Noise? You Call this Noise? (part two)
Another shaper, then a third one; and here, space beckoned, wide-open space that had me searching with the 'torch' so as to find the wall and stay the specified distance from it, this so as to stay clear of trouble. I could tell there were other carts full of rubbish in the area, and my thinking was that said rubbish needed to find other places to roost in, like the jugs of wine and strong drink the escaping witches were fortifying themselves with; a drunken state so needed by these terrified people, as they dealt with the terror of night-flight against an oncoming army of hardened thugs at their backs and a waiting assortment of nearly-as-hardened assailants at every direction of the compass.
I did find the wall – finally – after first dodging an obvious surface grinder of some kind that was sitting next to a workbench. This last was small in size and filthy with congealed grease of some kind, and an empty bucket, this tinged with rust where it was not coated thickly with slime, seemed the sole sign of import in this area near the wall. I hurried on, this with Sarah in tow, for now I was among machines that were both larger in size and far less obvious as to function beyond 'they're most likely NC machining centers of some kind' and 'I wonder what we can do with them, as that sextant is mostly going to need other tools'.
“Another of those tools you need to see today is in a room accessed by the first door on your right,” said the soft voice, “and these machines you're passing through right now were the ones which received the most use by that expert witch and those he had personally recruited from the green area.”
“And all these strange colors?” I asked. Nearly every color of the fabled rainbow was present, if I went by what I had seen thus far. “Color-coded machines?”
“More like 'whatever color we can get in quantity that will work', if the machine needed painting when they got it,” said the soft voice. “Most of these machines were in 'good' to new condition, so they did not need painting, and they concentrated on those things that needed their attention, like dealing with the parts that 'higher' listed as being priorities.”
I stopped in my tracks, for here, I not only found a low-walled 'sandbox' suitable for running a small foundry, but also two slime-coated anvils on strange red-painted plinths; a shelf braced by iron brackets, this laden with obvious crucibles; grease-slimed tongs and other foundry tools, these hung from 'pegs' on the wall in some profusion; and a pair of crucible furnaces, with all of these tools and the 'sandbox' overhung by a sizable rectangular 'fume hood' supported by thin and spidery-looking trelliswork at each of its four corners. I looked up from below into the far-distant center of this huge sheet-metal trapezoid, and saw what might have been a sizable fan some distance above the 'roof', this in a round duct big enough to crawl inside.
“There is such a fan, which is another reason why you need to run that engine today,” said the soft voice. “There will then be enough light in here – at least in many places – to actually see where you are going without needing a 'battery torch'.”
“Not nearly enough to work, though,” I murmured, as I got 'out' of the 'sandbox' and shown my light around its edges so that Sarah could move the cart about it. She needed to dodge more machines in the process, and when she actually met me, she said, “that must be the door there, as that wall over there is right next to its frame.”
I went to the metal-framed gray-painted door, seeing the round spherical 'doorknob', and wondering if I should merely touch it or 'search' for traps. My hand hovered near the black metal knob, and as I moved my gloved fingers closer, I wondered for an instant: was this a lard-painted knob?
“No,” I thought, as my fingers hovered an inch away and I seemed to 'feel' the complex mechanism. “This thing may be a knob, but the lock itself is not inside it.” A closer 'look', and the area around the door's frame, as well as the door within roughly a foot of the knob, went gauzy to show a rack-and-pinion mechanism with two sizable bolts and some corroded-into-dust electronic mechanisms.
There was no keyhole; this was once a cursed door, most likely, and it would only respond to a touch such as mine. My hand grasped the doorknob.
Faintly, the door shuddered, then with a soft groan, the cursed electronics 'jammed' the locking solenoids into their 'opened' position, and the knob moved obediently under my soft touch with some faint rattling noises to finish with a final soft clicking noise.
Or so I thought until the knob came adrift in my hand and the door swung open to then dump a pile of rust and dirt upon the floor.
With such a happening, I became wary for traps. It had become a reflex, or so I guessed, and I walked inside, slow steps at first, 'listening' and 'feeling'. I could feel nothing, for some reason, and two steps later, I turned where I stood to see the door slowly swaying in an unseen wind, much as if it had been 'hung out to dry' by an enraged mob.
“Thing's like an eggshell,” I muttered. “The door had some cursed electronics...”
“They were notionally cursed,” said the soft voice, “and they needed an electronic device to open. That device was taken by the Mistress of the North, and with the deep-hole's passing, those notional curses lost their most-feeble hold – and that 'piece of junk' finally fell apart like it had been wanting to do for the last several hundred years.”
“No traps, then,” I said.
While I heard no speech on the matter, the sense I had was that my question was the truth, and I turned once more. Three steps, and I found myself entirely mystified: the walls that showed in the beam of my 'torch' as I played it about rapidly as I walked slowly forward showed were but narrow strips to my right. Below that narrow strip was a grease-slimed countertop. That grease vanished briefly in a small place to my right to show glossy white paint.
No, not paint. This was the true surface: hard; scratch-proof, or as close as this region could make it; resistant to stains and chemicals; dust-repelling, or as close as they could make it using their efforts and that knowledge they could purchase or steal; and above all, lasting, as was appropriate for a realm that was once thought a 'clean room' of sorts and hence needed constant and thorough cleaning with harsh solvents and much effort.
The grease had been applied, not to preserve it, but to prove to those the Mistress of the North had 'taken by main force' that they were indeed hers.
“Yes, for that countertop,” said the soft voice. “She had them apply it to everything, as that woman wished to fully force into their minds that she indeed owned them, and that meant painstaking application of that grease to everything she wished them to 'paint' – and nothing close to what she thought of as slacking would be permitted.”
“Slacking?” I asked. I wondered about my more-recent uses of that word now. Did that make me a witch, now that I had heard of the Mistress of the North's use of it?
“She used those marked people she had encountered as an example of 'how to do things correctly', said the soft voice, “and given that she had studied for two years in Vrijlaand as a girl, she knew how they could work and what thoroughness really meant – or so she thought, based on what she saw then and later.”
“That witch was not marked, was she?” asked Sarah.
“No, but she was around marked people a fair amount, and she had employed several of them for a number of years,” said the soft voice. “She was observant, and she was intelligent, and she did keep close watch upon everyone and everything, as was needful in that time and place if you were that high in the power structure.”
Above the countertop, however, once one went about two feet up from its greasy surface, noticing in the process the white-painted slickness of the wall and its round black power sockets – one found glass fronted metal cabinets, these in a monolithic structure fronted by black metal frames and a frosted coating upon that glass that hid their contents from prying eyes.
At least, most prying eyes. When I looked at them, the frosting vanished, and I saw their contents, this being 'precision measuring tools' of a type I but vaguely recognized. I had seen things like them before, but the heft of these tools, as well as their nature, demanded sturdy cabinets and a well-prepared user so as to cope with their substantial size and mass.
Below the countertop, however, were drawers, these in long rows and columns of four, all of them secured with round locks. I had a key that ignored such locks, so I left them to their current hiding and looked at that which was important that I see now, which was on my left as I walked.
These were machines, impossibly close-packed machines, machines of such nature that I wondered more than a little as to their exact purpose beyond 'they use electronics of some kind' and 'I think they're user-programmable'. I received an answer, which speeded my steps as I led Sarah down the narrow aisle of this larger-than-it-seemed room.
“Outside are the general-purpose machines,” said the soft voice. “In here is where you'll be doing most of the work on that sextant and those things needing similar levels of precision.”
“The gears?” I asked.
“The center shaper is the most precise of the three you have seen thus far,” said the soft voice. “It can rough them out prior to stress-relieving and 'partial' heat-treating.” A pause, then, “the one in here – I looked to my left, wondering if I could see it where I was walking – can finish them to final size after full heat-treating, and another machine among those in this room can then lap all of those gears to A+++ grade after 'chilling' them – which is none too good for a three-ringed sextant, especially the way they were originally intended to be made by Vrijlaand.”
I made a quick circuit of the room, this time seeing an obvious difference compared to those of their kind I had previously seen: similar in concept, somewhat smaller size, covered entirely in torment-grease – that was the same in here as outside – a palpable aura of 'exceeding precision', one well-beyond that I recalled feeling when in that one small air-conditioned 'clean room' at that one aircraft plant I had worked in – and then, a level of complexity to their programing that I might well find daunting. I began looking for clues, this with my 'torch's' beam focused for its very tightest cone, and the power turned up 'all the way'.
“Probably like doing assembler for one of those, uh, really complex processors – the ones that had weird instructions, variable length instruction and data words, dozens of possible memory accessing modes, multiple...”
“You ain't seen nothin' yet,” said the soft voice. “Wait until you 'get onto' one of those computers overseas. Then you'll see what these are like.” A pause, then, “they're a lot easier to use than you might think, also.”
“Easier?” I was thinking of one particular computer that was supposedly easy to use, but had proven to be totally baffling to me – and that in ways far beyond my comprehension. It had not helped that my first experience with one of them had caused the machine to 'lock up solid' – which meant cycling the power switch and then allowing it to 'come back up'. It was commendably quick, which was a plus.
“You'll be very surprised,” said the soft voice. “I do promise you that – you'll be very surprised, and more, pleasantly surprised.”
I could find no clues in the form of symbols, which meant they had either been removed by someone who had been here before me, or that they were well hidden in the 'techno-jungle' to my left.
“There are symbols present on these machines, but you'll need time to find them that you do not have today,” said the soft voice. “Just continue your circuit around the room, glancing at machines and other things in here as you think wise, and then hurry out the door – as there's one more machine you need to see in here before you will be guided to those tools you need to pick up today.”
Completing the circuit – I was finding myself deceived again by its size; it had looked small at first glance, I knew it to be larger than it looked, and I was now finding the true depth and width of my initial impressions – had me notice but little about it, for I could not feel a compelling need to hurry at this time. I could notice other things, however, and that was a prime distraction, even as I left the 'clean-room' and its machinery behind a carefully 'almost-closed' door:
The others were close to finishing, with this current load of bags being such that but one more load of similar size remained to be carried out to the Upper Alley.
Several more marked people had been discretely recruited by Gustav, and they were helping with the matters of transport.
More, two of these people had gloves, brooms, and 'burn-clothing' over what they regularly wore, and they were sweeping aside the shot and debris such that a path was cleared through it for the carts to run readily and the areas close to the walls of the passage were now piled an inch or more deep in some places.
They were deeper yet as a rule; the mixture of shattered concrete, going-to-rust accursed mine parts, and rough-edged wolfram pellets had proven sufficiently obdurate that those sweeping had worked uncommonly hard. The fact that their brooms were 'tossers' which would be burned later tonight in 'warming fires' had something to do with their required labors.
I wanted to keep my broom, as that thing had a lot of ammunition left in it. I wondered if it were wise to take it on the trip, in fact, and I hoped I would get an answer beyond 'better to have and not need than to need and not have'. I knew what that meant, and the obvious answer to such a thought.
We did need to watch our weight, at least to some extent, though the amount we needed to take for this particular 'expedition' was daunting. I figured on sizable meals for five people for three weeks at the very least, with ample amounts added for 'guests' – as we would have guests, and more, these people would be hungry.
With a clear path, the carts now rode smoother, and their loads tended to 'remain', hence less rope was needed to secure the bags to them, and another layer of such bags was possible. That sped matters up some.
What sped matters up yet more were what the supernumerary individuals were carrying: at least one had brought a turned-down fourth kingdom lantern, this fueled with some of Hans' most-recent aquavit for 'best burning'. He was really wanting good containers for the stuff now, as eating grass in hell had really woken him up – and it had done yet more to Anna.
I wondered what she would be like: would she now be an avenging Valkyrie in truth? An Empress indeed, this of something I could not name? It made for curiosity, which was another potent distraction from what I needed to see in the 'techno-jungle' I was now circling in the outer room. I was brought back to the present by the soft voice's speech.
“They've actually got two more loads after they finish offloading their current one, which they are putting closer to the outer doorway,” said the soft voice. “More, Paul and Willem are within two miles of the place, and their horses have rested well since their last hay deliveries.”
“That means we have perhaps twenty minutes before they show here,” said Sarah, “and it will...”
“They will show about full-dark,” said the soft voice, as I now hurried along the aisle between rows of machines. The one machine I needed to yet see today was ahead, it being just past the corner of the wall facing north and the wall facing west, and as I passed through rows of machines, I scarcely took note of them, save if I saw something unusual. Only when I passed another door did I think to ask what was behind it. Between the two of these doors and against the wall, I had seen a pair of going-to-rust metal racks mounded with spreading rust and crusting slag, and I knew those to be some of the cursed metals that the place had once had.
