User:Dr. Skullthumper/Amadeus Winds a Watch

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Amadeus Winds a Watch
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2. Striving for Accuracy

Walking through Newburg gives one the same eerie feeling as walking through a ghost town, even though Newburg is, in many respects, the opposite. A ghost town was once a town but has since been abandoned; Newburg is a town waiting to be inhabited. A few ghosts hanging about would greatly improve the atmosphere around here, I think.

Once, someone told me the full history of the place, but the details have since slipped out of my brain, probably overwritten by something about some mechanism or other. The gist of it is that some millionaire had the place built as a center for technological development and then up and died before anyone could get anything more specific out of him. Somehow it got to be known as the City of Steam and aspiring inventors flocked to it, followed closely by the upper classes who were eager to get their hands on new technology because spending ludicrous amounts of money on piles of junk is apparently how you live in The Future. Yet still the town feels empty, devoid of personality. I hardly mind. Personality is something best kept to a minimum.

I can also say that the city’s designer was fond of circles, because it is, despite all rules of geometry, comprised entirely of them. Walk too long on the streets of Newburg and you may find yourself drifting to one side for the rest of the day.

I haven’t many friends here, but then again, I hadn’t many before I moved here either. There’s something about my demeanor that prevents friendships from going on very long before they fall apart, and I’d rather spend my time repairing machines than friendships.

Despite my best efforts, however, I have contracted at least one friend. My first week here he invaded my shop and preached to me about the importance of (of all things!) theoretical mathematics in this day and age of technology. Something of an argument followed in which I informed him where in his anatomy he could shove his mathematics; that the only curves I was interested in were those of the person who birthed him; and by way of conclusion, I tossed one of my Curiosities after him when he left in an insultingly smug manner.

Thus began my friendship with a fellow named Stanley Carter.

I walk into a brick building indistinguishable from all of the other brick buildings in Newburg. A quick jog up the stairs takes me to apartment – well, I shan’t put down in writing precisely where. When he isn’t harassing innocent repairmen, Stanley is a mostly solitary creature. I’m hardly a socialite, of course, but in my opinion Stanley’s head is stuffed so full with numbers that there isn’t room for anything else. I’m surprised he has enough to remember my name.

“Stanley,” I call, and tap at his door. It swings open to reveal a short, skinny man with a notebook under his arm and the blankest expression on his face.

“What,” he says, though not unkindly as one might think.

“Sorry if I’m interrupting your maths,” I say, “but do you know anything of the accuracy of watches?”

That’s the thing about Stanley: he might be unable to recognize a machine put in front of him, but as soon as you tell him its name he could go on for hours about the sheer theory of the thing.

As is typical he launches into an overlong explanation about measurements and ratios, during which we migrate from the doorway and into the miniscule sitting-room. There are books here, endless volumes of them packed tightly into shelves. Tea materializes on the coffee table at some unknowable point in time.

“So what you’re saying is,” I say by way of summary, “it all comes down to temperature.”

“To some extent,” replies Stanley, using a favorite phrase of his. “From what I’ve read, the big issue watchmakers face nowadays is how to compensate for temperature change. It throws off even the most carefully-assembled mechanism. Have you heard about refrigerators?”

There’s something about the way the man talks that could make one think he were imparting secret knowledge. It’s a particular mix of awe and excitement – one might even call it joy and not be far off – that makes even the blandest of subjects sound damned fascinating. I find myself needing to know about refrigerators now; his tone had appealed straight to my curiosity gland and left me no choice.

“They’re devices for keeping food cold,” he explains. “I’ve read they’re bulky and expensive to build but they do a bang-up job of regulating temperature.”

I nod, unsure where this is going, but Stanley has become more animated. He must be getting to the end.

“I think some watchmaker’s got it into his head to build a watch with its own refrigerator, so the temperature of the mechanism remains constant,” he says, his voice low and conspiratorial yet still brimming with excitement. “That’s why your customer’s ‘watch’ was the size of his arm!”

I have to admire his thinking. It takes a true genius like Stanley to keep pace with the idiocy of the masses.

“An incredibly stupid idea,” say I; “as such this may very well be the case. Show me what a refrigerator looks like, Stanley, if you can.”

He sketches one on a blank page in his notebook and labels the parts. I study it for a moment before deciding the idea of an entire one of these fitting on the human arm is impossible.

“Perhaps some other, more rudimentary cooling system,” I say. “Regardless, this has definitely been an education about the future of timekeeping.”

“I do try,” replies my friend.

“Leave it to Progress to take a perfectly simple and elegant device and transform it into something unthinkably complicated,” I mutter. “When he returns tomorrow I shall charge this man through the nose!”

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