The Clerk edged his way through the double doors into the workshop. He would be the first to admit he had little knowledge of such things, but the heat and noise certainly met the stoat’s limited expectations of such a place. At first it seemed unoccupied, but hairy legs either side of a bushy foxtail poked out from underneath a large frame filled with brass gears and cogs. The Clerk politely cleared his throat.
“Good morning, sir, my Employer sends their warm regards.”
“Huh? Hand me a nine-inch pipe wrench will you?” A hand emerged from under the machinery and gestured at a pile just out of reach. The Clerk obliged, choosing one at random. The hand took it under the machine and there were dull thuds, followed by muffled expletives. The hand reappeared, pulling its connected body out from under the machine, revealing the vulpine Engineer, who shot across the room looking rather stressed. “No, no, no, hang on…” He rummaged through the tool pile as a worrying hiss started building in scale at the rear of the room. He finally found what he was looking for as the hissing reached a crescendo, followed by metallic crunching as steam billowed to the ceiling. The Engineer dashed into the searing cloud and frantically turned every valve until it diminished, leaving the air hot and dripping.
“Damnit!” the Engineer growled.
“I d-do apologise,” the Clerk stammered, removing his bowler hat and wiping his brow.
“No worries, it was going to blow anyway.” The Engineer put his tool down and turned to a table covered in blueprints, “What did you want, again?”
“My Employer attended the Royal Institute on Wednesday…” The Engineer groaned loudly.
“Look, there’ll be a public apology in Monday’s Gazette, If you want compensation for any damages, well…” He shrugged.
“No, no, you misunderstand, my Employer was impressed.” The Clerk stifled an unprofessional grin as the Engineer stared dumbfounded at him, “they take a great interest in the notion of calculating machinery, ever since Mister Babbage…”
“Pah,” the Engineer cut him off, suddenly regaining his composure. “Babbage’s machine is just a fancy abacus. Now this,” he waved at the construction, “will do far more complex things than fiddle numbers. This’ll be able to do logical operations in the blink of an eye, even independent decision making! I’m working on a special magic lantern slide so it can do illustration,” he said, waving at a workbench with a glass lens sitting on it.
“All very fascinating,” agreed the Clerk.
“Maybe one day I’ll even figure out how to connect more than one together to perform even more complex tasks.” Somewhere behind them metal parts were shredding. Loudly. The Engineer glanced towards the noise, idly scratching his whiskers, “That is, if I can ever get the damned thing to work. And like that fool Babbage, money is rather… elusive.”
“That’s what I’ve been sent to discuss,” the Clerk pulled a small calling card from his waistcoat pocket. “My Employer wishes to invite you to their property out of town for a few days to discuss the future of your project and the matter of financing.” The Engineer was visibly stunned by this.
“I… I’m flattered,” he sighed, “but… look, you saw the demonstration, this is all just… a prototype. I’ve no idea how much of it will work properly.” He turned from the Clerk, a look of defeat on his face. “And I don’t know if I’m the one to make it work. Like I said, I’m flattered, but your employer is clearly after someone more… reliable.” A few moments passed with just the thud and hiss of machinery for accompaniment before the Clerk spoke again. “If you ever change your mind, the offer stands, and my Employer would love to meet you in person”
“I doubt it. I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time.” The Engineer turned away and busied himself with his blueprints.
“It’s something to bear in mind. Good day, Sir.” The Clerk tipped his hat respectfully then carefully navigated his way out.
The Engineer stared at the blueprints for a few minutes, alone with the background noise of the workshop. He turned and picked up the card. Underneath the address was a note in a delicate, precise script:
I look forward to finall y discussing your ideas in person
He toyed with the card as he idly scratched his whiskers.
“Well, I guess a few days wouldn’t hurt.”
Originally Published in the Just Fur The Weekend 2017 Conbook
Reproduced With Permission