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   Chapter 3 No.3

Free-Wrench By Joseph R. Lallo Characters: 5496

Updated: 2018-01-19 12:02

"Nothing much. A chunk of scale from boiler three broke free and jammed one of the secondary manifolds. The whole thing nearly blew its top, but a few of us managed to release the pressure. Just got a bit messy is all, " Nita explained as she buttered herself a roll.

"Nothing much, " said her mother, Gloria, with a cluck of her tongue. "It sounds awfully dangerous to me."

The matriarch of the Graus clan, Gloria Graus looked very much the part. Time had done little to fade her beauty over the years. What few lines and wrinkles had found their way into her features served only to underscore her elegance. She fixed her hair, striped with its first strands of silver, pulled back into a tight bun, and even at the breakfast table she wore a gown, petticoat, and satin gloves. There was a telling weariness to her, though, a bone-deep fatigue that was out of place so early in the morning.

"Don't worry so much, Mother. It isn't anything we haven't been trained for. I just had to put the old monkey-toe to use."

"You know, Miss Barken from the art academy was just talking about opening their doors again. I could have your father talk to her about reserving a spot for you."

"Mother, we've been through this…"

"I just feel that you deserve a chance to have a calling in life that is a bit more—"

Nita rolled her eyes and completed the sentence: "Proper? Ladylike? Acceptable?"

"I was going to say artistic."

Amanita's mother had never truly approved of her daughter's decision to take a job at the steamworks. It was only right, in the eyes of most Calderans, to devote one's life to the creation of objects of beauty. No one held this view closer to their hearts than the Graus clan. Over the generations, Nita's family had produced some of the finest sculptors, musicians, and painters in all of Caldera. That tradition continued to this day. Each of Nita's siblings had found a suitably creative calling.

Analita was a dancer and artist's model. Though she shared a birthday with Nita, the pair were anything but identical. Nita, quite lovely in her own right, seemed terribly plain beside Lita. Beside Lita a goddess would be plain. Tall and slim with dancer's legs, Lita had a flawless face and a rhythmic grace that showed in her every motion. Her eyes were ice blue, a match for her mother's, and she took the time each morning to paint her fingernails, color her lips, pull up her hair, and otherwise put an artist's touch to her delicate features. Nita wasn't quite as tall, wasn't quite as well proportioned, and wasn't quite as graceful. Her eyes were her father's brown, her hair a deep brown rather than her sister's glorious black. In short, she wasn't quite Lita. In her youth it had been a point o

f great envy, but such childish feelings had been left behind… for the most part.

Joshua was eighteen years old, two years younger than his sisters. He was the spitting image of his father: a strong, stout build, deep brown eyes, short brown hair, and a head taller than Nita. Though just finishing his schooling, he had already made a name for himself as both a sculptor and a musician. A part of that, perhaps, was having Lita as a model and dancer for his compositions, but his original works earned no less renown. The two of them had become precisely what the rest of Tellahn had expected them to be; fine artists and worthy inheritors of the Graus name.

When Nita became a steamworker, many viewed it as an admission of defeat. Those who found a place in a more utilitarian role weren't precisely looked down upon in Calderan society, but they were universally viewed as those who had failed to find a way to contribute to the beauty of their land. In a way, this was true of Nita. As a child she'd tried her very best to follow in the family tradition. Alas, she didn't have the legs for dance, nor the ear for music. Though her hands were steady enough, she didn't have the eye for painting or sculpture. It wasn't until she tried her hand at constructing the intricate clockwork music boxes that had brought her father his fortune that she found her true talent. She was a tinkerer, and something in the building of a mechanism ignited her passion. Perhaps she could have continued with the clockwork sculptures and music boxes and earned the position her countrymen viewed as her birthright, but what held her fascination wasn't the beauty of the machines, but the way they worked. It was thus only a matter of time before she found her way into the steamworks, the grandest mechanism in all of Caldera.

"You shouldn't have to toil away in that place."

"I like to 'toil away in that place, ' Mother. I do important work there, and I do it well. Foreman Stover says the system-wide pressure losses have been down four notches since I was made a free-wrench."

Gloria gave her daughter a gentle smile of encouragement that betrayed a complete lack of understanding of anything Nita had said, save that it seemed to be a point of pride. "Well, that's lovely, dear."

"Where is father this morning?" Joshua asked, spooning out a serving of the steamy pot of oatmeal set on the table.

"Your father had to leave early, I'm afraid. He's to discuss matters with the council in Drummer's Valley again today."

"The council? About what?"

"That's your father's business, dear. Something about the perimeter battery, I imagine. No doubt they want to request another contribution to be sure the guns are greased and ready."

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