Volker arrived at the supplied address early the next morning. He was not at all surprised to see that the building was a factory. What did surprise him was the number of other people who were arriving. Or rather, the type of people who were showing up. They didn't look like the laborers he would have expected to show up at a factory so early in the morning. No, they looked more like Jory and Heinrich, inventors the lot of them. He was glad he'd decided to leave his mage robes behind again. There was no telling what sort of reception a mage would receive in a place like this.
Inside he tried in vain to search the crowd for his two contacts. With all of the people milling about desks and chalkboards it was hard to tell if they'd even arrived yet. So he circled slowly, trying to be seen without being overly obvious. Apparently it worked, because after several minutes of doing so he heard a purposeful cough behind him. The mage turned to find a man standing behind him, eyebrow raised.
"I haven't seen you around before," the man said. "Can I help you with something?" The question was asked in a manner that suggested if he couldn't help him, he could find something else for Volker to do.
"Oh, I was just... trying to find someone," the mage told him. "A couple of someones, actually. Jory and Heinrich told me to meet them here."
"Heinrich?" the man's other eyebrow joined the first further up his forehead. "Well, why didn't you say so? Name's Barrow," he stuck a hand out and offered Volker a friendly smile.
"Volker," he shook the offered hand and smiled back. "I don't suppose you know where I can find either of them?"
"I didn't know they were working together," Barrow mused. "If you're looking for Heinrich he's usually over there." He pointed towards one of the chalkboards. "He mentioned he might have some news I'd be interested in. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
"I might," Volker admitted, "if he meant what I think he meant."
"Hmm. Well, there he is. Come on, follow me."
Heinrich was busy scribbling things onto the chalkboards, studying them for a couple of seconds, then wiping them off and starting again. He'd just set chalk to board once more when he saw them coming from the corner of his eyes. "Volker!" he said happily, "You came! I wasn't sure you would. And I see you've found Barrow, so at least he's doing something useful instead of strutting around pretending he's in charge."
"Noman gave me a job to do," Barrow told him with a smile, "I'm doing it."
"When did you become a bureaucrat and stop being an inventor?" Jory asked, walking up to them.
"Don't give me that," Barrow told him. "I do plenty of theory work, you know that. I just haven't had a chance to put any of it to test, what with making sure you lot can do it yourselves."
"Speaking of theory work," Heinrich cut in, "I'm actually glad you're here. I asked Volker to come here so we could test a few things."
"Oh?" Barrow asked, giving Volker a curious look. "What sorts of things?"
"Come on, you'll want to be there for this," Heinrich said. With that he took off across the floor, winding around inventors and their desks. Barrow gave Volker a curious look, but the mage could only shrug and follow Heinrich. The group stopped at the desk of a man who was tinkering with some delicate gearwork. He had one eye closed, and the other squinted through a monocle that made his eyeball look disturbingly large.
"Asmova," Heinrich greeted him.
"Hmm?" Asmova hummed without taking his attention from the tiny gears.
"There's someone I want you to meet," Heinrich continued.
"Am busy," Asmova grunted, his words carrying an accent Volker didn't recognize.
"We've got a way to improve on your design," Jory baited him. It succeeded in getting Asmova's attention. He carefully placed his work on the desk and removed the monocle, blinking in an exaggerated fashion to get his eyes to focus properly again. With that done, he gave them a humorless look.
"Which one?" he wanted to know.
"Your exoskeleton frame," Heinrich told him.
"Don't get us wrong, it's a brilliant design," Jory told him. "The sheer number of gears that have to work in concert just for it to do anything at all is... well, staggering."
"But?" Asmova asked, looking curiously at the silent Volker and hovering Barrow.
"But it's limited in it's range," Jory continued. "It's tied to the boiler."
"It can only go so far as the umbilical allows," Heinrich picked up. "And if the umbilical is damaged the exoskeleton is useless. Worse than useless, an uncontrolled high pressure steam leak is dangerous to the operator and anyone nearby."
"Heh," Asmova's cheek twitched. "You think I have not thought of this? It can not be put on the frame. Too heavy. Too hot. Pain in the ass to feed fire any way. You think you have fix for this?"
"That's right," Heinrich nodded.
Asmova snorted. "I know you," he said. "You make automated steam carriage. Is impressive, sure. But it is not this. Not the same. Carriage goes forwards and backwards. Different than full range of motion, yes? Wheels different than two legs, yes?"
"I don't disagree," Heinrich said.
"You do what you do, I do what I do," Asmova told him. "And I tell you this - exoskeleton is as good as I can make it. You cannot make it better. So please, stop wasting my time and yours."
"Hang on," Barrow intervened as Asmova turned back to his work. "Give him a listen. I'm pretty curious myself, and if it's something that could help us out I don't want to waste my time if I have to come back here to tug on your ears."
Asmova heaved a dramatic sigh. "Fine," he said resignedly. "I listen. Then you go away."
"All the problems you mentioned can be solved," Heinrich told him. "If you can get rid of the fuel, the space used to burn it and the exhaust pipes, you can get the boiler a lot smaller."
"Smaller still if you could superheat the water to generate more pressure," Jory added.
"And the way you do that," Heinrich said quickly as Asmova raised a finger and opened his mouth to object, "is where our friend Volker comes in."
"This is bad joke," Asmova said disapprovingly.
"No no," Volker assured him, "We're serious." He glanced over at Barrow. "I'm a mage," he revealed. There was an awkward silence.
"I do not see where this is going," Asmova told them.
"Go on, show him," Jory prompted. Heinrich nodded encouragingly.
