Art Pact 120


He touched the wrench to the metal - gently, almost as if giving it a benediction.

"The drive-shaft," he told me. "Very temperamental in these models. The brackets aren't good enough, you see. Stress in the wrong places."

"How was that allowed?"

"Wasn't a case of being allowed. It was a compromise-"

"Ugh, a compromise."

"Engineering is all compromises," he said sternly. "As I was saying, they traded off between the weight of the housing and the bracket positioning. Brackets at either end of the housing were lighter. Better to have two brackets further inside the housing, but then they'd have had to put supports here and here"--he pointed with the end of the wrench again, indicating two empty spaces--"but then they would have interfered with the proper rotation of the coupling gear, and to move that you need an extra shaft. That shaft has to be supported at the other end, and so forth. More weight again."

"But it's a static engine," Rochmane pointed out. "Weight shouldn't factor into it."

"All weight's cost, sonny," the old man told him. "But more importantly, this had to be carried here. If it was going to be brought in by hand, which is not as unlikely as it sounds, they wanted to keep the weight down to where four people could carry it easily enough. If it was dropped from the air, most likely it would be a light plane or helicopter. Getting it here easily was more important than pure reliability."

"This is why engineers aren't allowed to run armies," I said. "Listen, enough of this. Can you repair it?"

"I can."

"How long will it take?"

He scratched his head.

"Well that's a good question. Three days, maybe. Maybe less if I get lucky, maybe more if not."

"Three days!" Rochmane cried. "Unacceptable!"

The old man shrugged.

"I don't know what to tell you."

"Say nothing," I advised him. "Just get to work." To the others: "Things are as they are. We do what we can until the repairs are done. Philips, if he asks you for anything, you help him, understood? Rochmane, you and Li start a sweep, the rest of you set up a defensive perimeter around the site."

Rochmane looked at me angrily, trying to decide whether to bring the issue of command legitimacy to the fore now or later. Better to do it later, I thought to him. If something goes wrong it's on me, if we all survive you can try to take the credit later. Either my force of will was so great that I changed his mind for him or we were simply of a similar mind on the matter, because after a few seconds he stalked away into the woods, clapping Li roughly on the shoulder and drawing the younger man with him.

"I'll need a burner," the old man told me, when Rochmane was gone. I nodded. "I'll have to convert it to heat the metal, that means it'll be useless as a weapon."

"Fine," I said, unbuckling my gun and giving it to him. I was glad to be rid of the thing.

My rule of thumb is to take anything a mechanic tells me and assume that it is the mid-point of a logarithmic scale that describes the actual likely duration of the repairs. If the old man told me it was three days, I could expect it to take either a day or six days. This is why I try not to deal with mechanics in general - society had indulged them in this inadequacy rather than taking them to task for it, so that now the belief is that mechanical skills are part of an art and not necessarily a science. I believe otherwise, the just as the daily endeavour of a citizen can be harnessed in a reliable manner for the benefit of the state, so it should be with the creative and constructive skills. The doctrine of obedience and right thought should be applied no less to these artists and technicians than it is to bureaucrats and farm-hands.

Nevertheless, I had no time to take on the accumulated weight of years of false tradition. Perhaps on my return I would word a memorandum to the Minister of Progress on the subject. It might be quite a project, and ultimately both of great use to the state and a source of glory in the international arena. If there was to be a first nation to break the back of the pseudo-mystical half-religion of technologists, it would surely be ours. In the meantime, I would simply proceed with the task at hand, protecting our company and the old mechanic until the generator could be repaired and our beachhead constructed.

While Rochmane was in the forest, no doubt bending Li's ear with numerous complaints about uppity health officer, I set about constructing a defensible area around the landing point. With only eight of us we could have long shifts - four sentries for twelve hours, another four for the other twelve. We could keep that up for a week, if we had to wait longer than that we would be in bigger trouble anyway. Two groups of two, so that there was no chance of the sentries being picked off one by one, which meant in turn that we could not spread ourselves further than perhaps a couple of dozen meters around the generator.

"Evans!" Philips's voice broke into my reverie. I stared at him quietly for a few seconds, composing my face into the most neutral expression I could muster. "Sir," he corrected himself eventually. "You should come and see this."

"Let me be the judge of what I should or shouldn't do," I answered wearily. "Why don't you tell me what it is and I'll decide whether it's worth coming to see."

"There's a body on the other side of the clearing," he announced. "A Carmino."

"Well," I said, gesturing him to lead on. "The day's looking up." Philips, despite his earlier enthusiasm, remained where he was. "There's something else, Ev-Sir, I mean."

"Oh?"

"Well," he said nervously. "It's wearing one of our uniforms."

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