THE PRICE OF DEDICATION
by Gordon S. McLeod
The train glided down the tracks through the northern mountains with sinuous purpose. She was a long train, part passenger, part freight, and ran on tracks a good 3 meters wide. The engine was a massive powerful beast with an electrite reactor converting huge quantities of water to steam, powering the immense locomotive along the well-worn rails.
In the back half of the train, that part devoted to passenger space, Archerd Dolet relaxed in a spacious seated alcove with an array of scrap spread out before him. At least it looked to be scrap, if anyone was paying attention. A tiny lead-lined box was strung with thin copper wiring, next to some sort of brass-edged wooden enclosure. An array of small gears and rods were lined up near by, along with what must have been dials and toggles and several small crystals.
They were laid out in neat rows, sitting unmoving on the table; the wide build and huge weight of the train and cars made for a very smooth and stable ride, which the young man took advantage of gratefully.
Nimble fingers would snatch up a piece of the complex puzzle and make fine adjustments inside the enclosure with various screwdrivers and tiny wrenches, then return to the table for more. Occasionally those fingers would flit up to the glasses perched on his nose, which were themselves complicated, with no less than 3 lenses for each eye that could be flicked up and down to change the magnification they provided. Currently the two extra lenses for each eye were carelessly folded up part way, standing like ridiculous horns over his head.
His attention never seemed to waver in the slightest, his hands darting about his makeshift worktable with grace and speed, his eyes never leaving his project, but when a uniformed steward wheeled a cart laden with plates of meat, bread and cheese, he’d barely had time to begin slowing down when a hand whisked a plate from the cart and, just briefly, his head turned to offer a smile of acknowledgment and thanks.
The steward nodded his head respectfully and continued to the next alcove. There were a scattering of other passengers in the car; Archerd had counted at least 5, one couple and 3 other individuals occupying another 4 alcoves of the 10 in the car.
The last piece of the machine clicked into place and he tightened the last connection, then snapped the enclosure closed and secured it with a sigh of pleasure. Archerd Dolet had gone to the Academy at Holdswaine, as had his father Altman before him, and graduated several years past. Like his father he had studied the sciences, intent on following in his father’s footsteps. As it happened, he had entered a slightly different branch of the sciences. Altman Dolet was one of the most prominent minds the world knew in geoscience, the study of the minerals and energies of the earth and a specialist in the properties of electrite.
Archerd was well grounded in that field as well, but had discovered early in his studies that he was gifted with mechanics and the flow and use of power; steam power, electric power, even radiation such as his father studied. He switched his focus with his father’s blessing and hadn’t looked back since.
He studied the device on the table before him, tracing the brass facing, the dark wood panels, the fine circular mesh grille, the knobs and switches, then pulled out a matching device from a pocket of his coat. He laid them both out and inspected them carefully for radiation leakage with a third device, a detector of his own device that he’d made the year previous while working with his father.
The device clicked and hummed with a sound some might find ominous or eerie, but which inspired only reassurance and relief in him. The needle on the detector’s display remained unmoving; his shielding design was sound, and the new device’s readings matched those of the other he’d made earlier. With another pleased sigh, he put the detector back in his pocket.
He held the newer device up to his head, with the speaker grille to his ear. He flipped a toggle on the side with his thumb, then tapped experimentally on the one still laying on the table.
‘AUGH!’ he almost vocalized, wincing in pain. Volume! Down. Way down. He turned a dial on the receiving unit, then looked around somewhat sheepishly to see if anyone else had heard.
An elderly couple sat two alcoves ahead of him, oblivious. A distinguished looking older gentleman in semi-formal attire sat at the alcove across from them, facing away from him and apparently paying him no mind. One alcove across and back was a shabbily-dressed young man, probably younger than he himself was. He was sprawled in his alcove and snoring gently. Finally, towards the back of the car—
Archerd forced himself not to stare. Towards the back of the car sat easily the most beautiful woman he’d seen in his life. She had hair black enough that it shone blue, and kept it tied behind her head in a loose tail, a face of porcelain paleness and delicacy and a light cream-colored jacket over what looked to be an ornate green dress. She sat in the row opposite him, but turned away to look out the window across from her as the train implacably made its way south.
Continue to NaNoWriMo Story 3 - Day 15
Continue to NaNoWriMo Story 3 - Day 15