The institute itself was a new building, a ten-minute walk from the town, placed in the middle of a rather large fenced off field. I could see why it wasn't in the town itself; given how large it was, there wasn't enough available space, and Lord Reid wasn't prepared to kick people out of their homes for it. Or maybe he wasn't even able to. Heck, now that I was closer, it looked like it might even be bigger than the town, if you counted the whole fenced off area. It was impressive that it had been built so fast, but that was something I could blame skills for; a couple of rank three masons and an earth mage probably threw the structure up in a couple of days. I wasn't sure why it was placed at a distance, though. Maybe he was worried it would explode? Given that there were a number of walled courtyards around the building, and then the field around that, they were obviously trying to contain something.
As if to confirm that fear, a resounding bang echoed from the structure as I approached. I saw something shoot up into the air from one of the courtyards, trailed by a plume of smoke. At this point, I noticed a couple of chunks of twisted metal littering the surrounding landscape. Taking another look at the trail of pure white leading vertically into the air, I made a snap decision and threw up [Endurance]. The clatter of raining metal fragments started shortly afterwards. What the hell are they doing in there?! I rushed over with [Far Step], not wanting to remain outdoors when it was raining chunks of torn metal, and wishing I at least had my helmet on.
I bolted in through the door and paused to get my breath back. Given the wide area the debris was scattered over, it was unlikely that anything would have actually hit me, but still, that was scary. There were a couple of people in the room I'd run into, who looked up as I entered.
"Hey, are you alright? This area is closed off for a reason. It's dangerous to be around here!"
Well, yes. That's obvious now... "I'm fine. Nothing hit me. What was that though?"
"This is the new research institute that Lord Reid himself established. That was one of the researchers working on something he called a 'steam engine'. Something about heating a sealed container of water with fire crystals. Supposedly you can use the contained steam for something, but in practice the container keeps exploding. Anyway, now that their latest attempt has blown up, it'll be safe outside for a while. I suggest you head home now."
I blinked. Steam engines? That explains why the smoke was white; it wasn't smoke at all. Obviously they're currently failing rather spectacularly, but it's only been a few weeks. It must have taken some time to build this place. How had they got so far so quickly? Had they run off to a wide open space and started experimenting as soon as I'd stopped speaking? Even then, the progress was impressive. Anyway, I needed to clear up a misconception. It was in my best interests to make sure this place gets results, after all; the sooner it took off, the sooner I could get paid. "Actually, I came here deliberately. This place is slightly my fault, and while I turned down a job, I thought I should at least pop my head in and see if anyone had questions. Sorry it's a bit sudden."
The person I was talking to did a double-take. "Wait, you're Peter? Wow. No, I should have guessed that. Who else would have had a reason to enter the restricted area?"
The other person was just smiling. "Yeah, I thought it was pretty obvious. And I'd love to give you a tour. I bet you'll be impressed with our progress."
I took a look at my enthusiastic tour guide as we headed down the halls. [Analysis] told me he was a mid-levelled [Enchanter] called Chris. Fortunately, he wasn't that Chris, who I still hadn't seen since he quit delving. He just happened to have the same name.
It wasn't just steam engines. We started our tour by visiting a section dedicated to glasswork, where they'd already managed to melt down sand into something that had the texture of glass, albeit still too heavily coloured for use as windows or lenses, or anywhere else transparency was important. All the workers there had received the forming a new skill notification, so it looked like some sort of glasswork skill would soon pop into existence. They'd even gone as far as to bring in a [Commoner] who had only just reached adulthood. I hadn't even considered that; if a glasswork skill was created, would it get its own set of classes? Would those classes get extra skills that bypassed parts of the process, like the way Adele could repair my armour with a touch? They were currently experimenting with improving transparency, which I couldn't help with, but I did explain the little I could remember of glass-blowing, in the hopes that they could make use of the nearly opaque glass they currently had. Hopefully that would be enough to finish forming the skill, and then the skill would offer them guidance on improving the glass.
