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[ண] Big ol' locomotive engine. First time girl's seen one that wasn't an exhibition piece.
[ℍ] Wait, is that a caboose? Huh, always thought it was just Americans what had 'em.
[ ♫: http://tindeck.com/listen/ditgv ] (Previous track continues)
"Hmmm... Choices, choices...!" I whisper. Next to me, Honne sighs <hey jerk nobody likes a downer>. Nope, no negativity. Because trains. "All right," I hiss. "The engine three bays down from here."
"Finally picked your date?"
Positivityyyyy~ "Now, now, there's no need to be like that," I say, walking quietly over the stone floor. Or it might be really bad concrete.
"You aren't the one lookin' at what your face's doing, Kochiya. That's pornographical to some people, you know."
"I am n... No, it isn... Wait, first, what does that... Anyway, you're wrong," I tell her, decisively terminating this stupid line of stupid conversation.
[Oh, this sweet summer child~]
"'Fraid not," Honne returns despite me saying it was decisively ended godsdammit. "Pictures of facial expressions is all some people got. Kinda jealous, honestly. Just walkin' around, you're being dipped n' baked in dirty stuff from start to finish, and nobody knows it."
She could be telling the truth, but then again: Honne <almost rather talk down piper again>. Weeeell, I don't quite know about that. She's just being a pill because she doesn't know the glory of locomotives <what a terrible life>. But maybe after today she'll sing a different tune!
We move down the rows of silent, hulking train cars lit by occasional lamps, but more often by the light cast through the windows set in each bay door of the roundhouse. The section we're heading for is out of sight of any active maintenance work being done, thanks to the curve of the building.
Bay, uh... Seventeen, I'm pretty sure, is home to a huge streamlined engine with more work put into the aesthetics of its exterior than I'm used to seeing. Nobody from Earth would mistake it for anything but a train's engine, but there would definitely be lots of other words surrounding it. Words like like "Futuristic, but in an old way", "Weirdly speedy-looking", or "Does it run on illegal liquor" <i bet alternate universe sean connery is the conductor>. It's got a lot of curves and arcs that look way too artistic.
"Kochiya, what you're doin' right now we used to call 'giving them fuck-looks'," says my jerk companion.
"...Doesn't it look really weird, though?" I turn back to her to pose that question. "You're from Earth, right? You know what trains are. It's obviously a steam-powered locomotive, but does it look like any of the ones you ever saw?"
Honne pushes her hat back and looks silently <thank you gods> at the engine for a little while. "Well, I guess not. But why're you all worked up about it? This isn't Earth and none of these trains are from it, so why you expectin' it to look like something that is?"
It's true. And that applies to almost everything else in Makai, too. I've made note of it myself. So why does it bug me so much now?
[Mmm? Well, shouldn't that be pretty obvious~?]
"Ha. If it was obvious, I wouldn't be this cross."
"Gotta speak up, Kochiya. I don't speak Mumblican."
"Huh? No, I was—whatever, it's not important." I shake my head. "I'm going up to the cab." I start walking towards the rear of the engine but take my time getting there, looking more closely at it as I go. Axles are... 2D2, it looks like. Which is super weird, because that's a more recent layout than I'd have expected. Like, pre-war Showa-era <2d2 is a super american design though>? Yeah. Again: weird.
"Hm?" Honne still heard me even though I was quiet, and grunts a questioning sound.
"It's supposed to look like a bird, or something." I point at the decorative shape and form of the engine, plates of metal cut in long, swooping lines. It didn't make sense from over there, but having walked the length of it and looked at it again, I can see what is probably supposed to look like a very artistic bird <its clever but its a headache>.
Honne cocks her head, takes a step back, then another, and cocks her head the other way. "...Oh. Sorta see it, I guess." She straightens up. "Our town blacksmith painted his shop to look like an elephant. I'd've done something like that if I wanted to get all fancy n' shit about it." She looks up at me. "Know what we used to call the place?"
"What? Hell no, we called it the Tiger."
"...Why?" I ask, immediately regretting doing so.
" 'Cause nobody knew what an elephant looked like."
I just... just kinda take that in.
And right afterwards begin trying to forget it.
[Too much Kipling, for sure~]
The steps up the ladder to the cab are closer together than I'd expect from a ladder, so I'm able to take them two or three at a time—which I don't, because boots clang pretty loudly on metal grating. I proceed up them carefully and quietly, holding my breath. I reach the top and open the cab door without displaying one ounce of the careful forethought I just put into the last few seconds.
