“Ambasador, today you are scheduled to take a tour of the most advanced and efficient factory in Perzelsis. The Amalgamated Kedonti factory has been a major landmark in our city for fifty years, and their production is always of the higest quality. They manufacture our wonderful mechanical carriages, as well as cookware, corset rods, and a line of farming implements. “
The Temaltan struggled into his waistcoat, still finding the metal rods constricting. “And why, exactly, am I scheduled to visit a factory? Are we planning on sending diplomats there? Or establishing trade with the factory floor?”
The young monk, Gelek, standing in the doorway sighed, and wished for the hundredth time that the elders had sene fit to send someone else to liase for Nekel. The ambassador hadn’t seemed so bad at first aboard the ship, but after the storm…well, perhaps he was just still in pain from that.
“The Kedonese are eager for you to see their mechanical prowess. The factory is a great symbol to them, more so than perhaps anything else in this city. If you want to learn about their culture, and make yourself accepted here, then you need to visit places like the factory.”
Nekel shrugged into his overcoat, and buttoned it across his waist. “Yes, yes, I know. Well, best to get it over with as soon as possible. Send for the infernal carriage, I’m ready to go.”
He strode out into the bright sunlight, and climbed aboard one of the gleaming carriages, gritting his teeth as it began its lurching way forward. The driver was skilled, and kept the jolting to a minimum, but Nekel found himself wishing for a simple desha to ride. The trip seemed to last for hours, but he doubted it was really more than thiry minutes. The carriage finally halted in front of a gate, and Nekel got out. Gelek quickly paid the driver, and stood beside Nekel. “I believe that the owner and the factory manager are waiting for us. Shall we go inside?”
Nekel nodded, and the two men walked through the gate. There was a small crowd waiting for them inside the factory grounds, and a man in an impeccable red waistcoat stepped forward to greet them.
“Hello! I am Jedan Keli, the owner of this fine factory. Gelek I have already met, since he set up this visit, and you must be Nekel, the new ambassador!” Jedan Keli was a large man, broad in the shoulder and waist, and taller than Nekel by at least a head.
“Yes, I am Nekel Verni, lately of Temalta. I am qujite eager to see your legendary factory. Who are these other people who have gathered?” Nekel tried to make his voice as pleasant and interested as possible, but he had always had a difficult time feigning interest where he had none.
“This man here to my right is the factory manager, Kan Bitali. He ensures that everything keeps moving, and that the merchandise keeps rolling off the factory floor. He has even managed to convince the workers to work longer hours, and increased productivity by fifteen percent!” The short man smiled slightly, and gave a subtle bow. “And here on my left we have Vaski Lejit, the head of our development branch. He has quite a few wild ideas, but he has also come up with some of our best-selling products. He is quite the innovator, you know! And hre behind me, we have the heads of our various departments: production, research, advertisements, shipping, sales. Everyone was so eager to show you around our factory! We had heard that the men of your order were less than amenable to mechanics and machinery, and so we were rather surprised when Temalta informed us that they would be sending an ambassador to Kedon. But we are very pleased, and highly honored! Please, if you will follow me, we will step inside and begin our tour.”
They walked into the nearest building, and Nekel clapped his hands voer his ears. The noise was deafening; the machines threw up an infernal clatter, and the voices of the foreman could be heard amidst the din, shouting instructions.
“This building houses our cookware line,” shouted Jedan, gesturing to the factory floor. Huge machines rolled out metal, pressed metal, cut metal, and workers sat in their stations, performing the same actions again and again. As Nekel watched, the routine was absolutely mesmerizing. Each piece was exactly the same, and the routine never changed.
“This is where it all starts,” Jedan explain, gesturing to a large machine which fed sheets of metal onto a conveyor belt. “The metal is delivered here in stacks, and this machine feeds it out on to assembly line. The automated valves here determine which belt it is delivered to. There are five main routes, each consisting of at least three separate lines of products. Let me show you!” The group moved to one of the long belts, and watched the sheets of metal come off the feeder. The little valves flicked open and closed, and a sheet came down the line that they stood by. A man slid the piece quickly into a large press, and pulled a lever. The top of the press slammed down and quickly opened again; the metal had been cut into a precise shape. The worker repeated the process five times, until no more pieces could be cut from the sheet, then tossed the scrap metal onto a belt that moved just above the floor. As Nekel watched, the scraps were picked up by a abother worker on another adjoining line. “What is he doing,” Nekel shouted in Jedan’s ear.
“Oh,” the owner replied, “He will be cutting smaller implements from the metal. That’s why each lines consists of at least three belts. We want to make sure that we use as much of the metal as possible.”
The pieces from the first press were making their way to the next worker in line, and the small group moved in for a better look. This worker, a young woman, pulled one of the pieces into alignment with her machine, and pulled a lever. The machine slammed down, much as the first one had, and lifted quickly. The metal was now no longer flat, and had a rather complex shape.
