It’s Wednesday, which means time for another excerpt from my current work-in-progress. You may recall that Riwenne went to see an unusual circus performance where she encountered a mechanical beast. Although she freaked out, the head of the circus, Illari, offered to let her take a look at the machine and make sure it wasn’t dangerous.
I approached the bench with my guard up, but the machine was inert. The jaguar-shaped contraption lay on its side with the panels removed from its sides and belly, exposing a rat’s nest of wires, gears, pistons, and who knows what else. Staring at it, I felt a little silly because I didn’t really understand what anything was. The pieces weren’t going to tell me if it was dangerous or not.
Amena and Kyra joined me, but they didn’t have much mechanical knowledge, either.
“It looks complicated,” Kyra said.
Amena tested the edge of the claws and the teeth. “Nothing’s sharp, but it could still hurt with enough force, like if it jumped on top of you. How heavy is it?”
“Almost four hundred pounds,” Illari said. “Because of all the metal. I’d like to make it lighter, but it needs to be sturdy, too. If these legs were aluminum, they’d be crushed under the weight of the engine.”
I touched the battery compartment inside the chest. “And it only takes one of your electrical batteries to run it? There isn’t a second power source hidden somewhere inside?” I couldn’t sense any magical energy, but it wouldn’t be the first time that someone had masked their magic from me.
“Like I said last night, almost everything we do is run on electricity.” Illari pointed to the nacelles. “When we’re not flying the ship, we use the engines as power generators to charge our batteries.”
“Where does the electricity come from?”
“We burn natural gas.”
My eyes narrowed. “Not wood or coal?”
She shook her head. “Gas is more efficient and there’s less byproduct.”
“You mean smoke, the stuff clogging up the air. So there is still some smoke?”
Illari sighed. “Yes, it does still cause some pollution.” She gestured to a nearby chalkboard full of complicated formulas. “We are looking for cleaner alternatives, but this is at least a step in the right direction. Most people on the mainland are forced to use coal because there aren’t enough of your magic crystals to go around.” She folded her arms and stared at me.
Okay, that was fair. I couldn’t fault her for that. But that wasn’t what I really wanted to know. The thing that bothered me was how much this machine looked like the designs that Pomavar and Rennu used. Had she studied their work?
Kyra was also taking a close look at the jaguar’s construction. She touched a leg. “It’s a great design, but I feel like I’ve seen it before,” she said. “Where did you get the idea?”
“I didn’t steal it,” Illari said defensively. She picked up a magazine from a table and brandished it. “The electrical parts are my invention, but you’re right, I did borrow from someone else’s design. It was all published in this engineering journal.”