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Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2312646-Safety-Concerns
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Steampunk · #2312646
Young engineers grapple with a haunted past (3rd place StAG Firebox Contest, January 2024)
Word count: 1000.

Young Melody stood back, wiping the sweat out of her tired blue eyes with a greasy rag. She gazed at the dashboard in front of her, a solid wall of dials, switches, knobs, levers, belts, flywheels and pulleys. Her work was nearly complete.

"Julian, we shall win the competition for certain."

Her older brother was dozing in a corner. The night had advanced to an hour far later than the usual bedtime of people their age.

"Father should be so proud of us.” Julian observed, sitting up. “I wish he was more sympathetic to our engineering talent."

"It is a mystery why he is so antagonistic. This is no purposeless monstrosity, as he calls it. My bread machine will feed many millions of starving people in the time it takes a baker to form one loaf of bread."

"A wonderful idea."

"And I couldn't have brought it this far without your help, Julian," Melody laughed softly. "Father thinks you are the genius. It is unfortunate the judges do not allow my name, as a lady, to be entered in the competition alongside yours.”

“You deserve credit for this."

"I look not for fame and wealth." Melody smiled. "Someday, I shall host my own competition. Two of my friends are members in my Ladies' Engineering Guild."

She turned a knob, and a deep rumble echoed out from the machine. Julian arose to monitor the fuel level in the firebox. Melody checked the water level in the boiler. Everything functioned as expected.

"It's a blessing I was able to obtain a duplicate of the timing shaft that disappeared the other day," Julian remarked. "That would have been the end of this machine. I hope nothing else goes missing."

"I'm sure all will be well."

Julian's brow furrowed and his face darkened as he glanced around the room.

"I'm not so sure. That was the second crucial part to vanish off of my worktable in two weeks. We keep this door locked. If anything else is lost, we'll be done for. The competition is coming quickly. We need that prize money to continue our work. And the award will give us credibility."

They began shutting down the machine to leave and get some sleep. Testing would continue in the morning, as soon as their farm chores were done.

The siblings were putting away equipment in a side room when they heard the main door being unlocked.

"Julian!" Melody gasped. "Who is that?"

"Don't move!" He ordered, picking up a crowbar and pulling the closet door almost shut, hiding them both from the intruder.

He peered out around the opening. Melody found a wrench and craned her neck over his shoulder to see.

"It's Father!" She whispered. "Why is he here?"

The tall, thin, slightly stooped figure approached the dashboard and studied it for some time. He picked up a bucket of water which stood nearby and squelched the fire under the boiler. As the boiler cooled and the last remaining steam was exhausted, all moving parts shuddered to a halt.

He picked up a hammer and drew back his arm to swing it down upon some of the delicate instruments on the dash.

"Father!" Julian shouted, leaping out from behind the door. "What are you doing?!"

He dropped the hammer and froze as his children confronted him.

"Julian! Melody! You are still awake?"

Two pairs of eyes drilled silently into him. He sank into a chair and beckoned them closer.

"My son, you know I am against your fascination with steam engines."

"You are the one who has been sabotaging her project?"

"Hers?"

"This is Melody's undertaking more than mine, Father. I help her."

"But this is not something women should do. It is dangerous work. Your older brother was an engineer on the HMS Expeditor. He was the one responsible for designing the fastest steamship in the world. I was proud of him… I thought it was progress. But the furnace exploded, destroying the ship and killing Robert. There was no progress, only disaster."

His voice shook and he rested his head in his hands. Julian and Melody put their arms around him.

“He has a point…” Julian murmured, looking over at his sister with a question in his eyes.

"No, never!” Melody cried. “I studied the Expeditor's plans carefully. I determined their steam system lacked crucial safety features, which have since been redesigned and improved. Julian and I were scrupulous to build those into our system. Let me show you how it works."

She hurried across to her desk, piled with blueprints, diagrams and workbooks, grabbed a paper and began explaining how the different parts worked together, pointing out each component on the dashboard.

"You see?" Melody said at last. "There is little room for danger here. Can you not trust us? I promise I will continually take the utmost precautions.”

Father took a deep breath. His chin quivered. He reached for Melody’s hand.

"My daughter, your genius can accomplish great things. With safety as a priority, I believe I could allow this to go forward. Only one request: if it loses the competition, please, reconsider your calling. You will be a woman in a man’s world, and I fear it will be difficult for you.”
*****

On that important day, Father watched with tears in his eyes as the judges awarded Julian a blue ribbon, along with the prize money that would help the siblings advance their dreams for the good of humanity. Julian immediately turned to his sister and presented her the award with great solemnity.

“You are the brilliant woman behind this project,” he declared. “I am merely your loyal assistant.”

"I apologize for the damage and delay I caused," Father said as he embraced them. "If I had only been honest with us. I must allow you both to follow your passion, wherever it leads."

“With your approval and Julian’s support, there is nothing I cannot achieve.” Melody’s eyes gleamed with thoughts of the future.
© Copyright 2024 Amethyst Angel (House Mormont) (greenwillow at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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