The next room we visited contained something that at first glance looked very much like a modern bike, consisting of handlebars, pedals, saddle, frame and wheels. The wheels even had tires, which was impressive given that I'd not seen any rubber around. On second glance, there was an interesting apparatus attached to the handlebars that I didn't immediately recognise the purpose of, and the gears looked strange. There was only one person in this room, a human [Smith]. That seemed logical; a bike was mostly metal, so you just needed someone to bash out the parts. He was staring at something on the front wheel and gave no sign of having noticed our approach.
"Hey, Simon. I've brought you a visitor."
Simon yelped, jumped, bashed his head on the handlebars and yelped again. I peered in concern, while Chris laughed.
"Ouch. Who is... Oh, Peter!"
Now that I saw his face, I recognised him from my lectures. "That's looking pretty good. Does it work?"
Simon looked at the ground sheepishly. "Yes. It works fine. I can take it out and do laps around the field with no problem. It's just..."
He paused, apparently not wanting to admit whatever the problem was. "Yes?"
"It's just... I have no idea how to stop it! You can use your own feet against the ground if you're going slow enough, but going too fast, or if you're going down a hill, there's no way. I thought maybe gripping the wheel between plates would help to stop it spinning, but I can't work out how the rider can apply the pressure. I tried a foot operated lever, but the positioning was too awkward. Neither the rider's hands nor feet are close enough to the wheels."
Ah... Whoops... When I'd explained the concept of a bike, I'd focused on the bits that made it go. I had completely neglected to mention the bits that made it stop afterwards! Yet he'd invented the concept of brakes all on his own. Now I could see what the stuff attached to the handlebars was supposed to do; it was trying to transfer force to activate the brakes via a series of connected rods. I suggested he use cables instead, but he was one step ahead of me, pointing to a set of strings laying on a desk, made of some material I didn't recognise.
Eww.... So the rod system was just a proof of concept, and now he was working on improving it. They probably haven't made suitable metal cables yet, and monster bits might be the best they've got. I had no idea how well it would work. Aren't sinews stretchy? I'd have thought that would make them useless. He seemed to have it all in hand, so he probably knew better than me. I explained the concept of hydraulics anyway, not that it seemed to be needed here, but I would prefer my future to be built out of something other than orc if at all possible.
The gearing was more problematic; he couldn't work out how to make the gears changeable by the rider while in motion. I couldn't help there; despite staring at it for a bit, I had no idea how the mechanism worked.
You have begun to form a new skill
What? But I didn't do anything! I'm just explaining stuff, and half remembered stuff at that. What new skill is this supposed to be? Hydraulics? It was annoying, but there wasn't anything I could do about it now. If I wanted to find out what it was, I'd just have to wait for it to finish forming, assuming it ever did.
Before we left, I had a question of my own I wanted answered. "What are the tires made from? I didn't think (rubber) was available here."
"No, the tree sap you described isn't something we had available, although a couple of the elves did think they knew a tree which matched. This is the skin of some sort of squid monster. I'm not sure it would be suitable for mass production because it's a fairly high levelled monster, but given how tough, stretchy and rough it is, it makes for perfect tires."
Monster skin... For all the materials we have on Earth that aren't available here, monster bits do seem to fill in a lot of the gaps, and at least this one wasn't orc. Given how tough monsters can get, their body parts must have fairly unreasonable structural properties. Unless it's some sort of magical or System based physics breakage, and it all goes away when they die? I'm sure my armour is tougher than animal leather back on Earth would be, and it's certainly not alive, but then it's enchanted with durability too. Maybe I'll experiment with stabbing alive and dead goblins at some point to see if there's a difference.
