Category: Gaslight

Steel and Motor Oil

The clinking of wrench on bolt echoed slightly through Dela’s guts, sound bouncing ever so slightly against the gears and steam pipes. The parts of her that he was standing in were shut off while the rest continued to pump away, using redundant systems to keep Newton safe while he repaired and enhanced her. He spoke to his difference engine, watching a yellow light blink Morse code in response.

“How is Dr. Bellenger?” The computer seemed sincere in her question. After so long, Newton could almost believe he could hear her moods in the grind of gears and strength of pistons.

He blushed a little as he tightened a bolt, rolling his shirt sleeves higher, trying to stall for time. “Please don’t begin that as well, Dela. I receive quite my share of it when I visit with the rest of the Exceptional community.”

“I don’t see what the problem is. It’s been quite some time since you’ve considered women as anything more than a potential colleague.  You’re not embarrassed by her, are you?”

“No!” The answer was sharp and quick and slightly mortified. “Not in the slightest. I might as well be embarrassed that the works of the Old Masters are so heartbreakingly beautiful. Rather…it is unfamiliar to me. Never have I been so delighted to be unsure of so much. Each new revelation is glorious.” The scientist started, realizing he had stopped working and was instead staring into space, the scent of oil and metal reminding him not necessarily of her, but of how she made him feel.

“Irregardless,” he continued, clearing his throat and deliberately returning to the task at hand, “she is the most brilliant women I’ve ever known, and I am honored simply to know her.”

There was the briefest pause before Dela answered, “The most brilliant?”

Newton couldn’t help but laugh. “Present company excepted, of course. No need for you to worry.” He patted one of the steam pipes, “You’re still my number one girl, Dela. But you have to admit, there are certain limitations to our friendship.”

“You’re right, Newton,” she said, pistons calm and steady. “I’m not jealous of your time. But I can perform thousands of calculations a second. I sincerely doubt Dr. Bellenger can accomplish half of that.”

He smiled, oiling an assembly with care, wiping up a trail of the slick lubricant before it dripped into the bearings. “You are indeed correct. Though Mac may be able to-” he was interrupted by a piston arm crashing down on his shoulder, not enough to hurt him, but certainly enough to gain his attention.

“I’m sorry, Newton,” the light blinked. “I seem to have slipped.”

Newton glowered for only a moment. “Perhaps less oil next time, then.” But soon he was smiling softly again. “Alright, Dela, I think you’re in form.” He climbed over another pipe, past a steam vent, and out a trap door in the huge facade of the Difference Engine. The buttons were warm and the switches flipping were accompanied by the satisfying hum of power surging through a machine. The pistons took a few moments to come up to speed and synchronize with the rest of the parts that hasn’t stopped moving, but soon the entire engine was moving at full capacity. Newton went over to the output slot and read the status report, his eyes scanning a familiar pattern of holes.

Then there were the two extras. Two punches that he had never seen in a diagnostic report previous to this one. That was entirely new, and the scientist spent more than a minute staring, trying to remember when he’d added that functionality.

“Dela, what is this ‘temporal fluctuation detection’ you have listed in your diagnostic?”

The computer took several seconds longer to answer than usual. Finally, a blue card spit out. “After your temporal…adventure, I though I should begin learning how to upgrade myself to include chronology sensors. They are not complete, but they would be present on the diagnostic.”

He didn’t know where to begin. All he could do was sputter, “What do you mean, ‘upgrade yourself?’ You don’t have that functionality, I never gave it to you!”

Dela did not answer. She didn’t answer anything for the rest of the evening.


Ok, so I read this today. It’s from Penn Jillette’s new book, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales, and I’m putting it here because a lot of it is very close to the thinking of my Gaslight character, Newton. He is a huge proponent of the claim that he doesn’t know, and gets very upset when people suggest that he’s trying to answer everything. This is not to change people’s RP as I enjoy trying to explain the difference IC and his struggle to get people to stop seeing, as he views it, ignorance as a virtue.

Either way, if you feel it will inform future interactions in a way that would ruin the IC nature of the struggle, I’ve put the quote behind a cut. Also, hey, look, I figured out how to do cuts in WordPress.

From the introduction, titled “The Humility of Loudmouth Know-it-all Asshole Atheists”

Newton felt as if he may crush his cane as the carriage rocked back to his home. How dare she even consider that she knew the slightest thing about him. Rather, she must be blind to not see the world that is so clear, so bright, so inexorably beautiful and to consider it cold and ugly for all its brightness.

He pressed a button hidden within the wall of the carriage and felt the device speed up, a trail of steam spreading from exhaust pipes as the “horses” began to move even quicker than before, far too quick for animals of such a variety. He could feel the oppressive weight of the Consensus begin to fall onto him, but he thought it worth the risk to be home even a few moments sooner.

