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13
Automaton

B2MeM Challenge: O65: First lines: The towers of ____ aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.
Genre 1: Sci-fi
Scientific achievement: statics (also statistics - thanks, Pande, for the correction)
Format: ficlet
Genre: Vaguely steam-punkish
Rating: K+
Characters: The Tower of Dúrin.
Summary: There will be no second Gundabad.


~~~

Automaton

The towers of Khazad-dûm aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. Dúrin’s Tower rose highest among its sister-towers, but its makers knew: they were all of a part, the four smaller towers each sharing a wall with the central citadel.

They were buttressing, for one, but each served different functions. The eastern and western were all clad in silver, which heated even at this chilly height, and powered the engines within them. Great plumes of steam piped from their tower-tops, creating clouds that hid the peak of Zirak-zigil. And the southern housed the plumbing and pressure systems that fed the boilers, and brought in hot water from those towers, and the northern… well, that was secret from many, even among the builders, who were given its design in pieces.

But its makers – among whom, it was said, and the blueprints bore witness, the chief was Dúrin himself – had given most thought to it. For Dúrin’s Tower was to be the heart of the kingdom. And after Gundabad’s desecration, they would take no chances. The Firebeards had been persuaded, with mithril worth a king’s ransom, to make a copy of the Noldorin treatise on the working of blackglass communication devices, and Dúrin’s smiths and glasswrights, and his best mechanics had given years to understanding it, and to altering the devices to suit their needs.

And when their study was done, they crafted first a housing to detect the polarity of the key-stone the wrights created. And their statics calculated carefully, they placed a gyro ring and mithril bearings into the tower’s highest turret. The key-stone and its housing thus held in suspense, an operator need only enter the coordinates he wished to view, and the stone would remain still, and he would be turned with the tower to that vantage point with precision to within three degrees of an arc. And to suit the stone's need for light, one of the lampwrights had fashioned an immense and complex glass of many grooves, within a house of glass upon the very tip of the tower, and rigged a rotator to shine that lamplight out into the darkness below.

Thus the Dwarves should never again fall prey to enemies who came in the night to assail them. The great tower in especial should not fall prey. For the mechanics managed, with some work-about, to house smaller, changed glasses within a matrix that captured the sound of a voice and piped it to the northern tower, where machinery compared it to the voices of those permitted to enter. One whose voice was not recognized would find the Tower shut up by mithril airlocks, and armed against him.

There would be no second desecration, no second Gundabad.

For within Dúrin's Tower they laid what was most precious: the tomes of Dwarven lore that had been saved from that devastated holy city; the royal crown, set with the heart-stone gem of each house of the Dwarves; the Great Measure, by which Dúrin had ordered all numbers; and a flame from the hearth-fire of Gundabad: the first flame, which must never go out, housed in its own lamp. It would burn forever, and its bright children burned at the heart of that northern tower, against utter failure.

Centuries passed, and the Dwarves prospered; their wealth grew, and their knowledge and fame. Even during the years of the Desolation of Eregion, Khazad-dûm was never breached, and the Heirs of Dúrin and the Wardens kept watch from the Tower, and laid up a store of riches against need and disaster.

And had the enemy come from without, surely he should have found Khazad-dûm prepared, and unassailable.

If only the enemy had come from without….

Yet the craft of the Dwarves is made to last, and for long centuries after the city underground lay deserted and destroyed, the Tower lay sealed, awaiting the word of a rightful heir to open it. The voices that echoed in the back-stair one day were not known, according to the records in the north tower. But they had a Power in them, and forced an airlock with It, ascending the repair way.

The Tower shuddered. Gears spun and turned. The northern turret’s machinery went into swift and automatic operation: it opened the stairwell defenses – gas and steam piped in. To no avail: whatever the intruders were, they were not such as any longer to fall to such measures. They continued. They rose. They would reach the great lamp and perhaps the key-stone deck…

Gears hummed, and a great, silver, steam-powered abacus began to slide: its statistics clicked out in a clatter of calculation and shifting parts that the system took note of. The higher the intruders came, the greater the risk of forced entry. And so as they passed the long tenth flight, a figure clicked out of the abacus, and spun a gear-shaft. The watch-system took note, and within its housing, the fatal count began.

There would be no second defilement.

The Maiar, spirits of Fire and of Light, came to the great circling walk, between the key-stone deck and the great light, bursting out into the open air. The Balrog roared, its flames flaring in the thin air – and then they were lost, as the count drew down, and the final gear ticked relentlessly into place. The engine towers burst first, and then the southern, and thus the powder laid within the interstices of the great tower was set alight in one vast, engulfing explosion.

The very mountaintop heaved, and a rain of stone came down, bearing with them two dying Flames. They struck the mountaintop, which broke beneath the weight of falling rock. Dúrin’s Tower cast them down into the little valley on the heights, where they sparked once, and then their light, extinguished, perished utterly.

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