We left that lab and moved on to the next. Before even opening the door, I could hear a maniacal cackling from beyond it. Hopefully, my teachings from another world hadn't caused any actual madness... I may be odd, but I wasn't Cthulhu. Chris opened the door, and beyond it stood Vargalas, arms raised, with lightning flashing around him from what looked like tesla coils. Nope, not going to ask. The most charitable theory I could come up with is that the reason he had always been so grumpy was that he really, really wanted to be a lightning mage, but didn't have the affinity, and now he was living his dream. I yanked Chris back, carefully closed the door, and tiptoed off back down the corridor. "I don't even want to know what that was. Let's move on, please."
"Really? That was Vargalas, a visitor from the Emerald Sea. He... seems to like your non-magical lightning. Quite a lot. I'm not sure he's doing much with it, but he's certainly got your generator and motor designs mastered."
Really? That must mean... "Then you've been able to produce magnets? And what was powering it?"
"Yup, magnets worked just like you explained, and it's powered by a motor which is in turn powered by lightning crystals."
Using an electric motor to turn a generator to produce electric? Pointless, but still cool. For all my concerns about what effect this would have on the world, I was still pleased to see all the progress they were making. I'd have been a bit dispirited if we'd gone through all this effort, but physics turned out to be fundamentally different here. Although lightning crystals were a massive cheat... We effectively had high voltage, infinite capacity batteries available. No need for power plants here.
We continued the tour, where I saw dwarfs successfully making steel from iron, although they did say it was inferior to the dungeon produced material. Other dwarfs were busy hammering out mechanical parts, although they didn't seem to have anything to do with them afterwards. They seemed happy just making gears that fit together. That was strange, but maybe it was a dwarven thing? There wasn't any critique I could offer there; a gear was a gear, and they'd mastered the art. Although... the collection of miniature intricate gears made me think of pocket watches.
I'd never seen personal timekeeping devices, and I had no idea how the bell ringers knew when to ring. Theoretically, I could measure periods of time with great accuracy by launching skills and waiting for them to expire, but hourglasses and such would be more practical. I had no idea how to build a mechanical clock of any sort, but I did know the principle that a pendulum swings at a rate largely independent of its amplitude, at least for small amplitudes. I ended up deep in conversation, where the dwarfs managed to extract considerably more clockmaking details from my head than I thought were in there. It turned out that timekeeping devices didn't exist for much the same reason that most people weren't interested in mills or telescopes; there was a skill for it, which was far more accurate than any low-tech water or sand based clock would be. It was a rank one skill called [Clock], and was available to any class. That would have been useful to know back when I was trying to get all the village children [Jack of All Trades]. I'd need to look up how to unlock it.
Lastly, we came to visit the people standing around the wreckage of the steam engine. As with the random unconnected gears, I wasn't sure what they wanted to do with it. Yes, they could generate a lot of force, but did they have any plans for where to direct that force, once they got a working model? And why would it be better than a lightning crystal powered motor? Would we shortly have a steam train transport network for those who couldn't afford the portals?
Another interesting thing was that they were using fire crystals instead of any sort of fuel, just like the way Vargalas was using lightning crystals. As far as I knew, crystals lasted forever. Given that they required ambient mana to work, it wasn't an automatic violation of whichever law of thermodynamics it was that said you can't produce energy from nothing, but it would still mean these motors and engines never needed refuelling. Magic was a cheat even when building Earth machinery.
I made some safety suggestions, like a weighted relief valve to discharge pressure if it rose too high. Again, once they started asking directed questions, they managed to extract more information out of my head than I thought was in there, but it was still largely going to be a case of experimentation. Their main problem seemed to be controlling the amount of mana the crystals were exposed to, in order to control their heat output. It was going to take some engineering to develop something that let them control the pressure with accuracy. It was going to be interesting to see where they went with this.
Tour over, we returned to the reception area. As we entered from the back, I spotted Grover entering via the front door. That surprised me a little, but on reflection this was the original reason he was in Dawnhold. Of course it wasn't strange for him to be here, and the mythril had just been a bonus. But while I was a little surprised, he was looking far more shocked.
"Well, that was mighty quick of you. I only sent the message a few minutes ago."