The Great Engine of Atosa

This rough sketch takes place a close to 800 years before Hlau’s investigation of a string of hacks on some computer mainframes. Atosa, being one of the things on his list, is the site of a gigantic engine mainfame complex, built during a period that is comparable to Earth’s 19th century. Jing, the protagonist of this sketch, is witness to some of the early events of the Great Engine Heist. There is a discrepancy in the calendar system and the dates used here and some of Hlau’s stories. I’ll definitely correct it in future drafts

For Jing, it was a routine night at the Atosa Engine Complex. Ever since the difference and analytical engines were invented a few hundred years before, it took that amount of time to refine the technology, to make them into working memory machines. In the late 19th millenium, a few businesses had an engine in floor, doing simple computations. By the turn of the the 20th millenium, massive warehouses were constructed to house massive engine mainframes. They were all networked and connected to the Engine Complex in Atosa, which provided backup computational power. The complex, located in the middle of the Great Plains of Atosa, which between two great mountain ranges in the Itano-Sutanese continent. It was Jing’s job to monitor all the requests for information from all the engines from all over the United Republic.

Jing was a professional coder. He wrote codes for the engine, recorded them on large spools of durable hemp paper. When he was younger, he got the job because he was fairly cheap labor. He originally was a telegraph operator from from a village between Hladdat and the ruins of Tlon. He had spent much of his youth going from one big city to another, getting hired on as a temporary worker, tapping out messages and decoding them wherever he went. Being a United Republic citizen, he moved easily from Hladdat to Hitonnen, to Shusa to some of the cities on the west coast. However, in the Itanese cities, such as Shusa or Hitonnen, it wasn’t easy being Sutanese, especially with companies that practiced preferences for the Itanese. So much for the rhetoric of the Sutan0-Itanese heritage.

He could have easily passed for Itanese, with his blond hair and dark blue eyes. His complexion, though, was a light brown, something that didn’t go away with generations of intermarriage between the two groups. The ethnic distinctions began to disappear some time after Chanen’s successful conquest of Sutan nearly 2000 years ago. Given that, at times, the Sutanese felt like they were treated like second hand citizens, they had culture on their side. Sutan had given the world writing, mathematics, science, theatre, and enlightenment. More specifically, they came from Tlon. Members of the Tlonite diaspora, especially in the United Republic, were viewed with a mix of fear and reverence, especially when it came to prophecies about the rebuilding of Sutan’s most ancient city. Like most citizens of the Republic, he was an adherent of the School of Wisdom, especially for the benefits of meditation and other means of enlightenment. However, he never believed the prophecies and felt that the Tlonites should simply accept their identity as Sutanese.

Out in the Great Plains of Atosa, in the land surrounding the Engine Complex, the lorries, gigantic cattle the size of elephants with wool like buffalo, grazed the fields, followed or led by riders on horseback, known as the lorry drivers. They were from Itanese tribes that have never became a part of the Itanese Empire or the United Republic. As Itan pushed forth in its manifest destiny, the Tanesh tribes were pushed into reservations or pockets of land no one wanted for settlement. They supported themselves with agriculture and driving lorries. Many of them also worked in the Great Engine Complex or the windmills and the hydro-electric dams that helped power it. It was quite a sight, in the middle of nowhere, the Engine Complex itself, and the landscape dotted with the windmills and the herds of lorries.

When he lived in a west coast city, he had a long-term contract with a with a punchware firm where he was given code and was simply required to tap it out for recording on the paper reels. He became quite good at it, got to know how code was written from looking at what the engineers wrote. Jing came to know good code from bad, got to see the various styles, and when there were discrepancies. He displayed a knack for improvising and writing code where there was none before. An engineer took notice and took him on as an apprentice. Soon, Jing had more prestige than simply being one of those telegraphing temps.

Life seemed good for Jing. He had a good job, he finally had professional respect, and he soon became engaged to a woman he met in the city. She was the daughter of a local businessman. Because Jing was in his late twenties and long had job instability, he was worried that his fiancee’s father would not approve of him. His concerns turned out for naught, and a date was soon set for the wedding. A holy man from the School of Wisdom would officiate the rites and reservation upon reservation was made for the festivities. However, the fiancee broke off the engagement.  There was some one else. It turned out to be the holy man.

