with her hand and the flickering stopped.
"What, afraid of the dark too?" Skylar said.
She grunted and elbowed him. "That makes it sound like I have a million different fears, and I really don’t."
He smirked. "Sorry."
She flicked the beam around in front of them. On the wall to their left, there was nothing. The wall to their right had door spaced about, from what she could see in the weak beam, every ten to twenty feet apart.
Skylar pushed the first one open, and Libby shone the light inside. Empty, cobwebby shelves filled the small room. "Just a storeroom," Skylar muttered.
"Will it work for the books?" Libby stepped further into the room and examined a shelf. The metal was spotted with rust and condensation. She sighed. "Too damp, just like the kitchen and the bunkrooms we already found. Hez isn't going to be too happy about that."
They left the doors open as they proceeded down the tunnel. The next few rooms were storerooms like the first, and after that they found more bunkrooms, though smaller than the two that they'd found next to the kitchen.
After the first few rooms, Skylar stopped commenting about each one and walked in silence, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his coat when he wasn't opening doors. Libby could tell he wanted to say something—just the way he sometimes half-turned to her, but then would look away with a little shrug of his shoulders, as if it wasn't important.
After the third time, she said, "How long did you know Coll?"
Skylar stiffened a little. "Met him about the same time I got these." He waved his metal hand.
"Best friends right away, or did you guys fight at all?"
He actually chuckled at that. "We didn't fight much until I met you, Lib."
"Oh…I'm sorry."
"Naw, don't be. Coll can be—" he coughed. "Uh, could be…"
Libby reached over and slipped her hand into his. She squeezed it, even though it was the metal one—could he sense pressure with his prosthetics? His hand tightened a little around hers. "Are you irritated that the Professor asked you to do this with me?"
"A bit," he admitted. "I think I process things a lot different than the Professor. He doesn't quite understand other peoples' ways of dealing with stuff, and he really doesn't understand that when something happens to me, I have to go off and let it sit on my mind for a while. He thinks that brooding isn't a good thing."
"I don't know that too much of it is."
"Not saying that. But I do need a little of it." He squeezed her hand again. "But this is good too."
The torch flickered out. Libby stopped and slapped it again. The beam came back on, but it was even more yellow and watery than it had been a moment before. "Darn it! We're going to get stuck in the dark, I know it!"
"Naw, we won't. I saw that there was a bend ahead. We'll see what's there then head back, all right?"
She made a face and nodded. As they stepped around the bend in the stone walls, Libby scuffed her foot through a puddle of water. She glanced down. A tiny steam ran through the center of the corridor floor, not even deep enough to make any noise.
"I wonder where that's coming from," she said.
Skylar moved the torch up and squinted past the light. "I think the tunnel might be blocked."
A few more steps forward, and the debris of a cave-in came into their view, wooden supports sticking from the boulders like a set of bad teeth. Libby made out the remains of a doorway half-covered by the rubble, the first door they'd seen on their left. Water glistened and trickled on the boulders, forming a larger puddle on the floor that gradually found its way into the little stream Libby had seen a few steps back.
"The Shandor River must have an underground bit or something that made this cave in," Skylar said. He stepped up to the cave in and prodded a few boulders. "Everything seems pretty settled, but I hope it didn't damage the integrity of the rest of the bunker. That could be a problem."
Libby swung the light away from him and shone it on the half-covered doorway.
"Hey, Libby!"
"Rubble piles are boring. I saw more than my fair share at the Library. This, however—" she crouched and shone the light into the room. "Hey, this one's clear." She set the torch down on a rock, facing the doorway, and sat down.
"Don't go in there. Any disturbance could make everything more unstable."
Libby ignored him and wiggled into the doorway. She made it through, barely brushing the sides of the doorway, and stood up. Something crunched under her feet, and a sour, musty smell hit her nose. She made a face. What was that smell?
"Libby?" Skylar bent down, blocking the light. "Come on, get out of there. I don't want you getting hurt."
"Can you hand me the torch?"
He growled in frustration and passed the torch through.
"Relax, Sky. That cave-in isn't going anywhere. Besides, don't you think this room would have already collapsed if it was going to?"
She flicked the torchlight around. The room was bigger than the other storerooms they'd found so far, and she could see shelves around the edges that looked stacked with old computers and gadgets. "Sky, look at this stuff! The Professor will like this, yeah?"
"Hey, is that a box of C-Ds? Over there, look." Skylar pointed to one of the shelves closest to her. "The Professor's been trying for ages to get one of those to work again, but he has never found that many."
Libby took a step forward and was reaching for the box when she heard a faint rustle above her. She looked up. The torchlight bounced off several beady little eyes, and leathery wings stretched wide.
"Yeeeep!" she squealed, backpedaling.
The bats dropped from the ceiling and fluttered, brushing against her with moist wings. Libby screamed and flailed with the torch, felt it impact one or two of them. "Sky! Skylar!"
"Here, Libby, here." He grabbed her hand, pulled her to the doorway. Something tangled in her hair. Libby dropped the torch and screamed again, slapping around her head. Skylar shoved her through the door and clambered through himself. The bats followed them out, wings flapping loudly in her ears.
"Come on, Libby, run!"

Monday, April 1, 2013

Burns the Fire - Prologue

I made the mistake of telling Mrs. Monday that I felt a little like some of the explorers I read about in the old History books. She told me I should consider writing down all of our adventures so everyone could read about them, and maybe we would become famous. She even scrounged up enough paper and sewed together a little notebook for me to write in, so I kind of feel like I have to do it now.
But I don't really feel like an adventurer. I feel scared.
That night we left Shandor Rei was awful. We barely cleared the airdocks when other airships popped up in pursuit. They didn't fire on us or anything, just put-putted after. Hez tried every trick he could think of and finally lost them in the evening fog over the Shandor river.
Skylar disappeared as soon as it was safe, and I found him curled up in one of the cabins crying. It was a horrible thing. I could almost hear his heart breaking.
It made me think of Brick and Hamlet. I vaguely remember when Hamlet showed up at the library—he was this scrawny kid who Needle caught breaking into the kitchen. Of course it's ironic that he grew up to become our cook. I thought Needle would have scrubbed the love of the kitchen out of him, since for the first six months he stayed with us, his chore was doing the dishes. Brick was one of the many kids Needle brought home from Digory Street, but he was just as special as anyone.
I really miss them both.
No, that's a ridiculous understatement. The truth is that if Skylar wasn’t here with me, I don't think I'd be able to hold myself together.
And then there's the forest.
All my life I've dreamed of running away and finding the forest. I wanted to sit in a mossy tree and play my flute. Skylar lost his limbs because he saved me from wild dogs when I tried to run away to the forest.
We landed in the bunker that morning. We hovered and let Skylar down on a rope ladder, then he went behind the waterfall and opened it so Hez could fly right into the bunker. That was so awesome! I managed to sneak away as Mrs. Monday organized the rest of the kids to gather their things—I suppose having adults around comes in handy sometimes—and went back outside.
The trees stretched on forever, all dark and shadowy. I could barely hear the wind because everything rustled—even the grass under my feet didn't feel soft and velvety like all the books said it was, but coarse and prickly. I didn't like it. It felt too closed in, too stuffy. At least in Shandor Rei I could see the sky.
The only familiar thing was the smell—kind of musty and damp, almost like a few of the Library rooms. When I started to go back to the bunker, I heard a distant howl, and the hair on the back of my neck prickled, and I ran back as fast as I could.
I miss the city. I don't think I'm going to like it here. I feel like my life is going up in flames all around me, and I can't do anything to stop it.