“The three north-wall doors are each to rooms where welding was done,” said the soft voice, “and each of those rooms has at least one welding machine in it.” A pause, then, “the west-most room has an automated welding machine in it, which the witches could never figure out how to use as they received no manuals or programming tools with it.”
“N-no manuals?” I asked. I knew something about 'programming tools'.
“They most likely stole it,” said Sarah. “That, or that one stinky witch...”
“That machine was purchased, as was most of what is in here, by the Mistress of the North using a large number of wide-ranging intermediaries over a period of nearly three years – and she killed that man personally when she learned that he had furnished the machine without either a tutorial program, its programming software, or its documentation.”
“He stole it, then,” said Sarah.
“No, he got it from that one stinker,” said the soft voice, “and while that witch did steal the machine, he held out on the documentation for more money, and that particular intermediary didn't have enough money after buying the machine to pay its true price – which was the cost Imhotep demanded for both the machine and the software and documentation to make it do more than waste electrical power.”
A pause, then, “the Mistress of the North had cautioned him carefully about dealing with Imhotep and his ways, but she did not figure on Imhotep having the only readily available example and the lack of sophistication her chosen intermediary displayed.”
Another pause, then, “of course, Imhotep knew all about both her desire for that machine and her chosen 'vassal' not being up to dealing with him, so he took advantage to the full.”
“What happened to him?” asked Sarah. She meant the intermediary.
“He paid in full as a Disgrace, with his head used for cursing and his body going up in smoke on her private altar, as was fitting for a particularly hated enemy,” said the soft voice. “Then, the Mistress of the North attempted to buy that documentation from Imhotep directly – and that caused much of the trouble she actually experienced.” A pause, then, “she was too busy to dance to Imhotep's tune, and she paid the price for her 'idiocy'.”
As if to anticipate both of our questions as I meandered westward, glancing right and left to see more rusting racks mounded at their bottoms with rust and 'slag', the soft voice resumed: “when she came with the money he demanded, he did the following:
“He first smashed the software devices needed to use the machine with his blood-soaked knobbed death-club.”
“Secondly, he set fire to the printed documentation with a chanted rune-curse and caused the smoke from its burning to coat her body with soot, so as to call to her attention his utmost power and her impotence in his presence.”
“Thirdly, to show his rage in particular, he cursed her with a most-potent curse, its goals these: that she never would use that particular machine, and more, that she fail in all of her ultimate goals.”
“And finally, he did all of this at spitting distance, his shotgun full-loaded and pointed at her chest the entire time he spoke unto her as if she were his witch-puppet – and for that brief time, she was indeed a witch-puppet, and he was her master.”
A pause, then, “that curse collection he called down upon her, unlike most curses she'd encountered, even by witches of his supposed capacity, actually came to pass precisely as he had uttered it; and more, he lived to see it come to pass in its entirety – and he celebrated her growing misfortune with malice and gloating during the whole of her time of failure, and he recalled all he did to her with fondness until the very day of his 'death'.”
“She was never able to use the machine?” I gasped.
“No, as getting copies of that documentation during wartime – from one of their chief enemies, no less – proved impossible,” said the soft voice. “There's one difference today, though.”
“Which is?” asked Sarah.
“Where you are going not merely has many such machines,” said the soft voice, “but can readily provide the needed documents and their many updates and addenda, the updated and improved software, and the parts needed to update it to the most-current specification – which will make it a vastly more-capable machine in general, as well as significantly easier to use.”
“Which would explain why they could not get that documentation,” I muttered, as I passed door number two. Within were at least two welders, and possibly three, as these welding rooms were not small; more, the machines to each side – lathes, mills, grinders...
“That is a very large grinder,” I muttered with outstretched hand to draw attention to the machine in question – as I passed a machine nearly twice my height and eight paces long, with a width proportionate to its size, if I used the other grinders of that particular style I had seen in this room for its proportions. “What did they use it for?”
“Surface plates of various sizes, at least before it came here,” said the soft voice. “If you need to make more of those things, bring them here and that machine will make short work of them.”
“Will they, uh, need finishing by hand?” I asked.
“No more than your current ones currently need,” said the soft voice. “They'll come off usable if you do your part in running it, but if you want them anywhere close to 'sextant grade', they'll need a measure of hand-finishing.”
“How usable would they be otherwise?” I asked.
“About as good as your current three are,” said the soft voice. “I'd pinpoint those once you get back from that trip, as your skill has improved enough to make it worth the bother and you'll need them to be much better than they are currently to do that sextant.”
“You could sell those three things you have and name your price,” said Sarah. “They're as good a set as any I have seen, including those I saw like them at the Heinrich works, and I suspect they'd get three 'X' marks were they examined by those who look much at such things.”
“Those people use a much-repaired and somewhat modified much-earlier version of this machine you see here,” said the soft voice, “which means a lot more hand-work on their part to get their plates adequately flat.” A pause, then, “you could do much of the work you have planned for your lathe here, in fact, but I'd not bother beyond rough-cleaning and stress-relieving the castings you end up doing for it.”
“Wh-why?” I asked, as I passed 'door number three' – where the long-dead 'monster' lay. “Because there's better to be had for equipment, or I'll be buried too deep for work, or...”
While there was no answer, the northwest corner seemed perhaps twenty feet distant, as my eyes seemed to have finally gotten used to the 'logic' behind the layout of this crammed-to-capacity 'forest' of machines. The witches were probably intending to use this place to rebuild their world from the ruins surrounding it, and the Mistress of the North had anticipated the near-annihilation of the where and the when of her youth.
“No, not quite, even if she strongly suspected that this entire area would be heavily damaged and a lot of her people would die,” said the soft voice. “Otherwise, you are right, even if this location wasn't the only one she 'stocked' in this fashion.”
“There were others? Others like this one?” I asked, as I came to another much-smaller furnace. This one too had a cast bronze nameplate spelling out the dread name of 'I. A .Topf', much as did the larger example we had seen earlier; and while it too had a fuel drum, this example had not seen nearly the use of the other, if I went by the lack of stains on the floor around it and the lack of soot present on the furnace in general.
The other had its share of soot stains on it, which made a thorough overhaul seem a wise idea. I did not wish to bake in here if I used the place, especially given the two instances of 'baking' I had endured since coming here.
“Almost no use, in fact,” said the soft voice. “The heat-treating furnaces were electrical, and you passed them on your left somewhere between doors one and two.”
“It has an anvil,” said Sarah. “They must have used that some.”
“Yes, to straighten bad workpieces after welding them wrongly,” said the soft voice. “These people may have been passable machinists at the least, but they were not welders as a rule, and much of what they did that way proved to be scrap, save for the work of a mere handful of otherwise very busy witches.”
We left anvil and furnace behind, and turned left, this time passing more machines. I could see a huge and hulking device ahead, and somehow, I knew it to be the last machine I needed to see today. This one was of dire importance, as it would need to be used a lot in the future.
“Probably need to use it to make the sextant,” I murmured, as I drew steadily closer to what was obviously a vertical-spindle lathe. This had Sarah gasping, then a soft screech:
“Will you make plug-doors for jewelers with that thing?”
“Not sure, dear,” I said, as I drew closer. “My, that thing is bigger than I thought.”
“It's also nearly precise enough to be included in that one room,” said the soft voice, “so you can mostly do the slots and other things that sextant will need in its main frame.” A pause, then, “I would do what additions you think of when you help Sarah draw it up, as some will occur to you.”
“As in the frame needs a far greater degree of rigidity, and using what is called 'best grade brass' is asking for trouble?” I asked. “Needs some stiffening ribs on the back side? Something closer to tempered steel for its frame, at least as to strength and hardness?”
“I think you're right,” said Sarah. “I've heard of what happens when those things are done for appearances rather than use, and I've seen sailors toss them on account of them binding their rings.”
The machine's controller cabinet was hard-by the beginning of a long benchtop, this having drawers below and glass-fronted cabinets above and a narrow strip of wall separating the two; and when I showed my torch along the bottom of the cabinet-row, I was rewarded by the existence of a number of those thermos-bottle lamps, each in a still-shiny white-painted reflector. This whole ensemble was lightly greased, however, and as I walked along this impossibly-long seeming path, I could feel, this clearly, the presence of what tools I needed to either look at or actually take home.
“Inserts, tooling for them – small ones, those suitable for those automatics,” I thought, “and then some of the small tool-sets for lathes, and finally, some precision measuring tools, including what passes for outside and inside micrometers and a dial bore gage.”
“Better get some real dial indicators, also,” said the soft voice, “along with their hardware for attaching them to various surfaces.”
The first drawer that had me notice it was outlined faintly in blue haze, and it was in the rough middle of this long row of cabinets. Inside it, I found two complete sets of 'Starrett-grade' micrometers, these going from the one-inch one I had found earlier all the way up to seven inches – and as I slipped one of the sets in one of the bags Sarah had provided, I had an intimation: these were the best measuring tools to be had during that then, and beating them for accuracy was not an easy task today.
A glance at one spoke of not merely them using 'old style units', but in the case of the set I took out, what I found on the one-to-two inch unit, instead of :
“State Manufacturing Plant # 37, Design 41, Revision C, intercepted.”
Was the following:
To see such things as this symbol-collection meant for such confusion on my part that I found myself mystified, at least until Sarah spoke about what I had just found. I was now looking for the other tools, these being in this general area for measuring devices and perhaps eight to ten drawers down for inserts and cutting tools.
“You know what you just found?” she asked. I was looking for other things, moving through the drawers steadily, one at a time in each row of four. It took me perhaps ten seconds per drawer, and in most of these drawers, there were things I would eventually use. “Those were made in Vrijlaand, as that was their writing.”
“It was?” I asked. I'd closed another drawer and opened the second one in the group. I looked to my left, hoping to find another marker, and instead, an eerie sensation took ahold of me. I needed to do what I was doing, as these drawers had a lot of things I needed, more than I had initially suspected. I then needed to hear some sovereign advice on the set of tools I had just 'impressed', and I paused in my searching to listen.
“You will wish to be especially careful with those,” said the soft voice, “as they not only have twenty vernier positions – they have vernier positions that go about the whole of the barrel, in fact, but they do not have twenty-five major divisions per turn.” A pause, then, “that grade was intended for aerospace work at their special shops, and hence they had ten units per turn, not twenty-five as was the type they shared with where you are going.”
“Twenty for the vernier and ten thousands per turn of the little thimble on the end?” I asked. I wanted to say 'Thank You' regarding the micrometers I had found, as they all had the special ratchet-thimble on the end. Those meant consistent measurements with fumble-fingered people like me.
“Figure that you will get down to a tenth of a tenth with those, or ten micro-inches,” said the soft voice. “That's the minimum level of accuracy you need to make a three-ring sextant do what it was originally designed to do – and better than that does not hurt the device's performance.”
“Which was?” I asked. This was regarding the intended use of such a tool. “Not give cartographers a good read from solar observations on the surface of a planet, but something, uh, a bit more precise?”
“Try 'a lot more precise',” said the soft voice. “The device called a 'sextant' here was originally intended for space use to locate by means of using 'fixed' – as in relatively slow-moving – landmarks, and it had special mounting points which will occur to you as to their size and position when you make up your patterns.”
“You will wish those patterns to have removable pieces, then,” said Sarah.
“That can work if you design them correctly,” said the soft voice. I could hear the two 'f' sounds in that if, which meant 'if and only if'. It was a term made familiar in math classes I had taken. “Note that they have some chemicals across the sea that turn that sand you have in the sand-house into a material that will hold impressions far closer than it does now, and that having such sand will permit you to exercise as much care as you can without your molds crumbling and needing extensive patch-up.”
A pause, then “you will need such sand to turn out the castings needed for that sextant, among a host of other 'mission-critical' parts, and the equipment needed to condition such sand will be a crucial matter in the days to come – as that sand will be one of the many secrets needed to deal with Norden's people.”
“That sounds like some sand I used where I came from,” I murmured.
I knew Norden was but the first of many enemies we would need to deal with in a decisive manner – as in 'kill all of them and destroy utterly whatever happens to remain of wherever they lived'. Such complete ruthlessness made for an inner shudder, as I knew that that was not merely the mark of Heaven, but also doing so was regarded as coming from Hell on the planet of my origin. It showed just how evil that place truly was.
I then heard more of a crucial nature regarding the 'mundane-seeming' matter of casting sand.
