Monday, 3 August 2015
(In lieu of a proper post, here is a fragment of Broken Fire Regime. The 'sequel' to DCO.)
The refinery is like a crooked snake. Five long halls linked together at their ends bending back and forth in an angular way.
From each long hall flues sprout, gouting smoke and steam all day and night, they never stop or slow but run continually in shifts, day upon night upon day upon night.
This the Zones only legal smoke and anyone in the crater can see the direction of the company core by watching the tangling emission skeins crawling in the sky .
The Blue Blood begins to turn twelve hours after it is taken from the tree. In fifteen it's worthless. This time factor decides the operations of the Zone. The 'half a day' rule keeps workers running and the Zone working.
There are five great halls. Access between them is heavily controlled. As the product advances from halls one to five the processes become more precise, the result gains in value and the dangers of its production change.
Refinery workers occupy a unique space in the cultures of the company. The process is dangerous and people die. On average one a day. As a worker is promoted and becomes more expert they gradually move from hall to hall. Often they are scarred and changed by accidents or time. As they change they become more and more obsessed and focused on the process and the sap until eventually they are like stained sap-armoured machines themselves, moving silently and endlessly between the glass retorts and cauldrons of brass, testing and observing.
Before the opening to Hall One are the testing tables where new sap is received and paid for. Here harvesting teams wait in snakelike queues' overseen by roving Safety teams. Sometimes the queues can get so long that the time taken waiting can cause part, or all of a harvest to go off and become worthless.
Arguments, scuffles, politicking, bribery and begging for a better position are all common in the queues. Queue politics are their own micro culture and resentments born here can carry over into the rest the Zone, or the rest of life.
‘Queue Gangs’ are secret unions of Workers who organise to restrict or control access to and progress through the queues. They are utterly illegal and must communicate via invisible signals and tacit movements.
On the edge of a queue workers can be easily observed and the mutual danger from Safety teams creates a degree of solidarity, but on the inside the power of the Queue Gangs grows. Stabbings and garrotting’s often take place near the centre of the queues, but, no matter how fierce the queue wars grow, everyone involved is careful not to draw the attention of the authorities or to lose their place in the queue.
It’s rare for anyone to get through a queue without *something* happening.
1. Someone begs to exchange places with you, offers future favours, makes guarded threats.
2. Someone claims you queue jumped.
3. A fight breaks out.
4. Someone offers you a better place but expects favours, plus you just pissed everyone off.
5. Roving safety team singles you out for bad practice.
6. Safety team singles out nearby group for bad practice, they appeal to you for aid.
7. Caught between two queue gangs.
8. Told to ‘look the other way’ during queue shanking.
VALUE – When you get to the tables, one Litre of good Sap is worth roughly 1gp.
HALL ONE - Processing
Huge cauldrons boiling, the only light is from the crackling blue tree-frond fires beneath them, caustic hallucinogenic steam and almost-naked workers dripping with sweat, their mouths covered with piss-soaked bandanna.
The Sap is decanted and boiled. The rich skim of the sap is eased off with long brass tools and moved to the next huge cauldron, then boiled, then moved again.
The Sap is adhesive and boiling. If a boil is uneven, thick glops spit out and small children are sent to scrape it off the floor, dashing between the legs of the hurrying workers. The fallen Cloudblood fronds that make up the fuel can pop, flare and burn unevenly. A fire can get out of control.
Tree Dreams are common from the combination of burning fronds and boiling sap, but reduced somewhat by the huge open doors at the front of the hall.
A cauldron can tip, spilling boiling adhesive sap all over the floor. The process cannot be delayed or stopped so clean-up operations must begin right away. No-one is allowed to leave their post.
The worst fate known is falling in a cauldron as it boils. Death is relatively slow but it’s impossible to get somebody out before the sap cools. Rumours claim the resin’d bodies of accident victims are sold or used as special products, but no proof of this has ever been found.
When a cauldron 'gives out' and becomes too caked with purple resin to be of any use then it is moved to a cleaning station and the resin carved off in chunks. Dangerous, since patches of the resin can remain hot and unstable.
The bruise-like dark purple resin is collected and sold to 'waste disposal' gentlemen. Independent men not directly employed by the company. These men are drug dealers. The resin goes back into the Zone as a drug, some is exported to other places
VALUE : In the Zone the drug is about the same value, weight for weight, as the tree sap at the point of sale. Roughly 1gp per kilo. Elsewhere it can be much more valuable. This waste product alone puts the refinery in the black. If it produced nothing else it would still be a near-profitable business.
