Updated: Apr 26, 2019
Nobody liked dealing with the Vicksworths because the Vicksworths were a surly bunch.
The Vicksworths did not like dealing with anybody else, and all adopted a surly personality to make sure nobody wanted to deal with them.
Thus, balance was maintained in the Widget Ridge volcano mines.
However, balance was often upset by idiots. Today that idiot was Maximilian Ward.
It just so happened that Casey M Vicksworth was on duty when he spotted the Chief Engineering Fellow for the Church of the Flying Cog flying in on the boot jet in his artificial leg.
Casey, as was his wont, opened fire with a swivel-mounted lava cannon.
It didn’t take Max long to land, though he was clearly not used to aerial combat.
“Why did you fire upon me?” he demanded of Casey, when the Volcano Miner had stepped out of the turret.
“The volcano mines are a no-fly zone, cowboy”
Max frowned. “That’s asinine…wait, what is a cowboy?”
“It’s something the Americans say.”
“You’re not supposed to be listening to Earth through unauthorised portals,” said Max. “Especially America. You know how they are.”
Casey Vicksworth looked like he didn’t care, for this was in fact true. He wore the standard full-length black smock of a volcano miner. His face was obscured by goggles that were crooked just enough to bother people a lot. Casey’s lower face was dark with sweat and soot, masking a face that refused to smile except at the wrong times. The horrible example of brown hair on top of his head looked like it was the mortal enemy of combs.
Max noticed a small fire on his leg and quickly patted it out. “I thought I dodged all the lava,” he said. “Which one are you anyway?”
Casey answered appropriately. For Casey. I won’t say what was said, but it involved doubts cast over the chastity of Maximilian Ward’s mother, and ended with an invitation to go jump in the volcano.
“Sounds like Casey. I thought so but I wasn’t certain.”
“You young people need to learn how to get to the point!”
“We’re the same age!” said Max. “We went to prechurch together.”
“Yeah and after we graduated, you joined the church for idiots. Ember Sky not good enough for you, son?”
“You are not a grizzled old man! You’re 25!”
Casey stared at Max in the way a grizzled old man might stare at Max. He didn’t say anything.
Max held up his hands. “I don’t want to talk about this. I came here for a reason.”
“Oh? What could the Prince of Legs possibly need with a humble volcano miner like myself?”
“The main thermal flow to the city. There’s a small fluctuation but it’s causing a dynamic ripple effect.”
“You came here to insult my engines?”
Maximilian Ward looked over at the giant door of the #2 Blast Furnace and pointed at it. “They’re not your engines. See? My father designed those, and his name is right there.” The name FRANCIS WARD was clearly etched into the giant door. However, Casey opted to not see it.
“Your father didn’t design everything here. We had a volcano mine built within a few months of the crash. Over 100 years ago. You’re looking for the thermal regulator, which is still up and running.”
“He replaced and upgraded everything. That refit took years, but I know he did it.”
Max’s face lit up, and he shook his finger at Casey the way rich people do when they don’t know they’re being annoying. “I actually knew that! Father worked for months on this project, and he had trouble with one part. He admitted to mother that he couldn’t do it. I never heard him talk like that. I heard him from outside, because he yelled a word. I asked him what it meant for years, but he would never tell me. Just kept saying I misheard him.”
Casey’s eyebrow went up. “Which word might that be?”
Casey Vicksworth looked Maximilian Ward up and down and considered his next move. “Come into my office,” he eventually said. “I need to show you something.”
“You won’t try to kill me again?”
“I will,” admitted Casey. “But not today. Probably.”
“Don’t touch anything,” warned Casey, but Max was already ahead of him on that point. Casey’s office was a miasma of grime and screams frozen in time. This was not a place that paperwork came to willingly. Everything looked as though it were painted with the kind of black one might see in a child’s nightmare. Max did not want to touch anything. Max did not want to catch a disease.
“Have a seat,” said Casey. Max did not have a seat.
Casey started digging through a pile of papers near the bottom of another pile of papers before inexplicably finding exactly what it was he was looking for. He showed Max a file with a name written on it. Max couldn’t quite read it.
“Nikola Tesla,” said Casey. “Formerly of Widget Ridge.”
“It’s a person?”
“He came over with the First Families,” said Casey.
Max’s eyes widened and he nodded. “But we know all of that history! I’ve never heard of Tesla.”
“That’s what they all say, but this Tesla bloke is the reason why we all survived.”
“How do you know about him?” asked Max.
Casey pointed at a tattered banner on his wall. The banner bore the logo of the Church of the Ember Sky. “Some say we live in the past. But we say we study our history. The Tesla legend was handed down in the Vicksworth family. We know all about it, but were forbidden to speak of it.”
“So why tell me?”
“Because you, Mr Ward, are the best kind of idiot. The kind that wants to learn.”
Max opened up the file. He then looked around, making sure nobody other than Casey could see him, then sat down and started to read.
