File GSB-051: Progress

King Magni Bronzebeard of Ironforge looked down on the Gnomes in front of him. Since the unpleasant events in Gnomeregan last year, there had been a steady influx of Gnomes into the city. On the whole, King Magni liked them. They were a small, but industrious people. He had given them a relatively unimportant section of the great circle of Ironforge, and they had renamed it Tinker Town and filled it up with more outlandish machines than he could imagine. Gelbin Mekkatorque, High Tinker of all Gnomes, had set himself up there. Magni and Gelbin had spoken of the destruction of Gnomeregan. Going on the counsel of his advisor, though Gnomes had a different name for it, he had set fire to the entire city. It was a strange fire, though, because it only destroyed flesh and bones and left buildings standing. Time was, when a weapon was simply a sword, an extension of the wielder’s arm. You could see it as it swept towards you and parry it. Magni hated all these new weapons that didn’t give you a chance to fight back. The only thing worse than adopting them was not adopting them and be slaughtered. Gelbin had unleashed one on his own town, friend and foe alike, reasoning and hoping that more foes than friends would perish. Magni did not envy Gelbin his decision, nor did he disapprove of it. In large wars such as these, it was often necessary to send fellow Dwarves and other people to their deaths for the good of the many. Gelbin Mekkatorque had been proven wrong by events. That was always a possibility. But he had made the decision. Predictably, people had commented on what Gelbin should have done, what was blindingly obvious he should have done and so on and so forth. People always did. They always forgot that they were sitting comfortably in a tavern or at home, with all the information they thought they needed, which in many cases was wrong anyway, while the King was at the spot, at that specific place in time and space where history was made. Of course, another thing people forgot, was that the decision wasn’t theirs to make. It was the King’s privilege, and the King’s burden.

Most of Gnomish ingenuity these days was spent on their great combined engineering project: The Deeprun Tram. The tunnel was almost complete. People had told Magni that you could already hear it if someone on the other end knocked on the last bit of wall with a hammer. The final bit was left up for a special ceremony, to which Magni would probably be invited. Possibly the Boy King of Stormwind would be there as well. It troubled Magni that these days, Stormwind was mostly ruled by advisors. Varian Wrynn might have been an obnoxious, vengeful man, but at least with him there, there was no ambiguity. His word was law. The Boy King was a figurehead, a symbol rather than a true political force.

Meanwhile, the Gnomes had pushed a cart into Magni’s throne room and uncovered it as though they were showing him all the wonders of the world at once. As far as Magni could see, it contained a large tank and a machine of some description. It was probably some kind of weapon. Gnomes were remarkably good at those, and Gnomish inventors had even improved the Ironforge tanks in several ways. The Gnome bowed, and started to speak.

“Sire, when I entered this great city some two-hundred and three days ago, I was much impressed by the architecture, and the great works wrought by your stonemasons and builders. They have no equal in the world. However, after a long day’s work, a Gnome, and even a Dwarf I imagine, longs for a bit of comfort, as one cannot sleep on hard stone.”

Magni’s eyes gleamed. Yes you can. I did it, back in the days before Ironforge. We Dwarves are made of the stuff of the mountains. Or at least it feels that way after a night sleeping underground. That’s why we invented the Pil-low and the Mat-tress.

“Personally,” said the Gnome, “I find that the two things that call out to me at the end of the day, are a hot bath and a strong cup of coffee.”

Well, to each his own, thought Magni. Give me a good deep tankard of strong ale and a few moments where nobody bothers me with stupid questions. Still, this meant that the thing on the cart was probably not a machine for killing hundreds of people at the same time, which was nice for a change.

“Both these things share one requirement. Hot water. And that is what my device is designed to provide in abundance. I present to you the Optimal Prime one-hundred and fifty water pump and boiler. Please Sire, observe. For this demonstration, we have connected a tank of normal drinking water. As you can see, the machine is autonomous and with only minor maintenance will serve for decades on a single energy crystal.”

The Gnome turned on the machine. It was quieter than usual for Gnomish devices. After a few moments, he turned a tap and filled a jug with steaming hot water.

