Intermission: Tales from Cliffside – Steamworks 1

You have to be careful in the Steamworks.

Brass and steam fill the belly of the City. When I first became an Engineer, and I saw those towering pipes that twisted and turned like yarn through the brick walls and floors of the Steamworks, I had first thought I had gone insane. It seemed impossible that so much metal could exist. But of course, Cliffside is a giant place, filled with steam cars and zeppelins, doctors and fine gentlemen and ladies going about their days, and it was our duty to keep the City running, ticking along like an old Steam Meter.

I had only ever seen one of the old Steam Meters in a book before I went to the Steamworks. Of course, Ventometers were everywhere in the City, their thin and gleaming cylindrical forms replacing the loud thick clunky disks. In the Steamworks, however, the Steam Meters still reigned, their thin black needles always quivering slightly as they measured the steam pressure in the pipe, or valve, or regulator, or cooler, or boiler. The ticking was everywhere. Even with the roaring blaze of the boilers, and the banging of the boiling water, the ticking echoed through the tunnels like a clock, reminding us of the steady passage of time.

I was named Wetherbee Spikes by a mother who did not survive my birth. When I was young, my father sold me to my eventual mentor and friend, Foreman Humphreys, for drinking money. I worked with Kites, Pullson, Richards, and Peeks. We five were the Lower Runabouts, and we knew every inch of the lower half of the Steamworks. We kept the pipes clean and tight, sealed all the cracks, and knew all the shortcuts so we could get from one side of the lower half to the other in fifteen minutes flat. We scouted all along the twisting web of pipes, dodging Engineers and Steamologists. We made a game of it, seeing how many days we could go without the other workers seeing us fix the cracks. Foreman Humphreys called us his Steamwork Spiders.

Of all five of us, I was the smallest of stature when I joined the Runabouts, so I was sent down the deepest and narrowest pipes to adjust the valves and regulators in the hollow bowels of the Steamworks. My ears were sharp, and I could find a leaking pipe quicker than anyone, seal it off, tighten the bolts, and get back before the pipes had time to cool. We had pride in our work, then, the boys and I.

But time passed, and as I grew older and could no longer fit down the narrowest of cracks, I would climb the large boilers and thick pressure pipes to seal leaks and keep the pressure high. I became an Engineer then, fitting new valves, adding new threads in the ever widening web of pipes. My muscles grew strong from lifting large spanners, and hoisting giant brass pipes into place with my fellow men. Kites fell ill when he was fifteen, and died before the year was out, and so it was just me, Pullson, Richards, and Peeks.


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