HALL TWO - Distilling
This room is divided into two, full of strange lights, silence and murmuring sound. The roof is full of spiralling glass pipes and caged children lit by wandering fireflies.
One side busy with women and children, the other dark with silent men who carefully patrol. Down the centre run the tall brass and glass towers of the distilling columns. The sap from room one is brought through and added very carefully by tubes.
On one side workers draw off the glutinous near-paste from the bottom of the column.
Nearby, cages of fireflies are brought through and small children given the job of snatching individual flies from the cage and plucking off their glowing tails. Small fireflies are always escaping so the roof is full of small groups of the circling insects. Allowing a firefly to escape means a single whip from a supervisors stick.
The firefly tails are cracked and sieved. The fluid is mixed straight away with the near-paste from the bottom of the stills and carefully ground in with pestle and mortar.
This product is then set to cool in ceramic trays where it forms long tubes. Workers with ceramic knives sliver it carefully into single even discs. As the cutters slice into the cooling tubes, they light up very slightly at the point of the slice so each movement is accompanied by spots of light.
On the dark side workers, almost exclusively men, walk silently up and down, examining the fractionating columns and the distilled result of the sap as it drips very slowly into its receiving jars. They carry safety lanterns full of fireflies and the pools of light move continually from point to point.
They rarely speak. When a jar nears its fill point a signal is made, it is quickly replaced and the full jar carried through to Hall Three
Each distilling tower has a tiny and well secured furnace at its base to provide the necessary heat. The danger of the process is so great (it’s more true to say that the cost of replacing the distilling machinery is so great) that Cloudblood fronds are not burnt here. Only checked wood of other trees, usually from outside the Zone, is allowed, to ensure a clean, even drug-free burn.
The cooling tubes for the stills spiral into the roof of the hall. To check for leaks, very small children are hoisted up into the roof in brass cages held in place by chains. Old men and old women hang onto the chains and stare at the children from below. If gas escapes, the children nearby will suffer Tree Dreams and the location of the leak will be found.
Escaped Gas. A full explosion in the distillery could effectively take out the hall and possibly even part of the company core.
Cracked Towers. Hot high grade sap could spill and spread.
Once cooled, spaced and sliced, each disc of sap is a coin of violet glass-like resin with the texture of amber. If snapped in two, each half of the disc will produce a beautiful golden lantern-strength light for roughly 1 hour.
These discs are never sold in the Zone but only exported.
Each disc costs 1gp at its point of sale.
HALL THREE - Alcohol Crystallisation
This room is full of steam and the screaming sound of tortured valves.
The jars of distilled and purified Sap from Hall Two are mixed with pure alcohol in small bound valved brass spheres over a small and tightly-controlled fire. The valves allow the steam of the reaction to escape but allow in no oxygen (or 'bare air' in the language of the refinery) to enter.
The valves whistle continually. Workers move up and down the lines of small cauldrons listening carefully to the endless high-pitched monotone droning of the valves. If the sound of a valve shifts in its nature, even to a small degree it must be rapidly adjusted.
Too high a sound means steam is escaping too quickly, meaning the heat could be unevenly distributed within a sphere.
Too low means that air may be seeping into the sphere, if too much 'bare air' is allowed in then it may mix with the alcohol and sap and ignite causing the sphere to weep blue fire and spin madly like a gyroscope.
Even without these difficulties, the steam gouting from the brass spheres is extremely hot and highly hallucinogenic
At this purity and temperature, the Tree Dreams produced by escaping gas, affect everyone relentlessly, yet with a curious uniformity. Instead of the phanstasmorgal visions usually bestowed, the visions are always of fire.
These visions hang around the outlet valves of the screaming spheres, making it very difficult to tell whether an accident is actually taking place.
The workers in this section are mainly very old Zone-Marked types who do not fear the visions, blind people, or those with Slumber-Monkey narcolepsy. (The narcolepsy does introduce an element of danger, but also makes the sufferer mainly immune to tree dreams.) They walk up and down between the screaming burning spheres, usually with their eyes closed, tapping back and forth with long canes, blowing on specially made silver whistles. The whistles are tuned to produce exactly that tone that matches the correct noise of a sphere-valve. The sound of the whistle should blend into the ambient sound without any clear distinction. Workers know that if they can hear the distinct sound of their own whistle then something is wrong.
