– Chapter Eight –
Nites were just not enough. A strong will only the beginning.
Machines needed fixing and from then on maintenance. Time was not a friend to the remnants of the Electricity Age, nor was the average person who treated the items like trash that needed throwing out. A conduit could not Wake a machine or device if its internal components were broken, if the thing had been left to fend against the big bully Mother Nature. Everything within the machine needed to be in working order, its internal system lubed and oiled, all its parts intact.
That’s where Clara came in. She not only hunted for the machines and devices from the Electricity Age, she fixed them as well. An artifact from the former world was no more useful to a collector broken than working, a collector was only going to display a cell phone or a stereo or a keyboard meant for a computer. Those pieces need to look nice, only. But to a conduit looking to Wake the machine—to use the application installed on an old cell phone for instance—the machine needed to function. Looks came later, if at all; the vintage look was in with conduits right now.
The basement level below the Wrench Works was Clara’s domain, where she could tinker and work on projects for customers or on behalf of herself.
After finishing her lunch with Uncle Marty she excused herself and made her way down the narrow flight of stairs to the basement workshop.
She breathed in the familiar smells. Oil and grease. The smell of metal, similar to the taste of blood.
She quickly went about lighting candles held in sconces all around the room. Nites would have been a simpler source of light, quicker for Clara, but using too many Nites would leave her tired and unable to work. The light radiating from Tink helped Clara not trip over herself as she visited the candles.
Signage from the nearby ruin city hung on the walls. Green street signs. Yellow and red road signs. Her father had even kept an old sign from a business a hundred years gone, this broad banner of a sign was studded with bulbs of varying colors. She sometimes Woke the sign. The letters spelling Angel’s Salvation Yard would glow a bright yellow-white and tears would fill Clara’s eyes. Using the Nites to light the sign was worth how tired the effort made her. She always kept back bulbs for that sign, when she found them.
Worktables lined one of the concrete walls, each rising to Clara’s chest. She had an army of crates and four-legged stools ready to boost her five-two frame. Along with chests of tools, the worktables were cluttered with in-process work she needed to finish for waiting customers and personal projects she was messing with in her spare time.
Against the opposite wall—the wall the stairs emptied from—was wire shelving. A large map spread across the final wall. It was a street map of the neighboring ruin city, long ago printed on canvas. Bold lettering at the top of the map named the ruins as Nork, at least that was what a couple of the welcome signs called it and most of the Lightless took to calling the old city just that. Her father and Marty had updated the map during their years of exploring the old buildings for junk; it had been the team’s primary picking ground because of its close proximity to their former shop in Linden Grove. She had continued the updates, noting where bridges had crumbled into dead ends and deep chasms, which districts had become flooded with rising tides, and other blocked roadways.
The ink on the street map was fading more each year, like most of the maps and books printed over a hundred years ago. At some point Clara would need to trace over the lines. Another day. Another week. Maybe next year. There were too many projects she wanted to finish and others she longed to start.
That thought made Clara’s gaze travel to a road golem sitting in one corner of the room, next to the building’s old elevator lift. The golem was literally sitting. Clara had cobbled together various pieces from the automobiles on the roads nearest to Rivend. Uncle Marty had helped her constructed a steel frame; he had a forge in the back of the shop where he could do smithing to correct a machine’s chasse or its outer body. No one wanted to purchase a dented machine or cracked device. Plastic they could do nothing for, though. The golem frame and metal skin—as Clara thought of the pieces of auto bodies she’d stripped—formed the man-shaped golem sitting watch over the basement. Inside him there was an engine, cogs, pulleys, belts, pistons, everything a metal man needed to run or even bend a pinky finger. Except Clara still didn’t know how to program the functionality, the basic commands. Nites could only do so much. Two things a conduit needed to Wake and use a machine (aside from Nites)—a working machine and knowledge of what that machine could accomplish. A conduit couldn’t tell an automobile to run if it had no legs; the commands needed to be specific to the functionality of the machine.
One day I’ll figure out how to make the golem walk, run, punch, and kick-ass. People won’t die around me anymore. Not ever! Maybe Tink could drive him?
Having a bodyguard on hand would be helpful in a fight. Especially if the golem could block fire, deflect blades, and stomp Junkers!
She had dabbled with trying to program the golem. There were dozens of old computers and monitors piled under her worktables. She had plugged a couple of old computers into the golem’s brain—a tiny computer itself inside the thing’s bucket of a head—but the programming was complex. She had to write code and have the golem read that numerical language. It was like teaching a child to walk but needing the child to sit up, crawl, and even control its bowels before even taking one step toward the playground with the other boys and girls. Biggest hurdle for her to leap… she didn’t even know if the golem understood the code she was developing. And the machine man needed a lot of Nites to Wake. Bigger the golem, the more Nites required for power.
