By Giles D Hobbs
All rights reserved
The sea vessel ‘Foundry’ slid effortlessly through the coastal waters. Its path through the sea was marked not only by the wake and trail of disturbance it left in the water behind, but more so and for further its path was marked by the cloud of smoke that it continuously belched into the pristine skies. What the smoke revealed was a course that hugged the shore line accepting those deviations required by a vessel that, despite the black plumes, was clearly not powered by engines. The ship has sails, and although the hull gleamed the sails were marred with smoke which was a product of other industrious activities entirely.
The ships prow, which formed the leading edge of the its smooth glistening silver hull created a bow wave that pushed an undulating wake towards a much smaller wooden boat that had traveled from a coastal village. The lightly furred, long eared creatures looked in awe at the vast shining monster, the waves from which were even now causing their small craft to bob and dip. Steadying themselves with spears they waited for some sign or response to indicate their fate, for being intelligent they knew that for now their future was not in their hands alone.
“Circle the target” Captain Wellshorn called into the speaking tube that rose from the deck to a point that allowed him command his crew from the comfort of his elaborate captain’s chair. He glanced over his shoulder at the smaller, crude wooden ship that lay 100 yards off the starboard of his gleaming and sleek vessel. He examined his nails.
The ships rigging moved soundlessly through perfect pulley systems as the vast sails fine-tuned their response to the wind that howled about the ship. It turned and then straightened.
“Bring the discs to bear. Bombardiers fire at will” At his order Captain Wellshorn casually stood from his seat and ambled over to the railing that separated his vantage point from the drop to the sea. This would be worth seeing. The wind ruffled his reddish hair and the sun glinted from two smooth metal rails that ran around his head and across his face at eye level. Putting his hand behind his head he pulled gently and a neat yet complex looking optical contraption circumnavigated his head and clicked into position in-front of his eyes. He had named this contraption the ‘Seewell Mk2’. He had a small scar above his right eye. The ‘Seewell Mk1’ had almost blinded him. With the twist of a delicate lever one lens telescoped out by a few inches and he turned his gaze to the enemy ship. ‘Yes’, he thought, the sea was just calm enough to use his favorite weapon, although it was a delicate decision.
The creatures on the enemy ship waved wooden projectile weapons at the ‘Foundry’, like smaller versions of the basilicas he had on deck. Most carried spears. He was sure that they wouldn’t risk attacking, he was simply too impressive.
He heard the bombardiers each call “fire” in near unison. Flicking the optical device back behind his head he glanced down in time to see a row of four gleaming disks, each about the size of a mans head, fly low from the side of his vessel. They skipped over the gentle waves like flat pebbles thrown at low trajectory. The third disk hit a rogue wave and careered sideways cutting a sharp arc in the water before sinking. The rest continued skipping across the span between the boats. The edges of the disks were blurred and insubstantial.
As each disk struck the enemy vessel’s wooden hull, thud…thud……………….thud, those on board, unfortunate in being close enough to see them clearly, would notice that the edges of these discs were formed from a ring of sharp teeth like a circular saw. Thus embedded in the hull they waited the few timed seconds before….and for this Wellshorn flipped the ‘Seewell Mk2’ back to his eye…a sudden triple explosion shredded the side of the enemy vessel, which sunk out of sight within seconds. He turned and walked to his seat.
As if to form a punctuation mark the third rogue disk exploded from within the depths creating a fountain of foam and water and then a fine mist that flowed over the boat and cooled the captain’s neck in a most satisfying fashion.
“Hmm”. He knew it was an extravagant and showy way of dealing with these primitives, but they were close enough to the shore that anyone witnessing it would see how swiftly they had dealt with that inadequate vessel of war.
Leaning over to one side and reaching down he pulled two levers out of a bank of twelve that ran alongside his chair. Behind him a pair of rigid flags flipped into place along with a high tone from a steam whistle. The first flag held a simple blocky image of a man waving from the water, the second showed the image of a strange flat object hanging from a chain. Wellshorn looked thoughtful for a moment and rubbed his face, then leant over and pulled a third lever. Another flag appeared that showed a silhouette of a face with exaggerated stubble around the chin. His messages were thus. One, pick up any survivors, two, prepare the salvage magnet and three, bring me my razor.
