Mechanistry 2, Evaluation Day

A Steampunk Short Story by Chris Herron

Mechanistry 2, Evaluation Day

By Chris Herron

 

In order to become a fully licensed Mechanist, Nalt must go up against the university’s top brass and show them what he’s got.

Tall Tale TV is one year old!!! I wrote this for my one year anniversary, going back to my very first episode, Mechanistry. If you would like to hear the original story, you can find it here.

Thank you to everyone for making this dream a reality for me. You guys are amazing!

 

 

Nalt was literally shaking, his nervous disposition causing the tools in his work apron to give off a pleasant jingling. Today was the big day. Either he would become a fully fledged mechanist, or he would spend another year in Tinker hell.

Tinker hell, or hall as it was officially named, was the west wing of the university’s dormitories, reserved for the senior level of aspiring Mechanists, Tinker rank students. While the accommodations were far better furnished than those belonging to the younger students, the living conditions were the worst on campus. The problem was that the longer one stayed enrolled, the more they learned. Which inevitably lead to larger explosions when things go wrong. And they went wrong on a regular basis. Tinker hall had been rebuilt twice this year alone.

There were only three ways out of Tinker hall. Feet first, as happened more often than Nalt cared to think about. In the dead of night, resignation was considered cowardly, but simply disappearing could be attributed to more honorable reasons like sudden onset amnesia or abduction. And the last way, elevation into the rank of Mechanist, at which point one could either strike out into the world on their own, or join the faculty and on site research teams that lived in the more fortified wings of the school.

And so Nalt stood in the wide hallway with the other hopefuls, each standing next to their own pile of inventions. Some had put all their eggs in a single basket, hoping to wow the professors with a solitary device. Others, like himself, had brought a collection of machines, hoping that diversity would net them more votes from the senior staff.

A loud BANG emanated from the large wooden doors across the hall. Some muffled shouting could be heard, then silence. Above the door, a complex series of gears, pulleys and belts clanked to life, and the doors swung outwards. A boy in his late teens, face blackened and hair singed, walked dejectedly past his classmates, clutching tightly to a jumble of parts that had, until recently, been his crowning achievement.

Number 47!” The voice, while frail, carried a sense of undeniable command.

Nalt looked at the scrap of paper he had been provided, the number 47 scrawled in loopy handwriting across it. He took a deep breath, steadying his nerves, and carried his pile of devices into the classroom.

A wizened old man with massive spectacles waved him closer. “Come in, come in. No need to look so afraid, my boy!” he pulled on a lever next to his chair, and the doors slammed shut with an ominous boom.

Nalt gave a weak smile, and began laying out his inventions on a long table before the assembled Masters. There were four of them in total. The old man was Senior Member Willikie, the oldest mechanist still alive at an impressive 92 years old, and more impressively, still in possession of all his limbs. Beside him sat Dean Beckett, a tall, straight backed man with intense eyebrows.

To the right were Professor Lydia Kadwell, head of artificial produce research. And, of course, Master Stokes, under whom Nalt had been forcibly apprenticed for most of his academic life. Something few people could claim and still count to ten with their fingers.

Senior Member Willikie held up a clipboard, squinting at whatever it held, “Let’s see here. You are Nalt, correct?” Nalt nodded. “Good, good. And it says here this would be your. . . good god, fifth year as a Tinker?”

Nalt gave a halfhearted chuckle. “Uh, yes sir. But, I am confident you will find my work more than adequate this year.” It was true, Nalt had been in Tinker hall longer than anyone in living memory. Not a fact he was proud of. His mother, bless her soul, had wanted him to be a plumber by trade. But oil was in his blood, and gears ran the workings of his soul.

Willikie shrugged, “Well, you’re tenacious, I’ll give you that. What have you brought for us today?”

Nalt approached the far left of the table and flipped a switch on what looked like a pile of metal rods. The device rumbled as the internal combustion engine engaged, and then the rods unfurled into a pair of articulated arms with pincers at the ends. “I present to you, my anti-amputation-device!”

There was a bit of a murmur from the gathered professors as Nalt slid his hands into a pair of gloves, connected to the apparatus by a series of fluid filled tubes. The robotic arms moved in time with his own.

Professor Kadwell gave him a quizzical look, tapping one of the metal arms with a pointed fingernail, “Interesting. And the practical application?”

Nalt grinned, he was quite proud of this part. “Well, madam professor, students are often. . . less than successful when designing new devices. And frequently the mere act of turning one on puts the student in close proximity to the, uh, damage radius. This device allows one to do so at a safe distance.”

The corner of Stoke’s mouth turned down. “What, and remove the need for foresight?”

Nalt shook his head, “No! I just. . . well. . . even the best Mechanists make. . . mistakes?”

