The day seemed warmer than usual, though in Bruckin the notion of temperature was relative and never comfortable. Still, the bed felt cosy for once, with only the subtlest hint of frosty breath in the bedroom air. He rolled over in the single bed, saw her, ran his hand through her light, curling hair. Sliding out from under the covers, he padded across to the thin curtains and looked out at the dark street. The sun was yet to reveal itself. He pulled on his trousers and vest, then his overalls, still smeared with the previous day's labour.
"Is it that time already?" came her voice, sleepy, slurred from being only half-awake. Rosa had never been one to embrace the morning.
"Need to be in early," he said. "They've opened up applications, so we're going to get a whole factory-load of nobodies thinking they've stonebreakers, wanting to get in on the action."
"Sounds like you'll be busy, Kaido Ghent."
He took a swig from a half-finished glass of warm beer; the only available drink. "Sounds like it'll be a pain in the arse," he said. "Probably won't be back until late."
"I'll wait for you," she promised, as he shrugged his heavy, stiff, canvas-lined coat onto his shoulders.
Raising his eyebrows, he grinned at her. "I'll believe that when I see it."
Kaido gave her one last, wistful smile, then left, locking the door behind him. The stairs were rickety but he knew every break and crack and protrusion. He buttoned the coat as he descended, pulled on his gloves, and then was out on the street, where the ice in the air cut into his cheeks and scratched at his eyes. The lodgings had only meant to be temporary, as with the job itself. Almost two years later and he was still here, with the end only now starting to come into view.
The shipyard loomed huge and black against the dark sky, the enclosed pen for the Mountain Breaker sat between the uncovered docks for more mundane vessels. The Mountain Breaker had been unique and the pride of the city; to work on it was a particular honour and Kaido had risen to chief foreman in his time working on her. It meant he was in charge of the day-to-day operations and got to choose only the best craftsmen, ironmongers, designers - at least, until the letter had arrived from upon high, instructing them to hire more workers and accelerate construction.
They would all have happily worked on the ship for the rest of their lives, secure in the knowledge that it was the most advanced and most beautiful ship the world had ever known. Alas, practical reality had come calling and they had been forced to remember that the ship had a purpose.
A line already stretched back from the tiny office that sat outside of the shipyard itself, nestled comically next to the towering warehouse walls. It would take hours - probably days - to filter through all of these hopefuls: the paperwork would likely delay construction sufficiently to counter any assumed benefit from the new recruits. Walking the line, he observed the mix of people, some clearly not locals, and wondered at the need for such measures. Everybody knew that war was brewing but, down on the factory floor, it was hard to know specifics. Their jobs, after all, were to build a ship, not to fly it, or fight with it.
It wasn't Kaido's responsibility to supervise the hiring, so he instead entered the shipyard itself, entering into the cavernous space that was home to the Mountain Breaker. She sat on her mount, resolutely adhering to the laws of gravity, the reinforced ballast frame nothing more than an empty skeleton. There was nothing graceful about this enormous combination of metal and wood as it sat in its cradle, nothing more than reformed rock and tree. Kaido Ghent's eyes saw something different, even as the vessel remained inert: he saw a thing of beauty flying on the wind, soaring high above the towers of Bruckin, its engines powering it on through the air, riding the invisible waves, unstoppable and relentless. The warehouse walls faded away and the ceiling was replaced with a cobalt blue, while birds flew alongside, keeping pace, wheeling in arcs across the deck.
Bringing in more workers, less stringently trained and assessed, accelerating construction - he had seen it all before, on jobs elsewhere in the valley, where corners had been cut and schedules constricted. There were no real shortcuts in ship construction, though, and there was always a price to pay somewhere in the chain, whether it was in workers being crushed beneath ill-secured cranes, or engines falling off mid-flight, or a ship's mount collapsing before it ever had a chance to soar up high. He had thought that Bruckin had a pride in its offerings, that Lief Shipyards had standards that would not be bypassed - that's what separated the city's output from cheaper, faster, less worthy vessels from the south.
"First gang is ready for induction!" came the shout from the entrance.
Kaido observed the new crew as they entered, watching their faces droop in stunned amazement as their eyes fell upon the Mountain Breaker for the first time. Some were stalled in their tracks, momentarily unable to move, while others uttered coarse exclamations, or simply laughed in disbelief.
"You might have heard," roared Kaido, who was especially experienced at casting his voice widely in that space, "that we have eased our acceptance criteria. You might have heard that we have lowered our standards. Perhaps that is why you came here today, when you did not try before." He approached the group of a dozen men and women, who stood in a loose cluster, unsure of who he was. "My name is Kaido Ghent," he said. "It does not matter whether you have heard of me or not. All you need to know is that everyone here," he gestured up at the ship's half-formed hull, where figures could be seen moving about on top and within, "is the best of the best. If you want stay, if you want to contribute, then I expect your best. Remember that she is your mother, your daughter. Treat her as family. We do not make ships here. We make history. Do not get in our way and you will be recognised and respected."
He turned towards his assistant, a young man by the name of Bursk, who had led the new arrivals into the shipyard. "What are their names?"
The man, barely more than a boy, consulted a paper sheet attached to a hard-backed board. "Say 'here' as I say your name," he said, then began to read.
"I told you to say here."
"That's the lot, Mr Ghent."
Kaido nodded. "Come with me," he ordered, then led the crew towards the ship. Steps led up into the interior of the hull, through an unsealed gap in the frame. "Most of you will start here," he said, indicating the ribs of the ship. "Once you've proven your skills you'll be able to move up, literally, onto the scaffolds and cranes, and up to the deck. But don't get ahead of yourselves. I'll be watching you."
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...