Stargazer pushed her goggles up to her brow, a bright grin crossing her face. She just had to see with her own eyes the results of her efforts, after all the sweat and tears that had gone into finishing this project. When the Steam Judge had first approached her with scribbled notes left half-finished for a perpetual power source, Stargazer had almost laughed and refused. Yet turning down the Steam Judge was easier said than done and the challenge had intrigued her.
Picking up the notes from where they had been left was not easy. Whomever had started the research had obviously not been concerned with making them easy to follow. Instructions that read like a stream of consciousness, diagrams missing measurements, theories scribbled in the margins, and what could only be described as a coded language at critical points had made deciphering the designs itself a difficult task, let alone completing the engineering of the Aeolipyle.
That was her name for it. The designs for it had been untitled. Stargazer wondered just how the Steam Judge had managed to acquire those notes, but it seemed better to refrain from asking.
The Aeolipyle would be able to generate power from its internal steam system, creating perpetual energy once set in motion. Stargazer lifted the orb-shaped object in the palm of her work gloves, examining it giddily. There were ports for hoses and knobs to adjust the power all along the shiny brass exterior. When hooked up to a Machine, it would be able to power the engine endlessly, without limits. At least, it would if the theories held true.
“Well! No time like the present to put it to the test!” Stargazer said, turning around from her workbench towards the other side of her workshop. There was her machine, built from brass and iron. The pressure gauge right on the front was all the way to the left and its smokestack was steam-less, at least for the moment.
Stargazer climbed onto its top, spinning the crank-wheel to open the machine and reveal the engine inside. A cloud of steam greeted her, escaping from within its sealed chamber. Her goggles fogged and her hair felt a little damp as the steam passed over her face. With a few twists of her wrench and tightening of nuts and bolts, Stargazer hooked her engine to the Aeolipyle. Now it was time for the ultimate test.
She slid into the seat of her machine and turned it on. Instantly, she could hear the chugging as the steam-powered engine started to turn the gears of her machine, the needle on the pressure gauge slowly climbing. Sweat dripped down her brow as it climbed higher while the pressure rose more and more. The whole machine rumbled beneath her as she watched the needle steady out.
“It worked! It worked! I have to go tell everyone!”
Stargazer hopped out of the machine. She didn’t even bother to stop it from running. After all, the Aeolipyle would keep it going…forever!
“I’m telling you, Metal Ox,” The Steam Judge said, “This invention will be able to power any machine you want. A battalion of Steam Tanks. Gatling turrets that never overheat. You want a fleet of airships to rule the skies against your rivals? With this, they’d never need to come down.”
“And how many of these…Aeolipyles…have you made so far, Judge?” Metal Ox asked. His face was hidden behind a metal mask in the shape of an ox’s head, ornamentations made from jade decorating the helmet. The warlord was quite big, taller even than the Steam Judge.
“So far…none. But we are close. I’ve hired the brightest inventors to take a crack at it, and the girl I have working on it now, why she is close to the final breakthrough!”
Stargazer peeked around the doorframe, having clandestinely listened to her employer’s conversation. Weapons? He wanted to use her Aeolipyle for weapons? All the potential that this offered to advance society for everyone to be ignored in favor of courting those already rich and powerful.
This is not what he had told her his plans were for the Aeolipyle. And if that was what he intended to do with it, she could not afford to leave it here in her lab. Or her notes behind…
“Ah, Lady Stargazer,” The metallic voice came from beside her, causing Stargazer to jump a bit in surprise. She had been so lost in her thoughts, she had not seen the Steam Judge appear. His face was obscured as always by the filter he wore on his face, with a matching top hat upon his head. “I was just on my way to your workshop. Have you made progress on the device?”
“Th-there’s still some issues I’m working out. But I’m close,” Stargazer lied. She needed to get back to her workshop before Judge grew too suspicious.
“I see. That’s good to hear. I’ve spent quite a bit of money on this endeavor, as I’m sure you know. It’s good to know that soon I shall start to see a return on this investment. How soon do you expect the Aeolipyle to be ready?”
“No more than a week, I’d think,” Stargazer said, non-committedly. She could feel Judge’s eyes trying to pierce through her behind his blue goggles. After what felt like a long time, the Steam Judge nodded his head.
“I see. Allow a gentleman to escort you back to your workshop, Lady Stargazer.”
“No! No, that’s alright. I know how busy you are, Mister Judge. I wouldn’t wish to impose. It’s a mess right now anyway.”
Once more, the Steam Judge took an uncomfortably long time to respond. When he did, what little of his face that she could see made Stargazer feel as though he was smiling at her. “As you wish. Another time then.”
“Good day to you, Mister Judge,” Stargazer said, bowing her head, taking that as the best excuse to leave as she started back to her workshop.
As she pushed open the door to the main hall, she could have sworn she heard the Steam Judge instruct someone to ‘follow her, bring her notes to me.’
She had to get out. Stargazer started to quicken her pace, clutching her notebook to her chest. She wasn’t safe here. Her Aeolipyle wasn’t safe here. The Steam Judge owned everything in this neighborhood, so even taking it home to her townhouse would not ensure its safety.
There were footsteps behind her. She didn’t turn to confirm, she just walked faster still. She needed to get to her workshop. It felt that each step she took was faster than the last one but the distance grew longer.
She started running. The footsteps behind her quickened too. Stargazer pushed open the door to her workshop and slammed it shut behind her. Her workbench was a cluttered mess, but she grabbed every note and diagram she could find, all her research, shoving it into a satchel. She heard kicking at the door. The Steam Judge’s men wouldn’t be held back for long. She needed to run!
With as much of her research as she could grab in such a short time, Stargazer ran towards her machine, still running just as she had left it. It had been a spur of the moment decision, one she was grateful for now.
As Stargazer slid into the pilot’s seat, the door was knocked loose from its hinges. Two of Judge’s mercenaries were there, ready to grab her and take her Aeolipyle. Stargazer pulled down her goggles and pulled the lever on her machine. She drove right towards the men, forcing them to dive as she built up her speed, before spinning her machine around one hundred and eighty degrees. The pressure gauge started to climb again as she pushed her engine to its limit, building as much speed as she drove right to the other end of her workshop and through the far wall.
She could hear their angry voices and risked a look back. She could see them running after her. She could see the Steam Judge looking out from the window above.
A shiver ran down her spine.
She had run for it. Now she needed to hide.