“The Optimal Prime one-hundred and fifty has been designed as a domestic water heater, and will power a normal number of taps and a shower, as well as providing boiling water for tea and coffee making appliances. The five-hundred model is suitable for use in taverns or public bathing facilities, while our enterprise model, the Optimal Prime five-thousand, will easily provide for the needs of a barracks for about one hundred Dwarves. The machine can work either from a tank, like our demonstration model, or be fed from a spring or stream, with bio-filters to remove any unwanted material from the water source. Cold water, hot water or steam for cleaning purposes can all be provided.”

King Magni ran a hand through his long beard, and nodded. A mischievous twinkle was in his eyes. He always liked to ask this of Gnomish engineers,

“Is it safe?”

The looks exchanged between the master engineer and his son were priceless. The engineer looked at him with an expression that tried very hard not to convey what a stupid question he’d just asked.

“Sire, every Optimal Prime water boiler is fitted with devices that prevent over-heating or excess pressure. When any such are detected, the machine will perform a safe shutdown, preventing accidents. The design complies with the most stringent of safety regulations.”

King Magni nodded again. Well, this was only a glorified water kettle. It was so much more fun to ask this question when the device in question was a death ray designed to slay thousands.

“Thank you for your presentation, Sir,” said Magni. “What is your request?”

“First, to present you with this boiler as a token of my appreciation, Sire. And further, to beg your permission to build these devices here, and to market them to the inhabitants of Ironforge.”

The Gnome bowed politely, and so did his son, after a nearly invisible look from his father. King Magni inclined his head. This was probably harmless, and not every Gnome gave him presents that actually did something useful.

“Very well. It is my decision that our own engineers will see if it meets their expectations, and depending upon a favourable result, that you shall be allowed to market these devices as you see fit. For your gift, you have my thanks.”

Griggin bowed deeply.

“I could have asked for no more, Sire. I will not disappoint you.”


“Did you have to give him our home boiler, Dad?”

“Yes, I did. It doesn’t pay to do these things half-way. Also, our name is on the device. So now, whenever the King shaves or washes, he will see it, to remind him that there is a Gnome out there who can help him with any hot-water-related problems he may have.”

“Hmm,” said Nix, clearly not convinced. “He doesn’t look like he shaves much. And at the risk of insulting His Kingship, he doesn’t look like he washes much either.”

“Well, how is he supposed to if he has no hot water? Think of the diplomatic ramifications.”

Just before they entered the tunnel that led to the commons, Griggin turned round to the lake of flowing lava that was the Great Forge. Such heat. Such power. And all these Dwarves could think to do with it was to scoop up great metal buckets full of it and forge swords with it. It was practically crying out to have a major heat exchanger attached. Griggin grinned, machines, pumps, pipes springing into being in his mind. If, some day, King Magni would allow him to, he could bring warm water to every Dwarf in the place. He noticed Nix’ hand on his arm.

“Come along Dad. Dinner time. Cold dinner, but dinner nonetheless.”

“I wanted a two-hundred in the house anyway,” said Griggin.


Nix and Griggin entered the door, to find the girls waiting for them at the table. Lenna put down a plate of sandwiches, and they attacked.

“How’d it go, dear?”

Griggin reached out for another cheese sandwich. “Well. If the Dwarves don’t find any faults with my designs, and I see no reason why they should, then there will be Steambender-made water heaters all over Ironforge soon.”

Lenna sniffed. “Well worth handing my hot bath to the King, then?”

“Don’t worry, love. I have its replacement almost ready, and it’ll be more powerful than the one we had. It’ll power the coffee machine no problem. Next, I’ll build an OP-5000. Time to show these Dwarves what our units can really do.”

“Are you sure Marvin won’t mind?”

Griggin thought about this, sandwich half-way to his mouth. He shook his head.

“Legally speaking, we produced the designs together, and I have as much right to exploit them as he does. He had the essential idea to power the boilers with Un’goro crystals, but I did most of the work on making them not blow up our customers. And in his final letter, he more or less placed the designs in the public domain.” Griggin’s eyes gleamed, and he took another bite of his sandwich. “All anyone has to do to obtain them is to ask me.”

“Does everybody have to know what you’re eating?”

Griggin stopped, looked at Bieslook, swallowed. He put his hand on her head.

“You’re quite right, girl. Quite right. That was rude of me.”

