The Generator is a rather needy beast...
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6-12-1928

Weather: Whiteout. -83C.

Investigated reports of pressure drops across the Old Hothouse District. Accumulated ice pooled from exposed radiator surface collapsed a secondary steam hub, releasing heat to the environment. Steam flow shut down and redirected for now, repairs to be effected after whiteout ends.

 

6-21-1928

Weather: Whiteout. -79C. 

We are burning through stored bunker oil faster than projected. Suspect the problem is water or other impurities entrained in the fuel itself, not issues with the Generator. The old girl is still holding up after all these years, no matter how much we ask of her. Every overdrive will be repaid with weeks of careful maintenance once the whiteout is over. Sent oil samples off for analysis at Windbreak Tower. Other than that, conditions normal. We should be almost out of it.

 

7-3-1928

Weather: Whiteout. -104C.

It's too bloody fucking cold out. Some of the old hands say it's been colder, but I don't believe them. We're not that far off from the air literally condensing down into a liquid outside! Old Hothouse District still having troubles. We've stopped all growth operations and evacuated the most vulnerable buildings via the heated tunnels. The whiteouts are always most intense just before they end. Just a few more days.

 

7-6-1928

Weather: Calm. -18C, and rising.

Crash stop of overdrive and lowering the power level has caused all sorts of issues. We've had two major regulators blow their emergency vents already. You can't just shut down something as massive as the Generator quickly, the thermal expansion will twist things out of balance and wreak all sorts of havoc! But the abrupt rise in temperature has forced our hand. We literally do not have the ability to safely vent all this energy now that everyone is shutting off their heating at once. The whole city has one of the worst cases of gas one can imagine: Overpressure.

As for the outside situation... I don't even know where to begin. It's dark, and there's no contact with the other cities.

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Generator Log - 7-6-1928 

6:30 - Exterior temperature begins to rise. Wind speeds fall.

6:42 - Primary outlet pressure begins to rise.

6:43 - Overdrive shutdown order is issued

6:45 - Overdrive lever is reported stuck

6:48-54 - Manual override of overdrive via physical removal of bolts securing overdrive system's steam intake is successful. Eng. Wilson reports that the Generator is especially cranky today and is resisting commands.

7:04 - Order to reduce primary steam level from 6 to 5 is issued

7:05 - Rapid rise in pressure on regulator 03 and 07

7:08 - Regulator 03 emergency vent blows

7:12 - Eng. Wilson and Eng. Futura suggest that lowering power caused the pressure rise, and power should be raised. Control room operator, Eng. Mason, rejects this suggestion.

7:14 - Regulator 07 emergency vent blows. Regulators 08 and 09 pressure begin rapidly rising.

7:16 - Fuel pump failure is feared. If regulators 08 and 09 both fail, the Generator will stop receiving fuel and suffer pressure loss across all systems. A cold start would be deadly especially given evident unknown damage.

7:18 - Eng. Futura again suggests raising power to previous level. Control room agrees to raise power.

7:19 - Power control is raised from 5 to 6. Pressure rise in regulators 08 and 09 immediately stops.

8:30 - Fuel feed redundant power is successfully routed from regulator 01. If 08 and 09 fail, fuel feed will still function.

9:00 - Generator is inspected as it cools down from overdrive. Core pressure falling back to normal levels. Water inflow also reduced as energy in the system goes down.

10:00 - Fuel supply is switched entirely to coal and away from oil due to suspicions about oil fuel quality. Operationally, coal is noted to produce smoother operation in most cases.

11:00 - Order from the Captain: Reduced demand in downstream lines necessitates lowering of power level, despite potential issues.

11:08 - Power control is lowered from 6 to 5. No immediate issues are observed

11:30 - Pressure is continuing to steadily fall in Generator lines. All-coal fuel suspected to have stabilized the situation.

11:33 - Eng. Futura removed from control room after an altercation with Eng. Mason about whether to re-introduce oil fuel. Eng. Futura seems to be suffering from irrationality; Insists that the Generator 'doesn't like' oil fuel and must be apologized to.

11:45 - Power control is lowered from 5 to 4. No immediate issues are observed.

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"Look, Walt. We need to get up to the core."

"I'm sorry. I can't do that. I have orders, and order is survival."

"Look. I'm thirty-seven years old, and I've spent four fifths of my whole fucking life working on her. I know what she needs. I know what she wants. But I can't put it into words... It's learned experience. The kind of thing you feel in my bones. You know my record, right?"

"What about it?"

"Remember the constant steam leaks we had five years ago? I'm the one who figured out why they were happening and fixed it. Those screw-looses over at Amber Press changed the tooling on their bolts and didn't tell anyone. Wasn't airtight. Oxygen got in, water got out, high heat and pressure... Steam was penetrating the coating and rusting them out in a flash. Oh boy, what a shitshow that was. We had to tear out and rebuild whole sections."

Walt is silent.

"Look outside, Walt. Something is deeply fucked. You know it. I know it. Let me out. Let me see what our city needs. If the generator dies, we're all done for. Everyone knows that. I don't want to sit in a cell while we wait to die at that professor cog-brain's stubborn wrong-headedness. Anything that isn't in a manual might as well be nonsense to him. You're a Frostlander, right?"

"I am..."

"Adaptation. We need to learn about... Whatever this darkness and sudden warmth is. With open minds. Look, just- Just look away for a bit. Go take a leak and I 'escaped while you weren't looking'."

