Tales from New Canada: Engines

For Anne

“We have one more. An unusual candidate,” Eris announced.

“I thought we were done interviews for the day,” replied Emile, pressing on the bridge of his nose. She knew this meant that his stress levels were beginning to exceed his capacity to healthily handle them. Soon he would lock himself up in the plexi office above the production floor and begin to pace, in full view of all the employees. Not exactly the best for morale, but Emile, as fellow cofounder of New Canada Engines, had every right to pace if he so wished.

“Dearest,” Eris pressed on,” if we hire the right people, we will no longer be behind schedule and stay with our plan of human staffing. And she very much seems like a perfect candidate, if there is such a thing.”

“Eris…” Even when he was irritated, Emile said his wife’s name with a caress. “Who is she?”

“A Delmont, from New Jasper,” replied Eris. Emile’s expression instantly clouded. “Yes, I know, but she was perfectly polite. No sense of entitlement that I can discern. She’s in her early twenties, I think. Incredible aptitude scores.” Emile looked unconvinced. “She says she can hear engines sing.” Now he looked as though something had stopped his heart for a moment. Eris knew that music was very important to him, and she hoped it wouldn’t cloud his judgment.

Miss Anne Delmont was sent up. She was, by all appearances, the quintessential New Canadian family heiress. Perfect posture, perfect cosmetics, well-arranged short black hair, clothing from a desirable dressmaker, likely Jade: a dark red ensemble with loose flowing trousers. Definitely not the current trend, but Miss Anne Delmont seemed not to care much for trends. Her luxe exterior presented quite a contrast to Eris’ own coveralls and disarrayed red hair. Emile, on the other hand, wore a suit and could have held his own in any conservatory garden, even the Delmonts’. Anne sat down with poise, like a ballet dancer, on one side of the holotable used for meetings and mockups. Eris and Emile took up seats across from her.

“Lady Eris tells me you can hear engines sing, Miss Anne.” Emile kept his tone neutral. “A unique ability, if true.”

“Ah.” Anne relaxed visibly. “I thought you would laugh at me as the Planetary Government interviewers did, Sir Emile, Lady Eris. Though much they have to laugh at, with that scandal.” The scandal where it had finally emerged that the DRGN generation of workers with engineered genes had been exposed to particularly insidious radiation. Everyone had known it for years. People had been dying for decades. But it was finally officially confirmed, settlements paid out. The scandal, as Anne called it, had drawn itself out over more than her lifetime. There had been a lull in media interest for the past few years, though Eris suspected this was simply due to the inevitable frustration when the families with deceased relatives ran out of money or simply energy to keep up their legal battles.

“Would you care to explain how you can hear an engine sing, Miss Anne?” asked Eris.

“With pleasure,” she replied. “You see, I am a musician. My ear is finely attuned, and I can hear the harmonics in each engine.”

“What instrument do you play?” Eris asked instantly, and Anne frowned, though not in irritation.

“A little of everything, I suppose,” she answered. I am… was…  a composer. My main instrument was cello, but I worked between media, with everything from string quartets to self-propelled algorithms.”

“Can you really call that composing, though?” put in Emile, dry humour surfacing. Eris kicked him under the table. Anne pretended studiously not to notice, though a minute smile quirked the corners of her lips upward.

“Yes, you can call it composing,” she answered without missing a beat. “In fact, it is how I trained my hearing so finely. Would you care to see examples of my work with engine models?” At Eris’ nod, Anne pulled out a portfolio chip from her pocket and it expanded until it had laid itself all over the holotable.

There were drawings of engines: schematics, obviously manually done, without the aid of an algorithm. Anne pulled her fingers over each diagram and the frequencies played on graphs hovering above each drawing. Then she turned on the sound bubble.

“You see, the best engines are those that sing the most harmoniously,” she said. “Listen to this one. It’s your own prototype.”

Indeed it was: Eris recognized the first-ever New Canada Engines prototype from the schematic. A very old model by now, but its successors were still in service because it was a solid design, balanced, efficient.

“Do you hear the melody?”

 

And Eris heard it. For the first time in her life, she heard the song in the engines she had designed. Before, she had never stopped to really listen.

“I aim to have engines sound like that,” she said. “The balance is clear. Now the ones I’ve designed over here, these are just rough models, so they won’t sing as beautifully. But they work. And they are quite efficient.” Each one played back harmoniously. Was Eris imagining their tunefulness? But she looked at Emile’s face and saw that he heard it too: slow, ponderous melodies emerging from the harmonics.

“That’s… wonderful,” Emile managed. Not much could impress him, but Eris saw that this impressed him now. “Why don’t we try a little test? We have an engine model on the floor right now. I let algorithms loose on it this week. They’ve adjusted it to within flight specs, but I want you to increase efficiency.”

“My calibration over one done by an algorithm?” Anne’s voice sounded distant. “I hardly think…”

“Can an algorithm hear the engines sing like you can?” asked Emile.

They all looked at each other, and, incredibly, Anne smiled slightly. Clearly the young woman had nerves of steel, if she could be so at ease in what was probably the most important interview of her life. She had to know that New Canada Engines didn’t simply hire you because you came from one of the most prominent families on the planet. Emile and Eris had not been through as much as the DRGN generation, but their backgrounds were far from privileged. Or perhaps NCE was rising in status so fast that not even a family like the Delmonts dared say anything. Eris and Emile’s only daughter had just reached adulthood and was moving in far different circles than they had at that age. Circles they themselves had created. Two decades ago, an overhaul of New Canada’s legal system had allowed her and Emile to start this company, and together they had brought it to the stars, literally. Now it was the only serious rival to the Planetary Government’s own engine program.

Anne marched decisively onto the production floor. That in itself was a good sign. Eris found herself nodding in approval at every stroke and tuning adjustment the young woman made to the floating holographic representation of the engine. She isolated frequencies and amplified some, then damped others.

And then Anne was finished. The model engine glowed.

The model engine sang. Efficiency was incredibly high. The melody was unbelievably beautiful. Not more efficient than what the algorithms had come up with, no. But different. Balanced. Artistic.

“Miss Anne Delmont,” said Eris, “you’re hired.”

 

Story and music © Clio Em. Images © Hali Rey.

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