“This material will make that costly stuff you used seem worthless,” said the soft voice. “This material I speak of is what you use when you wish to perform 'magic' with castings.”
“M-magic?” I asked.
“Almost no draft,” said the soft voice. “Sand that, when packed carefully against a glass-smooth and hard-surfaced pattern, becomes fully as slick as oiled glass and gives that surface to what's poured in such a mold. Sand that puts no bubbles in your castings due to escaping water vapor, and when casting steel, produces enough carbon-rich fumes to keep the surface from losing carbon.” A pause, then, “and when you do aluminum alloys here, you won't need to 'play games' to get your castings to come out the way you want them to.”
“Play games?” I asked. “What, don't tell me...”
“Aluminum here is not the same metal as it is where you came from,” said the soft voice. “It borders on being something out of science fiction, especially when alloyed properly and given suitable heat-treating regimens.”
“Transparent aluminum?” I asked.
“No, not transparent,” said the soft voice. “You already have something better than that stuff, so why ask for a transparent structural metal – a soft metal – when you have ceramics that work fully as well for toughness and beat it by miles for strength and hardness – oh, and these ceramics are both usable for medical implants and nearly impossible to scratch or otherwise damage.”
I could almost here the soft voice 'snort' about 'transparent aluminum' and 'transparent steel'. That stuff called 'clear ceramic armor' weighed less than steel – it was roughly as dense as common glass, actually – was harder than both metals, tougher than both of those metals combined, and more, was suitable for a great deal more than either of the two.
“And that's for what's in those goggles, which is an old formulation,” said the soft voice. “They have better versions now.”
I then came across another drawer, this one having no less than six 'full-Starrett' sets of micrometers in it, and in the one next to it and one step down, I found several large cases. Opening one showed a pair of glittering dial indicators with large dials, a host of small parts for attaching them to things, various tips for measuring, a long 'handle' for attaching to the device itself, and a peculiar-looking 'business end' with a 'switch' for a magnet. The small booklet on its inside cover – I had not noticed it before – had the same imprinted 'hieroglyphs' at the top as I had seen on the micrometers, and when I scanned down the pages quickly, I murmured softly as this being exactly what was needed. What I did not say, however, I knew: the next thing I was after was in the next drawer over, and I skipped right to it. Opening it up showed me a pair of metal boxes, and removing one and opening it in the light of Sarah's tent-lantern had me absolutely shocked:
“A dial-bore gage!” I shrieked.
“Go to the next drawer down, and get the small-hole version as well,” said the soft voice. “You'll want that one also, as there are some small holes needing careful gaging in both that sextant and some other things that need either measurements or checking.”
I did so, and again, the same scene played out, save instead of three heads and a number of small pegs that went in the head proper for its third leg, these had seven separate heads, the smallest of which was small enough to go in a tiny hole. It had its own special extension, this perhaps thirty thousandths of an inch in diameter and over an inch in length.
“It might not fit inside the needle of a Spraetze, but it could easily go in a five-line hole,” I murmured.
“No, smaller than that,” said the soft voice. “You'll need a fair number of precision dowels in a number of sizes, and there are grinders here capable of making them, as well as 'jig borers' capable of making the needed holes and the grinders needed to make the special reamers for finishing those holes to the correct sizes and finishes.” A pause, then, “you passed the plug-gage sets, but what you just found do all they can do save for a handful of jobs.”
That set also went in one of Sarah's bags, as did the other dial bore gage set I had found beforehand. It made me wonder about properly honing out my latest engines when it came time to make more of them.
“You're now able to make real engines, instead of those relatively crude makeshifts you've done previously,” said the soft voice, “and I would do so when and as the chance presents itself, as they will be needed where you work in the months to come.”
“Boilers, though,” I murmured. “They'll need those.”
“That design, as do your other engines, will work on compressed air, given a suitable venturi-type lubricator in the inlet line – and they have some quiet air compressors overseas.” A pause, then, “once you start doing those new-design engines, though – I would watch out.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because those people have wanted some truly capable air-motors for a lot of things, and what they have at this time in those positions is both an old design and has many problems that yours will not have.” A pause, then, “they'd like to toss what they have out of sheer frustration, in fact, and more than a few people there have called them that place's equivalent of 'Tossers'.”
Sarah looked at me as I moved to the next column over, and here I opened a drawer to find sets of calipers. While I already had one, I had a sense that these were somehow different, and the larger size of the box was a dead giveaway. When I opened one of the boxes, though, that strange-looking four-figure marking glared back at me from the mirror-gleaming material seemingly encased in a faintly whitish wax, and I asked, upon seeing a lot of added tools present in the box, “these?”
“Are about three times more accurate than the others you found earlier, which make them nearly as accurate as the micrometers you used where you came from – and no, these will both keep their zeros and not need fussing with, nor do they have parts that need replacing to truly work well.”
“Those sound like fetishes he was speaking of,” said Sarah, as I handed her two of them. I knew about how to use these for scribing, and I wondered for a moment about layout dye.
“You already have that material, and Sarah makes at least one batch of it a day,” said the soft voice. “Just add 'straight' aquavit instead of a mixture of that material and water, and perhaps a few drops of some dyes that Hans recently found that make him wish he could read the Veldter's speech, and you'll have good layout dyes.” A pause, then, “it will make that stuff you used where you came from seem an accident waiting to happen in comparison.”
“We'll need to make enough ink to tide the house-proper over while we're gone, as well as a few small vials for our own use while we're traveling,” I said. “It seems Anna now needs to learn how to use a pen and ink to write out her instructions to some people, and while she can write passably now, she's going to bother people at the house so as to learn how to do so a lot b-better.”
“Esther,” said Sarah. “Esther could teach her, if she is not too busy.”
“Is she?” I asked, as I moved three columns over. I was after the tool bits now, them and their special 'carbon' sharpening stones – which were not diamond, but another material that was nearly as hard.
“Boron carbide,” I murmured. “Is that what they are?”
“No, actually they are a species of diamond, though embedded in a very hard silicon-based matrix,” said the soft voice. “More, these come in sets, same as do the bits, and while they will need regular dunking in boiled distillate while in use so as to not load up, you'll wish both them and the graded kits of lapping compound present. Those are a species of boron carbide – boron carbide as made here, not the stuff where you came from.”
“Harder?” I asked.
“Somewhat,” said the soft voice. “It's a bit more aggressive in its cutting action, it holds up far longer, and then, it isn't a gray-black color like that stuff you had.”
“What color is this stuff?” asked Sarah.
“A brilliant brick-red,” said the soft voice. “You've seen a more-recent version of it at the Heinrich works, and the best-grade lapping compounds use that material mixed with a thinner species of red-paste.”
For once, I thought to look up at the frosted glass of the cabinets, and was astonished further when the frosting cleared for a second or two to show what lay beyond it. These things were packed with tools, so much so that a complete inventory would eventually be needed, but I had the intimation that such an inventory could not only wait, but was better done by people other than myself.
“Not merely because of time-issues,” I thought. “They'll know what most of that stuff is, also.”
“True,” said the soft voice. “More, in the case of several of those people, they'll be able to either exchange them for current models which work better, or they'll be familiar with their tricks – and some of those tools have their share of those.”
“Which means I will need to learn them from those people,” I said. “I'll bet there are some electronic versions...”
“Not here there are,” said the soft voice. “They do have such tools overseas, and you will wish some of them.” A pause, then, “they'll come home with you, most likely.”
I found the bits but a minute or two later, and with two such sets of bits and three sets of the sharpening stones, as well as some 'graded' pots of brick-red 'dust, it was time – at least, until I recalled I needed some inserts and their tooling.
“Two columns over, third and fourth drawers up,” said the soft voice. “It is time, by the way, so get several sets of each, and then move with all dispatch to where the generator is 'hiding' and open the cage door.”
“And then what?” I asked. “Look it over? Find the, uh, instructions they hid behind the spare barrels of either distillate or lubricant? The special tools in this small cabinet I have not yet seen?”
“I think so,” said Sarah. “That thing looks like something out of a tapestry, but no tapestry I have seen shows its like, and those old tales that speak of such things make me wonder.”
“Wonder?” I asked, as I went to the drawers spoken of and found the first one packed with inserts. Its weight was astonishing, and more astonishing yet was seeing several large – and heavy – packs of inserts outlined in blue. I took two of those, and then below that drawer, again, I saw what I needed otherwise marked in the same hazy yet unmistakable way.
And as I hurried 'with all dispatch' toward my next 'assignment', I knew I had gotten and seen those crucial matters in this room other than where I was headed next. More, while I did not recall them precisely enough to describe them in extreme detail, I did know enough to both use the tools and describe them in some detail to others I might meet in my travels overseas.
“And now, a generator needs to be coaxed into life once more after nearly a thousand years of rest, and there are things...”
“Which is most likely why you need to find what notes those witches left,” said Sarah. “I suspect you were given those clues and information for a very good reason.” Sarah then had a question.
“Why were were there such mounds of rust in those metal racks I saw?” We had some distance to go yet, as this too was a narrow path between a jungle of close-clutching machines on the left and an unbroken countertop on the right, with a jog in the wall ahead and at least one cart ahead full of 'rust and dirt' that I could barely see in the light of my 'torch'. Sarah got her answer nonetheless.
“Because that one witch did his usual when 'non-cursed' materials were requested,” said the soft voice. “He supplied the cheapest stuff he thought he could 'get away with', and it was heavily cursed – and those witches, while being originally from the green areas, were machinists first and witches a distant second, hence they did not know the needed curses to keep the materials from falling apart or acting like 'alumi-gum' or 'slag-ridden wrought iron'.”
“What is this 'alumi-gum'?” asked Sarah. “It sounds like poor metal, if that is what it is. Is it?”
“Poor is no word for that rubbish,” I spat. “It might not have been cursed by witches, but that stuff was so soft and gummy you needed a lot of patience – first to endure its behavior while being machined, and then endure the horrible parts that usually resulted – and that was when you did everything right you possibly could so as to deal with it!”
“You used that stuff?” asked Sarah. “Where you came from?”
“Yes, until I knew better as to where to buy materials,” I said. “It wasn't easy to get the good stuff, even when I had the money to buy it.” A pause, as we reached the first cart in our way. I pushed it into a narrow aisle between two milling machines, silently asking that its cargo of slag and rust find the jugs of drink of yet another escaping witch-party, and in this case, I asked the arsenic lurking in trace quantities in that 'mess' become an especially active species, one that would kill as surely as if it came from Hans' well-hidden supply.
“That will be their end,” said Sarah. “Now who received it?”
“A group that is just gathering itself to leave a portion of the house proper, as these people think the next few days to be especially hazardous. They've just received word of the oncoming witch-parties from the south, and calling them 'terrified' is calling them calm and peaceable.”
“Will they be running coaches?” asked Sarah.
“Yes, the last of those vehicles that are still present in the kingdom house,” said the soft voice. “That arsenic they've just received in their drink is in sufficient proportion to take its time while killing them, and hence its effects will be most peculiar.”
“What will they be?” asked Sarah, as I dodged a corner that showed and headed straight on along a stretch of wall barren of all save a great gray 'board' of some kind. It had once showed drawings, but now it was hazed with age and fissured with cracks, and I asked its material find the food bags of the witches getting out of town. After all, their bread-bags needed such flavoring as cursed chalk and those surfaces that once ate it.
“You just turned their bread into something closer to a species of stone,” said the soft voice, “which means you can expect them to try hiding until tomorrow so as to demand bread at gunpoint as they head out of town.”
“That will get them shot,” I muttered.
“That also,” said the soft voice. “I would be especially careful tomorrow when you visit Sarah's cousin on the way to Ploetzee, and also on the way back, as you'll most likely need to head straight to Willem's afterward.”
“Good that I know decent roads for such travel,” said Sarah. “It would need two days for such a trip otherwise.”
“That, and what you are driving and riding will help considerably,” said the soft voice. “You two can make such a trip with ease, unlike nearly every other means of travel currently present on the surface in the five kingdoms.”
The soft voice went silent, as now, I was in the vestibule, and Sarah parked the cart, its tongue facing toward the door, then came to my side as we walked, step by slow-seeming step, toward the gate that barred us from the Generator – its name warranted a capital letter, as this machine was sizable – and the secrets it hid in its 'lair'. Out came my key, as we reached the threshold; and the cylindrical lock, this long, tinged with slow-growing rust and of a too-familiar shape, seemed to but balk for the merest instant as the key overpowered it with such effortless ease that the lock went to rust and dust in my gloved hands and fell to the floor to then vanish.