She had seen what happened when a conduit expended too many of her Nites to Wake a machine. Burn out was possible. But it drained the conduit. Left him or her helpless, unable to aid their friends or bystanders let alone defend themselves. She remembered that day at the Mathers farm. Clayton had never forgotten or forgiven. She thought that fact obvious. Could she blame him? That was something Clara did not want to reminisce about now. So she put that specific childhood traumatizing tragedy out of her mind.
Tink sat on the edge of a worktable nearest the golem. A green street sign hung from beneath a crowded shelf above. Saddlewood Lane.
The Nite swung her legs lazily over the worktable’s edge, back arched forward and palms flat against the tabletop. Waiting.
“I think you nearly gave Marty a heart attack, little one,” Clara told Tink as she walked across the room to deposit her stuff on a table relatively free of junk.
Sorry. I didn’t mean to, Tink blinked.
Clara threw her jacket over a shelf corner and tossed her floppy hat to hang from another corner. She knuckled her lower back, trying to work the knots out she had received from the long walk and stressful morning.
“Not a problem. Accidents happen,” Clara assured the tiny spark of light. So human, even the way Tink sat and brooded was similar to a petulant child in self-imposed time out. “Besides, Marty was likely to hurt the floor rather than the other way around.” She chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. Do Nites even have moods? Tink did.
I just wanted to get out from under the hat. Too stuffy underneath there. I needed to breathe.
Like the Field, Nites longed to flow naturally around life itself, may it be a person or a tree or the very wind itself. When Tink said breathe she meant flow.
As Tink issued a series of blips and light ticks, complaining about Clara shutting her up underneath her hat when there was so much life in Rivend that she wanted to be a part of, Clara got to thinking about the unique Nite language. Morse Code. A tone language her father and Marty had used. Tones her father had taught her, Clara, to use.
“You’ll always have a way to talk to me, sparkplug,” her father had told her before his death. “Even if I’m not nearby to hear you, I’ll feel you through the Field. Just tap it out. Okay?”
The tiny spark raised her head to regard Clara, the wispy tail of hair floating around her as if she was underwater.
Clara walked to the workbench and pulled up a stool for a seat.
“You don’t remember where you came from, do you? I mean when we first met.”
They had had this conversation before, when Clara was younger, just after Clara’s father passed away and Tink appeared days later.
From the Field? Clara could sense the question mark in Tink’s response, as if this was a guess she was only partly sure about.
“You don’t remember? But you remember my dad?”
Tink nodded enthusiastically. Mo Danvers. He was kind. Funny. Smiled a lot. Played jokes.
But those were only general statements. Vague details Clara herself provided to people when they asked what she missed most about her father. If she remembered correctly, Tink had never mentioned the name Mo Danvers until Clara asked her about him.
“Do you know my father? Mo Danvers?”
And Tink had answered that first day, Sure! Mo Danvers.
For all Clara knew, she could have created Tink because she was lonely. That didn’t make much sense though. On the morning after a full night of sleep she didn’t feel the least bit drained, nor did she when Tink appeared. To create a Nite that stuck around for so long Clara would need to tap a lot of the Field within herself to create Tink, she’d need to tap continually too.
Clara’s revelry lasted a while. In that time, Tink had gazed over to the work in-progress golem. Its sagging left arm was a powder blue door pounded and shaped into a blocky shield. Its right arm, a faded red nearly pink color, lay across its lap. A head made from a castoff mop bucket stared down, the eye slit in the middle dark with sleep.
I’ll Wake him one day, Tink promised her. That way I can be there for you. I’m supposed to be there, to help you, to keep the bad things away. Her light intoned these words firmly, brightly. Clara blinked spots away.
“You will, Tink. I need someone at my back to watch out for trouble.”
For the Junkers.
“I could have used the golem today,” Clara mumbled. Then things would have been different, she could have sent the golem to protect Merlyn.
We both want to be useful to people we care about, Clara told herself longingly.
Until then, she had work that needed doing. Customers were waiting. Two were due in today even, this afternoon.
Clara retrieved a book from the shelf overhead, flipped through the pages and found a schematic of the circuits in a handheld device much like her own, except this device was a former music player. She began fiddling with the electrical roads on the green board, referring to the schema to her right.
Her work distracted her until Uncle Marty called down to tell her a customer had arrived.
Several customers visited the Wrench Works throughout that same afternoon.
