The Assembler

Chapter 2 - Gears, Cogs and Wheels

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

Gears, cogs, and wheels all groaned as one. There was a sort of hiccup, a vent of steam and then a teeth-clenching squeal. The huge Fresnel lens began to rotate and the lamp that was the heart of the Gibbs Light began to sputter to life.

A young woman, sitting precariously on a narrow metal rail, her back to the hundred foot drop behind her, not to mention the spectacular view, grinned. “Miracle worker!” she said.

The man with her, who sat cross-legged in front of the clockwork assembly that turned the lens, looked away from his work long enough to frown at the younger woman. As he did so, there was a loud screech. The lighthouse seemed to tremble and the woman had to grab for purchase not to be tossed out over the deadly drop.

The man muttered, “Bollocks,” and reached for a spanner. But it was already too late. The gears and cogs locked up, the screeching got louder and then the whole machine ground to an abrupt halt as it vented a huge blast of superheated steam. The man had to throw himself aside to avoid being burnt to a crisp, cracking his head a good one on the stone floor.

When the sound of venting steam died away, he dared to look up again. “Sod all. You’re a jinx, Margot.”

Margot dared to stand. “I try hard to be my best. Best jinx on the island!” She’d been on her ass on the narrow catwalk that encircled the lantern room giving the keeper easy access to the storm panes and a chance to visually inspect the astragal bars that kept them in place, protecting the light room from the violent hurricanes not to mention other storms that regularly buffeted the islands of Bermuda.

Hurrying steps up the metal circular stairs that gave access to the light room warned them both the Keeper was rushing up to see to the damage.

Not surprisingly, the Keeper’s head was the first bit of him visible from the staircase that emerged through a hole in the floor. He wore a frown and a glare not to mention a faded, well-worn and frayed tweed flat cap that did little to hide his balding head. His whiskers made up for the lack of hair higher up on his head though.

“Are you all right, Ned? Miss Margot?” were the words emerging from the Keeper, making the man working on the innards of the light raise an eyebrow. He'd expected worry and anger, not concern for their well-being.

“We’re fine, even if Margot seemed for a moment to think she could fly.”

Margot, dusting her bottom off, frowned at Ned, then aimed a high-wattage smile at the grizzled Keeper. “Ned hit his head. Obviously not quite hard enough. Still, with luck it’ll knock some sense into him,” she replied. “Make those internal gears in there fuction more efficiently.”

“Prat,” Ned replied mildly. Margot merely grinned back at him, unmoved by the entirely unfair slur.

The Keeper shook his head. “I doubt it, Miss.”

“Me too,” Margot confessed, laughing. “He’s quite beyond hope,” she added as she walked over to lean over Ned’s shoulder as he regarded the mechanism with a sigh.

“Well, it’s no worse than it was,” Margot suggested. “It didn’t work before you started work on it, and it doesn’t work now.” She was, really, trying to be helpful.

Ned made a face.

“She's right,” the Keeper pointed out. “It’ll be another long night doing things the old fashioned way,” he added sighing.

“I’ll take a shift,” Ned offered.

“Me too,” Margot chimed in generously.

“You, sir, just go work out what needs must be done to get this ancient piece of gear working again. I’ll handle keeping the light lit myself.” The Keeper perhaps thought the place safer with Ned a bit further away from his precious light room.

Ned’s attention was already on a notebook he’d picked up. He frowned at his notes and calculations. He groaned. I see the error. I’m a bloody idiot. ButI still say I can rebuild the thing faster than I can repair it. We’ll have to order the parts they’d have to be manufactured and even using air delivery... If I instead upgrade the power from conventional steam to ...”

“Well, tonight it’ll be man-power. You convince Mr Marchant of your calcuations and I’ll talk to the guv about your plans. How long would it take do you think?”

Ned glanced over his shoulder at Margot Marchant and thought for a moment. “A week for the remake. I have the parts.”

“And if we order replacement parts?”

“A month at a guess.”

“Two more likely,” Margot added. “London.” It was a swear word in her mouth.

“Can you set it up to use steam or kerosene as a back-up to that new-fangled idea of yours?” the Keeper asked. He might think Ned a bit of a Nutter, but Ned was, he was quite certain, a gifted if not brilliant Nutter.

“I can do that,” Ned agreed.

“Talk to Dr Marchant and if he agrees we’ll set things in motion.”

Ned and Margot scrambled down the grassy hillside together. Margot’s car was parked at the bottom pulled off of the the narrow dirt road that meandered along coast below them. The sky was a clear azure and the wind was mild if a bit chilly, marking the approach of autumn and cooler temperatures. Margot shivered. Then she looked up and smiled. “Right on time.”

She was referring to the airship they could both see approaching the islands from the west. The sun glinted off the brilliant white of the envelope and then highlighted the company’s logo. Windows in the gondola glinted and Ned could easily imagine the faces looking out eagerly as their beautiful islands spread out below them in the cerulean sea. What he didn't want to imagine was just who might, or might not, be aboard. If he kept well away from the harbor and the airship mooring field and hangars he felt reasonably invisible. But not invisible enough, he knew, if they really wanted to find him. He hoped they'd dismissed him from their memory. It was, realistically, his only chance at being left alone.

“What?” Margot asked as they reached the car. She climbed in and let Ned deal with the crank in the front. The car shuddered as she pressed the starter. A satisfying backfire assured her the steam engine was running perfectly. Ned vaulted over the door to land in the passenger seat. “And don’t you dare tell me you need to adjust something.”

Ned frowned at the engine, but shrugged and sat back more comfortably. “Don't blame me, then, if it strands us halfway to your house.”

“I will blame you. I swear you are the most pessimistic fellow I've ever known.”

“Thank you. I work hard at it.”

Twenty minutes later, without incident other than dust in their faces and sunshine in their hair, Margot was pulling her little two seater up in front of the brilliant blue stucco home she shared with her father Dr Marchant, former don at Oxford.

Septimus Marchant stepped out onto the front veranda and frowned at his beloved offspring. “You cut it again,” he muttered sounding resigned rather than angry.

Margot fluffed up her bob. “It gets far too hot here to wear one’s hair down to one’s butt. YOU try it, father.”

Ned struggled to control his lips. Septimus Marchant had barely enough hair to even cut.

“Oh and you be quiet too,” Septimus muttered at Ned.

“Wasn’t going to say a word,” Ned replied.

“How’d it go?” the don asked.

“He didn’t blow up the lighthouse. Not quite anyway. But he did put an end to its misery.” Margot ignored Ned’s glare.

“Ah,” Septimus said as he followed the young people into the house.

The three of them headed for the breezy back porch which had a fabulous view of the harbor and the sea beyond. Margot detoured to the drinks table whilst the two men settled into comfortable chairs to discuss the esoteric mathematical and engineerial details of lighthouse technology while admiring the beauty of Bermuda. She tuned them out and walked over to lean on the rail, just enjoying the view and the rumble of their voices occasionally drowned out by the raucous laughter of gulls and the rattle of palm fronds. Could life get any better than this? She seriously doubted it.


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