“These are facades for our line of ovens. The other belts on this line produce pots and metal cups. We sell quite a few of those to the military every year, they’re one of our best products!” Nekel’s ears rang as he listened to Jedan, and he wished that they could move to someplace more quiet, but it was nearly a half hour before the tour moved back outside.
The Temaltan shook his head slightly, trying to clear it of the noise, but he could see that there were at least three other large buildings that must hold more production floors, and groaned quietly.
“Is something wrong, Ambassador?” asked Gelek quietly. Nekel massaged his temples with gloved fingertips, and replied, “Yes, my head is killing me. There must be a way to cut down on that noise! I am prepared to endure discomfort for the sake of our mission, but I see no benefit in going deaf in the process.” Gelek nodded, and hung back for a moment to speak to the factory manager.
“Are you enjoying the tour, my dead ambassador,” asked Jedan Keli, and Nekel forced a smile and a nod. “Yes, indeed! I have never seen anything like it before, and neither has anyone else from my country, I believe. You see, we believe that matter is irrelevant, and has nothing to do with the soul. Consequently, we have not devoted very much time to the pursuit of the physical sciences. We still create by hand those few things that we need. We are happy in our ways, though. We have few needs, and know how to be content with little. When death calls one of our number, his soul floats away easily, and it is not weighted down by earthly attachments.”
“That is very fine indeed! But tell me, do you and your countrymen never long for a little more ease in your life? I know that the northern islands are vrery cold and it is difficult to grow food on the rocky soil. Even a few of our Kedonese machines could triple your crops, and feed your people better. Why do you not develop your own machines, or buy some of ours? Surely it would be of benefit to you?”
The Temaltan monk smiled noncommittally. “Would we like soft beds to sleep in, and mechanical carriages to drive us everywhere? Perhaps. It would certainly make our lives easier. But if we were to accustom ourselves to such things, we would lose our ability to sleep on rocks, and walk twenty miles if need be. Our life is not pleasant, as you would count such things, but we are happy with our lot, and we have no need of an easier life.”
Jedean Keli nodded pensively, thinking about the ambassador’s words as they entered the next factory floor. “Ah, here we are! I know that you say that your people have no need of thse things, but even you cannot deny the gloriousness of this floor!” Nekel once again winced at the deafening sound, and looked around the factory floor. At the beginning, it looked similar to the other factory: sheets of metal being cut, pressed, painted. But at the assembly stage, he realized what was being constructed. At the far end of the floor, gleaming new mechanical carriages rolled off the belt, and were driven away.
“Impressive, isn’t it? This factory is still the only one to make the carriages used by the cities of Kedon. Of course, any private citizen is free to purchase whatever type of carriage suits their needs, but most of them chose to buy an Amalgamated Kedonti carriage. We hope to have a new model available early next year, but Vaski is still working out the details. Eventually, every man and woman in Kedon will own a mechanical carriage, and we intend to be the ones that make it affordable to everyone here!” Jedan’s face was crinkled in a wide smile,a nd Nekel could tell that he truly believed in the value of hbis product.
“And you don’t worry about making such machines so readily available to so many people? You really want your country overrun with loud clattering machines?” Nekel tried not to smile; no matter how many machines Jedan Keli produced, it would all come to a grinding halt within the year. But of course, he had no way of knowing such a thing, and Nekel was not about to let on that something might happen. If that knowledge slipped out, it could cause a significant change, and he had no desire to end up split between two futures.
“Why should we worry about it,” Jedan laughed. “Right now, it is easier than ever for people to travel. Families formerly separated by large distances are now aable to come together every week if they wish, instead of once or twice a year. Goods from all over Kedon are delivered fresh to the markets, and public transportation is cheaper and faster than ever. And there is noise, to be sure, but little more than the incessant braying of the deshas, and our machines are getting quieter with every new model. It is one of Vaski’s main concerns. He thinks that the next model may cut down on the smoke as well.” After ascertaining that his guest had had enough of the noise of the production center, Jedan led the small group back outside. The noise was sstill quite loud, but not nearly as deafening as it had been inside the building.
“Your aide, Mister Gelek, has informed me that you are still recovering from the terrible accidne that occurred on your voyage, so I will end the tour here, and allow you to return to your house. We have been greatly honored by your visit today, and we hope that you enjoy your time here in our country! If there is ever anything the Amalgamated Kedonti can do for you or your people, please do not hesitate to let us know!” Jedan Keli, bowed low, and shook Nekel’s hand firmly.
As Gelek closed the door of the carriage, it pulled away from the curb, bearing th two men back towards the ambassadorial residence. “Thank you, Gelek. I do not think that I could have endured another moment of that noise. The clammer in the streets is bad enough as it is; I shudder to think of what it will sound like with hundreds more of these carriages. They make the very air itself stink.”