The shelling was getting closer, but here we were, Hansel and I, running between the old machines with our oil cans and screwdrivers in the middle of the night, greasing and trimming, keeping them running.
I stopped in front of the tall windows facing south towards the city. Searchlights swung in formation as they scanned the sky for the aircraft we could hear screaming overhead. The sides of buildings erupted into fire and dust, the flashes filling the factory with orange light. Some burnt like torches, columns of smoke rising above them.
The detonations from the shelling stopped. Perhaps if we had been closer we could have heard the falling masonry and the shower of debris clatter and fade.
“I need your help,” Hansel said into the silence. “Number Six’s got a jam.”
I had been on my way to Number Six when I had paused. I followed Hansel, who did not seem set to criticise me, despite the work that was now ahead of us.
Number Six was a beast. A heavy beast that relied on a finely-tuned balance to keep working. If a mechanism moved out of alignment, and by a failure of design the motion was inevitable, momentum would jam hardened steel components under and over each other while the drive shaft compounded the problem.
We removed the panels and found what we expected. Hansel fetched the tool cart and with both of us leaning on the long arm of the wrench we were able to uncouple the drive shaft. We got Number Six’s gears to snap free and reverse back. Hansel got his screwdriver and adjusted the problem mechanism until it sat true once again. In silence we re-assembled the machine. Hansel switched on the power and Number Six chugged away. He made a small adjustment and the chugging became a purr. It’s smooth panels were lit orange as the shelling resumed and a rather large plane, perhaps a fully-laden bomber, fell on fire into the midst of the city and exploded.
“Sounds like it’s running too fast,” I said.
Hansel pressed an ear against a panel.
“Yah. I’ll wind it back.”
The purr deepened and we nodded with satisfaction at each other and Number Six. The unmistakable shriek of a guided missile passed overhead and seconds later the crump of its detonation reached us.
We separated for our inspection tour, ensuring the rest of the machines were still running smoothly. My tour ended with the 80s series. They stood in front of the windows. If these machines had eyes they would never be bored.
There were fewer searchlights now. Ground-to-air missiles streaked into the sky from within the valleys of the streets. It was time for our break, but I couldn’t move away from the window. Hansel would wonder where I was and come looking for me. When he found me standing here instead of working he will give a sympathetic grunt and open the panel on my back. With the handle of his screwdriver he will tap my worn power coupling back into place and we will return to our work.
Who wrote this?
I’m a Sydney Copywriter who occasionally tweets. When I’m not sharing practical tips, like the best short form writing tool ever, I like to pen the occasional rant, and convert Brian Eno tracks into text.