The Scrap Knight Ch.2

Cleaning up the mess turned out to be much easier than Nic had expected. Besides the console and some cabling, everything else had been damaged well beyond salvage, reduced to some combination of ash, slag, or scrap. Nic would be feeling the bite one in his allowance this month, of that he was certain.

Still, silver lining, the absolute devastation meant clearing it was simple. All it took was ten minutes of grunting and swears to load the big pieces onto a cargo bot, then ten more kicking the dirt around to hide the scorch marks. By the time he was done it was like nothing had ever happened, so long as you ignored the faint smell of burnt metal.

As a bonus, Nic even managed to figure out what had gone wrong. When removing the remains of the power cell itself, he’d noticed that the circuitry at the very core had fused together into a single mass. Warped and charred perhaps, but still solid enough that it held together in his hands. A curious state as the delicate wires should have been either incinerated or blown apart by such a violent blast.

That was unless the wires had already been like this before the explosion. It wouldn’t have taken much, just a few connections liquefying and fusing together with the surrounding structure. Repeat even just a few times and you’d quickly find yourself with a short circuit and a bunch of electricity that had nowhere to go. A state that most with knowledge of such things would classify as bad, Nic demonstrating the particulars of why. Resistance, that had been the issue, the material unable to handle the amount of current running through them. An explosion had been all but inevitable from the moment he’d turned it on.

After a brief session of kicking himself, Nic had turned his thoughts from problem to solution. Installing a transformer would be the easiest fix but that would negate the whole make it lighter thing. What weight he saved in downsizing wouldn’t do much good if he just added more of it straight back in. Using a lighter material might work but that would be even more susceptible to damage, meaning the transformer would have to be even bigger. Ultimately, Nic knew the only real solution was to make the wires out of something more conductive. Something that would likely be much, much more expensive.

That allowance was looking smaller by the minute.

One thing at a time. Future Nic would worry about how he was going to fix this. Right now, there were interesting things brewing here at Greytower.

Harry Elmcroft. Nic had never heard the name before but guessed he was involved with the City Council. That was all Master Orlin seemed to do with his time, outside lessons and whatever he did in his study. This break in routine was intriguing, especially considering the brief exchange the two had shared. Anyone who could talk to Master Orlin in the way Elmcroft had without being summarily dismissed was someone to take an interest in.

With that in mind, Nic finished his passable job of cleaning and made a beeline for the tower. It admitted him without complaint, both door and ward moving aside to let him pass. Before the latter could close, however, Nic pulled out his tablet and ran a quick spell through his casting program. A simple charm that he’d stitched together himself through trial and error. With a few well-placed surges and static bursts, it was able to confuse the tower wards and let him move around undetected. Not invisible, he’d still be evident if an observer knew what to look for, but just enough that his exact position would be hard to pin down.

Say, his position on the other side of a door where two people were talking unawares. Just for an example.

When the spell had finished, Nic began to creep his way up the stairs. He’d long ago memorized the safe routes, where to walk slowly, quickly, and which steps to skip entirely. In less than a minute he had reached the top and stood before the door to the second-floor workshop.

Though it looked like a solid slab of metal, Nic had long ago discovered that it wasn’t soundproof. So long as you kept your ear pressed up against the surface and controlled your breathing, you could easily hear what was happening on the other side. Quiet as he could, Nic leaned in and was rewarded with the sounds of conversation.

“-anyone else I could ask.”

That was Elmcroft, his voice distinct even though Nic had only heard it once.

“If you’re going to lie,” came Master Orlin’s sharp tones. “At least come up with one that makes sense.”

Elmcroft laughed, its bouncy rhythm passing through the door like thin air.

“I respect you too much for that my friend.”

There was a brief pause, which Nic imagined to be filled by a disapproving glare, before Master Orlin spoke again.

“It’s not my job to clean up the council’s bookkeeping.”

“Actually, it is,” Elmcroft said. “Whole thing falls under Greytower’s jurisdiction.”

Master Orlin scoffed.

“Look it up if you don’t believe me.”

Another pause, this one broken by a quiet ping almost too soft to be heard.

“Something the matter, old boy?” Elmcroft asked, his voice as smug as a tomcat’s grin.

“Be that as it may,” Master Orlin said just a little too quickly. “I still don’t see why you want me to do it.”

“Really? That’s really the excuse you’re going with here?”

The silence returned for a third time, holding long enough that Nic wondered if the two techne had left the room. He leaned closer, pressing his ear to the metal as he strained to hear what was happening.

“Are you having trouble with the door Nicholas?”

Nic’s heart stopped even as his mind slammed into a flurry of panicked activity, trying to come up with a good explanation. A few possibilities emerged but they were all discarded on account of being terrible, leaving him with only one real option. Summoning his courage he stood, waving a hand over the controls and letting the door slide open.

The two techne sat at the large table, steaming cups of tea laid out before them both. Master Orlin sat facing the door, a disapproving look fixed firmly on Nic as he shuffled into the room. The effect was ruined somewhat by Elmcroft, his chair places such that his broad figure obscured the glare’s line of sight.

“Coward,” Elmcroft said before turning to smile at Nic. “Spirited attempt lad, didn’t hear a peep. You probably would have gotten away with it anywhere else.”

