Mechanistry 4

A Steampunk Short Story by Chris Herron

Mechanistry 4

A Few Loose Screws

by Chris Herron

Tall Tale TV is officially four years old! Check out the past anniversary episodes to see how far the channel has come.



“Too impractical?!” Nalt jabbed his screwdriver into the open panel in front of him, tightening at random. His glasses were askew, hair a mess, and his face a patchwork of stubble and grease. Which was odd, as he had never been able to grow facial hair before. “What would they know about practical?! Bloody crackpots!” Another year gone by, another evaluation, and again he was denied the right to graduate and claim the rank of Mechanist.

Nalt tossed the screwdriver to the side and manically dug through his toolbox for a spanner. They had accepted Reginald. REGINALD! The blithering idiot had presented a self tightening neck tie that had a nasty habit of leaving the wearer blue in the face. They had given him a passing grade for that, but not Nalt’s explosion-resistant sleeping capsule. Noooo!

He couldn’t count the number of times he had been woken up by his various roommates testing one contraption or another, most of which inevitably incinerated a sizable portion of their dorm room.

But a fashionable noose was ‘the right kind of thinking’?!

“You’re paranoid, Nalt. You lack imagination, Nalt. Bah! I’ll show them imagination!!”

With a yank, he pulled back a massive tarp revealing his latest creation. One of his eyes twitched as his thin lips pulled into a wide, lopsided grin. “Doom-bot will blow them away!”

Doom-bot was a twenty foot tall automaton that looked like a mobile building with legs. If that building had been haphazardly outfitted with the latest advancements in explosive projectiles and demolition equipment. Thirteen tons of steam-powered, armor plated, unstoppable destruction!

Such a sizable creation would normally be difficult to keep unnoticed for long. But He needn’t fear his diabolical plan being uncovered before it was ready, as nobody used this particular workshop. Not since the ‘time-machine’ incident of ’37. Sure, there was a small chance a residual time bubble might appear and age him by several decades in an instance, but half the buildings in the campus had one quirk or another. After clearing out several barrels of some unmarked cleaning agent, it made the perfect base of operation to plot his revenge.

If they wanted a travesty of engineering, he would give it to them. “They’ll rue the day they crossed me. RUE THE DAY!”

Nalts self-congratulatory cackle was cut short by the sound of someone forcing open the massive rusted doors at the front of the workshop. He dropped his spanner and raced to pull the tarp back over his sinister creation.

Stokes, Nalt’s personal mentor and least favorite person, forced the doors open enough to shimmy his massive form into the room as he spoke to someone over his shoulder. “I’ve had it aging in here for months, give or take a few centuries due to the temporal anomalies. It should have us pissed as a priest on Sunday- Oh! Mr. Knobs. I Didn’t expect anyone to be here.”

“N-Nalt, Sir!” Nalt laughed nervously as he tugged the last bit of cloth into place.

The mountain of a man entered the room fully, looking suspiciously at the covered object that stood where his personal stash had been a week prior. “You didn’t perchance happen across several barrels of whiskey in here, did you?”

Nalt swallowed hard, remembering the caustic cleaning agent he had disposed of. “No sir, not that I can recall.” At the skeptical look from his teacher, he continued. “I needed a place to work on next years submission, I didn’t think anyone would need this space.”

Stokes nodded and placed a consoling hand on the skiny man’s shoulder. “That’s the spirit. Don’t let this year’s rejection get you down. Third time’s the charm!”

“Actually, this will be my eighth attempt at graduating.”

“Eighth?” Stokes yanked back his hand as though incompetence might be contagious. “Well… huh. I see. You know, I have a distant cousin in the Janitorial Services industry, I could put in a good word if you like.”

There was a boom as the rusted doors swung fully open. An ancient man in a complex motorized wheelchair glared in at them. Senior Member Willikie pulled a lever and the compact, rocket powered battering ram he had just utilized whirred back into place beneath his armrest. “Now, now, Stokes. If the boy wants to be a mechanist, the university is more than happy to accept his tuition for as long as that takes.”

Nalt bowed slightly, coughing on the acrid smoke as the ancient man rolled past him. “Thank you, sirs. I think?”