Widget Ridge, 1884 Earth Time
Jackson Pettengill ducked once more as yet another tool whizzed by his head.
“Spark! Damn spark!” screamed Nikola Tesla as he went to throw another tool, but Jack was able to catch his arm.
“Nik, no more throwing tools. Please.”
Tesla sighed and sat heavily in his chair. “I can not abide this,” he said. “Unacceptable.”
“Lord Covington doesn’t want you talking about it,” warned Jack.
“Covington is a fool.” Tesla stood up again. “He is building three schools of engineering, and you know what these schools will all teach? Not physics, not the laws of the universe, just…infernal spark!”
“Keep your voice down,” warned Jack.
“Nobody listens to me,” moaned Tesla. “I cap their lava mines, they say ‘thank you Nikola’, I convert the thermal energy into almost limitless power, and they say ‘God bless you Nikola’, and I tell them that the fundamental laws of the universe are wrong here, and they say ‘shut up Nikola!’.”
Jack looked around their shared workshop. It was a good distance from the rest of the town, but he was still worried about Nikola’s rants attracting attention.
“Friend Jack, I must confide in you.” Nikola gestured towards a pile of scrap metal in the corner. “You see that?”
“Yes,” said Jack. “It’s a pile of scrap.”
Tesla cleared a lot of the scrap away, leaving a device the size of a medium box. “Now you see?”
Jack cleared his throat. “Still a pile of scrap from here,” he said, though he had a feeling it wasn’t.
“This machine can make a portal. We can use this to go back.”
“Where? Earth! Where things make sense and I am not sometimes chased by dragons and such!”
“Nikola we’ve built a life here,” said Jack. “It’s been four years. I’m not certain I want to go back.”
“I am,” said Tesla. “They do not respect me here. I need to go to a place where they will know my gifts and respect me. I think America.”
“Sounds ghastly,” said Jack. “But I agree that you’re not happy here. Can you teach me about this portal technology though? What does it do?”
“Only if you agree to send me back,” said Tesla. “I will leave you all my notes.”
Jack thought for a moment. “I need to tell everyone about this. I want everyone in the city to have the choice that you have.”
Nikola Tesla nodded. “Will they remember me I wonder?”
Jack smiled. “Who could forget the great Nikola Tesla? The saviour of Widget Ridge!”
Widget Ridge – Present day
Max looked up from the file. “These notes are good. I could practically see the scene in my head.”
Casey snorted. “Those notes aren’t even remotely accurate. They compress three months down to a single moment that’s basically all exposition. You probably imagined it like a play from the laziest of hacks.”
“Well, I thought it was compelling.”
Casey sighed. “Of course.”
“What happened to Mr. Tesla?”
Casey shrugged. “He went back. They used the portal generator, found a boat bound for America, and Jackson Pettengill was able to put him right on it.”
“I don’t understand though. He saved Widget Ridge. Why don’t we honour his memory?”
“Because people are idiots,” said Casey. “Tesla thought that Spark made everything too easy. He listened to the wizards, and started saying it was magic, and that the only reason these inventions we were making actually work is because of this magic that we can literally pull from the air.”
“It’s not magic though, it’s science. There’s no such thing as magic.”
“You sound like everyone else. Just like the people that chased Tesla out of Widget Ridge. He was vilified, called a madman. Tesla going back was the best thing for him.” Casey took the file from Max and ‘refiled’ it. “Until the Americans basically did the same thing to him.”
“How do you know that?”
“Portals. We listen. We document.”
“But unauthorised portals…” started Max.
“When you have the power of a volcano at your fingertips, it’s amazing how little regard you have for stupid rules. The Vicksworths do as we please.”
“I’m starting to see that,” said Max. “So what do we do about this thermal regulator?”
Casey pointed to a large black box that Max had been leaning against. “Open that up, and take the top one second from the right.”
Max opened the door and was greeted by a blast of cold air. Inside the box were a number of Widgets. He took the top Widget that was second from the right. It was frozen.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s the Widget Cooler,” said Casey. “Gotta keep the little buggers cold in this environment. Now just drop that one into any maintenance hatch, and he’ll go correct the problem.”
“Oh.” Max turned the Widget over in his hands. “You know, you could call this a Widget Fridge.”
“I could.” said Casey. “But I don’t condone bad puns, and I tend to shoot lava at people that do.”
At that, Max turned and left. He found the closest maintenance hatch and dropped the Widget inside. He turned back to see if Casey Vicksworth was going to try and murder him again, but he didn’t see anything.
As Max flew over the city on his return home, he thought about this Tesla fellow, but he was more curious about Jackson Pettengill. Why had he not heard that name before? Why doesn’t the city have records of these people? And did Casey Vicksworth have a beard, or just a really strange and misshapen chin?
All mysteries that Max looked forward to solving. Except the beard one.
In the nearby night sky, Alistair Gaines screamed. Max heard it but figured it was his sister Luna trying to kill him again so he ignored it.