Nemo Me Impune Lacessit
This week, I present the first stirrings of steam punk. Not so steamy, not so punky — not even convinced it’s one of my best stories — but rather glad to have a new post to pop up on the site, nonetheless. If I don’t stick something up now, months will fly by and I’ll forget the whole point is not to be too precious about getting things out and about. The more you relax, the better it gets. Besides, Marina is about to throw some light on the situation…
wind the throw-light – a good twenty-seven times until the spring jumps – and hold it up. As I move the beam across brass tubes, pipes, iron hand-wheels and old machinery, the concentric rings of the lens make the light ripple like a surge of water. Breema is stooped in this bank of bits, and even he (optimisto supremo) has to sniff at the pale gleam he has to work in.
He gets out his bag of spanners and starts finding the one with the right-size head, but this nut is ‘zagonal, while the spanners are all squared.
Lindy sits on an old engine block and swings and dings her heels against it. There’s a brittle tonk, tonk of cat-leather on hollow, corroded brass.
“You need an adjustable spanner,” I says. “You’re rounding it off.”
And sure enough, there’s a soft, toffee give on that tool: metal sheerings gather all magnetic on its square-head and the nut is going way off to round.
Breema puffs out the underside of his tache, and tries to get a better grip “on the sump-infested thing”; even leans in and tries to pin it, hard, but there ain’t no breaking it in to turning – just poor tools.
“Damn it, Marina, hold that throw close-in like you mean it,” he says, shoulders blocking any light, anyhow. I’d have to be a contortionist to get the beam any further round that gleaming pate of his. I end up hanging the throw in on the end of a loose arm, like a tea pot, or some undersea, bow-riding Desdemona.
The shadows swim at my fingertips.
Breema’s side-chops throw out the wavery, whiskery wings of a sting ray.
Two things happen: there’s a spling! And that’s a spanner slipping off and getting thrown half way across the genny room. And Breema utters an oath so barkingly vitriolic I’m just about lady enough to faint pure dead away at the sense of it. Blood gleams on his rusty, oily fingers.
One-one-hundred, two-one-hundred, and there’s a final, clank, bang, tink, tang, crash, as the spanner lands somewhere in oblivion. Eight floors down, maybe.
While I steps aside, sharpish, Breema goes crank-crank-crank off into the gloom, making the walkway rattle on its fixings. He stomps down some cast-iron steps and is gone. He’ll find it better without the light anyway.
And will he find it? ‘Course he will. If you’re as old as he is, you can see things practical by touch – knowing every square-inch of sprue n’ casting – or, like some of them old-old-salts: echo location, tapping a penny.
After a respectful pause, Lindy gets back to danging her heels.
In the huge bubble window that arcs up and over her head like an alien planet, a huge shark is gliding past in the blackwater. Lindy waves cheerily – she likes sharks.
By default, the shark smiles back.
As an Engineer, Woman’s Brigade, Third Deck, I don’t really see these leagues-deep monsters anymore; whiter than ghosts, taller than the cabin trains. I can’t see beyond an inside edge. I see only stressed glass and pressure cracks around the restraining bolts, slippage in the greased clamping seal, and a bucket of cogs an’ gears and a drive chain – cowling removed – that can’t close the iris no more. The unshifting plates give a slight, polygonal straight-edge to the circle.
No, what I’m feared of is glass-spiders – that glass has more pounds per square inch than that shark has had cold, squiddily dinners.
And yeah, I shiver.
“You want we should go now?” Says Lindy. She jumps an undignified jump down onto the walkway, dress entirely dragged down piston block. Her bone-white pantaloons – now oiled up to the nines – is why mama ain’t at all airs-n-graces bout her coming down here. Even Lindy’s boots got fat dollops of grease on the end. What has she been kicking through?
She sniffs at the exposed pump-housing we’re working on. Takes a moment’s displeasure in the valve head which looks rather like the fleshy inside of an oyster – got that creamy, smoothed away shape, anyway. Generally frowns.
“Do you think we’ll ever get this thing going?
“Ah! Course. It’s just a pump. There’s hunners. Plenny of spares.”
“No, dimmy. The whole marine. ” She manages to wipe rust and oil across her forehead as she scatters hair out of her eyes, and gestures at, well, everything. Her arm takes in that bag of tools, her, me, window, the cavernous space up – to the size of so many cathedrals – the deeps, deeper still, and every last man-jack-rivet of it, stuffed full of enough rust and do-hickery machinery, for a million third class hands like me to round off more bolts than there are salt-fleas on a sump-rat. And that’s just this section.
So, yeah, the whole marine.
“Of course we’ll get her goin’,” I says. I pause in the magnitude of this task. “I reckon. One day. If she’ll rest up out of the silt; an’ if we can take up enough floor for the forge and crack enough water for the burning and breathing; and we don’t get tired of them ‘delicious’ algae cakes any time soon; and rat ‘n’ cat don’t get to figuring out traps too well, or wild shark stop swimming into the cable snares; and we can work out everything that connects to everything else, an –”
An’ I stop there, because Lindy is staring at me with narrowed eyes, kind of mad, and I reckon my hobnails are well and truly kicking-in that lie-to-me reassurance she was really after.
“Course. Sure. Um. The captain can’t have left us for long. An’ remember what he’s got up in steerage, across the wall. What his papa named him for:
Nemo Me Impune Lacessit. Nobody assails me with impunity.”
Though that can take on a forest of meaning, when you’re stuck so deep, you’re almost always talking about the sea.