It was, in particular, his ‘Kite-Razor Plus’ that he had requested. It was an extravagant and showy way of shaving but the crew were close enough to see him, so……. Well it was the done thing after all.
A victory like this was never passed over. It was one of the best opportunities the crew had for salvaging raw materials for their expensive vocation. The entire crew were engineers. They included chefs and deck hands, all of the required crew for a sea going mission, certainly, but each considered themselves chef-engineers and deckhand-engineers. They worked alongside navigator-engineers, gunner-engineers, and submariner-engineers. It was not unusual to see designs for some new contraption scrawled on the side of a barrel and every crewman had scraps of paper bundled inside their seaman’s clothing. They each waited for their turn within the foundries and workshops that allowed each of them to create the prototypes and final working models that occasionally became an integral part of the voyage, but would more often be a whimsy that would require recycling. It was the obsession of their race but as such they used energy, wood and metals at an astonishing rate. The recycling of their carefully wrought and beloved objects almost as soon as they were made was considered necessary and inevitable, but believing that their pleasure came from the designing and the making, this often didn’t matter. Nevertheless the rationing of paper and workshop time was a fraught political situation and formed a complex social structure managed by a committee with as much pomp and self-importance as you might find anywhere.
It was due to their continual need for energy that very early on in their journey some bright minded medic-engineer had struck upon a new invention. They had later seen the other primitive race utilize the same simple idea, so it was not as such a new-new invention, but was considered one of the most ingenious answers to their continuing lack of resources. It did away with the wasteful energy burning engines that had powered the ship, and meant they could save coal and other fuels for their smelts, foundries and workshops. The invention was the sail. They had worked out a design of post that would hold the large cloth sheets above the ship and the rigging that would orchestrate the delicate movements that, with some fine tuning, made the ship the most efficient wind borne vessel ever likely to be seen anywhere. Most amazing of all is that this was the first significant navel voyage this race had ever made. They had tinkered, experimented and learned so quickly since setting off from their home port that the inevitable engineering spirit had allowed them to take a huge but necessary technological back-step with the re-invention of the Sail. And thus it was that their relatively inefficient, smoky and noisy coal powered ship became a very efficient, occasionally silent but more often noisy and smoky sailing vessel with a basic energy cost of zero. Unfortunately it was only really quiet if they shut down the smelts and foundries that filled a large portion of the ships bulk, and this was unthinkable, but the principle was sound.
And so it was that this shining monster, belching clouds of steam and smoke, and filled with the clashing of metals and the whine of drills and saws had reached this momentous point in it’s maiden voyage, sitting next to the place where a wooden boat full of proud and simple folk had been blown out of the water in a matter of seconds.
‘Sir, the salvage operation is complete’. Clementine, Captain Wellshorn’s second in command was now standing on the captains deck, having climbed the short set of steps that led up to his privileged and elevated view-point at the rear of the ‘foundry’.
‘Mister Clementine’, Wellshorn sighed,’ I wish you would show the crewmen a little class, why don’t you use my lifting platform instead of the stairs. I have given you permission. You are an officer.’
Mister Clementine didn’t even glance at the platform. He had watched Wellshorn use it often enough and he held his boiling contempt in check.
‘No matter Clementine, you have saved me calling up a man. I’m sure they are busy with the salvaged materials. I shall walk among the crew. Join me.’
Wellshorn stepped towards the platform.
Clementine was in the presence of the four things that he held most in contempt in all his known experience. The chair, an elaborate throne with its levers that sent futile commands to the crew was the least of his hates. Flying in the air far behind the command deck was a small kite, its wire attached to a metal box on the railings of the deck. This was the ‘kite-razor plus’. It was his third greatest hate. It remained lower in his list only because he had been roped into helping his brainless captain in designing the one part that allowed it to work, a flexible tube of interlocking metal pieces snaked from the side of the box. This tube, only 3 millimeters in width could transmit the power created by the pull of an ascending kite and the rotation created by the cogs within the box to the handheld device that was attached to its end. His beautifully designed flexible rotating worm of metal was what allowed Wellshorn alone to apply a handful of spinning blades, safely held behind a perforated sheet of fine metal, to his face in order to trim the reddish stubble that grew there. It was Wellshorn’s Kite-Razor plus. Undoubtedly it contained some great concepts, but it was used for a pompous cause by an even more pompous man.