The flight of the watchmaker

Previous: The vices of peace, the virtues of war

The journey of Andrew Parsons – A new friend – Non-overlapping magisteria – Arrival at Kodok – The Beast unleashed

1. Any project must be blue-printed in full detail and approved by University staff before implementation. Any project requiring more than twenty tonnes of iron must be approved by the Chancellor.

2. It is permitted for other people’s tools to be on workbenches at other than straight angles. It is not necessary to rearrange them in their owners’ absence or without their owners’ permission.

3. Protective gear, especially a face mask, is not acceptable attire outside of the workshop. Civilian clothes are not to have any tears or burn holes in them. Please consult Miss Felicia for appropriate clothing.

4. University domestic facilities such as the steam network and hot and cold running water are not for experiments, nor do they need to be re-engineered or improved.

5. Seemingly illogical arrangements in the world may be caused by patterns not yet revealed to us. Understanding comes before improvement.

— A plaque in Andrew Parson’s workshop.

Professor Alan Wadcroft asked me to come on his expedition to drive the Tracked Steam Transport Device Mk.1 outside. This was not in the Mk.1’s original specifications. I determined a path of egress involving the fewest University walls and no supporting structures. The engine performed as specified, with the expected amount of high-energy coal. I wrote a letter of apology to the Chancellor for the damage to the walls and to Professor Brassica of Homoeopathy for the damage to her crops, using Miss Felicia’s mimeographs.

We attached the Mk.1 to the airship Boreas. It developed two-hundred and sixty five thousand newtons of lift at ground level, which decreased with altitude to two hundred and twenty thousand due to receding air pressure. The Boreas engaged its propellers and set off in a south-easterly direction at a speed of ninety-three kilometres per hour, reckoned over the ground.

I met Mr. Riley, who talked to me for two minutes. He did not know why Boreas used reciprocating piston engines instead of the more efficient turbines.

I talked with Engineer MacDonald for about an hour. The engines used by Boreas were installed before steam turbines had reached their current reliability, and to install a turbine now would need considerable changes to the drive system’s layout.

NOTE: In the interest of readability, I have taken the liberty of moving the next twelve pages or so to an appendix. From what I can see, the concepts discussed are of considerable interest to aviation engineers, but I would prefer to concentrate on events. As an aside, I believe Andrew has made a friend in Mr. MacDonald, which is not an everyday occurrence. — Alan Wadcroft (editor).

I slept for about half an hour in Professor Wadcroft’s cabin, until he woke me up and said he could not sleep because of the noise. I listened carefully, but could not hear a noise, except the wind and the sound of the Trevithick-based engines. Professor Wadcroft told me that the noise only occurred while I was sleeping, and stopped as I woke up. This seemed to me an improbable coincidence. Professor Wadcroft asked me to go sleep somewhere else, while he stayed in the cabin. This was not helpful since I cannot observe noises while I am asleep, and would need an observer awake to determine the origin of the noise. I will have to postpone research into these matters to a time when Professor Wadcroft is not trying to sleep.

I went to the Mk.1 and slept in the Nr.4 bunk. At five minutes past midnight, Professor Margaret Enderby woke me up by calling my name. I observed a man who was disassembling the port aft support for the Mk.1, which was not advisable as it would have compromised the position of the Mk.1 in Boreas‘ cargo hold. I walked down the gangway to discuss the matter with him, but he tried to leave by way of the Mk.1’s hull. Due to a miscalculation, he fell down. Because of this, I have not learned from him why he was disassembling the support.


We arrived at Port Said, and Master Nazeem joined us on board. I do not understand Master Nazeem. He does not use the standard terms when describing natural phenomena. This makes it difficult to discuss the merits of his designs. He used the words “Spirit of Fire”, for which there is no formal definition. If I am to work with Master Nazeem, I will need to provide him with a list of standardised units to use. If he does the same, we can draw up conversion tables. Master Nazeem claimed to have abilities that were very interesting, especially the ability to move objects with one’s mind. That might well revolutionise the design of instrument controls, by removing the need of moving one’s hands away from the primary controls.

Boreas arrived at Khartoum two hours before the estimated time, due to tail winds. At the port were several other dirigibles, most of them of an older model than Boreas, one of them employing sails for propulsion, which is not to current standards. I mentioned this to Professor Enderby. She told me that she would quite like to sail on a wind-powered dirigible. I argued that it would be impossible to estimate with any accuracy when one would arrive at a given destination, and she said that was the point. I assumed that was in the interest of finding order in seemingly random phenomena. Professor Enderby explained to me the importance of chaos and randomisation in Biology. Nature progresses by making many units, each different from the original in small and non-deterministic ways. It discards the inferior designs by a process of natural selection. I argued that would be very inefficient, leading to a great waste of resources. Professor Enderby argued that no resources are wasted, as the inferior models provide food for other animals. This is a cogent argument, though I still hold that with proper blueprinting, designs could be improved much faster.


