Heart of the Lady
Heart of the Lady
In which Dodger learns what makes the Sleipnir tick
The doc rummaged around on his desk until he found his pair of SPICS. After placing them on his face and readjusting the SAW, he laced his hands over his ample belly, leaned back on his stool and took a long look at Dodger and Boon.
Meanwhile, Lelanea rose from her seat to check both doors of the cabin, making sure they were tightly shut and drawing deep breaths at each potential entryway. If Dodger didn’t know better, he would say she was sniffing the place out. Once her assessment was done, she turned to her uncle and nodded.
“All clear,” she said.
“Mr. Dodger,” the doc said.
“Sir?” Dodger asked.
“Washington Boon,” the doc said.
“Sir?” Boon asked.
The doc pointed to each of them in turn. “What I am about to tell you both is to remain here. It is imperative that you do not share this information with another living soul.” He considered this for a moment, then added, “Or not-living soul. Do I have your word as gentlemen?”
“Yes, sir,” Dodger and Boon said together.
“Good. Excellent. I know I can trust you both, and would’ve told you far before now, but … well, Boon never displayed an interest, and we just haven’t had the proper time to talk, Mr. Dodger.”
“Things have been a bit hectic,” Dodger said.
“Yes. They have. Now, where was I?” The doc tapped his chin a moment, then asked, “What do either of you know of thermodynamics?”
“I’ve read a bit on it,” Dodger admitted. “Here and there.”
“I see. Boon?”
“Nothing,” Boon said. “But don’t let that stop you. I’ll try to keep up.”
“Do try. Dodger, have you read enough to understand the basic idea behind the ICE machine?”
“I haven’t seen it in action,” Dodger said, “but from what I have heard, I would guess it pulls heat away from a source, freezing the source in the process.”
“How? I didn’t think heat could flow from a cold source to a hotter source.”
Boon gave a soft but audible huff.
Dodger winced. Damn his curiosity and eager tongue for getting the better of him.
“Read a bit here and there indeed,” the doc said. “You should be in university, you should. Not putting yourself in the line of fire. You realize that, don’t you?”
“Thanks for that, sir,” Dodger said, “but really, I’m happy doing what I do. I’d never be any good cooped up in a laboratory all day. I don’t know how you do it.”
“Yes, well, I don’t know how I do it sometimes either.”
“I don’t mean to seem like an idiot,” Boon said, “but I don’t have any idea what y’all are talking about.”
“You are not an idiot,” the doc said. “It is a relatively new branch of science.”
“Thermodynamics is all about the distribution of heat,” Lelanea said. “One of the most important principals of thermodynamics is that heat cannot spontaneously flow from a cold location to a hotter one. Because of natural entropy, temperatures will even out between objects of varying degrees. For example, ice will melt in a glass of water until the water has achieved a common temperature, usually that of the surrounding air itself.”
The doc jumped in to explain, “Spontaneity is the key here. Heat cannot spontaneously flow from a colder source. The ICE machine, however, forces the heat away, almost as if sucking it out of the source, lowering the core temperature of the source material in the process. You see?”
“I reckon it makes sense,” Boon said. “But, and I hope this don’t sound as stupid as it does in my head, where does the heat go?”
“That is not stupid at all, Boon. It’s a very clever question.”
“As the ICE machine removes heat from one source,” Lelanea said, “it passes that heat into another. The original design shunted the heat into the ground via a contact cable.”
“Looking back on it,” the doc said, “I suppose it was another reason those poor folks became so upset with me. As I said, the machine froze everything above ground, and scorched everything below. What was I thinking?”
“You were thinking it was what they wanted,” Lelanea reminded him.
“I suppose so. I don’t know how the Utes are dealing with the output of their current operation, but I’ll admit I am a tad eager to find out.”
“Can I also venture, sir,” Boon said, “that this hot and cold stuff has something to do with the Sleipnir’s engine?”
“Why, yes it does. You’re cleverer than you think, my friend. You always were. And still are. Oh, you know what I mean.”
“Yes, sir,” Boon said with a grin.
“As you suggested, the ICE machine is a smaller, much simpler version of the Sleipnir’s heart, a High-Temperature Superconductive Thermal-Voltaic Mass.”
Dodger caught the meaning of some of it, but not all. He glanced at Boon, who looked as though the doc had begun babbling in a completely different language. “Remember the belt that keeps Duncan the right size?”
“Yeah,” Boon said. “You said it worked by transferring sunlight into energy.”
“This is a lot like that. Only instead of just light, the Sleipnir transforms heat into energy. Is that right, Doc?”
“Correct,” the professor said. “The engine pulls heat from an input source, and, through a series of transformers, it turns some of it into electricity, which operates the lights and Mr. Torque and so forth, while it passes the rest of the heat into the boilers, which in turn creates the steam that runs the locomotion. Easy as that.”
“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” Dodger said, “but I will say it certainly is brilliant. I knew we weren’t running on coal, though you did a heck of a job trying to make it seem that way.”
“I find that a layer of coal dust here and there feeds the curious mind.”
“It sure does,” Boon said. “You fooled the heck out of me.”