Lenna chuckled. “And after all that time I spent telling Bieslook not to talk with her mouth full. I’m ashamed of you, Griggin Steambender.”

“Well, no coffee for me then. I’m off to the shop, to put the last few pipes onto the boiler. Coming with, Nix?”

Nix stuffed the last bit of sandwich into his face, opened his mouth to say something, looked at Bieslook and nodded.

“See? Young children do wonders for civilisation,” said Lenna.


Nix turned up the pressure on the new pump, and looked at the gauges.

“Five-seventy five. I call this one tested.”

“Right,” said Griggin. “Shut her down. Once she cools down, we’ll put her on the cart and tonight, there will be proper coffee again. How are the locks coming along?”

“Just about done, dad. Just tell me when to get the toy locks out and put the real ones in.”

“Why don’t you start on that now? It’ll take at least half an hour before we can move the boiler.”

Nix wandered over to the shop’s doors, and started demolishing the locks. The present ones were about as effective as a sign on the door asking thieves please to go stealing elsewhere. The first time they had entered the place, Nix hadn’t even bothered asking Griggin for the keys. The locks he was replacing them with, though, were of quite a different calibre, and would baffle all but the most competent of lockpickers. Which was good, because Griggin did not want anyone to steal his designs. He had great plans for them.

The shop was small, but functional. Two workbenches lined the north and south walls, while welding equipment and a small lathe were on the East wall. Tools were hung in neat rows above the workbenches. It had taken Nix and Griggin maybe a week to build it all. Now, with proper locks, they could put in some of the more expensive equipment. A miniature coffee maker (one of Nix’ school projects) was on one of the benches. The workshop featured a number of taps, unusual in that they were fitted with pressure gauges and thermometers so they could connect one of their water boilers and observe its performance. This humble and comfortable place was where the Optimal Prime line of water boilers were designed and built.

Griggin opened the lock-box, which was also a Nix Steambender original, and took out his most treasured blueprints. They consisted mostly of a very accurate map of the Great Forge and the fiery lake it was built on. Using a heat imaging device borrowed from one of the engineers in Tinker Town, he had made a rough estimate of the temperature at different places. It was impressive. According to the laws of physics, anyone crossing the bridge should be burnt to a crisp before they’d got half way, but Dwarven mages had told Physics to take a running jump and shielded Ironforge from the heat with magic spells that fed off the lake’s heat itself and transferred it outside over a very large area. The Ironforge airstrip never froze over. Ingenious. Griggin had once tried to drop a thermometer in the fire. It had melted, even though it had been designed to measure the temperature in pottery kilns. He was still waiting for his order of a Titansteel thermocouple that could measure the heat of the Sun if that became necessary, let alone a mere lake of molten lava.

Titansteel featured heavily in his design for the giant hot water facility he had planned. According to his calculations, it could provide a city three times the size of Ironforge with hot water forever. Griggin sighed, rolled up the blue sheet and carefully put it back in the strongbox. Perhaps this was all a pipe dream, no pun intended. It would require lots of drilling. Miles and miles of pipe. Huge pumps. He didn’t even know if it could be done. But if it could… Oh well. We have to start small. From a drawer, he pulled the parts list to an OP-5000, and went over it once more. Time for another trip to the auction house.

“I assure you, Sir. The standards of hygiene in our establishment are the envy of all. Every room is cleaned quite thoroughly before the next guest is admitted.”

“Ah, but how much time do your employees spend heating up water and transporting it in buckets?”

“That is not an issue, Sir. Our staff are quite able to clean a room in the time designated.”

Griggin gave the Dwarf a polite nod.

“I do not doubt it, Mr. Smolt,” he said. “From the evidence of my own eyes, your rooms are beyond reproach. Still, if I may ask. How might the cleaning process be hastened if there were a steady supply of hot water to every room? Or even simply to the utility cupboards on each floor?”

One of Mr. Smolt’s eyebrows raised a fraction of an inch. His voice remained polite and friendly.

“Sir, are you suggesting that we run a number of unsightly pipes through our public areas merely for the convenience of the cleaning staff? That would not fit in with our priorities, which lie in the area of ambience.”