Every hair on my body stands on end at the squeak I hear upon pulling the door open—but rather than a horror movie-style, loud, rusty scrrreeeeeennnk, it's just a very brief, restrained fweemp right at the start.
Nevertheless, I go still. A second later, I decide it'd be a whole lot smarter to duck into a patch of shadow just inside the cab and crouch down, listening intently for any sign that someone noticed <oh gods please no i dont need that right now>. So I do that.
Hmm. I don't see Honne. Maybe she had the same idea I did? I don't know if she'd know to do that or not. She's hard to read like that.
After half a minute or so of tense quiet, I relax and stand back up. No voices, nobody coming down this way, no one calling out. Should be good, still <unless they have magical security cameras>. Yeeeah. If they do, I am so boned. I'm well past the point of being able to do anything about that though, so hey! Why not enjoy it?
With that tidbit of bleak cheer to warm my heart, I create a star-light and start looking around the engine cab. I'm itching to just touch everything, but this is no different than a train back on earth: DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING.
And those are...
All right! I'm going to take that earlier thought back. This is actually very different than a train on Earth, if I'm understanding what I'm seeing correctly, and even that's up in the air.
"What the heck is this?"
[I got this one~ It's a train!]
"Didn't you say you were this big ol' train weirdo?" <ssshh—oh thank the gods and my mamas twice its just this idiot> "Hey, watch it with that."
[ ♫: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x36f1l6 ]
[ ♫: http://tindeck.com/listen/suzbf ]
My hand relaxes from the lunge it made for my ofuda pouch, and I remove the star-light from Honne's annoyed-looking face. "Gods, you're going to scare someone to death like that."
"Naw, it don't work like that, but you bet your tooterines it helps. So what's got you all smackin'-jawed?"
[...Oh, it's one of those extra-credit questions, isn't it. Hmph.]
"You can't tell?"
"Sure I can. There's a green-haired onje in it, and she ain't part of the normal furniture. ...Don't you give me that look. Dumb questions get dumber answers."
"For starters, look at the floor," I say, holding the star-light up high. "It's clean."
"Not seein' your point," she confesses. I'm about to explain the importance of that when understanding suddenly dawns in her eyes. "Oh, hold on, hold on. It oughta look like a chimney-sweep shook his unmentionables out, yeah?"
"A... chimney... what?"
"Dusty, black, and caked in low-class grime."
"Yes, something like that," I reluctantly agree <how is grime low class>. "Because the engine needs coal fed to it frequently."
Honne wags a finger. "Naw, they don't got coal here, you know? Well, I mean you don't know, cause you're sayin' all this, so that was real dumb 'a me to say, but never no mind that." She sees my face, and nods. "Yeah, that one took me a bit, too. No coal in Makai. There's somethin' they use in a lotta places called striahg. Some kinda rock that looks like pyramids cut outta sunset on a day when you just got done walkin' through seven hours of horse sick. The chunky kind, when they're dyin', but taking a long time to do it."
[It's theworst! Stains horribly, too~]
I'm not going to be rude to her, because she just explained something that I would not have known otherwise. And I don't think she's actually a mean person <probably>.
"Pyramidal, right. And... orange? ...Ish?" She nods.
"Weird." Another solemn nod. I guess a different source of fuel should actually be the least surprising thing so far, considering I'm on an alien world. Or in a different dimension. I actually don't know where the exact difference between those lies, or how all that works. My suspicion is that it's a lot less rigid than I'm imagining it to be. The reason it's weird is because it's weird <metaphysics in a nutshell>.
Aside from that glaring oddity, there are other, less obvious things that I start noticing. The overall layout of controls seems rearranged—I think; it's hard to tell, since none of the labels are anything readable. There's a couple of small glass boxes with diagonal stripes printed along the back of one side that I know I've seen before, but can't recall the purpose of. There are foot pedals underneath a small, tall table that I can't guess the purpose of. And there's a bank of controls with a column of virtually identical gauges numbered sequentially that make me think of something familiar. I can't help but think it's related to power in some way, but everything that I come up with doesn't make sense.
For the first time, I really and truly understand what it's like to be illiterate. Even on Earth, it's difficult to outrun English for too long, or even just Roman lettering. The words might be gibberish, but you still know those letters. But this baffling scrawl? It feels like I'm trying to read Devanagiri at the bottom of a well. In the dark. And it's horribly misspelled, but I don't know that. I don't like feeling ...alienated in an environment I normally enjoy.