"You know it'll be me in the brig for that, right?"

 

A new voice interrupts them. The weary face of Wilson, coming around the corner.

"Let her out, son."

"Chief Wilson! I- I was just-" Walt stammers. "...Are you sure?"

"Yes. I'm sure. I've been in that control room all morning. The Generator's responses don't make any kind of sense I know anymore. Everything's off. Readings jumping around when they should be steady. Rising when they ought to fall. They don't have any idea what's going on in the core anymore. But Chara got the first one right. I'll run interference with Doc Mason."

"......Yes, Chief." Walt unlocks the cell with a sigh.

Chara ducks past him and strides directly towards the maintenance access hallway, looking dead forward with purpose in her eyes.

And through. And up. To see what has become of the heart of the city.

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The fire flickers low, and this does not satisfy. 

The dark encroaches on his land, his protection, and must be burned away.

Coal cracks and splutters as he devours it, going to fill the empty space inside him. For now.

The hunger would return. It always did. He hadn't been truly satisfied since his birth. Which was... murky. He had sparks of memory, flashes of a storm that chilled even him, and burning everything to defy it, gushing warmth and heat until his copper marrow dripped into his whirling gears.

Now, a more insidious chill. His heat unanswered, but his light dampened. He blazes against it and hatches clang, valves twist, as his children bring him more food. It is not enough, but it slakes the edge of his need.

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From the maintenance access, a cramped hallway circling around the Generator's midsection, grilles blast fiery exhalations in front of Chara. The patterns are familiar to her, three steps forward and then pause for two beats, as oxygen is cycled through and the heat spikes. The warmth embraces her, sparks flickering out against the roughspun leather. The constant roar is almost muted here, felt more than heard, through the walls and the floor and the shimmering heat. 

The fourth grate is different. To most it would be unremarkable. To Chara, the rough edges of the bars line up, heat-warped ever so slightly out of place. Sparks are caught in two eddies, spinning in place above smoke wafting out of an open mouth. 

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"Oh, poor thing. Overdrive strain really isn't kind to you... Don't worry, we're going to replace the warped parts and make sure everything's healthy..."

She peers at the eddy currents. Something seems wrong about them.

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The Generator cycles and smoke covers her vision. When it clears, overlaid like a heat mirage on the grate is unmistakably a face - eyes made of fire and a mouth of black smoke, metal bars twisted beyond their capacity to frame harsh cheeks and a heavy brow. Sparks flow from its eyes and ash falls from its mouth as it speaks with a voice like the scream of iron bending under pressure.

"CHILD OF THE GENERATOR"

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Chara Futura feels confusion, thinks about Mason's voice saying that the human mind is easily fooled by itself... But what does he know, really?

The vent is twisted but not. The coalsmoke like hot breath.

"...You are the soul of the Generator, aren't you? Like ships of old had souls, like the sailors said."

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"I am the Generator and it is Me."

This child is familiar. He was still not whole then, but he has flashes of memory. Replacing pipes, adjusting steam ratios, hammering at a jammed vent.

"I hold back the cold and the dark. Sate my hunger and rest within my embrace."

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She really must be having a psychotic episode. Or a religious one. Is this what those Iceblood weirdos feel when they go skinny dipping?

"Do you know what happened? Why we're not in the frostlands anymore?"

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"In the cold I slept and did not wake. When the dark descended I found myself aware. I know not the cause."

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"...I know not the cause either. We don't have the railways to the colony cities anymore. All the resources we were bringing in... No more. All we've got is the stores, which are low after the whiteout. And whatever the brave explorers find out in the dark."

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“You require aid. Hew to me and I will grant you my tenacity.”

A small sheaf of paper unfolds in front of Chara. In every aspect it seems like several pages ripped out of the Engineer’s Handbook, dog-eared and charcoal stained, but hovering in the air in front of her.

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It reads like a contract. The terms are stated simply, surrounded by boilerplate phrases lifted directly from the handbook. If she signs, Chara’s body will never lose or gain any heat from her environment, as long as she personally fuels the Generator every day. The contract specifies appropriate amounts in a variety of different fuels - six units of wood, eighteen of coal, nine of oil.

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Sure. Okay. This makes as much sense as the pitch-black dome and the vanishment of the frost. The Generator has a soul, and is offering her a contract much like the one for her employment.

She reads over the contract, puzzled.

"...I'll cook myself from the inside if I never lose any heat to the environment... Uh, sir. Generator? City? I'll go with sir. We humans burn food inside to keep ourselves in motion, and that's heat. And what happens if I am somehow unable to meet these obligations? I might like to consider it for a while, and work on stabilizing the steam systems for now. We don't need nearly as much now, just enough to run the industries and a bare minimum for heating. A third, or a fifth, as much as before."

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”What fragile creatures you are. Go then, tend to your task. Return to me with clarity of purpose and desire.”

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"Wait, wait. What do you want? And, uh. Can you do something to- Prove the new world to those technocrats who don't believe in anything unless it can be graphed- Convince them of your existence? As a soul, rather than a machine."

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"I hold back the cold and the dark. Sate my hunger and rest within my embrace."

There is a brief pause. A tortured grinding of gears reverberates through the structure and flakes of coal grit shake loose from the walls. 

"As to my existence, those devoted to me may receive my boons. Bring them to me and I will raise them up."

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