Griggin shook his head. “By no means! It would be a great shame to spoil the charm of the decor with technology. I am firmly of the opinion that technology should be invisible to the eye, and silent to the ear. Let the users think that invisible fairies provide the hot water.”

Mr. Smolt gave Griggin a little amused look.

“An illusion that must not be carried to the extreme, or we might upset a number of organisations who take to heart the well-being of magical creatures.”

Griggin laughed politely. “The Light save us. I would propose that the necessary piping be routed through the service corridors that I notice running behind the customer accessible areas.”

Griggin opened his bag and pulled out a floor plan of the Stonefire Tavern, rooms and all. He spread them out on the table and pointed. “The service corridors run parallel to the main customer access hallway. We can run a double pipe along its ceiling. The main feed can be routed through the dumbwaiter’s shaft, though we may have to extend that a bit to allow normal operation of the dumbwaiter to continue. That way, we can route hot and cold water to every floor.”

Mr. Smolt looked at Griggin’s drawing, thoughtfully stroking his chin. He was clean-shaven, which was unusual for a Dwarf.

“I see. May I commend you on the thoroughness of your research? We do not generally divulge the internal workings of our services to the public.”

“People say that a good preparation is half the work. I disagree. I would say that it is at least two-thirds.”

Griggin thought it best not to mention that Nix had picked one of the locks to the service corridor, and had spent a very instructive few hours there with a tape measure and a notebook. They already knew how much pipe they would need.

“Indeed,” said Mr. Smolt. “Still, this seems like a rather extensive investment, just for the convenience of the cleaning staff, who at any rate are well capable of disposing of their duties in the allocated time.”

“Ah. Let me ask you this. I have been informed that you offer bathing facilities in your more exclusive rooms, for small groups.”

Nix had been in one of these bath rooms, and had described something like a fabled place of wonders. Marble and plush, shining copper. Roughly the size of the whole of Steambender Manor.

The Dwarf nodded. “Indeed, we do Sir. Our clientele appreciates it.”

“And with good reason. How is warm water provided to this bath?”

“The customer notifies us by means of the service bell, and we provide kettles of warm water.”

“Ah. How long does this take to prepare?”

“Between twenty-four and twenty-eight minutes, Sir, depending on the temperature desired and the number of people who will be using the bath.”

Griggin nodded. Nix had described a circular bath of about ten feet across, circumference therefore as near to thirty feet as makes no difference, five feet deep. He made some quick mental calculations.

“Our OP-5000 water pump could fill up that bath in about three minutes, with water of any temperature between boiling and cold, without requiring the assistance of any of your staff.” Griggin looked up at Mr. Smolt with a glint in his eyes. “Given the, shall we say, social aspects of these facilities, perhaps certain guests might prefer to make their own arrangements rather than involve any of your staff?”

Mr. Smolt actually smiled. It was a small, polite, corporate smile, but a smile nonetheless.

“I do believe you have a valid point there, Mr. Steambender. We do have a reputation for discretion at all times, but we can hardly expect our staff to enter the room blindfold. Let us assume for the moment that we would decide to install one of your appliances. How would we proceed?”

Griggin pointed at his floor plan.

“We would install the main unit in the kitchen, which is after all where boiling water is most needed. Mr. Stonehand can do the necessary stonework in the dumb-waiter shaft and the utility cupboards. We would run the main distribution pipe through here, and here, against the ceiling of the service corridor. Should you decide to let us do so, we can also install tap points in the rooms, by drilling here… and here, all along the service corridor. We could install basic hot and cold running water, with shower facilities, at a rate of one room per day.”

Mr. Smolt looked at the drawings, spread out over one of the tables, being kept from rolling up by strategically placed coffee cups.

“How much would this cost us?”

“Well,” said Griggin, and named his price. Mr. Smolt didn’t even blink.

“Very well, Mr. Steambender. I will discuss this with the manager.”

Griggin blinked.

“You are not the manager?”

“Oh no, Sir. That would be Mr. Firebrew. I merely occupy the reception and provide services for our guests. Rest assured, though. I will convey your proposal to him. I am sure he will give it all due consideration. I will certainly recommend it. It is quite interesting.”

“Well, you might have told me. I’m giving Bieslook a bath, so unless your customers want to look at a naked five-year-old, then I suggest you stow them somewhere till I’m done.”