Stokes nodded thoughtfully, giving the tiny man a piteous once over. “I like you, Mr. Knobs. You don’t give up. True determination is a rare trait these days. What say you, Willikie? Hows about we give the lad a leg up? Help him with… whatever this is he’s working on.”

The color drained from Nalt’s face. “N-no! I mean, I couldn’t impose like that.”

Willikie wheeled his chair forward and grabbed hold of a corner of the massive sheet. “Nonsense. If we can’t get drunk, the least we can do is criticize a student’s work.”

Stokes raised a finger. “Constructively criticize.”

Willike rolled his eyes, nodding his reluctant agreement before accelerating his chair in reverse, drawing back the tarp.

Nalt felt fear creep down his spine like cold engine oil as doom-bot came into view,. He tried to run, but his legs had forgotten how to move. He glanced back and forth between the two teachers, their expressions shocked and grim.

They were going to expel him.

Expel him? No! They were going to toss him to the police! Why had he thought this was a good idea?! “It’s not what it looks like! I can explain!”

Stokes turned in his direction with a face like a wall of stony disappointment. “Explain?! There is no explanation for this!”

Nalt gave a terrified hiccup and babbled something about misinterpretation.

Willikie thrust a gnarled finger at one of the heavy tractor scoops protruding from Doom-bot’s left side. “The hydrolic pistons you installed here are far too small, and the alloy used in that joint might as well be made of caramel toffee for all use it will be.”

Stokes nodded fervently. “And how do you expect it to walk effectively when it has to counterbalance all those rockets mounted to the same side? Even them out, for crying out loud.”

Willikie kicked at one of Doom-bots legs. “No idea why you went with a bipedal base. Treads are far more stable for this style of apparatus.”

Nalt opened and closed his mouth wordlessly as he glanced between them. This wasn’t the reaction he had expected. “You aren’t mad at me?”

Stokes huffed. “Mad? No, I’m simply… disappointed. It’s like you didn’t pay attention in class at all!” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “It does have more promise than your other inventions though. I admire the scale of it, if nothing else. Why, if done correctly, a device like this would be perfect for the mining industry.”

Nalt blinked. “Mining… industry?”

“Of course. With all the explosives, giant drills and various tools of destruction, I figured… Wait. Did you intend it to be used for something else?”

Nalt shook his head hard enough that his glasses slipped free. “No! I was just surprised you guessed so quickly! Mining, of course! Hah! What other use could there be?!”

Willikie gave a sad grunt of disappointment. “Pity, I thought it was some sort of, I don’t know, ‘Doom-Bot’ or something. Been a while since a student cracked and went rogue. Always exciting, that.”

Nalt gave a high pitched cross between a laugh and a squeal.

Stoked rapped a finger against the machines hull. “Tell you what, lad. You implement the improvements we spoke of and bring this by my office, say, Tuesday, and we’ll see about changing that final grade of yours. How’s that sound?”

Nalt’s brain stumbled to a screeching halt. He blinked several times, not quite sure he had heard them correctly. A moment ago he was convinced he was going to prison, and now they had just offered to let him take his final exam again? “Um… yes?”

“Excellent!” Stokes patted him on the arm again, knocking him several feet to the side, before turning to Willikie. “Now, hows about we track down those missing barrels?”

Willikie nodded. “Agreed. I could use a drink after seeing this disaster. You’re getting softer every year with these students, you know that?”

Nalt watched, dumbstruck, as his teachers trundled off, exiting the workshop in search of something strong enough to put them both under the table.

Picking up his discarded spanner, he turned to Doom-bot. Or perhaps, the mine-o-matic?

This was his chance! A few alterations and he could be standing shoulder to shoulder with the other fully fledged Mechanists. It would be tight, getting all the alterations done by Tuesday, but it was doable! He was going to graduate!

As Nalt did a little dance of joy, an odd sucking sound erupted from behind Doom-Bot, followed by a POP. A sphere of distorted light ballooned out from the center of the room, stopping just short of him. It burst, and the time bubble left behind Doom-bot, suddenly aged by several decades. The newly-rusted bolts gave way, and with a mighty shake, Doom-bot collapsed into a heap of crumbling scrap metal.

Nalt’s fingers tightened around his spanner until his knuckles went white. Perhaps the eighth time really would be the charm, but it would have to wait until next year.


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