Miss Alexandra Tennant, Mr. Riley, and Master Nazeem have returned from a small expedition, in a much depleted state. They have found the information they were looking for and Boreas is moving accordingly. I went to the engine room to see the engines moving at full speed. Engineer MacDonald told me that at this time, he was compromising between speed and not blowing up the engine, which is reasonable as Boreas would not move at all if the engines were out of order. The engines are very well maintained, well oiled, and kept in good repair. Engineer MacDonald said he wanted to see the engines of the Mk.1. I showed him the two-flow tapered design of the turbines, and the transmission assembly. He said that they were in the bloody stone age with their own engines. I haven’t heard of this epoch, and must ask Professor Wadcroft. Engineer MacDonald left. I thought on the matter and drew up a design for a turbine engine for Boreas, which I filed under document number AP-2048-01. It requires only eighteen tonnes of iron and so I won’t have to submit it to the Chancellor, which improves the chances of approval.

Due to an unexpected side-wind, which Boreas had to compensate for with a westerly course change, we arrived at Kodok some seven hours later than anticipated. Since we cannot predict the direction and speed of the wind, these imprecisions are difficult to avoid. Professor Wadcroft took me to the observation deck. Also present were Professor Enderby, Mr. Riley, Master Nazeem, Officer Klemm, six soldiers dressed in green whose names were not mentioned, and Miss Tennant. The Captain asked me if the Beast was ready, which is how some people refer to the Mk.1. I told him it was. The Captain explained that as soon as the Mk.1 was detached, it would be impossible for Boreas to remain below. They would need to fly to a high-altitude port to take on ballast, then fly back, which would take an estimated fourteen days. The Captain asked us if we could manage that long. Since the Mk.1 can operate for twenty days on a full bunker, I said yes.

We stowed on board supplies and equipment for all the people who would travel on the Mk.1. Captain Gaskin announced that we were now over the last known position of the Hammond expedition, and that it was time to unleash the Beast. The captain found a suitable landing area some ten kilometres north of the destination. All the expedition members now boarded the Mk.1.

Miss Tennant was the last to climb on board. One of the soldiers saw her climb down and spoke in a language I don’t know. Miss Tennant answered in the same language. I asked her what she had said. She said, “Literally translated, I understand German, you pig-dog.” Before I could ask her what the soldier had said, she went to the front section and told Mr. Riley that he was in her seat. Even though Professor Wadcroft had not assigned seats to specific crew members, Mr. Riley apologised and went to the rear section. I often have to apologise for things I don’t understand, and I have wondered if that happens to other people as well. It does.

I sat down in the driver’s seat, and activated the coal loading mechanism and the ignitor. Ten and a half minutes later, the pressure in the main and auxiliary boilers reached optimum value. Two minutes after that, a Boreas crew member said that we were now at an altitude of two yards, which is one metre, eighty-three centimetres. They released the supports and we landed on the tracks. Professor Wadcroft told me that people needed to be aware of the vehicle’s position, so I sounded the steam whistle. Someone behind me commented in German, but nobody translated. Professor Wadcroft called out the heading. I turned the Mk.1 in the direction specified and set the transmission to the optimum speed for fuel efficiency.


The chronometer showed forty-two minutes, and the odometer twenty-four kilometres. Professor Wadcroft, who was on the hull of the Mk.1, often asked me to stop for observations. This was the ninth time. He pointed at the flag I had seen in the periscope four minutes ago and told me to make for it. Professor Enderby told me to keep an eighteen-metre distance so as not to spoil any data. Professor Wadcroft called down the top hatch, and said that we would be stopping here to examine the surroundings. At Officer Klemm’s command, I opened the back hatch and all the soldiers disembarked. I put the Mk.1 in dormant state and put the periscope eyepiece back in its clamps. Miss Tennant was looking at me. She told me that it was good to know that the Beast was working properly. I agreed with her, because otherwise it would not have served any purpose to bring it. This made Professor Enderby laugh. I don’t know why. Miss Tennant shook her head, put her hand on my shoulder and told me it was well done. She left the Mk.1.

I don’t understand. Why do people say so many things that are already known?

Next: Desired things left behind


Copyright: © 2014 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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