I wrote this for a competition where the theme was Spring. I may have been a little wide in my interpretation of the brief…
By Jason Gibbs
Mortimer looked at his watch, then, surprised by the time, he held it to his ear to check it was working. He could hear the little cogs whirring happily. For once it appeared he was genuinely early. He shook his head in mock wonder and headed downstairs.
“Would you like a cup of tea dear?” his wife called as he was on the stairs.
“Yes please love, I’m running a little early so I shall have time to enjoy it for a change.”
He walked into the kitchen and took a seat. Lotty turned round and exclaimed.
“Mortimer Theodore Adams, you cannot go to work dressed like that. You are the General Manager!”
“Lotty, I am the General Manager, I can go dressed as I please.” It was to no avail, she was already shepherding him out of the kitchen and back upstairs.
He grudgingly changed his shirt to something white and plain, put on his cravat and his waistcoat and once more entered the kitchen. This time with less confidence and the nagging feeling he was forgetting something.
“Now Mortimer, that looks much better. Do you still have time to have your tea?”
He checked his watch and realised that not only was he now running late, but he’d now remembered he had a meeting with young George first thing. It would be most impolite for him to be late. Declining the tea he pecked his wife on the cheek, grabbed his coat and walked with some alacrity out of the house and down to the garage.
They had two of the modern carriages. His wife’s was an older, larger and slightly clunky model, but his contrivance, well, she was a beauty. When he’d been made General Manager of the Works he’d decided to treat himself. He’d worked so hard all these years he deserved a little present, so he bought one of the new run-arounds. She wasn’t cheap to buy, and no cheaper to run really. She had a dual spring motor, and even though she had reverse springs on the brakes, which would take back some of the energy lost, he often had to go to the main garage to get her topped up.
He climbed in and slowly eased the rather spritely throttle. It controlled how much energy the springs delivered, and when he’d first bought the thing he’d let it out in one go and bounced along the road. He started along his drive accompanied by the gentle whirring of the spring motor and the rumble of the tires.
As General Manager he was paid rather well, and this had enabled him to buy Lotty the home she’d always dreamed of. It was big, he wasn’t sure how many rooms, and the gardens were so large it seemed to take an age to get out of them. The house was on the other side of the ridge from the main town, and the drive to the Works provided the best moment of his morning.
Coming over the brow of the hill the whole of the town was spread out before him. He could see the river, gurgling and frolicking as it ran between the streets all the way to the Hampton Spring Works, of which he was the General Manager. The Works squatted on the river and would be quite ugly if it wasn’t for the three graceful snail shells which rose above it. Each shell contained one of the Main Springs, which powered every mechanical contrivance in the town, and was in turn rewound by the river itself. It truly was a modern wonder. The third Spring was a sign of how well the town was doing, now there was never a time when power wasn’t available, even during the annual maintenance of each Spring. The third was added just before he was promoted, and the last General Manager had told him it would make his life much easier, and he certainly seemed to be right.
Mortimer lost sight of the snails as he dipped into the town, and he glanced about at his fellows, wondering what they’d do if the miracle of spring power wasn’t available to them.
The security man opened the gate before he got to it, which was very kind of him as it reduced wear on the springs in his carriage, and Mortimer gently coasted up to his parking place at the front of the building. Getting out he looked around with pride. The Hampton Spring Works was a fine place to be General Manager and, he believed, a fine place to work.
He walked into his office and his secretary brought in his morning cup of tea. On the rare occasions he managed to have tea at home she seemed to realise and didn’t bring a cup in. It was quite wonderful having such an excellent secretary.
“George Yarde to see you sir.”
“Please send him in, and do get him a cup of tea if he wants one.”
George bustled in. He was a large and florid man, not the typical emaciated engineer they seemed to get, and he had such energy.
“Sir, Mr Adams, you must come and see this.”
“Now George. Let’s first talk about it, and you can have your tea, and then perhaps we can visit your lab.”
On several previous occasions George had dragged him down to show him something, which while interesting hadn’t really been of immediate use, and he’d ended up wasting half the day in the labs. Though wasting was perhaps unfair, besides he did enjoy being back in his old hunting grounds.
“Oh.” George looked a bit crestfallen, but quickly gathered himself. “Well it’s about the energy transfer problem.”
“Well you know how hard it is to transfer energy from the Main Springs to smaller energy distribution centres?”
