The steady drone of the steam turbine echoed in the engine room. The man in the white lab coat shuffled over to one of the small dials, speaking as he moved.
“Pressure gauges in normal range. Engine temperature check. Ballast tanks at 60% capacity. Note: Remind captain to repair left aerofoil.” He turned to catch the eye of one of the other younger engineers bustling around the room.
“Where’s Captain Kayne?”
The boy replied, standing ramrod stiff.
“The Captain was on deck, Engineer Seth. He didn’t come down to do the rotations either.”
The systems engineer closed his eyes, breathed in deeply, and exhaled slowly.
“That impetuous fool. He’s probably off gallivanting on land as we speak.”
The boy, scared of angering Seth, did not even reply.
The man in the lab coat looked at him sternly, adjusting his black rimmed spectacles, and barked at him.
“You don’t have to just stand there. Isn’t there a sprocket in Turbine 4 that requires your expert servicing?”
The boy was jolted into responding.
“Yes, Engineer. Of course, I’m right on it.”
The boy was half way out the engine room, when Seth spoke again, this time in a soothing voice.
“Naamir, I’m sorry if I was curt with you. But we’re on a tight schedule. And I can’t for the life of me comprehend why the Captain doesn’t understand this.”
Naamir nodded, looking far more relieved. “Yes, sir. I understand, sir.”
“Good, and please, call me Kiran. And tell Rakem that our Rankine cycle needs to be retuned. Our last trip nearly did us out of a functioning steam turbine.”
“Of course, si…I mean, Kiran. Rightaway.”
Naamir walked away, exhaling slowly as he felt far more relieved. He’d heard tell of Systems Engineer Kiran Seth, and how dangerous it was to get on his wrong side. Which is why he felt pretty lucky right now.
In the room, the tall man walked away from the dials and to the nearest porthole. A small, grimy affair, Kiran had to squint to see through it. Outside, the dusty docking area, Barindra, stretched on. In the distance, plumes of smoke rising from the foundries. The metal workers and the starship-building yards had taken over large tracts of land in a bid to harvest the rich resources available at Antariksa. As a result, Antariksa had prospered. From a desolate little byway port, it had become a trading post for commerce starships and a resting stop for steam cruisers in the area.
Kiran could hardly recognize it as the place where he grew up. The place where only 13 years ago, his parents had fought tooth and nail to change the prevalent system that differentiated on the basis of gender. Where the Xetriya clans had tried to even out the system for the girl child, but been thwarted by the Holy Ones and the Brawmun priests. Kiran had left then, when he realized there was no repairing the system. Left to find his own avenues. And landed up a systems engineer on the RSS Heliopause.
A sharp knock at the engine room door brought Kiran out of his reverie. He turned to find a short, swarthy man in dirty overalls, holding a spanner in his hands.
“Rakem, have you got to the retuning yet?”
“In a minute, boss. Just repairing summa the damage on the uh… left aerofoil. Bloody mess, it sure is.”
Rakem was wiping his hands on his overalls as he spoke, leaving a thick oily stain. Kiran tried not to look, as he remembered the instructions he was supposed to be giving Rakem.
“That’s… that’s good. I need you to set the cycle back to 95% efficiency. Otherwise, our next lift-off might just be our last. Our ice reserves are depleted as it is.”
Rakem nodded in agreement and pocketed his spanner.
“Sure thing, boss.”
As Rakem left, Kiran returned to look out the porthole. In the shade of the market awnings, he could just make out the figure of Jericho Kayne, doing a credible imitation of a lurking panther.
“Idiot!” He swore under his breath, and stormed out of the engine room.