“Please don’t encourage him,” Master Orlin said, though it was unclear to whom.

“Come, join us,” Elmcroft said, gesturing Nic towards another chair.

Nic hesitated, looking to Master Orlin in confusion. He received a nod in response and Nic took the invitation to sit, suddenly finding himself under the full brunt of Harrison Elmcroft’s attention. It was not unlike standing in the path of a large boulder just on the cusp of rolling down the hill.

“So, tell me lad, what were you up to out there in the yard?” Elmcroft asked. “Thought I’d somehow ended up at the Valentine estate with a blast like that.”

“I, uh,” Nic stammered. “I was testing some new tech for my rig. It, well, you saw how that went.”

Elmcroft laughed, the sound as infectious as always.

“I may have noticed a thing or two, yes. Any idea what it was that went wrong? If you don’t mind my asking?”

Far from minding, Nic found himself launching into a full winded explanation. He did his best to avoid going into anything too technical and just explain the broad details, but it proved a fruitless effort. Elmcroft was simply too good an audience not to, the man nodding along with genuine understanding, giving sympathetic hums and excited outbursts where appropriate. It left Nic babbling on for so long that Elmcroft had drained his cup by the time they’d finished.

“Anyway, short version,” Nic concluded. “I need to redesign the circuit to handle the charge better.”

“Sounds like you’ll need more than that,” Elmcroft said. “It’s an ambitious design, I’ll grant you that, but not the kind of thing you can just throw together with duct tape and spit.”

“Well, yeah, I guess not,” Nic said, rubbing his neck in mild embarrassment.

“Indeed, indeed,” Elmcroft said, accepting a refill for his tea. “Might I offer a suggestion?”

“Uh, if you’d like,” Nic said, glancing between him and Master Orlin. The latter didn’t look back, instead fixing Elmcroft with a simmering glare. Elmcroft didn’t seem to notice, or at least acted the part as he continued.

“Have you ever heard tell of Gibson Scrapyard?”

Nic had not and going by the name, that was a large oversight on his part.

“No,” Nic said. “Should I have?”

“I’d have thought Grey would tell you, but it seems not,” Elmcroft chuckled.

“It never came up,” Master Orlin muttered, sounding defensive.

“Well, if it had,” Elmcroft said. “He would have told you it’s Ronteele’s best kept secret.”

“Hardly a secret,” Master Orlin said. Elmcroft flashed him a look, prompting the elder techne to give a short huff before turning to address Nic.

“Gibson is an e-waste and tech disposal site. One of the largest in the city.”

Elmcroft nodded. “Just so. You won’t find anything new there, but there’s no better place to go looking for treasure.”

“Treasure?” Nic asked, genuinely intrigued.

Elmcroft held up an arm, unbuttoning the cuff of his shirt and rolling back the sleeve to reveal the hardware underneath. A control unit for his rig Nic surmised, going by the high-quality flex screen and pressure sensors against the underside of his wrist. It was quite like his own design, though with several tweaks that Nic took note of for future consideration.

“Found this little beauty there,” Elmcroft said, pointing at the screen. “Got it for about half what you’d pay new. Just needed some polish and it worked a treat.”

Nic’s eyebrows immediately shot up. The screen was easily the most expensive part of the whole setup, with a price tag somewhere in the mid triple digit range. The kind of thing that a half off deal was liable to get someone trampled in the rush to get. That alone perked his interest in this alleged best kept secret.

“So, where exactly is this scrapyard again?” Nic asked.

Elmcroft smiled. “Up near Arburough, just inside the Wall. Grey should have it set in his cars.”

“Grey would also appreciate a say in how his cars are used,” Master Orlin cut in.

“Oh, don’t be a spoilsport Grey, let the lad go dumpster diving, and besides,” He leaned forward, propping up his chin on an elbow, his smile turning devious. “We still have business to discuss.”

“Underhanded,” Master Orlin hissed.

All the same, he turned to look at Nic where he sat between the two elder techne. Nic tried his level best not to look disappointed, though he failed spectacularly, practically hopping up and down in his seat.

“Please can I go?” Nic asked. “It would help me a lot.”

Master Orlin said nothing, looking at his student with an expression Nic couldn’t read. Nic did his best to hold it, managing it thanks to the excitement bubbling in his stomach. Eventually he turned to look back at Elmcroft, his stony expression souring ever so slightly.

“Under. Handed.”

“Stubborn. Ass.” Elmcroft mimicked through a wide grin.

Master Orlin sighed, a dignified one through the nose, before gesturing towards the door.

“Go get your things, I’ll get a car pulled up for you.”

“Thank you,” Nic said, resisting the urge to pump his fist in triumph. He rose like a firework from the table, pausing just long enough to turn to Elmcroft.

“It was nice to meet you Mr. Elmcroft.”

“Hey, hey, I told you, it’s Harry,” he waved a hand in pleasant dismissal. “And you as well lad. Now, off with you.”

Nic nodded in enthusiastic agreement, the last of his restraint spent as he turned sprinted out the door, leaving the two elder techne to continue their conversation.

“That was beneath you,” Master Orlin said.

“Sorry, have we met?” Elmcroft asked through a chuckle.

Master Orlin only grumbled.


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