The Boiler squatted at the center of the City like a great brass cactus, it’s tall and thick form spouting thousands of little pipes, all branching off into one of a thousand other boilers dotted throughout the city. It took seven to man the Boiler. One to measure the recipe for the water, and the other six to mend the fire.
The recipe is precise. The exact right amount of Areos Vitae must be mixed with the exact right amount of water to give the steam a thick and billowy texture when it boils. Without the Areos Vitae, the steam would be thin and weak. There would be no way to power the entire city with mere water and heat alone.
Whenever the Master Pressure Gauge of the Boiler gets too low, the waterman opens the valves that connect to the channel, pulling in water to the deep belly of the reservoir. Then, he adds the Areos Vitae through a small channel that hangs over his head, and pumps the reservoir into the center of the Boiler.
The men who tend the fire work hard, shoveling the coal into the deep crucible that nests the Boiler. It is vital to monitor the thermometers to make sure the heat is even. If one side gets too cold, or two hot, the Areos Vitae could explode inside the Boiler. The steam would escape, tearing the Steamworks apart, and the City would grind to a halt. And nobody knew what would happen then.
The first time I saw the Boiler, I made the same mistake every new man does–I dared to look up into the face of my God. The Boiler rose so tall and the pipes twisted so beautifully, I looked deep into the rising heights as far as I could. It was so high! I remember feeling like I was transformed, magicked into an ant, or worm, insignificant under the shadow of so massive a contraption. It towered over me like a colossus, reducing me to nothingness.
Then, I felt my world turn and I was suddenly craning my neck to look down a massive hole, filled with copper tubes and ticking meters. The infinite depths of the earth yawned beneath me, and like a timid fly I clung by my toes on the ceiling. of the world. The next thing I knew, Peeks had grabbed me and pulled me back before I fell into the crucible. I learned a valuable lesson that day–the Boiler showed no mercy, and could devour you if you let it.
Alas, it was not a lesson I learned well. The Boiler was a cruel and dangerous master, demanding coal and water like we needed air. We were consistently running about the monstrosity, adjusting levels, releasing valves, and always, always, maintaining pressure.
The constant pressure. The incessant ticking.
My life became the Boiler. When I worked the pipes, there would be jokes, and songs, and stories. We would talk with each other, sharing what time we could together, as friends and co-workers. On the Boiler, there was no speaking. There was no time to talk, and the air burned your lungs. All you had was your shovel, the coal, the thermometers, and the ticking to keep you company. The best firemen didn’t even need the thermometers–they could feel the differences in heat just by walking around the room. I was a good fireman.