“Easier now that we have the mobile water-wound spring. Much better than those old hand-wound devices which never produced any real power.” It was the last thing which Mortimer had worked on when he was head engineer, and he was rather proud of it, especially as it had been cited as the key reason for his promotion.
“Oh, well yes, but it is just so inefficient, it’s almost embarrassing, because the rewinding…” George then remembered who’d run the project. “Still, a marvel sir, and in its time amazing.”
“Its time has only just begun.”
“Ah, well sir. I think I’ve developed something which will solve some of the inefficiency.”
“Indeed.” Mortimer was still bristling from the criticism, but calmed himself by remembering that he was now General Manager, which was surely a sign that his contribution was valued. He’d also always told George to share his ideas and speak freely, he wanted to get the best out of him after all.
“Go ahead George, tell me what it is.”
“You know that we’ve been working on very small springs? Down to the millimetre level? Well I was reading in one of the science journals, and it got me to thinking, what if there really were springs which were much, much smaller. I mean there must be, to power everything else, like muscles and things.”
“I too read that journal, and I have to say I wonder at some of the newer aspects of General Spring Theory. It’s become too abstruse for me.”
“Ah yes, well you see the thing is. I found a way of proving that the nano-springs exist.”
“Really?” Mortimer was sceptical, but George was more or less incapable of lying. Being overly excited about things others considered trivial, yes, lying, no.
“Yes. You remember that thing I showed you with the magnets?”
“Another thing Spring Theory can’t explain.”
“Well, I was playing with some acid and various other things…”
Realising that George would probably take the next hour to tell him in absolute detail every step he’d taken Mortimer decided that perhaps a trip to the lab was required.
Doris had come in with George’s tea, and when Mortimer suggested that he show him his device instead of continuing George fairly threw the drink down his throat and almost dragged him to the lab.
“Here it is!”
George’s worktable was covered in bits and pieces. Springs, some whole, some in parts, jars of acid, some of those new-fangled lucifers and all sorts of tools. Right in the middle was a cradle. On the outside of the cradle were some magnets, and suspended in the cradle was a piece of metal with some wire wrapped around it. The wire went through some large holes at each end and then round to a metal box. At one end of the cradle was a winder. Mortimer saw that one of the wires wasn’t actually connected to the metal box.
“What is it?”
“Let me show you.”
George picked up the loose wire, and attached it to a little hook on the box. Mortimer thought he might have seen a spark, and then slowly the piece of metal wrapped in wire started to rotate. It whirled round and round magically.
“Is this all? Where’s the spring?”
“Look inside the box sir.”
He did, and all he saw was some liquid and some solid lumps of something which might have been lead.
“The lumps of lead contain the nano-springs!”
“Well that is interesting, how do you wind them?”
George grabbed the winder and started to wind it in the opposite direction to the way it had been spinning.
“Like this sir. It took me a while to figure it, and then I was just toying with it, you know, winding it up. I let it go, and it started unwinding, just like a spring, and yet this wire, as you can see, is just plain copper with little ability to hold torsion.”
Mortimer looked thoughtfully at the device. The bucket was the size of a small cat.
“How much power?”
“As much as a normal water-wound torsion spring at least ten times the size.”
“Oh yes sir. It is really much more efficient than our current portable springs.”
One of the problems with the mobile water-wound spring was that at smaller sizes it ran out of power too quickly, and had less peak power. It was one of the reasons his carriage needed to be rewound so regularly. With these nano-springs, well, it might even be possible to go forty miles or more without a rewind.
“How do we wind it… oh of course. We can use the river.”
“Yes sir, we could run banks of them. Even better we could pull one out for maintenance and it wouldn’t affect more than a tiny fraction of the overall power. Once we had enough, I think we could even keep some as backup in case…”
“George my boy, this is amazing…” He was about to ask for a more detailed explanation when one of the messenger boys appeared.
“Mr Adams, there’s a message for you. It’s from your secretary; she says you’re needed urgently in your office.”
This was a little tiresome. He had worked out a signal with her when he went down to the lab after last time. She was supposed to give him an hour and then say there was an important message. It was unlike her to get it wrong, and it certainly hadn’t been an hour. Perhaps it was real? Doris didn’t usually make mistakes, so it really must be urgent. Mortimer sighed.
“Sorry George, I have to go. I’m impressed. Can you work out how long it will take to get a full size pilot going?”
“Yes sir… of course, I mean, there’s a couple of wrinkles left, but yes.”
Mortimer nodded and headed back to his office.
