Two flash fiction posts in one day? Um…yeah. Me too. But in my defense, both the deadline for the Dirty Goggles Blog Hop and the Rebirth Anthology come due in a few days, and I knew the rest of my week would be a no-go for such indulgences.
One More Caveat: I am not, by trade, a steampunk writer. This is ENTIRELY out of my league. But it was incredible fun, even though I’m sure I blurred the sub-genres of dieselpunk and steampunk together, at least a little bit.
O well. It’s MY steampunk piece, such as it is. Here goes….
All Winker asked was that she keep an eye on the boiler – that’s all. Nothing difficult. Just watch the pressure gauge, and make sure the boiler door stayed shut.
Whatever was on the other side of its incongruous door, he said, would blow sky-high if the pressure dropped. If the pressure grew too great, they’d be be mopping up the mess of the ages.
“That makes no sense,” said Moffat. “Too much pressure causes boiler eruptions.”
“Not this potbellied dragon,” said Winker, patting the boiler – which looked more like a refrigerator with extra pipes and a big turnwheel in the center, the kind banks used to lock their safes. “Too low – we burn. Too high – and we’re sitting ducks for the Latchkey Wizards.”
Moffat shoved her goggles farther back into her black curly hair, leaving a white stripe through the grime of axle grease and sweat that coated her face. She crossed her arms, and gave Winker a dubious glare.
“Another lie. Latchkeys don’t exist.”
“Spare me the disbelief!” Winker rolled his eyes. “The Latchkeys are hiding out in the zeppelin cities, above the storms,” he insisted. “They’re behind all the coastal raids – have been for months!”
Moffat had never seen a zeppelin city, nor a Latchkey Wizard. Her world was peopled with miners, smithies, and machinists; her horizons girded with trestles, smokestacks, scaffolding, and miles of train tracks, all converging to form the steam-and-steel labyrinth that gave the city of Hissing Knot it’s name. Life beyond its boundaries did not exist to her.
“The wireless says it’s the Germans,” countered Moffat. At twelve, she prided herself on keeping up with world affairs while she worked in the grease shop. She was the most well informed junior mechanic in all Hissing Knot, in her estimation. But Winker was three years older, and had heard a lot more radio – and seen far more of Hissing Knot. He remained staunchly skeptical of what he called her “alternate theories.”
“Bah! So the Kaiser springs a cog and goes a-blitzing for a season – what of it? Wasn’t anything the Allies couldn’t handle. Now everyone blames everything on the Germans!” He waved his hands around his head. The compression valve he’d been inspecting dropped to the floor with a calamitous bang.
Winker stooped, and picked up the valve, and unleashed a string of words Moffat knew he’d never say if the head mechanic was present. Scowling, he switched out the lenses in his goggles with the trip of a switch. The glass circles clicked into place, bringing the damage into clearer focus.
“Now I really do need to see Juggs about this,” he groaned. “Just watch the boiler, won’t you?” He moved to the hatch and ducked through before Moffat could say no.
Scowling, Moffat plopped down on a workbench and eyed the boiler suspiciously. It was an ancient model, with none of the new technology making the rounds in the machinist’s shops. If Winker was to be believed, manually governed steam was on its way out. A new complex tapestry of internal sensors, safety caps, and the like, was on the horizon. Zeppelins would go faster, be less prone to explosions. The world would be safer, cleaner. Hissing Knot would become the crossroads of their world.
Yet this one boiler remained the central node in the rusting steelworks nervous system. It was the only reason, Moffat guessed, why Winker did not yet work in the upper levels, with Jugg and the other senior apprentices. He stayed here: on the backside of the oldest furnaces, repairing old technology when he could be outfitting new zeppelins with the latest “self-governing steam engine.”
And all because of a ridiculous door.
Moffat couldn’t think of any reason a door would be placed on a contraption that kept 200 psi of pressure at all times. That was suicide, waiting to happen.
Plip. It was such a small sound, but it rang through the empty workshop like a bell. It sounded – but no. That can’t be, thought Moffat. The boiler wouldn’t pick this moment to…
Plip. Plip. The needle of one gauge twitched, then began to drift.
Moffat jumped to her feet, heart in her throat. Three more plips, and the needle began to freefall. Moffat started to her feet.
She was halfway across the workshop when she heard the Voice. It slithered up through the seams, as though the boiler itself was alive:
“One more, boys! Almost there!”
Trembling, Moffat watched as the wheel lock gave a loud pop, and began rotating back.
“Heave to, men! Heave!”
The wheel continued to turn. The seal popped. A fine snow of rust sifted to the floor.
Moffat blanched. “Not now,” she whispered. “Not me. Please.”
The seal gave a final crack, and the door swung open.