If I had my way...
“If I had my way,” Chief Engineer Alastair Buchannan raged at his crew, “I’d have the lot of ye in irons powering them oars with the sweat of yer brow. Now when I give the word, I expect ye to turn the ring spanner exactly forty-five degrees and no more in a two count. Have you got it you maggots?”
Calls of ‘Aye! Sir,’ and ‘Aye, aye Bucky’ rang out in the control room, carried down the great expanse of the engine hold by brass speaking tubes. When the ensign at the communications desk had checked off all stations, he nodded at the Chief. “All stations report ready, sir.”
Bucky mopped the sweat from his severely freckled brow with a rag heartily anointed by grease. He had to get the timing of his count right or the crew would fail at simultaneous adjustment and entire ranks of oars would freeze and possibly lock the pistons on their respective engines. If that happened, they would be lucky to be simply dead in the water. The more serious consequences didn’t bear thinking about. Not for the first time, Bucky cursed his brilliant employer’s engine design. Yes, the engine was 40% more efficient, requiring far less coal to produce far more steam, but the exacting nature of the adjustments required to keep the engines cycling in sync was a pain in the arse.
Once, early into the maiden voyage Bucky had exerted his autonomy to insist that any engine worth its salt would not need such regular adjustments. By the end of the second day an uncomfortable juddering had begun to shake the hull. The engines were out of sync and the measured thumping of the pistons had devolved into cacophonous drumming. Connor Graves had said nothing, but Bucky had re-synced the engines, and performed the task daily from there on out.
Due to the length of the ship, the calculations for the count had to be made accounting for the length of time it took for the order to travel the speaking-tubes. Just Fletcher had done the calculations and created a count sheet with time markings for Bucky to follow. Pulling his watch from his waistcoat pocket, Bucky flipped open the lid and began the ritual chant that marked the end of his day in the engine room.
His voice rang out through the tubes and Bucky watched out of the great pane of glass in the control room as engineers’ backs tensed, their hands flexing on the sword-length ring spanners. An ensign, who held a bright red flag in one hand and the earpiece of the speaking tube in the other, joined each engineer. As Bucky sang out the final count all the flags leapt skyward and the spanners turned. Everyone in the engine room held their breaths for a moment, until the engines resumed their rhythmic thumping.
Once again, the count had worked, but as far as Bucky was concerned, Just could not work fast enough on the fancy new-fangled light switch he had promised. Supposedly, when Just had that installed, all Bucky would have to do is flip a switch, and the system would automatically relay the order so that a light would flash on above each engine, already in perfect sync. For now though, Bucky could retire to his berth content that his engines were once again in exact calibration.
“Well done, gentlemen,” he called into the tube. “Prepare for change of shift. O’Riley, you have the conn.”