His secretary was aflutter when he got there.
“I’m so sorry Mr Adams, he let himself straight in. I asked him to wait but he wouldn’t…”
“Don’t worry Doris. Calm down. Now who is it?”
“Mr Phillips sir.”
Oh dear. Phillips was his boss. A dour man, prone to anger, and a real stickler for time. Mortimer looked at the clock and saw that he was three minutes late to the other meeting of his morning, one he’d quite forgotten. Well, he had to take his lumps like a man.
“Good morning Mr Phillips.”
“Hmph, nearly afternoon.”
“It is wonderful of you to come and visit us at the Works, how is head office these days?”
“Filled with the same lazy fools who seem to be everywhere these days.”
“Can I offer you a coffee?”
“Your secretary, Lucy is getting me one, thank you.”
Mortimer decided that correcting the misnaming of his secretary was unlikely to improve his boss’ mood, and so offered him a chair, and asked how he could help.
Phillips was still grumpy, but he also looked worried. This couldn’t be good news.
“The thing is Adams, we have a very big problem at these Works.”
“I’m sorry sir, I don’t know what you mean?”
“I mean that everything you produce is too damned expensive!”
Mortimer was taken aback.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean sir. We hit the targets set by head office on everything we produce.”
“You do, yes.”
“Then how can it be too expensive?”
“The core of the problem is that the targets we gave you were wrong. Our sales are slumping because we’re more expensive than our competitors.”
“But we’re the only major Spring Works in Hampton.”
“And as you well know our rewind charges are regulated, and at the moment, well. If we only ran the Main Springs we’d be breaking even. Everything else you’re doing here is losing money, even your portable springs.”
Mortimer had nothing to say. When he’d taken over he’d asked to have the financials brought back to the Works, he’d wanted to learn everything, but head office had decided it was more efficient to have it all centralised. Efficiency didn’t necessarily map to competency it would appear.
“So I’m afraid Adams you’re going to have to cut. Starting with your old department.”
“But Research Engineering is what powers this company.”
“Don’t you quote the corporate spiel to me young man.”
“Sorry sir, but seriously, if we get rid of the engineers we won’t be developing the next product…”
“Head office had a consultancy do a study, and they determined we can buy new product development from smaller companies much more cheaply than developing it internally. We have too many barriers to innovation apparently.”
“No buts. You need to get rid of them. Here is a list of all the departments who have to be cut. Overall you need to need to cut your headcount by a third in the next six months.”
Mortimer noticed he didn’t say people. They were headcount, or resources, or minions probably. He was feeling utterly powerless when he remembered George’s nano-springs.
“Sir… can I ask a favour.”
“Can I have three months before we cut? I believe we might have something which will blow the socks off the competition.”
“Mmm, what is it?”
Knowing that talk of nano-springs would likely be dismissed as desperation, which it was in part, Mortimer said, “A much more efficient version of the mobile spring.”
“Hmm, well according to another study if we can make it twenty percent smaller then we should be able to defend our market position and move back into profitability…. no, no, sorry Adams, it’s too late. We just can’t afford another three months.”
“Two? And I’ll resign if it doesn’t work.”
Phillips peered at him. Mortimer stared calmly back.
“Dammit man! Six weeks, and then I’ll want your letter.” He frowned, shook his head and left without another word.
Mortimer sat down heavily at his desk. What had he done? He held his head in his hands, his mind whirring. He only looked up again when Doris bustled in a few minutes later with a fresh cup of tea. She nearly said something, but seeing his face bustled back out again mutely.
After a few more minutes of staring at his desk he sipped his tea, and stood to look out of his window. From here he could see the river as it ran out of the Works, and catch, just, sight of the Right Main Spring. Overhead one of the new fast zeppelins was passing, powered in part by the mobile water-wound spring he helped to design. Probably using springs from their competitors he thought grumpily. He wondered how fast they might go with smaller more powerful springs? That made him think again of the nano-springs. He could feel some excitement building. They needed to get moving on it fast.
“Doris, can you get me George urgently?”
He was going to have to drive George hard to work through the inevitable wrinkles. In fact it would be almost like reverting to being head engineer. Strangely instead of feeling like a step back it felt more like he’d be going home.
He looked out on the still bare Works gardens, the unexpected warmth of the sun helping to calm the fizzing of the worry and excitement mixing within him. He was energised. Winter was over, and its passing heralded the advent of the nano-spring. It was going to change the world, he was sure of it.