Milo was intensely curious about all the strange machines but also aware that his escort seemed on the edge of attacking him, so he decided that he'd save questions until later. Still, his head twisted back and forth, staring at overhead conduits leading to large tanks, cables with buckets carrying unknown materials throughout the complex, and everywhere the scurrying, badly put together creatures who were similar to those that had just attacked him.

Several times as they traveled down ramps and through room after room, one would pause to glare or snarl at him. Some even started towards him only to be yelled at by his escort. They lowered their heads and got back to work. Each of the large work areas or machine shops was connected by a metal walled tunnel with a heavy iron or stone door on each end. His escort opened them by inserting a tool, or solving a puzzle similar to the one on the outer door that he had entered by. Either way only took a few seconds. They had these problems memorized, obviously.

The last room was gigantic. From the stalactites on the ceiling Milo suspected it had started as a natural cave and its rectangular shape was the result of work over the years. Massive buttresses re-enforced the ceiling and gave support to the overhead system of cables and pulleys. The room was at least a quarter mile in length and two hundred feet wide. One of the long walls was entirely taken up with silos holding liquids or pulverize materials.

But for all the machinery, not a lot was going on. Large areas of the room were barely lit, and only one area seemed to have workers doing something. Milo saw what looked like a huge drilling apparatus that started at the ceiling and went down into the earth. His escort took him up to the edge of the area and paused, their heads turning in the direction of someone who was obviously in charge.

"Dagnasted mumbleheads, I said 'bring him up', that means today and not next week!"

The person who was controlling a double cable heading into the opening of the bore-hole didn't bother to turn his head. "The winch works just as fast as always, brother. The distance and speed dictate that it takes a half hour to bring him back up."

"Don't you lecture me on elementary time-distance equations brother, I'm referring to the break you took in the middle."

The winch controller again didn't turn around. "Breaks are a rule, brother, for both the operator and the machine. We wouldn't want her to overheat, would we? But here he comes now."

The long cables were attached to a large bucket. As it got to the top, a damaged once-dwarf leaped out and started running around the room screaming before it collapsed.

The dwarf who Milo suspected was the Engineer walked over to the creature and poked it. The Engineer resembled a dwarf in full bronze plate-armor of some ancient design. Each piece was covered in glowing runes and he was entirely encased in the metal suit. His gleaming wire beard was made of shining gold beneath a sculped copper mask. Or was it a mask? Milo could see him scowl and his lips moved as he said, "Damnation, broke another one. What in the darkest hell is down there?"

One of Milo's escorts stomped his foot. The Engineer turned to look at them. The green glow in his eye sockets intensified and he yelled in a loud voice, "AN INTRUDER?! And you drug him all the way through the complex? What if he’s a spy?! Find out how he got in!"

The same dwarf stomped his foot again. "Begging the Engineer's pardon, but we watched him come in through the old access doors on Level 3. I checked the mechanism, and it shows he solved a static tension problem to gain access. Plus, the decapitation trap recognized him as a journeyman from Uptop and let him live."

"That still doesn't explain why you brought him here? You know those lame brains Uptop don't know a differential from a factorial. We fought hard to have our membership separate. We follow the OLD WAYS!"

All the assembled dwarves stomped their metal feet and more or less shouted back, "THE OLD WAYS!"

"Yeah, I get that boss, apologies. I'll toss him to the lower brethren for parts. But I seem to remember we have an engineering problem that needs solving and you keep using faulty components to diagnose it. Maybe we should use a different type of sensor."

Milo had no difficulty figuring that part out. He looked at the bore-hole, and then at the nearest group of lower brethren.

"I would be glad to help out your brotherhood with finding a solution. But you know I can't. Guild regulations state that you can't just put any idiotchild to work. Who knows what could happen if you so much as give me a wrench? Don't THE OLD ways tell that a tool is only as useful as the person holding it?"

Several of the dwarves nodded, stomped, and shouted out "THE OLD WAYS!"

Milo hurriedly continued talking. "NO! I insist you give me the tests to prove I have the knowledge to work in these hallowed halls! Only after you have tested me on the theory of mathematics, statics, dynamics, fluid flow, pressure systems, pulley systems, and general mechanics can I even be considered an apprentice in this guild." He stomped his foot as loud as he could. “TEST ME!”

A chant started among the lower brethren. "The Tests! THE TESTS!"

The Engineer looked at him long and hard, and then chuckled. "Oh, aren't you the clever one for sure. Not wanting to be spare parts, are you? Well, that remains to be seen." Turning to two of the Milo's escort he said "Sprocket? You and Cogswell take this little gear to my workshop and find a spot for him to work. Peenhammer, go get me a copy of the first ten apprentice tests. We'll see if he's good enough to be tossed down the bore hole.


About the author

The Walrus King

  • Pennsyltucky
  • The Walrus King


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