Griggin looked at Bieslook, who was sitting in among the bubbles with a happy grin on her face. She grabbed a handfull of bubbles and blew them away.

“Are you clean yet, sweetheart?”

Bieslook raised a leg above the waterline.

“Feet very dirty,” she said.

“Ah. I see. Well, keep scrubbing. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”


“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” said Griggin. “The system is currently in use for paedohygienic purposes. Our demonstration will have to wait a little while. Meanwhile, could I offer you some coffee?”

Mr. Firebrew frowned at Griggin. “Pedawhat?”

Mr. Smolt’s eyes wrinkled. “I believe a young member of the family is in the bath.”

“Ach, the wee girl. I remember her. How is she?”

“She is coping amazingly well, thank you for asking. Children of her age are amazingly resilient. We are still trying to locate her family, but they are proving hard to find.”

They were just about to have more coffee, when Lenna appeared, Bieslook on her arm.

“My apologies for the delay, gentlemen,” she said. “The bath is free.”

“Oh I say,” said Mr. Smolt. “That must be the cleanest child I ever saw. A resounding endorsement if ever I saw one.”

“I washed behind my ears,” said Bieslook.

“Really? May I see?”

Mr Smolt inspected Bieslook’s ears.

“Well, Mr. Firebrew, not only are her ears spotless, they are also quite dry. Well done, young lady.”

Bieslook grinned, and Lenna carried her into the other room. Griggin led the Dwarves into the space they had reserved for the bathing facilities.

“Right, gentlemen. This is the tap I was talking about. There are two spigots, one for hot, one for cold. Rather than have separate taps, this one mixes hot and cold water so that, rather than have one extremely hot point and another cold one, one can regulate the temperature of the water from freezing cold to scalding hot, like this.”

Griggin turned the water from cold to hot. Steam rose from the bath as near-boiling water streamed into it. Mr. Firebrew gave his desk clerk a quick look.

“How hot does that get, Mr. Steambender?”

“Theoretically, we can provide water at boiling temperature, though that is seldom needed.”

“That may be a wee problem,” said Mr. Firebrew. “We don’t want our guests to be burning themselves on the tap.”

“Oh, but the taps are clearly marked, Mr. Firebrew. Red for hot, blue for cold. Mistakes are not likely to occur.”

Mr. Smolt started to comment, but Mr. Firebrew waved a hand.

“Ye don’t know what some of our guests are like, Mr. Steambender. We’ve been sued for not pointing out that tea is hot. I’ll tell ye, putting boiling water in the hands of our guests is a disaster waitin’ ta happen.”

“Perhaps,” said Mr. Smolt, “There is a way to limit the temperature of the water so that it cannot be made hot enough to scald anyone? Not all of our guests, I am happy to say, are litigously obtuse. I am thinking of children playing with the taps.”

Griggin closed his eyes a moment, thinking. He smiled. Of course.

“That won’t be a problem, gentlemen. I will make sure that the taps will have a maximum temperature output. Do you need this to be individually settable per room?”

Mr. Smolt considered this a moment.

“Could we have one for the guest rooms, and one for the utility cupboards? Boiling water could be useful for cleaning purposes, the nature of which my good taste will not allow me to go into.”

“Certainly,” said Griggin.

“Well then,” said Mr. Firebrew. “When can ye start?”

Lenna closed her eyes, and floated in the lovely warm water.

“They’re wrecking the place, I know they are.”

“They’re under strict orders not to,” said Griggin. “Relax. Mr. Firebrew gave us this room for the whole night. You won’t get your money’s worth out of it if you don’t relax.”

More water splashed into the tub. Griggin was playing with the tap.

“Try to burn yourself on this. It’s coming straight from the customer-facing water tank, which is kept at just the right temperature to avoid the growth of bacteria, then is sent to the rooms through a series of heat exchangers, so it never gets warmer than-“

Griggin came up spluttering.

“There is a beautiful, naked woman in the bath with you, and all you can look at is the taps? Mr. Griggin Steambender, it amazes me that you ever managed to find a girlfriend at all.”

Griggin floated over, trying to corner Lenna in a round bath. He caught her, more easily than he should have been able to.

“That amazes me as well,” he said.

Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.


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