Upon hearing the news, Jing decided to head east. To where, he didn’t know, but the Great River/Fine River seemed like a good place to start. In Itanese, the river that formed a natural boundary between western regions of Itan and Sutan was called The Great River. In Sutanese, it was called the Fine River. One day, at work, he telegraphed the train station to book the next trip out and then tapped a goodbye note to the engineer who mentored him. He then walked out of the office, caught a combustible bus going through downtown, and then went to the train station. The attendant gave him the option of upgrading to a dirigible flight, but he never cared for the idea of air travel. He had bought a ticket that would take him to the towns of Great River/Small River, through the Great Plains of Atosa, and to Shusa. He wanted the option of being able to get off anywhere.

He had never thought he would ever settle in the Great Plains. The Tanesh lived there and the Itanese liked them least of all. The Ndanthans who decided a life aboard a ship or on the road wasn’t for them, but failed to assimilate to the cities of the United Republic, also found their way to the plains. Some of them would complain that their black skin was an obstacle to making it in Itanese society. Then there were the Itanese and Sutanese people who were running from something, like him. Once he saw the expansive fields of lorries grazing the land and their drivers, the deep blueness of the sky, and the windmills, he decided his trainride was over. It was a long, uncomfortable ride as it was, and he could have held out for another destination. But he took his ticket to the box office and cashed out the value for what would have been the remainder of the trip.

In town, close to the train station, he observed the people. There were the city ladies, most likely from Shusa or Hitonnen, in their white dresses and parasols. They were seated at an outdoor restaurant table, enjoying lorry steaks, locally grown and killed, and having a lively conversation where they commented on the savageness of the land, the coarseness of the people, and how the Great Engine Complex ruined the landscape. They took out their portable soliotype cameras and pointed them everywhere. He had done such things in his travels from city to city. He had collected photos of the compact magnificence of Shusa, the ancient glory of Hladdat, and the monstrosity of the new skyscrapers in Hitonnen. He had left them behind, including most his clothes and other possessions he had managed to bring with him most of his youth. The only clothes he had were the ones he wore when he boarded the train and they hadn’t been washed in weeks.

Whatever job Jing would have whenever he arrived to where he was supposed to go was far from his mind when he boarded. It was only by luck that he got off at the station close to the Great Engine Complex. Unlike the cities, the roads were dusty and the buildings were two or three stories at the most. Some were permanent brick constructions, while most of them had been thrown together out of wood. In contrast to the cities, horse drawn carriages were still common with very few combustibles, or horseless carriages, with troughs by the curbs to provide water for the parked horses. In a tavern close to the train station, he noticed the Ndanthan in a train conductor’s uniform walking dismissively past an Ndanthan settler towards the bar. Without saying a word, the conductor had expressed a commonly known attitude of the Ndanthans: One who does not wander is not an Ndanthan. However, the conductor did talk to Jing while they were both having drinks. When it came to discussing Jing’s situation, the conductor suggested that he could telegraph his cousin, who captained a freighter that frequently traveled across the ocean between Shusa and Alys City and back. Atosa was one place where people ran to, but many in the United Republic had also joined the Ndanthans in their ships and caravans.

Jing thanked the conductor for the offer and politely declined. However, he and the conductor continued to exchange telegrams for years. But it was the conversation he overheard from the genteel women in white that made him think about the Great Engine. He would go there, apply for a job as a coder, and take the job as a telegraph operator if that’s all they had to offer him. He met with the director, a woman who had once made punch rolls to code looms to work her way to telegraphing to coding the engines. In the interview, they bonded over their working-class experiences and the director had a good sense of Jing’s talent as a coder. She then got the telegram from the engineer who trained Jing to code, and it spoke highly of his skill in adaptability. Jing wasn’t searching for redemption, but he found a new life in the middle of nowhere.

to be continued…

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