The Assembler

Chapter 29- Risk It All

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

 

“Turn the bloody thing on,” Lord Silver hissed.

Ned’s lips tightened and his eyes narrowed. Right. The Assembler was as ready as he could make it. All lights were green, all the leads and connections had been checked. He couldn't stall any longer. Now was the time to risk it all on one last wild hope. Trust. He’d never been very good at it.

Ned took a deep breath and nodded to Richard. The control panel for the boiler that sat in the basement below them told him that the temperature was up and steam was flowing. Richard double checked the panel too then reached out to loose the throttle opening the valve allowing the steam pressure to kick the engine itself into gear. For good measure Richard helped the fly wheel begin the first turn. The wheel turned, hesitated a moment, then the reluctant machine sputtered a bit. Finally with a metallic clatter it came to life. After some initial mechanical protesting, it fell into its natural rhythm, the sound easing but still drowning out most hope for speech beyond yelling in one another’s ears.

Ned, his heart pounding, standing at the main console of The Assembler. He scrutinized the dials indicating steam pressure; they reassured him he had a steady stream of power through his array. Back in the cavern he'd used something quite different to power her, but this should work nearly as well. He hoped. And there it was, Hope again. If he'd been the sort to pray he would have.

He glanced over and up to see Nathan Ainsworth and Lord Silver standing on an upper level, on a catwalk that let them see the array from above, an unobstructed nearly direct view from above. They could also walk around the perimeter of the area to see it from all angles. The metal sheeting over the windows above were still in place, the only lighting in the place artificial. He had no idea if it were day or night. With any luck at all...

Ned put his hand on the switch. Did he dare? Would Richard grasp the moment and...

Ned forced his attention back to his dials. Just as he threw the switch there was a roar loud enough to be heard above the sound of the engine. He looked up and saw shards of glass raining down out of the factory ceiling. Then the lead sheets that had covered the glass of the ceiling were breaking loose from the huge chains that held them. First one chain then another. The sheets, heavy enough to crush anyone and anything beneath them if they fell, swung dangerously, gyrating wildly. As he watched in horror, first one sheet and then the other swung toward him, their weight forcing open the links of their remaining restraining chains. With a final screech of metal one chain finally broke utterly and it’s leaden sheet was suddenly arrowing downward. Only seconds later the other broke loose, too.

Ainsworth and Silver were diving aside as one sheet hit their catwalk, tossing them off their feet and Silver nearly off the catwalk altogether. He was clinging to the bucking and buckling metal for dear life. The catwalk was high enough that falling would all but guarantee death.

Ned, as the boom of their smashing into the factory floor echoed through the complex was bent over the Assembler console madly trying to disengage his Assembler from the steam feeds. The steam engine itself had been partially damaged by debris and it was grinding to a halt with mind numbing metallic screeches that set teeth and jaws alight with pain.

In the ensuing sudden near silence Ned suddenly heard weapons fire. He looked up as he heard bullets ricocheting off the Assembler’s console and dove for cover between it and a workbench, which he overturned to offer himself better protection from above. A shard of something or other had opened a cut on his arm and it was bleeding. He considered himself lucky to have escaped, so far, with so slight an injury.

He looked upward to see perhaps a dozen men rappelling down from the roof, weapons in their hands. Others were visible on the roof. More men, dressed like the guards who’d escorted him here, Ainsworth’s security men, were rushing through the doors that led into the factory. They aimed their weapons upward and a shooting war erupted.

Ned looked around, but there was so much steam venting from pipes that had been penetrated by weapons fire, and dust in the air from the rest of the wreckage he could barely see more than a few feet in front of him. Twisted metal sheeting lay over parts of his assembler. He squinted at his gauges. He just didn't have enough power to move the Assembler out of there. And without it, he couldn't get out of there.

He glanced wildly around the huge factory. Neither Silver or Ainsworth were visible, nor could he see if the catwalk above him still hung in place or had crashed to the ground along with the leaden sheets. Then finally he spotted Richard. The young man was sprawled on the ground next to the steam engine, a bright blossom of blood expanding on the front of his shirt. His eyes met Ned’s. They were glazed with pain.

Ned got his feet under him and he began scuttling toward RIchard, dragging the worktable with him for cover.

Ned had managed to cross perhaps half the distance between himself and Richard, doing his best to ignore the whine of bullets and ricochets, and the screams of dying or wounded men. Richard mouthed something at him, but he couldn't hear over the din.

Then the entire tableau seemed to freeze for a moment, himself along with it. The world itself seemed to waver, as if time and space were momentarily confused. The sounds of the fighting and the venting steam, and the screaming of men seemed to recede into some tinny distance and suddenly, he, Richard and The Assembler were elsewhere.

 

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