One came to pick up a transistor radio Clara had repaired. She had taken the parts from several other units her father and she—separately, of course—had picked up in Nork over the years. It needed a speaker, little odds and ends for the transmitter, a display face, even a new antenna that reminded her of a set of bunny ears. Naturally the customer was a conduit like Clara. Some conduits transmitted programs across frequencies through the Field, using Nites to power cobbled together transmitting equipment. Only other conduits, with radios like the one Clara repaired, could listen to the broadcasts. Clara enjoyed a frequency that played old music her father called rock and roll.
The conduit took his radio and slunk away as if a thousand eyes were watching his every move, his own eyes darting in doorways and shadows. Clara could sympathize. Thumpers sometimes came to Rivend doing missionary work. A conduit did well to stay away from those Electricity Age junk hating religious nuts less that person be thumped over the head with a Bible and swiftly cleansed of wickedness. Brain washed and hung out to dry was not Clara’s idea of fun. Nor was it any conduit’s.
The two other customers that afternoon were less paranoid, and not conduits. Both were just collectors interested in history. Uncle Marty sold an old camera to one—no one could get film for the older models, not cheaply anyway—and showed the other the shop’s library. Binding books was expensive these days and creating paper even more arduous. Older books, printed in the Electricity Age, were rare and valued. The patron bought a couple of Uncle Marty’s books for good coin, and the man had the coin to spare if his custom fitted suit with bright colors was any indications. He looked like a peacock and smelled nicer than most birds.
Mr. Peacock was not, however, the most interesting of people to find themselves in the Wrench Works that afternoon. Not by far.
Clara stretched like a lazy cat as she looked up from the scattered junk pieces on her worktable. All the parts would come together to create a phone with a rotary dial. Before people were pushing buttons to dial a phone number and connect to someone, they used to spin a dial and a ding would sound to verify the tone through the telephone line. Clara was attempting to fix the ding. She’d found the rotary phone cracked and broken in a pile, tossed against an office’s wall at some point long ago. She imagined after Black Out Thursday someone tried to use the relic, thinking the blackout was just a normal blackout. When not even the archaic phone would work, a person’s patience ran out.
It wasn’t the phone’s fault the electricity up and vanished. She scowled at the imaginary assistant to some old world big mucky-muck rancher-type.
Tink flew close to the partially completed rotary phone. A bulb above and to the right of the dial blinked three times then went dark. Although the light worked, the phone did not ring.
Clara’s frown deepened. She put her elbow on the worktable and rested her chin atop her fist.
I’ll need to fix that too.
Uncle Marty called down to Clara from the top of the stairs, his voice bouncing off the walls like a war drum’s marching cadence.
Placing her hands at the small of her back, Clara arched and stretched, cracking her back.
I need a break anyways…
Another lazy cat had apparently crawled inside Clara’s stomach and was growling with hunger.
And possibly something to eat too.
With Tink twinkling like a beacon safely guiding a ship through the night, Clara went upstairs.
Most people visiting the Wrench Works immediately become overwhelmed. Junk cluttered the shop’s showroom. Often enough Clara had rummaged through junkyards in search of treasures the people of the Electricity Age had tossed away in moments where they lacked wisdom. The Wrench Works reminded her of such a place. Sometimes people called shops like Marty’s junkyards… but not affectionately. Never go into the Wrench Works seeking a particular want or you’ll never find that thing you seek… well, unless you ask. Be warned, though, Marty doesn’t keep inventory. Nothing is organized. Former bookshelves and repurposed display cases of all types of wood—and some metal—were scattered about the showroom floor. On the shelves and in the cases sat full machines, repaired, from ones that brushed teeth and trimmed hairs to those that used to make phone calls and record messages. The Wrench Works kept alarms and radios, steering wheels and seats from road golems. Individual parts and pieces of machines were everywhere, in piles, boxes, milk crates. Signs like those in Clara’s workshop sanctuary dangled helplessly from the high ceiling. The unorganized inventory could easily overwhelm anyone browsing the Wrench Works. As a little girl and budding conduit, Clara saw the showroom floor as a wonderland. She used to spend hours combing through the piles and shelves. She still did.
With a pop and shower of sparks, Tink merged with the Field as she and Clara left the stairwell and entered the showroom.
Someone is definitely here. And Tink did not want to give away Clara as a conduit, let alone a conduit who carried on conversations with Nites.
Clara wove her way around the irregularly placed shelves and piles to the front counter, wondering why Marty had called her up. No other customers waiting for completed work were due in today. Maybe he needed Clara to find something amongst the unorganized showroom? She could find anything, almost as if she could sense the machines and components, sort them by how the Field reacted to their presence.
She caught the scent of sweet weed as she walked along a set of shelves taller and wider than Marty himself.
