Saturday, 28 June 2008

Soylent Green

Yesterday was a dreadful day, it started just before dawn with a young urchin lad knocking on the door of my palisade home for all his worth. Urchins are notorious for their tricks and tom-foolery but there was clearly something wrong, I threw on a house coat and bid him enter.
"Soylent green", he spluttered, "a soylent green plague".
"Calm down", I ushered him to a seat in the music room and fetched him a glass of elderflower cordial. "Now, slowly, what is this nonsense".
"Miss Beq, it ain't no nonsense, there's a green plague an' its comin' out of that box on yer tower fing."
The back of my neck prickled and a shiver followed down my spine.
"Ve kids is callin' it the soylent green killer 'cos it makes no noise but it kills stuff."
"It kills! Who has it killed? Oh what is happening, could this get any worse?"
"I dunt no nowt bout oo it as killed but ver eyes burst and they tern inta normous catypillars"
"Pure fantasy child, I fear I must go see this silent killer for myself. Thank you for bring it to my attention".

I raked around in my purse and sent him on his way with a few small coins and a slice of carrot cake.

With the way things had gone of late, there was of course a chance that the boy was right, and in any case I had to go and re-examine the casket. It had not seemed damaged the previous day, no leaks or cracks were obvious.

Dressing quickly I rushed out of the house as the sun was pulling itself up over the horizon. I made straight for the Vernian sea and rushed to the tower. I am afraid to say that at least part of the boy's tale was correct, an eery green mist was oozing from the casket. It was however clear that the boys claims about its toxicity were exagerated to say the least. Tiny fish swam through the mist feasting on the nutrients that were suspended therein. However it was clear that this thing could be left no longer. I had to repair that casket and yet it was in no fit position to be worked upon.

The only option left was to release the casket from the "claw" that held it, that meant cutting the ironwork. While the mechanical claw arm that I bought from Ms Frye is powerful but would not cut into the steel structure without making an enourmous mess, indeed it may not open far enough to get a grip. I would have to find another way. The ironwork used is cut on the surface and then sunk, on the surface the cutting is done using a relatively new (re-)discovery, the gas acetylene. Mixed with oxygen a tremendous heat can be created and if correctly contained will make short work of iron. However, this is not so easily used beneath the waters. I recalled and article in a recent edition of "the collected papers of the Sub-aquatic Engineering Institute"; in which it was argued that by the use of an increased flow of air one could achieve a good welding or cutting flame even under water, though in experimentation this had been shown to work only to a depth of around 50 metres. My luck was in, the casket had wedged itself between 40 and 50 metres below sea level.

I took the Hippocampus, along the canals and left it just outside the Janus Industries factory. I had already decided on my course of action. I was going to modify one of Ms Frye's Wrench arms to act as a cutting and welding torch. I would feed the burning gas from one of my hip cylinders via a concealed hose. My luck was truly with me. I had only partially recalled the article but as luck would have it the correct edition of the journal was on my desk in the office when I arrived. It made it clear that Acetylene whilst the best gas on the surface was quite volatile under pressure and could not be used at a depth of more than 10m, luckily Hydrogen could be used as an alternative and this, whilst being more readily available from Anabella Voom across the street was also stable and usable to the 50m depth that I had recalled.

I quickly set to work and within a few hours had a torch ready to go.

Compressed air is used to create a "dry" envelope in which the flame can burn. The flame itself is a mixture of Oxygen and hydrogen, cutting is achieved through oxidation rather than melting in the same way that it works on the surface.

I returned to the Hippocampus and made my way back to the open sea. I once again maneuvered the submersible, to within reach of the casket and proceeded to secure the casket to the tail section with Roebling steel rope, this enabled me to exert enough tension on the wedged casket so that if it started to move it might fall away from the glass in the immediate vicinity. There was a great deal that could still go wrong all I could do was try my hardest to minimise the risks.

I removed the upper set of chains, the lower set had unfortunately become wedged tight overnight. I then set about defacing my beautiful tower.

The cutting worked like a dream, a stream of tiny bubbles issuing from the tip as sparks and shards of oxidised iron fell away. It was not long before I had cut away the claw that had held the casket.

With steel ropes taking the strain, I gingerly returned to the submersibles controls and edged away from the building. A terrible groaning issued forth as the sub and I fought against the inertia of the casket. Then all at once the casket was lose and plummeting toward the glazed habitation pod beneath us. As planned the rope took the strain and the casket swung down and away from harm but the weight jolted the Hippocampus violently sending us tumbling briefly with it. The submersible whined as it rotors and stabilisers fought to adjust to the weight swinging precariously below but the depth controllers won the fight and within a few minutes I was able to lower the casket back to the sea bed.

On the seabed I was better able to examine the casket and found the source of the leak. Hidden from view when it had been embedded a small gash had been formed during the accident, tearing the outer skin and slightly puncturing the second skin inside allowing the sea to get to the remains. I was now too deep to perform any repair, so I strapped the casket securely to the tail section of the Hippocampus and returned to the surface where in the shallows I was able to perform a repair on the casket. The repaired casket was returned to the depths still attached to the submersible's tail to ensure that the vessel had indeed been re-sealed. I checked the fastenings once more and then returned to my mooring alongside the airlock. 100 metres above me the sun had set many hours ago and the moon itself was now making steady progress across the night sky.

I retired to my makeshift bed in Aegir's hall to consider my next move; the final move of this wretched thing. I would not tolerate the continued existence of this thing as clearly people could not leave well alone.

(( I have tried to keep the engineering principles of this solution within the bounds of physics and the time frame of the genre. Whilst mixed gas cutting was well established in the early 20th cetntury I have had troubel finding accuarate data for its first use and the first application in a aub-marine environment. If anyone has found such a resource I would love to hear of it. Having said that I think I am safe to say that the technologies used are well within the bounds of the steampunk genre.

I should also appologise for the contrived start of this entry, but it did allow me to win a bet by indirectly mentioning the name of a 70s sci-fi film and I don't think Beq noticed a thing ! ))

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