“That was a bad lock,” said Sarah. “Was it cursed?”
“No, but it was named as being cursed by its green-area makers,” said the soft voice. “It had gone rusty inside its casing over the years, such that the surface plating alone was holding it together; and hence that key 'killed' it when it was used.”
“Killed?” I asked.
“Just like that broom did to that wolfram shot,” said the soft voice. “Like some other things in the future that vomit hot lead in quantity, that broom comes with a bottomless magazine.”
“B-bottomless?” I asked haltingly, as I lifted the bar-latch the lock had closed and moved open the three-hinged door. The faint groaning noise screamed for oil as if the metal itself were being tortured. Sarah had her oil-vial ready, or so I thought until she began twisting on one of those strange metal vials which prevented escape of their too-lively contents. She seemed to have 'the knack', for she opened it quickly and began 'dosing' the hinges with motor oil.
“That stuff has no real smell, unlike that blue stuff,” I said.
“I know, which is why I will leave a vial with my cousin as well as two pistols,” said Sarah. “I'm going to try shooting a Tosser tonight to see if I can hold onto it – and if I can do that, then she's likely to manage one also.” A pause, then, “I know she will wish one of the small ones, along with all of those things that go with it, and we'll need to make up a bag of things for her tonight before we turn in.” Sarah then turned toward the engine, and gasped.
“First, find the documentation,” I said. “It's hiding, and it's somewhere behind this thing, on or near all of those 'ready' lubricant drums or behind the drum with the fuel.”
“I can see that one, though it wants leaping over this small thing here that looks like a cask for shape,” said Sarah. “It has some wires going into this larger barrel-shaped thing, and that has many wires coming from it which go into holes in the floor.”
“That would be the main generator,” I said. “The smaller one is probably a DC generator to excite the rotor-field of the big one.”
“I'm glad you know about this thing, as I'm at a complete loss,” said Sarah. “They do not use such things...”
“Mostly because the ones you saw were much smaller and were comparatively primitive,” said the soft voice. “You don't need large amounts of power when you're cleaning up an ounce or two of silver over the course of a few days, and hence a smaller Machalaat engine driving an overhead with a small belt to a 'Heinrich' generator supplies the modest current needed for those crocks you saw.”
“They bubbled a little, didn't they?” I asked, as I passed by the front of the engine. There was a lot here I needed to see, this thing being not merely huge, but covered with piping, manifolds, injector lines, and a number of other things yet well-hid from sight. I knelt down to see an obvious 'Roots' type blower, this as long as my entire arm and bigger for height and width than that found on a Top Fuel dragster's engine, and on top of that blower, a pair of screened air intakes, each one flaring out to the size of a large Public House platter and topped with a fine-mesh domed screen.
“No air filters?” I gasped.
“This room was normally to receive filtered air, hence the chief reasons to have those screens was to keep foreign objects out of the scavenging blower.” A faint pause, then, “those screens are actually a quarter-inch thick; and more, they are dry, hence I would clean and then oil them before you run the engine for longer than the few minutes needed today.”
“It has air-filters, then,” I asked. “Just like what my car ran.”
“Unlike with your car, though, these need daily maintenance,” said the soft voice. “That handwritten copy...”
Sarah cut loose with a yell, then said, “I think this is it. Now if I can get back there...”
“Remove your vest, then all of your camouflage clothing, and then you can get back in that place easily,” said the soft voice. “The Mistress of the North not only put that manual back there by means of 'Magick', but also used a variation of the hiding curse to make it harder to see.”
“And hence the deep-hole's passing made it a lot more visible,” I said. “Now, I see a trio of what look like high-pressure air bottles, and no, uh, accumulators.” That was the proper word for a larger battery, both here and where we were going. Only the lack of such things on the continent had led to the word's current disuse. “Is this engine an 'air-start' type?” I'd heard of that being done with engines of this size.
“Yes, and it's very tricky, also,” said the soft voice. “That manual tries to hide much, but you'll make enough sense of it quickly.” A pause, then, “it was not written by that expert witch, but by one of the Mistress of the North's marked scribes in response to her dictation.”
“And she did not speak the entire truth,” I murmured.
“She spoke the truth as being a highly-initiated witch speaking to her gross inferiors, which meant that a substantial amount was a matter of reading between the lines, just like how that instrument panel will be.” A pause, then, “check the back side, as Sarah needs help finding that tool-cabinet. You'll need what is in it to get this generator going, and there are some manual controls that are only accessible from the rear.”
I moved toward the front of the radiator, noting the massive size of the thing, the huge duct for the engine-driven fan – it had a lot of blades, almost as if it had been stolen off of a jet aircraft's engine – and then nearly smacking my head against the filler cap. Here, I was 'eyeball-close' with the sight-glass just below that filler cap, and I saw the contents, this being an evil blue material with a hint of green, just like open water filled with deadly fish – fish with everlasting appetites that made sharks seem temperate in their eating – temperate when the water was red with blood and there was meat aplenty to be had for the biting. It made me wonder, even as I now squeezed past the radiator itself. This had a honeycomb structure, and for a moment, as I saw the yard-and-more expanse of the thing that came past the top of my head at 'kissing distance', I felt reminded of wasps, hornets, and other stinging insects.
“Do wasps use such combs?”
“No, and neither do those creatures called bees here,” said the soft voice. “While you've never encountered them, Hans, Anna, and Sarah have – and in good time, they will speak of them at some length.”
“I was wondering about this radiator, actually,” I said.
“It is not a plate and tube type, but a carefully brazed honeycomb-shaped Copper item, designed to deal with an engine that is intended to run for long periods of time,” said the soft voice. “That's why the area above the generator has a cone-shaped structure formed into the concrete, this housing two sizable fans along with the exhaust pipe's ejector tubing.” A pause, then, “you'll want to circle around the entire engine before starting it, as this type is a most-critical species in various locations across the sea and on the continent, and you'll need to know all you possibly can about them.”
“Wonderful,” I murmured, as I looked first at the large number of carefully-marked 'lubricant barrels', these all labeled as 'restricted for special military use', then at the substantially-built gray-painted steel shelf above them containing a large number of 'tinned' filter-units. I wondered if I would need to change them and the lubricant-drum one day in the near future.
“Probably not,” said the soft voice. “While you will need to run this engine some, you will not need to run it a lot, and it is altogether likely you will not be able to use it more than a few hours at a time.”
“That would be because of its noise, most likely,” said Sarah. “Evil engines may make much noise, and sound horrible, but I have read on more than one tapestry of this type, and they were most common in this area.”
“This large?” I asked.
“The usual ones were smaller, but not much smaller than this,” said Sarah, who had a thick 'tome' in her hands. “Here is their documentation, or rather most of it, as a portion looks to have once been burnt and then replaced with handwritten notes.”
“Burnt?” I asked. I could see darker spots upon the cloth binding of the thing – spots perhaps of blood, other gore, or even flaming oil. I was not sure if 'burnt' was the appropriate term, as it seemed inadequate to the task of describing something that detonated with the abrupt violence of an aerial bomb, and with similar lethality.
“I can see some small places where the stone below our feet was chipped and cracked as if a huge bomb – one out of a tapestry – had exploded, and they repaired the place as well as anything I have seen done in the fourth kingdom,” said Sarah. A pause, then, “we were told the first one scattered itself when it was first run, which is not a rare thing where the ones made in fifth kingdom shops are used much.”
While Sarah was paging through the manual and muttering as if she'd been Anna's teacher, I looked at the back side of this huge engine. Here, I saw in detail the nature of the castings used, their bolts, fittings, various tubes and pipes, ancillary equipment, everything; nowhere did I see a rune, even if I did see numbers of odd symbols followed by 'accepted by so-and-so', then when I once more glanced at the lubricant drums running the whole length of the engine, I felt drawn to the fourth drum. About turn, to face east; one step, to the drums; bend over; and reach down behind that drum and then slightly to its right...
To there find a small black booklet, this with no label. What Sarah had found was the remnants of the original documentation – and the handwriten portion therein was left for the destruction of fools. This part, this one here in my hands, was the document actually used by the witches who regularly ran the thing – and when I opened it, to my astonishment, I found no evidence of runes.
“More underworld German than all else, though,” I muttered. “Please, could this become, uh, readable...”
The book leaped out of my hands and seemed to flap in the air like a just-shot quoll, and when it fell to the ground with a muffled thump, it was no longer a thin pamphlet bounded by an age-checked, black, and flimsy cloth binding, but a booklet easily the thickness of the widest portion of my thumb, with a thick and sturdy flexible cloth covering permeated with a species of plastic. Paging through it rapidly, I thought it a diary, at least until on the fifth page I came upon a set of drawings.
“Oiling points,” I murmured. “Before each day's running, dose each of these points here with the oiler, and then every two hours thereafter.” A pause. “Total-loss oiling system,” I muttered as I began wondering just how to apply such grease.
“More like 'badly-done seals and worse-yet grease',” I heard.
“We do not need dried-up grease for this thing,” I murmured. “Could we please have some...”
A soft thump as a book suddenly fell to the floor, then in a ghostly voice, Sarah turned to me as I continued to read, saying, “what is that smell?”
“Follow your nose, dear,” said the soft voice. “This is one of the reasons I gave you an especially good sense of smell beyond warning others of approaching Iron Pigs.”
I put my thumb in the place where I had been looking as I folded the book, and walking past Sarah, I dodged the large generator and the fuel tank, turned right, leaped the 'exciter', and came straight to the inset-and-partly-hidden tool cabinet set into the wall. Its gray paint and pull-out ring made it blend into the wall so well that one needed to know of its location to find it easily, and when I pulled open the door – one nearly large enough pass for a house's door, and as thick, given its riveted metal reinforcement – I marveled at first the mound of rust that billowed out and onto the floor to begin vanishing as I watched, but also at the obviously new tools that had showed in the place of what had once been present.
My asking for grease had had some too-obvious side effects, and when Sarah came up, she looked at what was hung from the door itself.
“This is...” She seemed stunned.
“Most of the tools needed for repairs, and all of those needed for the routine maintenance,” I murmured. “There is the grease-gun, and... Why does that thing look so familiar?”
“How can it look so?” asked Sarah. “Were you spiked with such a tool, and then poisoned with a slow-poison for the pleasure of those witches there?”
“No, I, uh, used to have one that looked a bit like that one, only this one seems a bit better made than what I had where I came from.”
“It ought to be, seeing as how the Mistress of the North took the originals and put third-rate green area copies there in their places after dipping them in blood and cursing them.” A pause, then, “she knew that this place would be useless without the engine's regular running, so she put her final line of trap-defense in this cabinet.”
“That explains that rust that was on the floor,” said Sarah. “Now did that rust get into some witches?”
“It will when they drink that recently-distilled pear brandy sold to them as 'Genuine' forty-chain,” said the soft voice. “It had only sat long enough in a cask to get sold to a transportation agent and then sent up here, and the maker had put some herbs to it to give it the right color and flavor without needing years of sitting and stinking up sundry caverns where that stuff is normally aged.”
“Common rotgut,” I spat.
“It will do that, same as the real thing,” said the soft voice. “You'll need to hit every grease fitting you can possibly find, as that little 'manual' you found behind the oil containers left some locations out.”
“It will need both of us looking for them, then,” said Sarah. “Two pair of eyes is usually better than one, though I wonder as to this matter.”
“And then greasing the thing, of course,” I said. “Now, what else did they leave out?”
“Not as much as you might think, as this was written by machinists and not witches,” said the soft voice. “They were intimately familiar with this engine, and hence wrote down those parts they thought they were likely to forget.”
“So we start at every shaft we see,” I murmured, as I took the 'greaser' in hand. “There's a spot, right there.”
I handed Sarah the booklet, complete with my finger in the spot I had found, and put the grease gun over the 'nipple'. This type had a brass fitting standing proud of the housing which needed grease, and in its center, filmed over by dirt, was a small steel ball. The rubber nozzle of my grease gun seemed to not merely cause the dirt to fly away by some type of strange charge, but went on as if it were that special evidence key overcoming a most-feeble curse-lock. A stroke of the handle told me of a dry bearing, and as the 'grease' flowed in, I could see dirt and 'crud' begin to pour from out of both sides of the shaft.
“That old stuff broke down,” I muttered. “No drains on these things?”
