Intermission: Tales from Cliffside – Steamworks 5

I began to feel the pressure in my bones. The weight of the million tonnes of City pressing down on the pipes and wheels and cogs of the machine, all struggling to contain the furious flames hidden in the Boiler. I could hear the blood dripping into the gears, oiling the machine like a divine offering. I could feel the pipes bulging, desperate to burst and release their struggling charge. The smell of the crucible began to intoxicate me — the burning coal stinging my lungs like needles, as the air around me grasped at my neck with burning fingers, eager to crush the life from my throat. And still I worked harder, throwing more and more coal into the crucible. I was like a madman, running about the room, doing the work of three men.

They tell me it was Peeks who stopped me from throwing the barrel of water on the coals–I have no memory of that day. The difference in temperature could have caused the Boiler to explode, and we all would have had our flesh melted off in the raging torrent of steam. I heard the Foreman honoring Peeks as a hero as I was led away. I do not, for I hear the whistle.

The whistle! The foul whistle shrieking again and again, and I know that what I hear when the pipes shriek and bang is not mere boiled water, pushing against the metal. I know the Web like my home, and I know what it contains.

Such a pretty picture we tell ourselves about the way of the world. We say the glory of our civilization is paid for by oil and steam, wood and steel; but this is not the only fuel that our cities need. We pay in sweat and blood. We sacrifice our children to craft idols and temples to brass gods, in hopes that our life will remain comfortable. We work our whole lives in the machine — and we cannot stop. Jugs of wine and rolls of silk float across the seas, while people march across the land like ants, exploring, exploiting, conquering, and above all, moving. Like any machine, if we stop we are useless. The wheels of progress must keep moving, or everything will fall apart. Industry will collapse, food will rot in warehouses, while clothing will be eaten away by moths.

And so we work, plot, sweat, fight, drink, and never ever stop, to keep the engine running. And our masters, they keep the pressure high to make us move faster, fueling the insatiable hunger of Civilization. And it is not just the Areos Vitae that mixes with the water to fuel the City. It is not just our blood and sweat that greases the wheels of the engine. It must claim our souls as well. We who die here, among the gears and boilers of the Steamworks, as our souls take flight to the hereafter they must be caught in the spider’s web. The swirling Aether that fills our blood and bones becomes trapped, bottled, and sealed tightly in an inescapable pit of fire, boiling and fueling the lives of the millions who live above us. We will never leave the Steamworks — can never leave. We are here, forever and eternal.

And when the whistle screams, it is not the reed quivering in the flow of fierce steam, but the last scream you shall ever give, mingled with the screams of those who died before you. A final cry of pain and helplessness to the world you left long ago, mistaken by the remaining living slaves as a call to eat.


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