Volker held a hand out towards Asmova. He muttered the appropriate words, and a small flame blossomed in his palm. "Magic flames burn hotter," Volker explained. "They don't need fuel or air. This is the answer to your problems. You can do a lot with your technology, and I am truly impressed by that. But with magic you can do so much more."
Asmova's eyes lingered on the flame until Volker closed his hand, extinguishing it. The inventor's gaze rose to meet Volker's. "No," Asmova said at last.
"No?" Barrow echoed. "What do you mean no? If this works the way he says it does just think of what we could do."
"Is not possible," Asmova objected. "Flame does not burn without air or fuel, is basic rule of nature. This is flashy trick. Will not burn long enough in real world application."
"We can always put it to the test," Heinrich suggested.
"Yes," Barrow said immediately. "Volker, how soon will you be ready to set up the experiment?"
"I'll need a little while to prepare the rune matrix," the mage said. "How long are you going to want it to burn?"
"As long as possible, I think," Heinrich said.
"I have bell jar," Asmova volunteered. "I make it air tight, you put your fire in it and we see how long it will go. Maybe have second jar with regular flame. We see how long they both burn and compare."
"Do you have any charcoal sticks?" Volker inquired. "Chalk? I just need something to trace out the runes."
"Sure," Barrow said. He fished a stick from his pocket and handed it over.
"Thanks. Now," Volker asked, "Where are you going to want to set this thing?"
The note from Barrow read "Come quickly, important news!". Noman had responded to those four words and immediately made for the factory. He knew there was a problem as soon as he stepped through the door. The inventors, an argumentative bunch at the best of times, were in the middle of a shouting match.
"What the hells is going on?" Hatchet asked, raising his own voice to be heard above the racket.
"Sounds like a game of stuntball in here," Anara commented.
"I knew I should have asked the Watch to put some guards in here," Noman groused. He strode purposefully towards the gathered inventors. Barrow must have seen him coming; he emerged from the crowd to meet Noman partway there.
"There you are!" Barrow exclaimed. "Things have gotten a bit out of hand," he admitted, jerking a thumb back the way he'd come.
"Why?" Noman demanded. "Your note said there was news, was it bad?"
"Depends on who you ask," Barrow said. "Look, this is what happened. A couple of the fellows got their hands on a mage. They brought him back, wanted to use magic in some of the inventions. They managed to convince about half of them that it was at least worth looking at. That's the half that just likes coming up with new ideas. To the other half it's anathema. They're into technology to do away with magic entirely."
"And they can't just let each other be, can they?" Anara commented.
"Ha! Of course not," Barrow laughed. "They've got to show the opposition just how wrong they are, eh?"
"Right then," Noman sighed. "I've got my own thoughts about getting magic involved in this, but nobody's doing anybody any good standing around shouting. Hatchet, Anara, help me break this up?"
"How fast do you want it done?" Hatchet inquired.
"Sooner the better," Noman said.
"On it," the Watchman assured him. He shrugged the rifle from his shoulder and fired a shot into the air. The firearm's report was louder than any argument, sounding as if a clap of thunder had erupted within the building. It echoed off the walls several times before dying down. Silence reigned in its wake. "Floor is yours," Hatchet told Noman as every eye in the place turned their way.
"That's enough out of all of you," Noman said loudly and clearly, striding forward into the midst of the inventors. Mindful of Anara following behind with a still loaded rifle they gave him a respectful berth. "Now, I'm told a couple of you brought a mage in. I want to see those people, mage included."
A group of four people made their way through the crowd towards Noman.
"I know him... that's Heinrich Frod," Hatchet identified one of them. "And... Volker?"
"Hey Hatchet," the mage said with a cheerful wave.
"Right then, I want to talk to the four of you," Noman told them. "The rest of you get back to work or get out," he addressed the crowd in general. "The debate here is over. Barrow, I want a word with you as well."
"And everybody keep it civil, or I'll have the rest of the Watch in here at a moment's notice," Anara warned.
The group made their way into the street, where Noman heaved a sigh and looked off into the morning sky. "Nothing's ever easy, is it?" he asked no one in particular.
"That, ah, was maybe a little overboard," Barrow volunteered.
"It got the job done, though, didn't it?" Hatchet grinned.
"Yeah, well you're not the one who's going to have to do damage control to keep them all from walking off in a huff, eh?"
"I imagine the promise of unlimited supplies and manufacturing capacity will go a long way towards soothing bruised egos," Noman said, giving Barrow a knowing look.
"Quite possibly," Barrow admitted.
"So," Noman turned to look at the others who had accompanied him outside. "Who's who here?"
"Heinrich Frod, Jory Tolm, Ivik Asmova, and Volker other name unknown," Barrow introduced the lot of them.
"Volker," Noman repeated the name, fixing his gaze on the mage. "Marsten?" he asked simply.
"That's right," Volker replied.
"Society?" Noman followed up, eyes narrowing.
"I don't quite follow," Volker looked confused.
"Do you know a mage named Esme?" he inquired.
"I don't think so, no."
"Then that answers my question." He turned towards the others. "Now, why don't you tell me about this idea of yours. Putting magic into technology, was it?"
"That's right," Heinrich nodded. "If we do it right adding magic to our inventions will allow us to achieve far more than we could otherwise. Asmova in particular has been finding all sorts of ways to incorporate it into his inventions."
"Which is surprising, considering how much of a pain in the ass he was about it to start," Jory commented.
"I am a scientist," Asmova asserted. "Once your assertion was proven why would I not have used it to my advantage?"
"And this is safe?" Noman asked Volker.
"Just as safe as anything else they're doing."
"Tell me what you've come up with so far," Noman ordered. "All of it."