“No, because they figured on regular application and more-regular wiping by the engine-master's helpers,” said the soft voice. “That combination of frequent greasing and more-frequent-yet wiping cleaned out any dirt present and kept clean and fresh 'lubricant' in these hard-worked bearings.” A pause, then, “a similar situation applied elsewhere as well when these engines and those like them were in use – an engine-master, several chanters, two or more helpers hoping to one day become either chanters or engine-masters, periodic breakdowns, regular and frequent maintenance, and in general, a lot of work that needed to be done right – which meant suitable applicants for all of those jobs, including chanters, were rare.”
“Paid poorly, also,” I said.
“If one was not a ranking witch, that was the rule,” said the soft voice. “Imagine a realm of high taxes – taxes collected at gunpoint, to be exact; poor pay for those gainfully employed; high percentages of 'unemployment'; no government-provided 'entitlements' or 'social programs' of any kind; malfeasance the rule for those with the power and influence to do it; bribery a requisite to accomplish anything worth bothering with; murder a way of life among both rich and poor; 'law enforcement' that was controlled by the wealthy, and used to rob and kill their enemies and collect that which was their legally mandated due; and over all of this corruption, a pall of pollution so thick that it caused thousands to sicken and die each year while those in 'government' spouted propaganda to the contrary over the radio – that was this place prior to the war.”
“And to become sick meant death, and in all that one did, it was a matter of 'thou must, or thou shalt not, and death to the fools that anger me'.” That last portion, by Sarah, was obviously a quote of some kind. I knew its meaning, and spoke it.
“Everything not forbidden is compulsory,” I spat, as I finally finished filling the bearing. I hoped I had an inexhaustible supply of grease in this thing, as that bearing had taken an easy dozen strokes before I saw the thin red 'grease' come out of the 'string' seals.
“String seals endure better, don't they”? I asked.
“That, they conserved 'scarce' rubber, rubber 'seals' barely functioned when new and worsened quickly, and 'string' seals don't need taking the machine apart to replace them as a rule,” said the soft voice. “With these, one just removed a few screws, took off the split blanking plates, picked out the 'dead' string with a hooked brass tool shaped like an awl, and using a thicker grade of grease than the stuff you're using to fill that bearing on the other side of the exciter, one glued in the rows of string with a set of small brass picks and prods until the packing was installed – and then put the blanking plates back in place.” A pause, then, “it also, if done with care, could be done while the machine was running – and that proved a critical matter in wartime.”
The greasing of the generator's many 'dose-points' showed me the first of the 'tax' marks, this being a triangle with a decidedly crude version of the rune meaning 'witch' and some small smudged letters under it indicating 'taxed' in Underworld German. Sarah identified both the dosing points and the tax stamps for me, as she had the small booklet and pointed out to me the various areas in and on the generator beyond the obvious fittings for the bearings. There were a number of these, these being to pivot assemblies that essentially caused the generator to keep a tight rein upon its output voltage while under a highly varying load, and some others that I had no notion of. I resolved to bring the generator's book home in one of the bags Sarah had brought on the cart, and more, to keep it well clear of Gabriel until he was no longer inclined to act like either a witch...
Or, more likely, a fully-owned-witch-slave: one who was not actually a witch, but functioned much as if a true and purpose-minted witch-puppet every single waking moment, with the only thoughts running through their mind those of their curse-chanting master, wherever and whomever that accursed fiend might be.
“That's it,” I muttered regarding Gabriel, as I found another grease fitting. “How many of these things does this thing have?”
“A great many, all of which need enough grease to flush out their current contents and most of the dirt and grime that went in with that old grease,” said the soft voice. “The rest will come out when you first run the machine.” A pause, then, “and your take on Gabriel, while mostly accurate as to his thinking, has some flaws in your reasoning otherwise.”
“What, that he's a witch?” asked Sarah. “If he is, he has not yet made his bones.”
“Not even close,” said the soft voice. “Dennis thought him a fully-owned-witch-slave, one so accursed and so completely controlled by a witch that he was a modern-day witch-puppet, and while such people do yet exist in the first kingdom...”
“A lot of those stinkers will die tonight,” said Sarah with a voice like cold iron. She knew this like the sun would rise tomorrow, and she knew she'd drop at least one of them with an equal surety.
“While that is true, and their numbers will be far fewer by tomorrow,” said the soft voice, “Gabriel is not one of those people.”
“What is he, then?” spat Sarah.
“One who was trained at great length to be an arch-witch, and at some deep level, resisted that training to the best of his ability,” said the soft voice. “He doesn't come from your family tree, dear, hence he was affected to a far greater degree by his training that way; and then he did not go to the west school, but to Maagensonst so as to complete his witch-training, which was the school first and foremost in trying to become as Boermaas while he was there.”
“It was a witch-hole then,” spat Sarah. “I went there enough to visit my cousin to know that, and he was at Maagensonst about the same time my cousin was at Boermaas.”
“It hid that portion a lot better than Boermaas did then,” said the soft voice, “but the saying was among witches then – and in many places, still – is this: 'if one wishes to be strong in Brimstone, choose Boermaas; but if one wishes to go far in the service of Brimstone, and truly turn the place into hell, just as Brimstone says it should be, choose Maagensonst – and above all, do not give a single thought to the west school, as that place kills witches without mercy, much as if it were fully peopled with entire monsters from the days of long ago, when they were as common as grass and left the sky black with the soot of burn-piles and the ground wet with the blood of those that were not as they themselves were'.”
“Sounds a bit dated, doesn't it?” I asked, as I finished greasing one fitting and went to the one next to it.
“Not as dated as you might think,” said the soft voice. “There, over to your right. Two more, one right on the same level, and another two inches down. A shot of that grease in each fitting.”
“This thing is as bad for greasing as a Machalaat damp-motor,” said Sarah with alarm. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Keep looking in that manual,” said the soft voice. “Between it and the other one which has handwritten instructions on starting that were taken from the original manual, you can find all you need to run this thing and not scatter it while so engaged.”
“It has the starting instructions?” gasped Sarah.
“Yes, and that manual was to remain by the control panel, which is where all of the operating controls are,” said the soft voice. “The one you are currently reading is what the helpers used to make sure they kept the engine properly clean, well-oiled, thoroughly greased, and in good running order while it was running, while the other was predominately for the more-important post of engine-master – and since that person was to be a witch well-beyond the amateur stage, it's written in a different style.”
“Runes?” I asked. My voice then became louder, with a strident tone that climbed in pitch and volume with each word. “If it has those, they then need conversion to proper speech in full detail, omitting nothing whatsoever, and more, that book needs to be much less of a chaotic mess and much more of a proper manual, one writ in the speech of today, not the archaic language of witches which hides everything even from its ranking initiates!”
The 'whoomph' that occurred at the end of my high-pitched-and-going-higher raving rant-scream-howl startled Sarah, and she dropped what she was holding and ran to see what had 'exploded'. When she returned, she came back sheepishly, a sizable book under one arm, and a question upon her lips. She then picked up what she had dropped, and found once more her place.
“Since when did you turn a piece of rubbish into a book as good as anything printed for a text in that place I bathed for?” she asked. “This is better than what's in a Compendium volume, and...”
“And it has everything of use in it, and nothing is hidden of a non-cursed nature,” said the soft voice. “You now have complete blueprints to every part of this engine – and by, extension those that are like it, both large and small – so you can know just what this thing actually is and where they got the ideas for it; and then, under the heading of 'starting', it gives both a precise order of actions and an idea of what to look for on the gages.”
A pause, then, “you'll still have to discern what those gages are trying to do, as those things still have their layers of tricks, and the book can only give modest hints as to what those are.” A pause, then, “then again, it's not a witch-manual any more, so anyone with sufficient experience and intelligence can read it with at least some understanding.”
“But if it has no tricks to it, then this book will tell us what we need to know,” said Sarah, as she opened it to the front. “Here, lubricating.” Pages turned, then, “good, here's some pictures and labels. That spot, right there.”
With Sarah's guidance coming from the new book, I was able to locate quickly the dozens of grease fittings needing an application of grease. Most of those locations that were on the engine and its attached ancilliaries needed dosing 'if or when the engine has not run for an appreciable period', while those otherwise were either on the order of 'dose every day' or 'whenever the bearing packing stops leaking grease, or the bearing housing feels warmer than usual to the touch'. The whole list gave off an aspect of needing constant care, regular attention, a good deal of experience, and much training to run without incurring a momentous disaster; and when Sarah gasped, she said, “these things can scatter themselves, all right, and they're far worse for it than those in the fifth kingdom.”
“When they receive proper maintenance?” I asked.
Sarah looked at me, then gasped, “they were being run by witches, according to these pictures here.”
“Chants instead of ample grease and careful watchfulness, with a hand placed on each bearing housing in a steady circuit and doses of grease put in as needed?” I asked. “Checking the oil regularly and cutting apart the used filters to see what kind of secrets they might have, so as to know when the bearings are getting loose and other things might be wearing? Perhaps doing a leak-down test every other day's running to see when the ring-seal's starting to go? Cleaning the air-cleaners on a strict schedule – either 'before each day's run', or wiping one's finger across the top every so often and slapping on a clean one, one held prepared in readiness, whenever one of them shows more than a trace of dirt on that upper screen?”
“Turn the page, dear,” said the soft voice. “Another page just showed in that manual, and because of its new loose-leaf construction, it can be put where it belongs later.”
Sarah turned the page obediently, and gasped, then looked at me. “What did you do?”
“What those engine-masters did who didn't have 'accidents', and more importantly, the kind of things he did when running his engines,” said the soft voice. “There's more, both on that page and those that are yet to come, as this type of engine is going to be a recurrent theme in both of your lives in the future.”
“Why?” asked Sarah. “Will we run things such as this?”
“No,” I spat. “Not horrors like this thing.” A pause, then, “look at the drawings, dear – no, not now. Now we need to finish the greasing.” A muffled mutter as to the seeming idiocy of my current task, then in a slightly louder growl indicating my true feelings about what I was working on, “compression engines, blech! Give me an alcohol-burner with four valves in its head and a sparking plug to its center any day of the week, and thrice that on Sundays. At least those won't blow up unless you do something really dumb, and then they just burst, not blow your house down with you in it and set the wreckage alight.”
“What would that be?” asked Sarah.
“Not like what you briefly saw in the Heinrich works,” said the soft voice. “Those were much closer to what he's greasing here for trouble, and needed nearly as much attention as one of these things so as to not come to grief.” A pause, then, “listen. This is what one of them will sound like.”
A low-pitched repeated intermittent 'coughing' suddenly segued into a musical-sounding humming noise, one composed of a steady yet most-rapid shuffling, a faint whirring noise, a soft yet rapid muted clicking of what might have been a most-rapid knitter with several needles per hand, and then, in the background, a soft, muted, yet sibilant pulsating hiss. The noise continued for several seconds. The next thing I heard was a soft yawn, then a sleepy voice, Sarah's, “that could make me go to sleep.”
“That's what those will sound like,” said the soft voice. “That's for a generator like this one, save small enough to put next to a privy to keep it aired out and smelling decent. Now, listen to this example, which is a bit larger for size, weight, and displacement.”
A soft chuffing noise, which repeated twice: chuff-chuff... Chuff-chuff. Another example of the chuff-chuff noise, this ending with a gunshot-like crack. The third... There was a single 'chuff', then a much-louder 'pop' – and then the most ragged-sounding 'nitro-swilling crackle' I had ever heard outside of a drag strip running funny cars. The noise sounded nervous, most-irritable, like that of a vicious mare, one coal-black and a fitting mate for Jaak, one that could...
The crackle evened out steadily as it turned into a vicious-sounding yet muted growling, a noise that spoke of an enraged creature's yearning to be unleashed yet further. This was no mere dog, not even a rabid example, but something utterly not of this world – the surface world, or that the witches named 'The Underworld'.
The noise increased, the roar louder as well as higher pitched, until it was now that of an enraged lion with its tail caught in a wringer – until suddenly, the lunatic running this 'hot-rod-from-hell' opened it up 'all the way', and the engine abruptly responded to this action with a deafening roar-scream-whine-thunder that increased in both volume and pitch at a frantic rate – until nothing else existed save the earsplitting ongoing-dynamite-explosion sound of an infuriated engine at its maximum revs.
This thing had an ungodly top end, one of a pitch so high and a noise so fierce that it reminded me of the one thing I had left behind me that I wished I could duplicate here in its totality.
It then settled down to an idle, this settling abrupt yet even more ragged as to sound, and in my peripheral vision, I could see, clear as day, the spits of bluish flame coming from the stubby pair of slightly flared exhaust stacks of the engine. It was obvious it wore nothing remotely resembling a muffler, and the length of the stacks – short, curved backward, perhaps eight to ten inches – spoke of its likely peaking speed.