The irritation only grew as he entered his home, passing the coat and cane to a servant without even thinking of which one it might be, and traveling down a series of passages to the gated door. He pulled aside the grating and pulled the lever, the lift sliding down into the bowels of the house, a place far removed from the Earth it was placed on. A series of stained glass windows lit by an unknown source passed on all sides, coloring the lift chamber in reds & yellows, blues & greens, purples, and hues as yet undescribed by the Masses. The windows showed several scenes from myth, Prometheus bringing fire to man, the man-made arc that survived the Great Flood, and histories that the Order knew, images of men banishing darkness with light, overcoming tyrannical magicians, and freeing the people to think for themselves.

He exited at the bottom of the shaft. There was always a slight hum in the Construct, supposedly from the orbs used to light the windowless structure. Newton had never taken the time to study them in depth, leaving it to the masters of the manipulation of Force in his order to maintain them. He simply wasn’t interested in them. There was a new world to be made, what incidence was a lighting device?

Instead, he went to his laboratory. The room itself was mostly stark, painted white and functional. However, the details spoke of his presence, a menagerie of various and unrelated items scattered about like sheep with a sleeping shepard. He knew what they all meant, why he needed an empty green bottle, a recently re-soled right shoe, and a stone designed for skipping. Each was involved, incidentally, in his experiments and he had to see what effects the early programs had on items in Reality. But anyone examining this eclectic amassing could not help but think him quite mad.

Standing most prominent in the laboratory was Dela (Difference Engine for Lasting Amity), a gigantic contraption of levers and cogs, pistons currently silent so as to appear as little more than an overly complex coat rack attached to a Franklin stove with no chimney. The Difference Engineer took a small towel and used it to open the stove, shoveling a few small spade’s worth of coal into the inferno raging within. It took but moments for Dela to begin to move, her gleaming arms pumping, wheels beginning to turn.

The Englishman used to need the special typewriter to communicate with Dela, but now he only used it to make the holes in the stiff cards, confident he knew where they would go should he have but a knife and his wits to talk to the machine. As he pulled his chair closer to the reader, a card has already slid from the output slot next to it. He picked it up and read the collection of incisions in the stiff material.

“You broke the Consensus. You only do that when you’re upset. What’s wrong?”

He smiled appreciatively. Dela always knew him better than he knew himself. He reconsidered what he would say and began to peck at the typewriter.

“Am I cold? Devoid of whimsy or feeling? Unable to dream?” He slid the completed card into the input slot and waited while the machine processed his request.

“No,” it replied. “You are the biggest dreamer I know, even among our Order. Who would say such a vile thing?”

“It does not matter.” He paused, drumming his fingers on the desk. “I seem to have abandoned reason this night in favor of pointless rage, and could have easily threatened my place in society, tenuous as it is, in the process.”

“Does it threaten your work on Reality 2.0?”

“No, but that’s rather the point. If my work is all I am, am I truly dreaming, or just a slave to mathematics?”

This one took a while to answer. Newton knew Dela well enough to know that she wasn’t stumped, but rather giving his question its due attention. She could have answered it a hundred different ways by that point, with reasons enough for all, but she knew that he would feel better if she waited, and was concerned for his well-being as much as his work.

“You should not be punished that your work is your truest passion. What you do, you do for them, and if they do not understand, explain it.”

“I am too angry to explain. How does one reason with somebody who would shun the light for no other purpose than it would prevent them from imagining what terrors might await in the dark?”

The next answer came quickly, with the confidence of one’s closest friend. “You will calm, and you will find a way. You always do. And you must, if you will one day present them the world.”

He read the card again, and ran it through the translator just in case he read it wrong, which he had not. As he looked at the pattern of holes, another card slid from the machine.

“Now, let me to clear the Paradox from your Pattern.”

“Yes, Dela,” Newton said aloud, shaking his head at her mothering. He stood and walked to a set of items hidden behind a glass door. He donned the two large gloves and dome-like hat, their geodesic bars reflecting the light in a myriad pattern. He strapped the hat to his head and began, with slowness born of the clumsy gloves, to turn the crank.

He could feel the waves wash over him as Dela’s gears picked up speed, as if the whirring sound itself were cleaning his mistake from him. He felt the weight move through his body, watching pistons and cranks push themselves with wild abandon. He knew that this was the least of Dela’s capacity, but still he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt, especially when he saw the steam escape from a location it shouldn’t have, and a gasket go flying across the room, bouncing harmlessly off the far wall. With that, Dela slowly slid to a halt, and Newton removed the hat and gloves, feeling lighter than when he arrived. He would have to repair Dela later, but he knew she would be unhappy had he refused, and the least he could do for his most loyal friend was to allow her the ability to do this for him, as guilty as it made him each time.