When a burn is complete, a sphere is picked up with iron rods put through the loops to either side, two sets of two workers form a cross around it. They carry it over to the decanting trays where the sphere is unbound and the crystal inside scraped out.
Half is ground down in huge pestles as Product Two. The other half goes to Hall Four.
Escaped and rapidly spinning boiling-hot brass sphere gouting hallucinogenic steam.
Tree-dreams combined with hot equipment.
Steam build-up can cause heat-stroke and collapses.
Pressure build-up and ‘bare-air’ can result in sphere-explosion.
The ground crystal is a sky-blue powder. When mixed with water it becomes a painless and rapid antiseptic wound closer. It applied directly to a wound it gives all the benefits of rapid cauterisation with no risk of infection and tissue damage and no pain.
If accidentally breathed in it can scar the lungs permanently and kill.
Each 'use' of Product Two is valued at 20 gold pieces.
HALL FOUR - Ultra-slow melting
This room is calm and quiet and relatively safe. The main danger is from security checks and searches, which are random and continual. It is full of glass towers and sorting tables where workers with eye lenses carefully tweezer out the rare clear crystals from Cloudblood fronds.
There is no fire in this room, instead, worker-cranked belt-driven fans are kept turning continually and the temperature constantly checked to maintain it at a mild chill.
The crystal from Hall Three is placed in tall glass tubes full of distilled water and mixed with trace amounts of *only* the *clear* crystals from cloudgrave fronds. In this solution it slowly melts, separating into bands of blue, with the bottom being a very dark blue-black and the top being almost-white azure.
Beside each tube is a fresh trefoil orchid held in a pot. The Orchid is held against the tube until the exact colour blue is matched by one of the bands in the centre of the tube. This flower both lives and dies quite quickly and a continual supply is requested from the zone.
Despite every attempt to make the process more efficient, no other method of contrast-comparison can highlight a layer of the correct colour. All attempts with paint strips or pigments have resulted in degraded product.
Workers with huge syringes carefully extract this band of fluid.
There is some danger of Tree Dreams from the front picking process but this hall is generally relatively safe.
Cast on ultra-clean ceramic moulds, it darkens, producing a midnight-blue-black pane of half-inch thick semi flexible material.
This material is almost frictionless and is in use in complex processes in cities all over the world. It is said a Pirate Queen of the Southern Seas has the hull of her vessel plated with it. Its use as currency and jewellery is almost more common than its material use. It is a very hard trading currency and most banks and trading houses carry part of their liquidity in it.
VALUE - One pane is worth 300 gp.
HALL FIVE - Acid Crystallisation
This room is well lit by glass panes in the roof, at night Product One is used in small amounts to provide a clear sight of the process. There are glass girls are kept in cushioned corrals. Gantries over the roof hold a team of Security Contractors who continually overlook the process. It is never not guarded. Most workers here are missing limbs, fingers or have suffered sever resin-ation. They rarely speak and are focused entirely on their work.
Here the Glass Girls are decapitated with ceramic hammers. A dangerous process.
They are lead to cauldrons and leant over them, their heads smashed off and the acid allowed to gout into the bubbling broil.
The fluid from Hall Four is brought in and carefully poached in the boiling acid. This is a highly skilled and incredibly dangerous job. Workers with glass staves swirl the boiling acid into a vortex. Secondary workers gently ladle the product from Hall Four into the centre of the swirl.
If the swirler is skilled and if the vortex is continuous and even, the product will form a cloudlike mass in the centre of the swirl. The acid will be allowed to cool and the sap will crystallise, slowly falling to the bottom.
Being dissolved by boiling acid or covered with the altered resin.
Glass Girls going missing or acting oddly. They are too dangerous to be violent with and too expensive to waste.
Small fingertip sized gems like three-dimensional snowflakes that collect light and seem to shine and glimmer like blue stars under any natural illumination, each one different. Each vortex results in only one 'gem'. They are delicate and as soon as they dry they are encased in glass settings which are rapidly frosted by ice, they are extremely endothermic.
Depending on the number of its points or angles, each gem will absorb and nullify a certain number of levels of magical effect. The average is around twenty, but they can be higher or lower depending on the purity of the process.
VALUE - 1000 gp per point or angle.