The amazing thing was that I could just about hold this example in my hands, just like the first one we had heard.
“That's not all that big,” I muttered, as I 'drilled' another of the grease fittings. I was getting toward the front of the engine's back side, and would need to dose the radiator-fan bearings and the pair of water pumps next – both of which were regular recipients of the grease-gun's attention, and both needing to be watched closely while the engine ran. “What was that second one running, an expensive grade of model airplane fuel? One with a lot of nitromethane, and perhaps some acetone and propylene oxide to help it 'go' better?”
“No, just what comes out of an efficiently-run column still,” said the soft voice. “The first one was small, mildly tuned, and was effectively muffled, while the latter was none of those things – and neither engine was given to either giving trouble nor bursting, though that second example needed regular maintenance so as to run properly.”
“That second one would cause crowded privies,” said Sarah. “I nearly soiled my underclothing hearing it.”
“You'd better get used to such noises, then,” said the soft voice – which then turned enigmatic. “Be glad you won't be able to soil your underclothing then, as you'll be around a lot of loud, scary, and otherwise unpleasant creatures, vehicles and weapons in the years to come.”
“Like gunfire, perhaps – that kind which sounds like a rapidly-pounded drum,” I said. There was no word for 'drum-fire' in this language, so I had done the best I could at this time. “I hope you have ample spare underwear to take on the trip, as we all will need spare underclothing – and not just due to gunfire and explosions.”
“Will we become ill?” asked Sarah. “Where did you go?”
“Around front, dear,” I said. “There's a grease fitting here, one that needs regular attention, and... My, this thing is thirsty. I've put three full strokes in it, and no grease is coming out of the seals yet.”
“That's because it's entirely dry and that bearing was dependent upon the helpers greasing the engine regularly,” said the soft voice. “Unlike what they were using, which was a poor grade of grease for that time and place, what's in that grease gun is a new grade of grease that is yet to be 'released' overseas – and it's much longer lasting, even in string-sealed bearings.”
“Much l-longer lasting?” I asked.
“Figure 'checking' each of those 'accessible' bearings each time you start this engine as part of its regular starting drill,” said the soft voice. “That greaser will stay filled with that grease until this engine becomes a backup power-source and much more 'pleasant' powerplants become available here.”
On the other side of the engine – Sarah was now shining my battery torch as I greased well-hid grease-fittings in the front, these being several on the six pump injector body. That told me plenty: this thing was a species of 'diesel' engine, and the familiar aspect of this pump, even as I had to trace each of the six lines so as to find its individual injector's grease fitting, then needed to changing the greaser's usual conical spout for a special hooked device and some careful maneuvering so as to put the new spout in the 'injector-fitting'. Thankfully, this region was easily accessible with this special 'spout'.
“Why only one set of injectors on this thing?” I asked. I had expected there to be two per side to give a better pattern in the cylinders. Given that this motor had two cranks, one slightly out of phase to another and no valves, it not only ran on the two-stroke cycle, it needed a positive-displacement scavenging blower. What I wondered about was why the exhaust went into what looked like half of a turbocharger – the hot side, the one that extracted energy from the exhaust and used that energy to compress the intake air.
“Because this was an 'endurance' engine, and hence it substituted size for power-to-weight ratio, billowing smoke clouds, and bright red flames coming from its exhaust.” A pause, then, “while there will be flames initially from the exhaust, as well as a great deal of black smoke, such 'smoke-signals' will dampen down quickly once the centuries of accumulated duff are blown free and the engine clears out its accumulated 'gum' and 'varnish'.”
“Yes, and what is that mark there?” I asked, as I looked at an 'inspection mark' I had not seen before.
“Imhotep was thwarted in his supply of materials here, and he was 'taken down a peg' by those then ruling this country,” said the soft voice, “as the Mistress of the North was acting on their behalf and by their sub-rosa 'suggestions' as to what she was to do as their designated 'agent'.”
“Suggestions?” I thought. “Should that not be orders?”
“She spent more than one stint on the ruling council herself,” said the soft voice, “which rankled Imhotep no end, as while he caused nothing but trouble while sitting on that council, she actually made great strides for the country's people overall, not just gearing the country up for war. One of her favorite sayings regarding slaves – and the one that irritated that stinker Imhotep the most – was 'with a free people, one governed well, they will help us if we speak to them truthfully and in the correct manner – but if everyone below we ourselves is treated like a deep-slave, then we either face a potential slave-revolt each and every day, or we cannot depend upon them should we need their utmost services.”
“What happened then?” I asked.
“Recall that that among the witches of that place and era, there was but one or perhaps two witches who bested the Mistress of the North in the realm of intelligence?” A pause for emphasis. “She had sat down at some length with that dark haired witch some days prior to that address so as to learn her mind upon the matter. While the Mistress of the North was indeed prepared for war when she spoke that piece, she was also prepared to put such matters off until she could prepare the country and troops more fully – as she felt, with no small justification, that her people and her equipment were not up to the task should matters not go perfectly according to plan.”
“Including dumping that wretch Imhotep in a dyke somewhere,” said Sarah, “and put his head on a pole on its banks to show he was as dead as a burnt-to-charcoal water-lizard!”
“They – and a number of other witches who met during that period of a few days – agreed as to the wisdom of such an action, but they also knew getting hard and reliable data on that witch was extremely difficult and finding his whereabouts at a given time harder yet.” A pause, then, “and once caught, they knew that removing his head would only cause the country to be wrecked in its entirety, and that swiftly.”
“How?” asked Sarah.
“Because,” said the soft voice gently. “While Imhotep was the archetypal tyrant, he also more or less made the place operate as a witch-hole, and since he committed so much critical information to memory, killing him would cause the entire country to collapse upon itself within a matter of a few days at the most.”
“It was either live with him, or die without him – and he knew that, and took advantage of it as much as he possibly could,” I said, as I finished dosing the last of the injector fittings. I began to remove the 'injector' grease-nozzle, as I knew there had to be more places to grease, and those needed the other 'squirter'.
“Not many more,” said the soft voice. “See that mark, that one there?”
I saw the mark in question faintly outlined in bluish haze for a fraction of a second, and the trio of grease fittings beside it, which I began dosing one at a time with a full squirt of grease. This engine had many such marks, and more often than not, there were grease fittings close by them.
“That's a special 'restricted-grade' part added by direct order of the Central Planning Committee, from which Imhotep had been recently removed due to his causing more trouble than was usual for him,” said the soft voice. “More, there was but one person who received the taxes on this engine, and the taxes on much else made in and around this region.”
“Who?” asked Sarah. “That stinky witch?”
“Yes, and he was in charge of tax-rate-setting, tax-collection, and then delivering up the amounts deemed necessary by the Central Planning Committee,” said the soft voice. “He usually took their figure, grossly inflated it such that it looked appropriate to him, then depending on his inclination of the moment, he doubled or tripled that amount – which means he gave the Central Planning Committee perhaps a fifth of what he actually collected.” A pause, then, “given that by that time he was personally financing a great deal of wartime construction out of his own very deep pockets, it should not surprise you as to his feeling of extreme and overwhelming entitlement.”
“He'd feel that way if he used a privy someone else owned,” I muttered. “Probably condemn the whole stinkin' place so he could properly scratch his dirt over his mess!”
“His usual means of condemning dwellings was something similar, actually, only he didn't bother with a privy.”
“He laid dung upon the floors...” I gasped.
“That especially,” said the soft voice, “and he spoke a series of rune-curses while doing so, which commonly meant the entire structure was completely destroyed the instant he got far enough away to not be hurt by the flying debris.”
“That...” Sarah was utterly stunned by this statement.
“Was a preflood curse that he alone learned,” I said. “There, that's the last fitting. Now what?”
Sarah flipped several pages, then said, “Begin quote: 'starting the engine from a chilled state'. Finish quote. Here it is.”
“Yes, and what first?”
Sarah screwed up her face, then looked at me with an expression I had never seen upon her face before. She muttered, “now I know you are strong, but I doubt you can turn this thing over on its side, as it is bolted most-securely to the floor.” A pause, then, “it says to disengage the engine-clutch from the generator, then use this one long lever next to it nearer the engine to turn the engine over until it seems to turn freely.” Sarah began looking, as did I, and I found the clutch in question before she could. I then noted what had suddenly 'sprouted', this seemingly out of nowhere.
“What gives with this crowbar here?” I asked.
“These engines needed to be routinely turned over before starting, so as to verify their oil galleries were primed with oil and that they weren't 'stuck',” said the soft voice. “About ten to twelve full strokes should do it.”
With each such stroke – there was a forged metal handle at the end of this long bar, with a clutch-rod connected to that hand-lever that engaged and disengaged the 'clutch' to permit turning – I was recalling the noise and smoke of a very large truck engine I had once seen being run without its exhaust system attached to the cylinder heads. One could hear a thundering bang as each cylinder fired, while in time with each crash of sound, I saw, from the exhaust port in question, a thick reddish gout of fire and a choking billow of black smoke. This continued, the engine's slow, measured banging idle, until the mechanic was satisfied that he'd repaired the thing adequately thus far and shut it down.
“And this thing is not one of those,” I muttered, as I cranked the long lever again through its stroke. Faintly, I could feel gears turning, and now and then, a very faint hissing noise. I released the lever, and pulled it back, then did so again, once more leaning into it with all my strength so as to turn over a massive engine's slow-turning pistons against their tremendous compression.
After two more instances of working this lever, I needed a break, and Sarah nodded. “It says to do it in multiple stints, as cold oil takes some time to reach where it must in these things.” A pause, then, “next, one must check the fuel, which is that large tank back behind that portion which is the generator proper.”
I scrambled around the back of the engine, then hopped over the exciter and noted small amounts of red grease beginning to ooze from its seals on both ends of the shaft. The fuel tank beckoned, and when I found its star-shaped copper-colored bung and a hanging tool on the wall next to it, I knew the purpose of the latter, even if there was an aura of mystery about much of what I was to do. The tool in question had graduated marks on its handle, these roughly an inch apart.
“Where did this tool come from?” I asked, as I used the bronze wrench to undo the fuel inlet, this centered in the slightly hemispherical dome at the chest-high top of the tank.
“I think it showed when you opened that cabinet and found good tools in it and a pile of rust coming out of it,” said Sarah. “What you are looking for is a tank full enough that you can put a small stick inside and see fuel on it.”
“Like my finger?” I asked.
“Not if it is distillate!” yelled Sarah. “It will chew up your skin!”
“Gloves, dear,” I said, holding one up. “These stand up to a lot of things, and I bet there were some chemical agents that used distillate as a carrier.” A pause, then, “failing that, I can use the handle of this tool, as it has marks on it.”
“There were such chemical agents,” said the soft voice, “and since a stick is lacking at this time, I would use your finger as you had thought – as that will be faster than using that tool's handle.” Pause, then, “those marks were for emergencies only, as the norm was to fill that tank brimming full with fresh stuff as doing so helped prime the main fuel pump.”
I got the lid undone, and as I removed it, the odor was of such a penetrating and ghastly nature that I dipped my finger and put the lid back on as quick as I dared. I wiped it off as quickly as I could using a rag Sarah supplied me, and she ran with the rag to toss it out of the door and into the hallway.
“Phew!” she said. “I must have been mistaken to call that stuff downstairs prewar distillate, as that stuff there is worse for stink, and no mistake.”
“Different refining processes were used for what's in that tank, given that this is a new engine,” said the soft voice. “They'll be able to replace it with a much-less-malodorous material within weeks of getting here, and by then it should be broken in sufficiently to not need 'special' fuel.”
“And about two weeks and four to six stints after they do that, this thing can go to backup status,” I muttered as I came back 'out front'. “Now that we have 'full fuel', what next?”
“Check its lubricant,” said Sarah. “We already dosed it, so...”
“First, what is in the drum here,” I said, as I removed a long metal dipstick from a fitting on the tank with two braided metal hoses and replaced it in the 'oil tank'. The 'oil' – light yellow, almost like motor oil where I came from – was midway between the 'full' and 'empty' lines. “Just right.”
“Now, check its coolant,” said Sarah. “That would be that large box up front, near that side cap there.” Pause, then, “it says there is a sight glass, though what they mean by that is...”
“Rubbish,” I said. “You check the amount of coolant by opening the lid on that sidearm there,” – here, I pointed at the thing in question – “and then poking either a stick or your finger in it.” A pause, then, “you want to see movement in the sight glass when the thing's running, as that means the coolant is circulating.” I then finished with “stinking compression-ignition engine – it's as bad as a steam locomotive running on broken-up solid rocket fuel!”