It was the wrong way to phrase his response, and he knew it even before Dean Beckett shook his head. “A Mechanist must trust his own design. If he does not, why should anyone else be willing to? This device will erode ones sense of confidence. A finger here or there is a small price to pay for ones integrity. What else have you brought?”

Nalt shrank a little, shucking off the gloves. “Right, well put sir. I should have realized.” He had realized, of course, but then again he valued all ten of his digits more than the average Mechanist. “Next, I have this!” He help up a small metal cylinder with a pin near the top.

Stokes’ eyes went wide as he snatched the shiny object from Nalt’s outstretched hands. “My word, lad! Are you experimenting with explosives?! You could burn the school down! Besides, someone already invented the grenade.”

Nalt shook his head, “No, sir. I am well aware of your patents, and make no move to improve on them. This is an anti-explosion-grenade.”

Senior Member Willikie pulled another lever, and the seat of his chair extended forward like an accordion, granting him a better view. “Anti-What?”

Anti-explosion-grenade.” Nalt reached into his apron of tools and removed a small gas torch. He retrieved one of the classrooms small braziers, setting it on a nearby table and piling some charcoal into the basin before setting it alight. “It’s for small fires and impending critical failures. Master Stokes, would you, uh, care top do the honors?” Nalt gestured to the flame and took several large steps back.

Master Stokes shrugged, pulled the pin, and threw the contraption at the table Nalt had gestured to. The cylinder exploded with a small POP, white powder billowing out in a sizable cloud covering a twenty foot area. As it settled, the fire died.

Nalt waved at the dust covered table with a flourish. “It’s filled with a flame retardant compound! Zero toxicity, instant deployment, and. . . uh. . .”

The teachers were busy dusting white powder from their robes, their expressions unamused.

Nalt walked back up to the table. “Right. Next then?”

Senior member Willikie buffed his glasses with a polka dot hankie. “I think that might be best.”

Nalt held aloft a metal hat, like those used by the City Watch. “I give you, the ‘Hard Hat’.” Nalt carefully placed it on his head, buckling the chin strap.

Professor Kadwell gave him a sympathetic, yet somehow patronizing look. “I do believe they already have those.”

Nalt held up his hands in a placating gesture, “Right. But lets imagine you are, say, assisting a senior Mechanist with, oh I don’t know, a self warming hot water bottle. And then for some reason, it explodes, sending you through a wall like a flaming cannonball. If you had been wearing one of these. . .” Nalt gestured to his helmet, “Not only would it have helped to protect your head, but on impact it would extinguish the flame!” Nalt demonstrated by striking the helmet with a small mallet. An internal bladder ruptured, dousing him with water.

Stokes scoffed. “Bit of a stretch there. How often do you expect to be in a situation like that?”

Nalt removed the helmet from his sopping wet hair. “That exact scenario happened last week!” Stokes raised an eyebrow. “You were there!” Still nothing. “I was in the infirmary for three days!”

Stoked scratched at his chin, “Lets say that did happen, what are the chances of that exact scenario happening again? The way I see it, you’re in the clear! Seems a bit useless at this point, don’t you agree?”

Dean Beckett nodded in agreement. “Seems a bit too pro-active to be of much use, what else have you designed?”

Nalt slumped and lifted a small metal canister from the table. It had a single button, which he depressed. A small slit opened on the curved side, and a long strip of white cloth began to shoot forth like a party streamer. Nalt gave it an almost sarcastic gesture with his free hand. “My Auto-Doc bandage dispenser, for rapid deployment of clean linen in the event of injury.”

Senior member Willikie sat back in his seat, “You seem. . . a bit paranoid, my boy.”

Nalt almost laughed. “Each of these items are based on real life situations!”

Stokes put a heavy hand Nalt’s shoulder. “What he means, lad, is that Mechanistry is about seeing what you can make happen. Not preventing it! So we might get a little singed now and then, and occasionally we loose a finger or two, but if we spent all our time worrying about little things like that we wouldn’t be pushing the technological boundaries of the world! I mean, take your final device for instance. . .” he picked up what looked like a desk lamp. “I’m assuming this is, what, and anti-laceration-ray or some such?”

Nalt quirked a brow. “No sir, It’s a desk lamp. It was there when I came in.”

Stokes set it back down with an exasperated sigh, “Mr. Nobs-”

Nalt, sir.”

If you want to make it in the world of mechanistry, you will need to learn how to think with your gut, not your brain!”

Nalt gave a dejected nod before gathering up his inventions. “Thank you, sir.”

With the grinding of gear, the double doors opened and Nalt shuffled out.

Senior Member Willikie shouted, “Number 48!”

A boy clutching what looked like a pair of steam powered dress shoes slid past him, and as the doors boomed closed, Nalt shook his head. Maybe it wasn’t too late to become a plumber.

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