“And me,” Dodger said. “I can understand why Rex wants the line so badly now.”
“Yes. The potential applications for such a thing are astronomical.”
“Just the weapons alone you could create with it boggle the mind,” Boon added.
“Weapons?” the doc asked. He patted his hands together. “Oh, deary me. I forgot about such things.”
Dodger shook his head at the naivety of the man. Trust the doc to forget that something so fantastic could be employed to harm folks. “Do you mind if I ask what you use for an input source?”
Before the doc could answer, Lelanea coughed, almost too loudly. “I hate to interrupt, but you did tell Jones that you would be right behind him. We don’t want to leave him with the impression that you aren’t coming at all. Do we?”
The doc slumped in his seat again. “Of course not.”
“Ched should be back with the Rhino at any moment.”
“I suppose we must go and deal with those poor creatures,” the doc said. He turned to his niece and said, in almost a whisper, “I recommend that you remain here. Feng is probably ready for a break from his watch over that young lady, and you know how the natives feel about you.”
“I don’t mind,” Lelanea said. “Perhaps Boon and I can set up the portable forge and cast some ammo while you two deal with this issue?”
Boon jawed the air for a moment as if shocked by the suggestion. “Well, I would love to, but I, um, I think Dodger needs me.”
Lelanea stared at the spirit, but made no retort.
The tension between the pair was hot enough to cast ammo all on its own. Dodger couldn’t fault the spirit for wanting to stretch his legs after remaining aboard for the last few days. Nor could he blame Lelanea for wanting some quality time with her long-lost lover. Someone had to step in and take a side. Otherwise, the two would spend the next hour staring one another down, daring the other to speak first.
“He needs ammunition more than a partner right now,” Feng said, shattering the quiet moment with an unexpected entrance.
Where the man had appeared merely tired before, Feng was now well past the point of exhaustion. He trembled in his stance, leaning against the doorframe as if it were the only thing keeping his thin body tethered to the earth. Nonetheless, he grinned, happy as always.
“Lelanea, come help an old man,” Feng said as he waved her over.
She rushed to his side, helping to guide him into the laboratory cab and onto one of the benches.
“Are you all right?” Boon asked.
“Me?” Feng asked. “Sure. Never better.”
“You don’t look better. You look on Ched’s side of things.”
Dodger was thinking the same thing. Feng looked like a man who’d run his last mile, eaten his last meal, and danced his last dance. A man sorely in need of a dirt nap. In other words, he looked like he was ready to go six feet deep, and not come back up for air.
“He’ll be fine,” the doc said. “It comes from being such an old fart.”
“Takes one to know one,” Feng said.
The pair laughed.
Dodger noticed that, despite the laughter, the doc patted his hands together again in that nervous way that suggested there was far more going on here than either man was letting on.
“Besides, Boon,” Feng said, “I told you to stay close to the train until we know exactly where your body is.”
“I know,” Boon whined. “I’ve never felt so cooped up in all my existence.”
“Then get out for a bit.”
The spirit gasped. “Can I?”
“Sure. I said stay close, not stay aboard. Lelanea had a good idea. You and she should set up the portable forge and work up some ammo.”
“Are you sure?” Lelanea asked. “I can take over watching Sarah if you need-”
“Naw,” Feng said. “I’ll be okay. And that kid is sleeping like a rock. I don’t think she’ll be up anytime soon. I will say that the faster we get this done and get on our way, the better things will be all around.”
“I reckon that means we should get a move on,” Dodger said.
“And I reckon it’s my turn for an adventure with Mr. Dodger,” the doc said with an excited clap.
Dodger shook his head with a chuckle at the doc’s words. The slang sounded like a foreign word when the doc said it. Even when the man tried to speak lazy, he sounded like he was giving a lecture.
“I think not,” Lelanea said. “No adventures. I forbid it.”
“Don’t be like that. It’s my turn. You had one, and Feng had one and even Ched had one. I want an adventure.”
“Whosh havin’ an adventure?” Ched asked as he stepped into the cab.
“We are,” the doc said.
“Adventure, eh?” Ched sucked a breath through his teeth, weighing the idea. “Shoundsh borin’. I’d rather shtay here, if you don’t mind.”
“You’ll come with us and like it.”
“I’ll come, but I can’t promish anything more than a vague interesht.”
“That is settled, then. Lelanea, help me find the other boxes so we can get this over with.”
“Come on Ched,” Dodger said. “Let’s get ready to head back.”
Lelanea caught Dodger’s attention before he made it to the door. “Keep an eye on Uncle. You know he gets into trouble so easily.”
“I promise I’ll do my best,” Dodger said. He took one last look at Feng, relaxed on the bench with his eyes closed. Dodger whispered, “Will he be all right?”
“He’ll be fine,” Feng said. “Now get out of here. Those beefalo need your help.”
“Buffalo,” Dodger corrected him.
“Tomato, tomahto.” Feng raised a thin arm and waved at Dodger. “Go away. You have an adventure to chase down.”
Dodger gave Lelanea a wink before he set out to find that supposed adventure.