The cap, this to the front of the radiator and taller than my chest, took uncommon strength to remove, and when I got it off, I promptly clapped the thing back on once I had dipped my finger in the toxic-looking blue liquid. The stench was of such potency – and so 'evil' – that even as I was dressed, I felt sick, and wished to vomit long and hard.
“Stuff stinks so bad it makes me want to sing that silly song about 'Toxic Lady',” I said. “You know, you a cute little poisoner...” I was about to get to the line about being 'a sick little proliferator' that Sarah said, “that stuff is a substitute material for the regular type, and that Central Planning Committee either purchased it or made it, and I'm not sure which of those was the case.” Then, in lower voice, “I have wondered about that song, and I think it might just make sense now, that stuff smells so badly.”
“Better get used to hearing it, dear,” said the soft voice. “While they have the original version overseas, they also have the full version of 'Toxic Lady', and both versions of that song are very popular in certain places – even if they cannot understand the meanings of some of the original song's language.”
“Can they understand 'Toxic Lady'?” I asked.
“Yes, as that one describes the wartime period quite well over there,” said the soft voice, “including the part about the money and much else.” A pause, then, “it's part of their 'old tales', in fact.”
“What?” squeaked Sarah. “Madame Curoue was not alive then, so how can they...” A pause, then, “was this about some other person?”
“They had a number of instances of missiles scoring direct hits on or close to population centers and poisoning large portions of their underground shelters, and several of the enemy's female announcers spoke of themselves being the cause of such massive death-tolls during the enemy's daily propaganda broadcasts,” said the soft voice. “They were all thought to be recordings of the same woman, and hence they call her the 'Toxic Lady'.”
I had turned the engine over several times while this had been going on, and waited, this panting, until Sarah returned to 'the starting instructions'
“Now, check the bottom sump with that rod there,” she said. “It should only have oil on its very tip, which means this strange valve is working.”
I removed the rod in question, and it showed but the merest trace of oil. I asked, as I slipped it back inside its tube, “what does that mean?”
“Something about scavenging pumps,” said Sarah. “This thing is not a mine, so how can it have such things?”
“My engines had several scavenging pumps for their oiling systems, and one pressure pump per system, which was the largest one of the five pump sections,” I said. “Their oiling system was similar in concept to what this one uses, save it was a lot smaller for size and a good bit neater in execution.”
A glance at the coolant sight-glass once more showed it to be oval in shape, surrounded by dark gray-painted metal secured by a number of hex-headed screws, and beyond it, separated by glass, was a bilious blue-green liquid, this now noticeably clear, cold, and hostile to the senses. Again, I felt an urge to vomit by just looking at the stuff.
“A few more pushes on that large lever,” said Sarah. “It should make noises like gears grinding and a Death-Adder's hissing before it is actually started.” A pause, then, “I could hear the former when you did that the last time, but I do not hear anything close to the noise of a Death Adder – and I have heard plenty of Death Adders.” Another pause, then, “they did not have those snakes then, so why does this book mention them?”
“It got translated, dear,” I said, “and that hissing noise probably means it's freeing up,” as I went back to the lever to lean into it once more. “Now when I...”
The lever suddenly moved slightly easier, and as I leaned into it harder, I could hear a much louder hissing, this cold, deadly, like that of a coiled and angry serpent ready to strike.
“Now that is the noise of a Death-Adder,” said Sarah. “Three times more, and then it becomes most-dangerous.”
“Uh, why?” I asked, as I once more leaned into the 'tommy-bar'. Again, the hissing, and again, a further lessening of effort. I could feel much more clearly the whining of a vast and noisy multitude of gears turning over and becoming oily with a mixture of grease and oil, and that continued through the four or five more strokes I managed before I knew it had had enough of my 'tormenting' it.
It had also freed up yet further, and with Sarah's indication, I reengaged the generator clutch and moved the 'tommy-bar' out of the way so it would not 'grab' at its engagement wheel.
She paused, then, said, “this is that portion that I spoke of as dangerous.” A pause, then, “there are three gas reservoirs, those bottles over there. Check to see their pressure is full into the green area.”
I walked over to where these things were, and there I saw not merely the three valves, but also a strange linkage and three pipes, all of which traveled nearly the entire length of the engine, gently flaring all the while, and finally leading into a strange thing that resembled nothing more than a long and rather skinny starting motor.
“Do you have pressure?” asked Sarah.
I looked at the first valve, touching this scuba-tank sized cylinder with silent prayer, and as I watched, the cylinder-gage went from the bottom of the green region to a realm just past it to settle softly on the 'too full' peg. This happened to each of these sizable gray-painted bottles in turn, and I turned to see Sarah so as to ask the questions as to what to do next.
“Now, go over to the engine panel, as you will start it from there,” said Sarah. “There are two levers side by side at the operating position, one that admits air to this one special engine, and another that connects that engine's power to the large one through a special clutch of some kind. The drill is this: Pull the air lever, let that special engine run full up, then pull the starting clutch lever – and when the engine actually starts, move both levers to the off position swiftly and then use their locking levers to lock them in position.” Sarah looked at me, then said, “the rest, that is what you must figure, as this book says nothing on the matter beyond what I just told you, and I can tell the original writings said less yet and all of what it said was lies.”
“Dangerous?” I asked, as I opened the door to the cage and closed it behind me. A few feet remained to the end or the beginning of my life, and which one of those it would be was yet a mystery.
“Here it speaks of what can happen.” said Sarah. “Recall how that one book looked, and how a portion was handwritten, unlike now?” A pause, then, “this type of engine tends to explode if it is not started correctly, and that no matter who makes them – and when the first one exploded here, it caught a ranking sorcerer, his four helpers, and the whole of his retinue in the explosion and burnt them all to ashes in the resulting fires.”
I walked, slowly, Sarah at my side, to the control panel. There, I saw a number of round gages, and two long levers, these with levers and rods like what I had just used to free up the engine. The gages supposedly showed operating time, revolutions per minute, oil temperatures – several of those gages; oil temperature was obviously a critical matter – engine output, coolant temperature and flow-rate, 'Brake Mean Effective Pressure' – that one had a small knob, this centered in its dial such that it was neither rich nor lean, but 'stoichiometric'.
I knew instantly what to do with that knob, and turned it to 'full rich' for starting. The manual did not mention that matter.
Then, the final row of gages: exciter output in units of 'pressure' and 'volume', and main output, again in units of 'pressure' and 'volume'. Most of these gages had a green region, with yellow to each side of the green zone, and to the outside of the yellow territories, red – and for some reason, one needed to more or less ignore them all in their entirety.
One ran this type of engine by 'feel', as it had, like one art instructor I had once studied under had said about certain pieces of equipment, its own 'Mojo' – and that meant touch, smell, taste, feel, and instinct mattered far more than any gage collection one could have. The common sense and logical things had been done. Now, it was time for 'the Mojo Hand', as it had once been called in these parts by some people – people who were not witches. I looked at my hands, these in gloves, and wondered for an instant if I possessed such a hand. There was no way to find out, save one.
I then slowly eased the lever that I knew controlled the air toward me.
“Time to go, dear,” I said, as a faint hiss began to reverberate within the room. “This thing is weird, and I need to put my... Put my hand to the plow, and not look back, so help me God!”
Sarah all but ran out of the room, both books clutched under each arm and the cart somehow fleeing on its own, handle waving in the air, much as if it intended to keep up with her apart from her efforts; and I knew, as I slowly continued advancing the air lever and hearing the deep subterranean whistle-whine of a strange species of starter that I had but read about years before, that the instructions we now had, while true enough, said but little regarding the actual matter of starting.
That, in truth, needed 'A Mojo Hand', and as I put my right hand on the clutch lever, I noted some faint letters. I took that hand off the lever, and saw upon the palm the words writ in blazing 'lightning', “you got yourself a Mojo Hand.”
“Good,” I thought, and now advanced the air lever further.
The low whistling whine now built in volume, with its pitch growing higher every second. I did not bother glancing at the gages: they lied, and they did that at multiple levels, which was the way of the arch-witch; and only a most-strong witch, one much like the Mistress of the North for power and initiation, could see through their many layers of so-tricky deception.
There was the first layer, and this one lied especially. It seemed especially intended to kill the unwary and those near them; and the flickering needles, these now steadily in the green, were obvious and blatant lies.
Below that level, however, was a second portion. It too was entirely a collection of lies, yet only to a lesser witch, or to those who were not familiar with uncommon trickery, it indeed looked very plausible. It too was intended to kill all those it possibly could.
Then, there was a third layer, this one the most tricky of all. Here, some lies were yielded up as being lies, as this layer recognized the strong witch, the one with the five all-seeing eyes that Sieve gave his best destroyers; and here, the gages told some truth. However, this truth, though substantial in quantity and reasonable as to veracity, was still mingled with lies to the point of being fully as useless to the user of the engine as the previous two layers.
And, finally, after perhaps one or possibly two more layers of deception, each with a greater degree of truth amid all the lies they told, lay the actual inputs to the various strange and lying gages. This is what I was seeing, this clearly, and I saw it needing great vigilance – and therefore, I ignored the lying gages entirely.
After all, I had a Mojo Hand, and that trumped every pack of lying witch-conjured gages ever made; and having such a hand, I prayed, at first silently and then audibly as the moan of the air-turbine rose to a whine and then a fever-screaming pitch.
It had to go higher yet; this was an air-driven inertial starter, and running it up like this would need maximum possible revs and nearly flat bottles – enough for but one try, one where half-measures were discarded as utter idiocy. I saw one of the meters jump off of its peg, this in the corner of my eye, and I told it to shut up in my thoughts. It jumped into the middle of the range, and again, I told it to be silent.
“I am in charge here, you pack of liars,” I thought silently, as I opened the air-valve wider yet, and got a sudden jump in revs, this to a deafening siren-like shriek.
“Now, we count, as the bearings in that turbine are finally loosening up so as to drive that flywheel,” I thought. “Ten, nine, eight, seven...
More air yet. I wanted all the 'spins' I could get on that turbine.
“Six, five, four, three.
Yet more air. I had perhaps two inches of travel yet, and I put in MORE.
“Two, one...” A slight pause, this a blast of thought, then a screamed 'NOW!”
The air valve now went all the way home, then the clutch, this feathering it in. The air turbine began to slowly bog, then a thud came from behind me, followed by another thud, then a slow shuffling and thudding rhythm. I now had more air, I discovered, and as the thudding became steady, I pulled the air lever back 'to the firewall', and as the revs of the air turbine picked up once again, I smoothly pulled back the clutch lever further. The thudding picked up its tempo, now louder, fiercer, more insistent; until instead of a thud, I heard a rumbling boom like a miles-distant cannon, then a second such boom a fraction of a second later; another such boom, this with a shorter interval between itself and the last such instant; then a fourth cannon firing; then two in a row, this a volley by a short battery of siege guns; and then, a sudden crackling roar that had me push forward both clutch and air levers at once.
There was no more scream of the air turbine, nor thudding noises; it had been replaced by a noise that seemed conjured straight from hell itself. I pushed the levers forward further, this to disengage them fully and cause the depleted air bottles to begin to recharge, for the noise was such that I had to do so by feel, and the same for locking them in position. The noise I now heard – and felt with the whole of my physical being – was a snarling uneven crackling roar, a noise that made the floor I stood upon shake as if in the grip of an earthquake and my body vibrate in time to its uneven thunderous beat.
It also made for a desire upon the part of my mind to hide itself, preferably in one of the darker cupboards at home with the potato sack and a rat or two for company.
Again, I looked at the lying gages, and saw 'something', this hidden beyond layers piled upon layers of deception: I could see the cold-blooded engine warming to its task, the grease being washed away by the now-steadily-flowing engine oil, the slow heating of the engine's cold iron and steel, and finally...
“Best lean it out a trifle,” I thought. For some odd reason, there was no 'yes' or 'no' to this, and my movement, slow, precise, careful, had a perceptible effect upon the engine – it became a trifle less uneven, and the bark of its exhaust, amid the various screams and howls common to turbines and straight-cut gears, became louder. It now sounded a bit more like the engine of a fighter plane, one that perhaps drove a World War Two fighter. The name 'Allison-V1710' came to me, followed by 'Junkers-Jumo'; and then, suddenly, I hit upon the source, that being a model of aircraft engine made by the later firm.
“Not quite,” said the soft voice. “This came from a movie, and while the timeframe was correct, this example didn't fly.”