...Then again, it is a train. And I am getting to poke around it without being under anyone's watchful eye <not even honnes>. ...Yeah, I'm not actually sure what she's up to, but judging by how she's intently studying things, she's found something of interest. Out of respect, I don't distra
[Can we go to the next ride, pleeeease~?]
d to get moving, soon. I don't want to get caught hanging around in this place for too long. "Well, I think my curiosity has been satisfied," I say aloud <which is totally not true but whatever>, mostly to get Honne's attention.
She glances back at me. "Yeah? Gimme just another minute or something." ...Oh? I look closer at what she's been looking at, but it's just a mess of gauges, dials, and indicator lights—more than I'd expect in a normal steam locomotive cab, but about the right kind I'd expect. She said she couldn't read Makaian, though, so what she's seeing there is a mystery to me.
I give her the time, anyway, holding onto my silver star-light so she can still see. The morning light coming in through the windows lights up the cab, but just enough to make it easy to bang into something if you weren't careful, so anything more probably helps. She doesn't say anything, but about half a minute later, she stands up and nods.
We quietly exit the cab—even Honne, who's wearing an older style of boot that you'd really expect to click and clop. She's almost soundless, though. I circle around the engine, giving it a complete 360-degree walkaround in case there's anything else interesting to be seen—and to my mixed delight and confusion, there is.
Even though I can't read any kind of Makaian, there's no misintepreting the meaning of the large, bold lettering and big, jagged lightning bolt printed on a placard next to some extremely heavy-duty cables. They're resting on cradles built for the purpose, and end in some kind of rugged connector that's covered with something dark and likely insulating <hold on wait>.
[What's so interesting about train buuuuutts?]
The sight of them gives me immediate pause, and Honne bumps into me a couple seconds later. She says something, but I'm not really listening <and what a joy that is>. There's something very, very important about what I'm seeing, and I know that I know what it is, if only I could remember what it is I know...!
"Ah!" Recognition comes in a flash and a little gasp. Oh gods, I think I know! I've never even heard of one of these, but I bet, I bet, I bet...
I scurry around to the other side of the engine, and get down on hands and knees next to the connecting rod, and follow it up to the piston rod. Shining the light into the murky underbelly, I examine the workings of the engine with my admittedly unprofessional eye—but even I can tell it doesn't look right, which is... Okay, it doesn't prove anything, but I'll bet that I'm right, or at least close.
Getting back up, I dust off my knees and give Honne a great big smile as she comes walking up. She starts to open her mouth, but I know better than to let disasters like that happen. "It's electric!" I whisper excitedly. "It's an actual steam-electric train! I think!"
The look on her face says that she doesn't understand how cool and weird that is <cause shes a pleb>. I'm not so mean as not to share, thankfully. "Most trains in the world these days are diesel-electric, because steam engines are really, really customized and a hassle to maintain. But if you could apply what we know now about steam engines and then put that into a hybrid-electric engine...!"
Ah, she still doesn't get it. The poor woman.
"The hell's a 'diesel'?"
Now see, most people don't have to have conversations like this. Being who I am in Gensokyo and considering where I'm from, however, I've actually had talks like this a few dozen times. "Ah, it's a kind of liquid fuel. Like kerosene, or oil, but more refined." She nods, so one of those clicked for her <or shes lying>. "A diesel-electric train doesn't use the diesel engine for driving the train, it just powers a generator that charges up batteries which power electrical motors."
"...Well, it was a lot easier and cleaner to do it that way, so we don't use steam a whole lot for engines these days."
"Gotcha." I kind of feel like she doesn't, but I won't press the issue.
"Anyway, from what I can see, there isn't any linkage connecting these wheels to steam pistons up front, but I DO see some connections much closer to the central axles, and that matches what you'd see on a diesel..." I look back up at this strange train, feeling some respect for the demons of Makai <for once>. "And now that I think about it, I saw what I bet were meters for the battery levels. I wonder if they're internal to the engine, or there's some kind of battery-tender, too..."
A clang of something shutting somewhere far off in the roundhouse brings me firmly back to the present. Honne's eyes shift that direction, then back to me. "Well, Kochiya," says the blonde, "I don't think I've been more educated since I met that man who made glass shirts."
She removes her hat and adjusts the sprig of... Yeah, it's holly for sure; there's even some berries <so do holly trees grow in makai or what>. "Not on purpose, mind; he just sucked dead dog titties at alchemizin' silk. Cheap son of a bitch." She snaps the frilly fabric hatband, brushes off some dust, and puts the hat back on her head. "I got a handful-few 'a other questions, but posin' them to ya here's making my bits all nervous, you know? Especially the important ones. I'm ready to cut short the trespassin' holiday we're on."