Chapter 1: Providence Edofasia, Western Continent Day 1; 0 miles travelled
The strange looking artefact looked almost alien. It consisted of a few pieces of stone, coarse and grey-brown on the outside, but with odd missing chips revealing a crystalline, iridescent inside. The stones were connected by gears, also stone, but with occasional wood pegs accounting for structural imperfections. They attached to a metallic framework which ran through the whole object. The cogs interlocked and spun as one smoothly, as if they had been kept clean and oiled.
“Impossible”, Jonah muttered to himself as he inspected the unearthly find. He glanced over at the gap between the rocks in the cave wall which he had pulled it from, having forced it open with the force of his pick-axe as wielded by his reasonable might. He glanced back to the gadget. His eyes rocked back and forth at least another half-dozen times as his brain slowly worked, grinding along as the clockwork in his hand should be given that it was literally buried in a natural rock formation moments ago. It would be impossible for somebody to put it there any point within the last million years or so, at least with conventional technology, and it certainly couldn’t have been oiled or greased. His head hurt.
He walked to the other side of the cave and perched on a low rock. He had gone down a small side cavern, tucked away down the side of the cliff-face his team was currently working at, isolating himself so that the others – his colleagues, co-workers, call them what you want – weren’t present. It was just he, himself and him, Jonah Northlane, alone, holding a trinket with no name. He spun the gears once more, with a little more force, and noticed that they didn’t seem to stop spinning unless he stuck his finger in, to which they would halt with little argument.
As he watched the gears, spinning them and stopping them over and over, his mind started to drift. When you work for the Edofasian Miner’s Union, and spend your life grafting away deep underground for various sorts of stones and rocks, swinging axes and shovelling soil, thinking and doing become separate processes in your mind. Daydreaming is a way to stay sane. This, however, wasn’t any daydreaming. This was something else. He cast his mind to the lavish lives he’d seen of the Edofasian elite, and those rich easterners, all of them living off of some great invention, or some wonderful discovery-
The gears in his hands stopped at a finger as the gears in his head clicked into place. His face lit up. It almost seemed stupid, to think something so grand could just fall out of a rock and into his lap, and yet here he was, holding a ticket out of his dead-end life. And sure, living in Edofasia was fine. He was guaranteed work for as long as nutjobs like Dr. Diels needed labourers, or for as long as the unions created, or rather demanded that low-skill work be made available, but he was paid only enough to survive and little more and the life he survived for was downright miserable. Forty-hour workweeks at an uncommon minimum, bland gruel twice a day, grim work and no way up or out without dying of thirst, hunger, or being jailed or shot.
Until today. Everything changed today.
The smile which had grown on his face suddenly disappeared. He had to hold himself together. “I won’t get ahead of myself”, he spoke to himself in a low and slow tone, almost as if he were scolding a child. He set down the thing in a corner of the cave by his lamp, setting the gears spinning out of an idle curiosity to see how long they’d spin for, and returning to work. He had an entire wall of slate to pull down by the end of the working day. As he toiled away, he had intended to glance back at the cogwheels occasionally, but practically immediately he slipped back into his pickaxe swinging trance.
Hours passed, slate was bagged, bags were thrown in a cart, and the workday came to an end. Jonah went to collect his lamp and his… object.
The gears were still spinning. After literal hours, they hadn’t slowed. If anything, they had sped up. The points about which they spun, connected to the metal framework, seemed to glow from the heat caused by the friction. The crystalline inside slightly glowed also. Holding the artefact out flat, the centrifugal force from the largest and most central of its cogs made it slightly resist being upturned. Yet still, a simple finger in the works stopped it all dead.
The thought of it was intoxicating. He began to giggle. The giggle turned into a hearty chuckle, and the hearty chuckle collapsed under its own weight to give way to a boisterous, howling laughter. “I’m done! I’m so fucking done! I’m finished in these shitholes! I’m-“
“Is something fucking funny in here, Northlane?” His foreman, a short, broad and bearded man nicknamed Goblin, walked into the small cavern. He spoke with a curious accent, primarily south Edofasian but with a strong Candanadian influence. “I don’t pay you to giggle. See you’ve had this wall down, though.”
Jonah’s eyes widened. He caught his laughter, substituting it for an exaggerated cough while he discreetly slipped the artefact into his cart, between the slate bags. “Sorry sir. It was a bit dusty down here. Must’ve gotten at my lungs."
Goblin’s bushy eyebrows furrowed, wrinkling his large forehead. His large mouth and its wide lips turned down. “We’re mining slate, Northlane.”
“I know.” Jonah took up a weak attempt at a reassuring smile.
“Slate has to be one of the cleanest things we can mine.” Goblin started to slowly walk further towards Jonah.
“I’ve been coughing for a while.” Jonah threw another fake cough in, although Goblin wasn’t convinced. “Need to see the medic.”
“Medic’s not on-site at the minute. Gone to see the, ah, Production Commissar” He spoke the title in a mocking tone. “Another thing, Northlane: what’s that you just put in your cart when I came in?” When Jonah was taken aback by the question, Goblin smirked. "Didn't think I'd notice, eh?"
“Bullshit, it looked like a piece of patchwork sandstone or something.” He waddled over to the cart, pushing a protesting Jonah out of the way and pulling it out to inspect himself. “What the fuck is this?” He shot a powerful glare at Jonah.
Jonah rubbed the back of his neck, staring at the floor. He really wanted to punch Goblin square in his little bastard pig snout. “It’s a good luck charm, sir. Handcrafted by a family member, I carry it on the job.”
Goblin took out a glass eyepiece from a pocket behind his dungarees and began to closely inspect the trinket. “How comes nobody had it off you at the security checkpoint this morning then?” He rotated the cogs slowly, watching how they connected, trying to discern their function. Jonah swallowed a lump in his throat.
“Guess the security boys know me well enough by now.” A nervous laugh escaped his mouth.
Goblin’s face turned sour. “Bastards get paid more than me and can’t do their jobs right.” He threw the curious object onto the floor at Jonah’s feet before leaving again. “How long has this been going on for? Actually, fuck you. Haven't got time. I shall have to report this failure now, wont I? I fucking love paperwork, don’t I?” Goblin started to waddle out of the cave, cursing under his breath.
“Sorry.” Jonah said quietly.
Goblin shouted back as he left. “Sit on a dick.”
As soon as Goblin was out of earshot, Jonah sighed the most intense sigh of relief he had ever had in his entire pathetic life. He was certain for a moment that it would be confiscated, or worse, destroyed. He bent down and picked it up, inspecting it and failing to find any physical damage. The clockwork still spun as if it were magical. For what it meant to Jonah Northlane, it might as well have been. He still couldn’t believe that it was all real.
Then again, he was never one to question providence.