“What did it fit in?” I asked.
“A species of submersible, like what you're going to see shortly,” said the soft voice. “Give it another two minutes at its current setting, then slowly lean out the engine while slowly raising the revs up to the Notch.”
For some reason, I understood implicitly what this 'Notch' was, and when I looked at the wall of lying gages, the surface layers of deception vanished, and now I saw what should have been there all along: and center stage in the middle of a large field, I saw a 'triple-run' gage, with a Notch cut right in its middle of the top 'run'. Here, Revolutions, exciter voltage, and fuel 'mixture' corresponded to give the rated electrical power and frequency, and when in the deepest portion of the Notch, it would suddenly happen, as it only happened after a long sleep when one found the deepest part of the Notch and kept matters there for a while.
Once lit off, and when matters were 'cleared and garnished for work' by a long-enough period of running, one just had to get all three needles into the Notch, as close sufficed then; but in a time like this, I needed to find the dead center of the Notch, and plant all three values square in that particular grave-hole, like a proper 'planter of corpses' did so as to start a proper patch of true-turnips.
I counted off the seconds in the old manner I had learned long ago, this by counting the number 'one-thousand' followed by first one; then the number spoken of as two; then three; and so forth. At 'a thousand-and-one-hundred', I listened carefully, then leaned out the engine a trifle more. This was a very cold-blooded engine, one that demanded care and respect as well as that Mojo Hand, and I wondered if in reality I would be the only person able to run it.
“If someone wishes to actually use the equipment in this room in the near future, yes, you'll need to start it and be present in this room while it's running,” said the soft voice. “When the advance parties get here, their first goals will be to set up camp and create places where they can live; they will then survey and create an adequate 'landing zone' for their vehicles some distance downriver from here; then once that is done, and they have places where they can live at both locations – then, and only then, will they begin to explore the remainder of the building.”
“Those machines?” I asked. Five seconds remained.
“The first party will bring one with them among their possessions,” said the soft voice. “Count: three, two, one...”
I leaned further the mixture control, such that it was now in the Notch; and as the engine smoothed out slightly, I found the revolutions control, and began to bring it up. Slowly, steadily, adjusting the mixture by increments the whole way, finding the Notch and going ever deeper into it, watching that third needle slowly waver...
“The exciter voltage,” I murmured, as I reached for that and tweaked it slightly so as to get it into the Notch.
Again, the steady circle of adjustments to Revolutions, mixture, and exciter voltage; and as the needles entered the valley of the Notch, I could feel the hair begin to rise upon my head. A deep thrumming noise, this seemingly choked tightly, began to reverberate above me; and as I concentrated upon adjusting the three controls, getting each one perfect as only one with a Mojo Hand could do, the thrumming noise grew louder, more insistent – and began to be joined by a chilling shriek, one that had multiple overtones composed of howls and screams imported straight from hell. Finally, the mixture control hit the dead center of the Notch, followed by that of the throttle; and when I made that minute adjustment that put the excitation voltage dead center, the thrumming noise abruptly turned into a deafening howl, and the room erupted in a brilliant flash of light that remained, much as if lighting had been caught in a jar and then shaken into a potent species of incandescent fury.
And then, I noted the noise itself of the engine, for I had been too intent upon my task of centering those three needles into the dead center of the Notch. I turned, now bathed in a chill whiteness and washed by a wind so icy and death-laden that I seemed rooted to the ground, and heard the following:
A thundering roar, this so loud that it shook the ground, my soul, and my very marrow.
A shrill whistle-scream, this of a piercing quality, one that tore one asunder like an avenging bolt of hellfire and ripped through ones mind like the whirling wheels of a diamond-loaded jeweler's saw.
A stiff metallic banging, this seeming to be listening to four highly tuned triple-cylinder two-strokes, all of them with open expansion chambers, and all of them running as close to pure nitromethane as they could do so for more than a few seconds at a time. More, these engines had bad expansion chambers, as with each pulse of their exhaust, the whole chamber rang like a cow-bell, and the effect was as if I was listening to a very fast marble cannon, one firing a wheelbarrow full of marbles every second. I turned back to the panel, and now noted its color: the pallor of death, the bleached white of bone, my own hands ghastly in shadow, and all over, a hard-edged blue-white, this shining down like the fury of all the devils of hell – and now, I heard another noise, this penetrating the nerve-destroying racket of the engine.
“What is that noise?” I thought. “It sounds like a million mosquitoes, all of them having perfectly synchronized wings, and all of them coming to drink me dry of blood!”
The warbling whine I was now hearing over the noise of the engine was too obnoxious for mere language, and it seemed to get through and over the engine's racket by acting directly upon the focal portions of one's brain.
One needed no ears to be driven mad by this lighting, nor eyes; one merely needed a body, and if one remained in its presence long enough, one just needed an immortal soul to be driven utterly and irrevocably insane.
I looked at that one gage, the gage that did not lie, and saw that the needles had drifted slightly out of the dead center of the Notch. Again, the rounds of adjustment, first mixture, then revolutions, and then excitation voltage; then once more with all three; and then finally, as I got the excitation voltage perfect, the lights 'got the message' finally and came up fully, this with a long and flickering flare that lasted nearly a minute's worth of every nightmare I had ever lived and dreamed happening all at once.
While the lighting had been normal enough before for tint and tone, it was now nothing of the sort; its tones were beyond ghastly, such that it made all flesh look to be that of an exhumed corpse; and that was its effect upon my vision. What it did to my mind – that... That was indescribable.
The chilling whiteness it painted upon all that it saw made flesh seem chalk drained of life and blood, while the dusky bluish overtones, these now splattered and flickering with a putrescent green, that were present among the icy whiteness pouring down from above me gave the lie to life and sanity – and replaced them with the madness of asphyxiation; and now, the engine...
That had grown also as to the quantity and quality of noise, such that before, it was in the background. No longer: its roar was that of a frenzied beast, one growling and roaring for fresh meat, and over all of this light and sound, I heard the screaming howling whistle of a massively hungry jet engine, one desirous of devouring all that it saw and spitting out the flaming smoke-trailing gobbets of its latest meal like a supersonic flying Desmond.
Speech under such conditions was impossible, and thought was nearly the same; while somewhere, I found the presence of mind to form words, these unspoken. There was a thought, this of the word 'Allison', and following it, “Aircraft engine' – and after that, the phrase, implying that I had but heard of the engine in question, but I knew experientially of what I now endured: “I do believe this thing is louder, even if I think those things sounded like this!”
I looked at the panel, now going past all of the lies as if I were born to do so, and found the truth, this in unmarked panels of white marked with strange lines radiating off in actinic-rayed sunbursts coming up and over the event horizon, that place found near – or perhaps, in – a black hole. There were but a few numbers, the grouping for 'revolutions' having but '0', '1' '2', '3', and '4' – and the needle wavered slightly around the number 'three'. I understood this to mean 'three spins', and as I looked over the remaining portions of the control-panel – the lying portions were gone, at least for me; I had vanquished them utterly; and never again would they attempt to lie to me, for I was he of the Mojo Hand.
I could feel someone – or perhaps, a Mojo Tooth – out in the hallway, and I slowly wobbled out that way, leaving the glaring light, the thundering engine, and the howling windstorm of over three dozen high-revving fans blasting air and dust up long flaring ducts to be ignited and then burnt by the fire ejecting from the tapering exhaust stack of the massive engine. To say I had lit a 'smoke signal' of massive proportions, with a towering pillar of fire nearly half a mile high that lasted for some minutes as dusk around it segued slowly into darkness, was calling matters trivial when they were anything but; and as the rooftop fire slowly died down outside, the glaring light of the volcano-like red flame of the engine's exhaust continued to roar high into the sky like an earsplitting beacon; a beacon for every migrant who dared to look and listen, a tall cone of slowly-fading brilliant red-orange fire which could be seen for over fifty miles, and a noise thunderous and roaring, like the massive artillery barrages that killed witches by the tens of thousands as they charged in human waves across black-shrouded and corpse-paved open country hundreds of years in the past.
“This will bring them,” I thought, as I continued wobbling down the hallway leading to the doorway, then passed it and continued on as before. I came to the branching portion of the hall, and there found the string someone had left behind them; and as I dumbfoundedly began to follow it, praying all the while. I wondered first where Sarah had gone; and then, why had she not brought the others back with her. They were done with our carts, and had put most of them back near the steps leading down into the armory.
As if in a dream, I saw Sarah. She appeared to be coming, first closer, then slowly receding, much as if I were enduring a bad dream; and as she came closer, I could see her lips move, but I could not hear what she was saying. I looked down at my hands, seeing them slowly swelling like two balloons, and as I came closer to her – she was stationary, or so it seemed – I could discern words coming from her mouth.
It took nearly half a minute of her repeating her words and my uncomfortably close proximity to discern her speech.
“How could you stand that thing?” she howled. “It was shooting a mountain of soot in the air, and the fire coming from the roof was so tall it seemed to go up into the heavens and scorch the face of God!”
My mind, finally, found my tongue; and I said, this in a screech-inflected distorted tone that seemed to cut through the roar and the scream and the whine: “It is not easy, even if I have heard things like that engine before, and the same for the fans, but the lights! Ugh! Those l-lights! They make one seem as if dead and ready for burial!” A pause, then, “p-please, can you go fetch the others?”
Sarah turned and seemed to vanish, much as if she were a hot-burning rocket on a serious date with a coach, and I turned back toward the 'maker of noise' yet ensconced in its cage. When I returned, however, all of those noises now melded into a horrific whole, and as I checked again the once-hidden 'major gage', all three needles were yet solidly in the pit of the Notch.
The engine had stabilized; I could shut it down, and more, I knew it was time to do so. No more could I endure it; those outside had been prostrated, save for a handful other than those marked and a few from the Valley that had snuck onto the grounds somehow; and now, the crackle from the exhaust was beating on me as if I were iron, blazing hot and burning at a welding heat, iron caught between hammer and anvil and ready to be forged.
The fully-formed sound that I now heard – I had but smelled the mule before; now, I was riding it – was not that of a diesel engine, even that one engine of long ago. It was not the sound of a racing motor; I had heard many of those. It sounded closer to the racket made by a large-displacement multiple-cylinder two-stroke engine, this running a very rich mixture flavored heavily with nitromethane and dosed liberally with an accelerator of some kind – propylene oxide came to mind – and each massive cylinder exhausting into an unmuffled expansion chamber configured to bang like the bell of a cow, with the bell itself the size of an elephant. Steps staggered in, followed at length by a long and screaming shadow, and I turned to see Sarah.
She had been writing; and what she showed me this, writ with chalk upon a 'board' of some kind:
“That is the worst 'Evil Engine' I have ever heard or
heard of, tapestry or tale. It needs to be silenced.”
She then turned it over, looked up, and scribbled something upon the back of what was now an obvious piece of pasteboard:
“Those lights induce insanity. What shall we do about them?”
“Kill the engine, obviously,” I thought. “Now how..?” A pause, then, “oh, that button. They hid it, and that's the only quick way to deal with this thing, if not the only means at all...”
I wasted no time: I bent down, then slapped the part-hidden button. The lights suddenly dimmed; then in rapidly dimming light, as the engine and generator slowly wound itself down, the thudding steadily dropping in frequency, the engine slowed, until with a chuff-hiss, it stopped. The room, surprisingly, while yet 'dark', was nowhere near as dark as it once was. I turned to Sarah.
“Are you all right?” she asked shakily. I was amazed she could actually endure this engine-conjured hell, even for a few seconds.
“I th-think so,” I said. “The cart I put the things we found in here?”
“It is in my buggy,” said Sarah. “Both what you put upon it, and the cart itself in its pouch and in pieces. Maarten should be along presently.”
“Come, you two,” said Willem from the doorway. His voice rang like a deep-toned bell. “It is time.”
While I wondered as to just what time it was, when I saw Maarten and Katje, each of them holding the hand of the other with a lectern someone had dredged up in front of and between them, and the lectern supporting a sizable book, I knew the purpose of this time; and with ringing ears and chiming mind, I heard the droning words, these words tearing the claws of Brimstone away from “this building, its grounds, those that shall be within it, those that labor upon it, and those that it shall help – all of it, every last particle, it shall belong to God, and to him alone, this to be so until time ends and is no more. Amen.”
“Well?” I asked. My ears were ringing like my mind, though the ringing was dying down quicker than expected in both 'countries'. “Should we not get going to our next job?”
“Yes,” said Sarah. “It may be started, but it is far from its finish, and that for tonight.”