Not again. How long had she been down in the basement shop since the last customer departed, since she last left Uncle Marty? A couple hours? He had taken a “smoke brake” (or two or three) and lit up. Clara glanced out a window at the other end of the shop. Darkness. Night. She had been down in the workshop a long time. Uncle Marty should have closed the shop by now. Who could be…
A customer stood across the counter from Uncle Marty. As Clara approached, she attempted to get a glimpse inside the man’s hood. An impossible feat given the angle. She did glimpse his clothing, which were cut for a man. Underneath a patched cloak, the visitor wore a dark coat and breaches tattered and well worn, a sign of a constant traveler and possibly a salvager, a person who might live in the ruins, who made a living off selling junk to antique dealers like Marty. When the visitor reached inside his cloak for a belt pouch Clara spotted a pair of pistol butts. Marty didn’t seem at all worried—he too saw the weapons—so Clara relaxed.
Coins slid across the counter and into the man’s pouch. No coppers, mainly washers and annies. The faces and backs of the coins were faded, most coins were. Merchants and buyers exchanged today the same coins people used before the minting machines ceased working, if nothing else for convenience and because everyone agreed the worth was based on produce and grain stores.
“Tomorrow morning then?” Marty asked.
“Early. Just after light we’ll go. It’s a long way.” The visitor’s voice was shallow and reedy.
Clara tried a second peek inside the visitor’s hood but he turned away from her before she could succeed.
“I’ll get the other half then?” the visitor asked, not demanding but a simple clarification.
Marty nodded firmly. He placed his thick forearm on the counter, leaned forward, and stared long inside the visitor’s hood. It was as if Marty were saying I’m not the stranger here asking for trust. Am I?
A couple seconds was all the hooded visitor could stand of Marty’s two hundred fifty pound glare. He stalked out of the Wrench Works lacking an answer or an item from the junkyard.
The bell over the front door rang twice.
“Go lock the door. Will you, sparkplug?”
With her own questions begging for answer—she intended to ask these in a minute—Clara secured the store’s front entrance and then returned to the counter.
“What was that about, Uncle Marty?”
He turned the scowl he’d slammed down on the visitor now on her. “I thought I’ve told you before, I’m not really your uncle.”
Clara shrugged a single shoulder and grinned mischievously. “You have. I don’t listen very well and you’re not persistent.”
“What’s up with the afterhours visit, huh?” She pointed a thumb over a shoulder, at the locked shop door.
“Says he knows of stash in the city and wants to sell us the location.”
Rolling her eyes, Clara folded her arms, rested them on the counter, and brought to bear all her bravado, like she were confident and ready to show a winning in a card game. “A location I’ve never been to? Any place that I haven’t found doesn’t exist.”
“Not even your father had seen the entirety of Nork. There are still places out there with treasures to discover. It’s a big city, biggest on this coast. It might take you several days to walk from south to north.”
“You trust this guy?”
Uncle Marty shifted in his seat, probably more aware of the tin box in his pocket and itching to crack open the top. He stank of the weed and his temper hinted at his recent pipe pulls. Only when the haze was thick did he complain about her calling him uncle. Why call him uncle would come up was beyond her knowing. She’d done so for years!
It was not unusual for her and Marty to receive junk locations from salvagers, especially when the location held more than a cart full of items. Sometimes it was cheaper for a salvager to sell the location information than to cart away the contents. Still, her father and Marty had been on a similar run on the day of her father’s death, using location information sold by a new face the shop had never seen. That fact made Marty extra careful about salvagers.
“What’s the informant selling exactly?” Clara asked, curious as to what type of junk would make Marty drop his guard.
“A pawnshop in a suburban area. He says the place is toward the north, past a few flooded areas. What’s most valuable is the bridge. He says can get us across the water keeping most people out of that area. Once we know of the bridge’s location it’ll open a huge area of the city no one has been able to walk into since the adjacent neighborhoods were flooded thirty years ago.”
Clara perked up. “An entire area that my father never explored?!”
Those red apple cheeks of Marty’s lifted. “I thought that would whet your appetite, kid. Adventure! A chance to update a section of the map all your own. We can name one of the neighborhoods over there after you. Hah! A little neighborhood.”
She raised an eyebrow. “And what? Do you get a big burrow all to yourself?”
“You got a problem with that?”
A smile appeared on Clara’s lips, her teeth showing. “Only if we call it Uncle Marty’s.”
Together they both shared a chuckle and he again told her not to call her “uncle” but there was little force in the demand.
Cleaning up the vomit and putting you to bed when you can barely stand earns me the right.
“Then I take it we leave at first light to meet up with the salvager?”
“First light the hunt is on, sparkplug.”
Wanna keep reading?! Turn the page to Chapter Nine.
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved