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[rfc] Locomotion
[rfc] Locomotion
What would people think, thought Jet, staring at the plans printed on her desk. They already thought we were a bunch of lunatics.

There was a real danger this would put them over the edge.

“There’s no wave in this thing?” Jet said, looking up at the two proponents with a sceptical eye.

The first, Lemprex Birrman from the reactor teams, pushed another dataslate towards her. She was a formerly white-furred catgirl who’d managed to stain her fur and overalls with a dozen different types of machine oil and grease. “We’ve built a model,” she said, before licking at her teeth in a way that suggested she still hadn’t quite got used to them “Provided you’ve enough fuel and oxidiser to fire it, it’ll work.”

The second, Oliver Porta, was a station mechanic who’d dressed himself in the faux-brunellian fashion complete with stovepipe hat – though without the usual pipe-bomb in a clockworks spattering of useless gears and cogs.

“It solves all the problems with heat rejection on a combustion engine, the ceiling’s too high for a catenary and even battery electric units will need cooling in vaccum.”

“You’ve run it by the technical council?” asked Jet.

She knew they hadn’t.

“They’d say ‘No’.” he said.

Of course, Jet already knew that too. Which meant, of course, they’d come to her because they knew she could make it happen – somehow. The Council had to govern sensibly no matter what they actually wanted, while Jet, at least gave the veneer of deniability.

“I can tell you think it’s cool,” the catgirl added with a gleam in her blue eyes “And we already have the cyberpunks and dieselpunks here – even the atompunks and biopunks have something to do. This is our thing, and it’ll work.”

“Castle Heterodyne will love it,” Porta assured. “And there’re more of us on Frigga than you think.”

The catgirl nodded. Jet looked up at her with tired eyes. Aside from this, she had a dozen other things on her mind

“That’s not a threat by the way,” she said, running her words over themselves in a sudden panic. She held her hand up in self defense. “ We just think it’d be cool and we’d feel more involved in things if we got a few favours too and all the other punks get something….”

“Just don’t do anything that makes the bureaucrats come here, please.” Jet took a breath. A thin smirk crawled across her lips “Not until I figure out how to hide the funding because those dry shites would never agree to it.”

“This’ll be so cool, you won’t regret this I promise. We’re actually going to build these and it’ll be amazing…”

“People will come to see these,” Porta reassured her. “We might even be able to sell the design to other mines that need to work in vacuum.”

“Just don’t get caught,” said Jet.

Both of them left her alone with the plans and models as reassurance that everything would definitely work. They even had a video of a model running in an open airlock to prove it.

It could probably be dragged from the general slush-fund and the retroactively assigned to a specific expense on last year’s official budget once people formed an opinion on what it was actually for, as a sort of Schroedinger’s line-item.

Medium machinery, transportation and public services, artistic installations or tourism and visitor attraction? So long as the paperwork looked right and people liked the result, it didn’t matter.


“Hey., yeah, Jet--- did you really mean to order this?”

“Order what?”

“Project Mars and Project Venus. Order 242 and 243.”

“Oh....that – yeah that’s a secret project here.”

“Why in the hell is this a secret?”

“Her majesty’s government doesn’t know they’ve agreed to pay for it yet. And I’d rather they didn’t know until after they’re built”

“Jet – just be careful. There’re rules – and there’s only so far you can push them.”

“I can make it work.”

“Be careful, Jet, seriously”

“It’ll be alright”


Jets impressions of Steampunk had long been one of having the appearance of functionality, while being utterly useless. An art-form assembled from the language of industrial machinery, victorian fashion and colonialist imperialism, but without the requirement to actually work, like so many tattoos in ‘Japanese’ people had gotten themselves because they looked pretty and not because they wanted a Japanese Hannibal Lecter to know they were non-poisonous.

Wreathed in vapours Mars - named for the planet and not the Sailor - immediately gave the impression of being a machine which suffered the constraints of reality and the requirement to do something more than express an artistic vision. Even brand-new, it dripped with grease and oil. High-power electric lights flickered in time to the rotations of the turbogenerator throwing hard black shadows across the ground.

The exhaust stacks billowed white steam which flashed to diamond dust before falling back to ground the moment it lost its momentum, creating drifts of soft rime ice on cold black metal, or sublimating back to vapour where it landed on hot steel.

Mars looked like no other locomotive Jet had ever seen. The slug-like cylinder of the boiler with its superheater bulge had been set aside to make space for a high-pressure-gas tank and a three cylinder steam engine. Drive ran through a snake-like string of universal joints and prismatic couples to four sets of two-axle bogies. Bevel gears on each axle meshed with the driveshaft and threatened to shred any finger that got near them while they turned.

Brake lines, gas lines, cable-conduits and railings, traced across the boiler and over the engine, each one labelled and colour-coded according to its contents, and whether it was hot, cold, pressurised or powered. A pair of quick-connect manifolds tapped the boiler and gas reservoirs to provide steam power to modern hot-gas monopropellant mining drills like those the Rockhounds used. They would be faster, more powerful and more reliable than the obsolete electro-hydraulic and atmospheric tools Frigga relied on.

Someone else had already begun a project to try convert an old electric drill to gas power. Engineers, makers and creators fed off each other’s work like that. Sparks ignited flames. Maybe buying new tools could be justified, now they had the infrastructure to support therm. The miners had already begun to make noises in that direction. Maybe what was left in the slush-fund could flow in their direction next.

The old Mad’s adage applied. Get your technical success, then let people figure out what to do with it later.

Two mechanics in vacuum suits made the last few checks of the running gear and driveline, ensuring the bearings had been properly greased and each coupling had been pinned and locked.

A larger tank of ‘oxygenated water’ and a smaller tank of kerosene fuel sat on the tender, freshly topped off, but still draining quickly to keep the boiler hot. Compressor-driven condensers recycled as much of the water and exhaust as possible, if only to make the environment in the tunnels a little less unpleasant.

A brand new, factory-fresh steam locomotive, sat waiting for its first test run, being attended to by a dozen people in spacesuits, while video-equipped drones swarmed around, broadcasting its first true steaming to the wider internet as a whole. Like a redshirt at a Storm trooper convention, it obviously didn’t belong, but somehow worked as a scene anyway.

The crew on board busied themselves explaining the intimate details of its operation to an enraptured audience of enthusiastic anoraks, gricers, trainspotters, railfen and Tori-Tetsu, not to mention the Gearheads and the Gaslamp Fantasists. Castle Heterodyne quickly made its approval known - it took a certain level of madness to stand in close proximity to what was basically a small rocket engine burning catalysed peroxide and kerosene.

Lemprex Birman and Oliver Porta would go down as the Sparks who’d built a genuine steam locomotive in space - one which ran in vacuum, ran on steam and didn’t require much, if any handwaving to get running. The only handwavium was in the paperwork. Some civil servant in Crystal Tokyo was simultaneously discovering to their horror that they’d inadvertently authorised it’s construction months before anyone had even thought of it as a possibility.

The success of the project would likely get them noticed for being ‘brave’ and taking chances. Their career would likely never recover.

Whether Jet could get away with fiddling the paperwork would be determined by the overall public reaction. She figured it’d be fine. Most commenters were, at least, impressed that it existed and glad someone tried.

That was it’s real benefit. People liked it and engaged with it. They commented and shared and spread it like a virus. They’d want more of it - more things like it. And with that, came the permission to do more things like it, the funding to enable them and even the belief that they could be done.

The more people believed you could do, the more you could do. The more people expected you to succeed, the more likely you were to succeed. That’s how Fenspace and the ‘wave really worked

The locomotive’s lights strobed a warning to get out of its way, clouds of snow blowing from a silent whistle. Draincocks on the cylinders shot jets of vapour and oil as the motor began to crank the locomotive forward at less than a walking pace, drones sweeping in the capture the intricate details of engine crank and valves as they churned all hundred and fifty tons of steel forward.

Nothing could stop it. Given the chance - and enough fuel - it’d happily run along the Helium sightseeing line on Mars alongside the Galaxy Railway’s handwaved excursions. Even the gauge matched.

Lemprex waved for the cameras from the footplate. A catgirl in a spacesuit driving a steam locomotive - the incongruous image alone brought a smile to her face that lasted far longer than expected.

For the first time in a long time, there was a subtle buzz about the asteroid, a sense of excitement and the possibility of things getting better. More, similar projects had started to appear on the station’s public forums, looking for supporters - the things that might make life better, but may need to be done outside the usual channels.

In the end, people needed more in their lives than sleeping, eating and working. There needed to be things on Frigga that allowed people to enjoy being there - from the little victories and successes, to the colour that made life interesting. From the polychromatic rosebeds that’d been planted outside the hab-blocks that added colour to the grey concrete and stone, to the animated murals that’d been painted on the walls, to the arboretum the more sensible people of the station council were trying to assemble and the neon signage on the mezzanine that people had added on their own initiative, along with that little bit more freedom than could be permitted on the Crystal cities to let people do the big things that interested them.


As for what the hell they actually built, the below image stolen from a random corner of the internet gives a clue.

[Image: eVSRP4cl.jpg]

And a video of one running

Key takeaways are generally supposed to be that people on Frigga are doing their own things and aren't just window-dressing and that maybe - if left to fucking around, they might make things right on their own, while Jet's gambling that success and public praise will cover a lot of sins. And that they're also just as mad as Jet when it comes to potentially explodey things.

I love the smell of rotaries in the morning. You know one time, I got to work early, before the rush hour. I walked through the empty carpark, I didn't see one bloody Prius or Golf. And that smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole carpark, smelled like.... ....speed.

One day they're going to ban them.
RE: [rfc] Locomotion
"I was sure it couldn't be done... but they did it. And my hat's off to them." -- Noah Scott.
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
RE: [rfc] Locomotion
"We've got a lot of good people, getting very good at doing things people said shouldn't be done. Not a lot of people know that yet." - Jet

I love the smell of rotaries in the morning. You know one time, I got to work early, before the rush hour. I walked through the empty carpark, I didn't see one bloody Prius or Golf. And that smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole carpark, smelled like.... ....speed.

One day they're going to ban them.

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