Author Topic: Part 17: An Explosive Discovery  (Read 5593 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 17: An Explosive Discovery
« on: August 19, 2022, 07:22:06 AM »
"Can we please focus on getting basic mobility first, before we try growing roots through bedrock itself?" Moss was saying from across the network, as Char listened in with some amusement.

It was one of the usual intellectual spats between him and Tobor. The Articulator was pushing the moving-limb design he'd come up with as a possible alternative to the grasper, but once again Moss was reminding him that keeping so many joints oiled and interacting smoothly was beyond even Tobor's impressive skills. They were both chattering away and cutting each other off so often that even the usually sociable Rax wasn't able to get a word in edgewise.

Aysa and the twins were off in their own corner, workshopping possible propulsion designs. The twins were military, so no doubt their alterations would be massive: far too heavy to move without draining entire oil-wells.

Oil was more essential to a Combustor's life than her own sap, it seemed. Every single design from all six of Char's contemporaries required some kind of flammable liquid to move, but until they could decide on one superior design, all she could do was wait.

And play the occasional peacemaker. "Hey, stupid seedlings!" She called out to the males, and they shut up for once. "We have a working model, and I've already put qars on it, ready and willing to light the fuel. How about we test the tiny version to see if it has any real problems before we start inventing new ones?"

Rax sent out some hearty agreement to her suggestion, and the other two backed down reluctantly. Char hid her own contempt as usual. Animals in the wild showed major differences in body and mind between males and females. Males were usually stronger and more aggressive, especially in predator animals. For treqars, the differences were almost negligible, but in her experience males were often more stubborn. Her experience was limited due to her status, though. And her history.

These males were certainly brilliant despite that, she had to admit. Moss had taken the design for the ancient stone thrower, including the circular device used to load it, and used that circle to grant their new mechanical qar, or 'meqar' as Rax had named it, mobility. He said he'd seen circular weeds rolling along the ground, and that had given him the idea. Four tiny metal circles had been placed underneath the meqar, and Tobor's new grease design had allowed them to spin on a central rod connecting the front circles. The initial design had had a second rod for the rear circles, but it was deemed too complicated for now.

Rax had come up with what he called a steering mechanism which could turn the circles one direction or another. He hadn't had time to make two, so for now just the front circles could turn. Two of Char's qars were at the front, pushing or pulling on the rod to make it happen.

Her own contribution was in the back. A small quantity of rock oil had been measured into a special metal container. The mixture wouldn't explode. Or she hoped it wouldn't. If so, it wouldn't be nearly as damaging as the thunderer powder.

News from the front line had been cut off, per the Chancellor's orders. Based on what they'd heard last, two more groves had fallen, and two others had successfully defended themselves. The flammable liquid that Rax had nicknamed Streek Fire for how it moved in lines as it spread, had either ignited high up in the air, or the liquid had fallen harmlessly to the ground.

They had successfully defended themselves three times now! This freeze was lifting, just as the Great Freeze had done ages ago. The Union couldn't push back yet—not against flying opponents—but they could at least hold the line. As curious as she was, Char had to admit the Chancellor was right to hold back the news. The last thing the Arbormass needed was further distractions.

"Ready?" She asked the others, and got three assents. She signaled her qars—simple instructions could be relayed through mirrors and light signals—and they got to work. One older male held the striking surface steady while another dragged it, sparking a flame. Then he carefully dropped the burning twig into the rock oil container.

There was a roar of sound and a flash of light, and suddenly the meqar was gone! It had moved so fast that her qars had been thrown off entirely! They picked themselves up off the ground and without further instructions, returned to her trunk.

Amusement rippled out from Rax, and surprise from the others. "Maybe we shouldn't try as much next time?" He asked pointedly.

"Or have the special chamber have a larger opening. Still, it worked didn't it? I got the meqar to move."

"And then some. I'm surprised it didn't start flying," Moss added to the mix. "I'll send Grace with a squad out to find it. They should be able to roll it back here in a day or so. It's not like they'd have any trouble tracking it." There were obvious ruts in the ground where the heavy metal frame had pushed the circles into the dirt.

At least he sounded sympathetic instead of accusatory. Again, he seemed determined to prove that he viewed her as an equal despite her profession. It was becoming increasingly difficult to dislike him.

"What we need is a way to spread out the burn—make it slower so that the fuel isn't used up as fast," Treqar said. "Unless you have a different mix to add."

"Not one that can exert thrust like that," she admitted. "The best way to limit a burn is to limit air. If we confined the fuel to a small space, or several small spaces, and limit the air in there, we might be able to keep the combustion internal to the meqar."

Moss was already sketching a possible design. Cylinders appeared in front of the group, clustered together. He made them move as he simulated expanding air. "I got this from the multiple thunderer idea. If one cylinder is expanding while the others are, uh, reloading, we could get a constant motion going. Right?"

The question was directed at their builder, Rax. He pondered it for a moment, before agreeing. "But they couldn't be clustered like that. They'd have to be in a row, I think. Spreading out the combustion from one cylinder to the next."

Tobor objected, presenting his own designs, and he and Rax fell into another argument. Amused, Char retreated and left them to it. She already had her qars working on building a smaller model of the meqar. Something she could test that wouldn't explode or run away.

"Are you all right?" Moss asked her, and she let out a burst of surprise. She hadn't known he was apart from the others.

"I'm fine," she said abruptly, but it was more out of habit than real anger. "Why do you ask?"

"I got some sorrow from you just now. Don't worry, I don't think the others noticed."

So he'd noticed that, did he? She'd have to get better at holding things back. "It's just unpleasant memories, that's all."

"If you want to talk about it, let me know. I'm new at being a listener, but I think I'm pretty good at it."

That was it. No questions about her work or her burns or her reasons for being angry. He just made the offer, and then went back to his work. Maybe he was capable of learning after all.