It is science, though many times confused as being the same thing. I'll prove my point. You know that I could never have been inside of your mysterious building out there, and I imagine you can be sure no one has told me its secrets. Yet I'll bet that I can describe fairly accurately what is in there—not from seeing the machinery, but from knowing what must be done to oil in order to get the products you need.
You want to hear? Your crude oil runs into a tank of some kind, and you pipe it from there to a retort , some big vessel that you can seal airtight. Once it is closed, you light a fire under the thing and try to get all the oil to an even temperature. A gas rises from the oil and you take it off through a pipe and run it through a condenser , probably more pipe with water running over it.
Only my family have seen, no others—I'll swear to that! I told you that we have been doing this stuff for years in my country. I'm not out to steal your secrets. In fact, they are pretty small potatoes where I come from, where every farmer has a still for cooking up his own mash and saving on taxes. I'll bet I can even put in some improvements for you, sight unseen. How do you monitor the temperature on your cooking brew? Do you have thermometers? I can see where your bootleg joy-juice is going to take a big jump in quality, if you have anyone here who can do some simple glass-blowing.
Though it might be easier to rig up a coiled bi-metallic strip. You're trying to boil off your various fractions, and unless you keep an even and controlled temperature you are going to have a mixed brew. The thing you want for your engines are the most volatile fractions, the liquids that boil off first, like gasoline and benzene. After that you raise the temperature and collect kerosene for your lamps, and so forth right on down the line until you have a nice mass of tar left to pave your roads with.
How does that sound to you? But I am not interested in your thermometer nor in improving our water-of-power. It has been good enough for my family for generations and it is good enough for me. Stripping away the 'shrines' and 'sacred powers,' I would say that you go into the engine room to do a piece of work with very little praying involved. There could be a number of ways of moving those vehicles , but let's think of the simplest.
This is top of the head now, so no penalties if I miss any of the fine points. Internal combustion is out. I doubt if you have the technology to handle it, plus the fact there was a lot of do about the water tank and it took you almost an hour to get under way. That sounds as if you were getting up a head of steam —The safety valve! I forgot about that. You go in, lock the door, of course, then open a couple of valves until the fuel drips into the firebox, then you light it.
Maybe you have a pressure gauge , or maybe you just wait until the safety valve pops to tell you if you have a head of steam.
Which can be dangerous, since a sticking valve could blow the whole works right over the mountain. Once you have the steam, you crack a valve to let it into the cylinders and get the thing moving.
After that you just enjoy the trip, of course making sure that the water is feeding to your boiler all right, that your pressure stays up, your fire is hot enough, all your bearings are lubricated, and the rest…" "Do you know what you have done? I don't know if you are right or not; I have never seen the inside of one of the Appsalan devil-boxes. You know more about their—what do you call it? I have only spent my life tending them and cursing the people of Appsala who keep the secret from us.
But you will reveal it to us! We will build our own engines, and if they want water-of-power they will have to pay dearly for it. The Appsalans have a monopoly on that. Edipon cursed and fumed under his breath, and led the way to an inner courtyard where stood four immense black boxes painted with death heads, splintered bones, fountains of blood, and cabalistic symbols, all of a sinister appearance.
Oh yes, they let us use their engines, but after running for a few months the cursed things stop and will not go again, then we must bring them back to the city to exchange for a new one, and pay again and again.
They can't be very complex. However, the tricky serpents of Appsala hide their secrets with immense cunning. If any attempt is made to break the covering, horrible death leaks out and fills the air. Men who breathe the air die, and even those who are only touched by it develop immense blisters and die in pain. The men of Appsala laughed when this happened to our people, and after that they raised the price even higher. The thing was higher than his head and almost twice as long.
A heavy shaft emerged through openings on opposite sides, probably the power takeoff for the wheels. Through an opening in the side he could see inset handles and two small colored disks, and above these were three funnel-shaped openings painted like mouths.
By standing on tiptoe, Jason could look on top, but there was only a flanged, sooty opening there that must be for attaching a smokestack.
There was only one more opening, a smallish one in the rear, and no other controls on the garish container. You're not allowed to browbeat the help any more. There are no secrets here. Not only that, but I probably know more about this thing than you do, just by looking at it.
Oil, water, and fuel go in these three openings, you poke a light in somewhere, probably in that smoky hole under the controls, and open one of those valves for fuel supply; another one is to make the engine go slower and faster, and the third is for your water feed.
The disks are indicators of some kind. Fire goes in here, as you guessed, and when the green finger pressure gage comes forward this lever may be turned for motion engage the gearbox. The next is for great speed, or for going slow shifting from low gear to high gear. The very last is under the sign of the red finger, which when it points indicates need low water in the boiler indicator , and the handle boiler water feed must be turned and held turned until the finger retires.
White breath comes from the opening in back. That is all there is. Without the theory, you would never know what the handles control, or that the green indicator comes out when you have operating pressure, and the red one when the water level is low in the boiler.
And the whole thing sealed up in a can and booby-trapped in case you have any ideas of going into business for yourself. Vesicant means "blister agent" and they are not kidding vesicant war gases , like mustard gas , sealed inside there in liquid form.
Anyone who tries to cut their way in will quickly forget their ambitions after a dose of that. Yet there must be a way to get inside the case and service the engine; they aren't just going to throw them away after a few months' use. And considering the level of technology displayed by this monstrosity, I should be able to find the tricks and get around any other built-in traps. I think I'll take the job.
The work was of the crudest, the product of a sort of neolithic machine age. The distilling retort which separates gasoline from petroleum had been laboriously formed from sheet copper and clumsily riveted together.
It leaked mightily, as did the soldered seams on the hand-formed pipe. Most of the tools were blacksmith's tongs and hammers for heating and beating out shapes on the anvil. The only things that gladdened Jason's heart were the massive drill press and lathe that worked off the slave-power drive belts. In the tool holder of the lathe was clamped a chip of some hard mineral that did a good enough job of cutting the forged iron and low-carbon steel.
He carefully scratched away some of the paint and discovered a crimped and soldered joint where the sides met, but no other revealing marks. After some time spent tapping all over with his ear pressed to the metal, he was sure that the hood was just what he had thought it was when he first examined the thing: Puncture it and you were dead.
It was there merely to hide the secrets of the engine, and served no other function. Yet it had to be passed to service the steam engine—or did it?
The construction was roughly cubical, and the hood covered only five sides. What about the sixth, the base? A wide flange, apparently of cast iron, projected all around, and was penetrated by four large bolt holes. The protective casing seemed to be soldered to the base, but there must be stronger concealed attachments, for it would not move even after he carefully scratched away some of the solder at the base.
Therefore the answer had to be on the sixth side. Jason dug channels beneath it and forced them under. When this was done he took turns with Mikah in digging out the sand beneath, until the engine stood over a pit, supported only by the poles. Jason let himself down and examined the bottom of the machine.
It was smooth and featureless. Once more he scratched away the paint with careful precision, until it was cleared around the edges. Here the solid metal gave way to solder and he picked at this until he discovered that a piece of sheet metal had been soldered at the edges and fastened to the bedplate.
When one end was loose he slowly pulled the sheet of metal away, making sure that there was nothing attached to it, and that it had not been booby-trapped in any way. It came off easily enough and clanged down into the pit. The revealed surface was smooth hard metal. The following morning, under the frightened gaze of his guards, Jason tackled the underside of the baseplate.
He had been thinking about it a good part of the night, and he put his theories to the test at once. By pressing hard on a knife he could make a good groove in the metal. It was not as soft as the solder, but seemed to be some simple alloy containing a good percentage of lead.