Concept Art Writing Prompt: The City Made of Gears

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There are eight million stories in the Clockwork City; will you write one of them? This week's Concept Art Writing Prompt is all about location, location. Can you come up with a brief story set in this city of endlessly turning gears?

This bit of mad urbanism was created by video game concept artist Daniel Dociu, via Dark Roasted Blend. This time there are no ready-made characters to play with, just a mechanical setting. If it inspires you, post your story in the comments.

Here's my tale from the City of Gears:

Pinter wasn't worried when the gears stopped, at least not at first. Interruptions in service weren't common, but they happened, usually when a foreign dignitary was in town and needed some extra time to get his motorcade from one gear to the next. He checked the clock, tracking how late he would be. But by the time the bell rang, signaling the end of Cross-Cultural Communications and the beginning of Applied Biomechanics, he began to tick his stylus against his tablet. He felt something small and sharp graze his cheek and skitter onto his desk. He picked it up and examined it: a small, chewed off fingernail. He whipped around to see Sashay Liang glaring at him, jabbing a ragged finger into the air.

"Stop that tapping," she hissed. Of course, she didn't have a tablet to tap on. None of the kids in his form did, relying instead on goggles — or even contact lens — that reacted to the barely conscious flutter of their eyes. And she didn't have to worry about getting to Niven Gear at the end of the day. In fact, Pinter would wager his meager life's savings that no one in his form had ever been to Niven Gear, not when they could comfortably slum it on the Teeth.

Mr. Nguyen was predictably late for Ancient Programming Languages, and the usual chatter flickered across Pinter's tablet screen: "Nguyen will he get here?" "If he doesn't show, Nguyen can we blow this place?" "Not if, but Nguyen." A figure appeared in the doorway, but instead of Mr. Nguyen, a stack of battered TeraBoxes spilling from his arms, it was Madame Dufresne. She made eye contact with Pinter and he rose, hugging his tablet to his chest.

"We had an airship crash, the debris lodged itself right between the Teeth of Pratchett and Resnick." Pinter watched the wrinkles around her mouth crease and increase as she spoke, barely registering her words. But when she told him they wouldn't have the gears up and running until tomorrow, his vision went fuzzy and blue. "It's to get us all back on the proper schedule," she explained. "They'll turn them back on at the precise time they went off today."

"How far are we from Niven's Meet?" he asked, fighting the urge to let his legs sway beneath him.

"A hundred and seventeen degrees," she said.

A hundred and seventeen degrees! Pratchett was the largest gear in their set, and it would take him half a day to get that far on foot. He suddenly wished he'd invested in a magbike instead of buying that pricey vegetable frother. "What about the commuters?" he asked.

"Most of the businesses are putting them up in capsules. We can reserve one for you, too." She frowned. "But you'd probably rather stay with one of your form-mates, wouldn't you?"

Pinter glanced inside the classroom, watching his form-mates snigger across technology so expensive and slick, it might as well be telepathy. He looked back at Madame Dufresne, trying on a warm smile. "Right," he chuckled, "of course. Don't worry about me."

When he returned to his desk, he checked the contents of his pack: two mochi cakes he'd neglected to eat that morning while waiting for Niven to meet the Tooth closest to his school, a pairing knife, a pullover, and a bottle of kombucha he'd poured of his culture the night before. He'd have to tell his mom that the school had gotten him a capsule; no sense in worrying her. But it would just be one night in the biggest, richest gear in the set. What was the worst that could happen?