Chapter 2

Background - Steam & Stars

Steam & Stars

Lady Zylphina Ambrose Atwater stared up at the moonless night sky through her study window. The horizon was on fire. Far away on the other side of the Atwater Estate, clearly illuminated by the otherworldly red glow of the heavens, stars were falling.

Over the coming years, the fall of stars continued. Initially they rained from the sky in a cataclysm of light and fire, shattering into a hail of deadly fragments. But as the days passed, the showers became much less destructive. Every few weeks one or two brick-sized meteors would plummet to earth, burying themselves deep into the unsuspecting landscape below. Mostly harmless, except on the occasion that one struck near a town or city.

“Why is it transparent?” Zylphina asked. “I thought you said Nexos was a metal?”
The Guild Preceptor, cast his eyes downwards towards the gilded marble tiles of Zylphina’s laboratory.
“Respectfully, m’lady, we don’t know. Nobody does.” He replied.
“Hmm... What do you think, Bella?”

Lady Isabelle Eudora Blackspring bent forward and peered at the sample on the steel benchtop. She extended a gloved hand and picked up the heavy shard, then lifted it up to examine it through the dull light of the sodium vapor bulbs on the chandelier that hung from the ceiling.

“Do please be careful!” Exclaimed the Preceptor, “Intact fragments of this size are quite rare and most expen...”

Both of the women were looking daggers at him. They each were, relatively speaking, minor nobles. Zylphina was the 3rd daughter of Primus Ezekiel Atwater’s youngest cousin, but she still bore the House name which carried more power than many royal titles. Isabelle, similarly, was Admiral Penelope Blackspring’s 27th grandniece (by age) but her distinguished academic career had significantly elevated her favor in the matriarch’s eyes. Either one of them could have him reduced to fragments if it so pleased them.

“Of course.” Responded Isabelle, slowly, her voice oozing like honey. “We shall all be very careful.”

As the Preceptor melted into a pool of his own apologies, Bella shot Zylphina a sideways glance and flashed her a jovial smile. What fun it was to play with the minds of smallfolk!

Isabelle strode calmly over to the dynamo on the opposite bench and placed the crystal between the two electrodes. She set the dials and flicked the switch then waited patiently as the steam-pump outside juddered to life and began to pick up speed. Small sparks like tiny lighting bolts swam through the dynamo and indicator needles jumped to life on the instrument’s meters.
“There, you see!” Bella proclaimed, ”The crystal is conductive, ergo it must be a metal!”
Pleased with the result, she turned to her friend with the enthusiastic look she always had when her mind was filling with new ideas.

“You mentioned that it was hard as diamond, right? And very difficult to melt?” Bella asked, her words accelerating like the dynamo behind her, “Well, we’ve got this Arkanic generator prototype over at Blackspring Foundry that always burns through its own cathodes, I wonder if...”

She paused and turned. Zylphia’s gaze was fixed on the crystal in the dynamo, which had begun to glow brightly with an intense blue light. The pump outside was shuddering wildly, pistons spinning furiously, steam pouring out of the boiler like a volcanic eruption. Instinctively all three backed away from the violent machine, shielding their eyes from the tiny sun that was blossoming before them. Just as their caution was about to overwhelm their curiosity, there was a metallic screech from the steam-pump as the engine seized - the red-hot bearings welding themselves solid. The noise abruptly stopped and the entire room went dark.

“What in the name of the Light just happened?” Bella wondered out loud.

“You say it doesn’t need any coal at all??” Captain Barnabas asked, incredulously.
“That’s right,” Replied Zylphina, over the din in the workshops of the Blackspring Foundry. “Just insert the Nexos cell into the breach here…” She demonstrated, expertly sliding back the brass case and dropping the cylinder into the socket.

Instantly, the colossal Goliath twitched as all six of the iron limbs flexed into rigidity. The quivering machine slowly lifted her up until her steel-capped boots were just above the Captain’s lavishly decorated hat.
“Marvellous… Most incredible.” He muttered, still awestruck by the powerful display.
“Each cell contains the energy of about a tonne of dry coal”, she continued, matter-of-factly.
“We know how hard it can be to get supplies to your Lawkeepers out in the Frontier, especially with all the anarchists sabotaging the bridges and railroads.”

The Captain paused for a moment and pulled his eyes away from the towering iron vehicle.
“Hmm? Yes, quite. For smallfolk those high-minded labourers are causing us some big problems.” He reflected, recovering some of his discipline.
“Then we have a deal!” Lady Zylphina concluded. “House Atwater can supply 50 cells for 3 million silver, and Lady Blackspring will give you a good price on the vehicles, weapons and ammunition.”