an excerpt from

The Abominable Sruvius

The passage led to a large room that held an enormous cylinder made up of hundreds of iron plates riveted together. Lying on its side, it ran the room’s length. Here and there, smaller pipes and gauges jutted from it or ran parallel. Huge steel pistons, driven by steam, turned three equally enormous camshafts extending upward to drive gigantic generators that whirred and buzzed with electrical energy far above their heads.

“What does all this stuff do?” asked Kelly above the din.

“Don’t know,” said the harelipped man, cluelessly inspecting the machinery.

“This here’s a boiler. I think it makes ’lectric for everything in the palace,” Fenon said, “including that doohickey what took ’em to the top of the tower. If we bust it up, they’re gonna be stuck up there.”

He strode to the giant cylinder and whacked it with his hatchet, but the blow had no effect on the thick iron plating. He tried one of the pipes—still no effect. In order to do any real damage, he’d have to find a vulnerable spot, but the trouble was, he hadn’t a clue as to how the machine worked. He turned his attention to one of the smaller gauges. It was connected to a pipe by a thin tube that appeared weak enough for him to knock off with his hatchet. One good blow shattered the gauge and sent it sailing across the room. He laughed with delight as a thin jet of steam erupted from the broken pipe, but it didn’t seem to have done any real damage, for the pistons showed no signs of slowing.

The harelipped man glanced skyward at the generators. The enormous cylindrical dynamos filled the entire width of the upper reaches, hiding the ceiling from view. He could see huge copper coils spinning at tremendous speeds inside their skeletal magnetic housings, creating arcs of electricity that writhed like luminous snakes across the steel surface. He took a few steps back and, with a loud grunt, hurled the hammer high toward the whirling coils.

As the hammer flew into the upper reaches, a blinding arc of electricity struck it like a lightning bolt, sending a shower of sparks raining down on the men. A moment later the hammer struck the stone floor with a loud ring and skidded to the far end of the room. Its wooden handle was completely incinerated—nothing left but a few blackened splinters.

The harelipped man stepped over to it. “Ruined a perfickly good hammer!” He reached to grab it, and there was a brief sizzling sound as his fingers touched the scorched metal. He howled, snapping his hand away. At once, blisters began to form, and he tried to shake off the pain, then thrust the fingers into his mouth.

Fenon cursed the mammoth machine, hammering it with the back of his hatchet and wishing he’d brought something more destructive. “How do we stop this blasted thing?” he uttered.

“How about them spinny things?” Kelly said, pointing to one of six small devices attached to a thick pipe that ran lengthwise along the side of the boiler.

Fenon approached one of the peculiar-looking doohickeys. It consisted of a vertical shaft with two arms hanging down from the top. At the end of each arm was a little brass weight. The whole thing reminded him of a man holding a melon in each hand and spinning around very fast. What Fenon didn’t know was that the ‘little men’—devices otherwise known as centrifugal governors—regulated the amount of pressure in the massive cylindrical boiler.

Fenon held the hatchet with both hands and swung at the governor. He was surprised at how easily the spinning shaft bent. The governor no longer spun; it was bent so far over that its top was wedged against the boiler. The machine started producing a low groan as pressure built up. The pistons began pumping faster and faster, and Fenon grinned with satisfaction.

One by one, he smashed the five remaining governors, making his way toward the far end of the room as he went. The boiler gave an odd rumbling sound, and it groaned louder. The three men stood together and watched the iron colossus with a mixture of satisfaction and trepidation as it exhibited signs of mounting stress. Above their heads, the pistons pumped furiously, and huge, threatening bolts of electricity arced across the generators.

The harelipped man stared in fear and wonder as the whining pitch rose steadily higher. Taking his fingers out of his mouth, he said, “M-maybe we should leave.”

“Yeah,” Kelly agreed. “We better get going. Looks like we done enough damage here, eh?”

The men hadn’t taken two steps when there came a loud ping! Another soon followed, then several more, as rivets, popping under the tremendous pressure, shot like bullets, ricocheting with loud rings off the stone walls. Little jets of steam sprouted from the holes and from between the steel plates.

In a panic now, the men ran toward the door, but their escape was cut off when one of the larger pipes ruptured near the doorway, covering the exit with a wide spray of scalding steam.

“We’re trapped like varmints!” Kelly squealed, backing away from the opening with his cohorts. They frantically looked for another way out, but there was none. The camshafts and connecting rods were now a blur of madly whirling steel, and still accelerating. An odd rumbling came from somewhere deep in the boiler, and it began to vibrate furiously. Kelly covered his ears.

Fenon sneered. He cried out in desperation and, wincing, charged the hulking iron giant with his hatchet.

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