Spanner

Our grandfathers wouldn’t recognise it. Theirs was an unassuming chunk of alloy, solid matter specialised to address a particular shape. Mine is a more fragile thing, a plasteel package of intricate circuitry and tiny teeth which morph to interlock with a spaceship’s fanciful nubs.

The limitations of my grandfather’s spanner were defined by the sinew of his arms. My nut-analogues are finer, their challenge not in torque, but in specificity. The ancestral spanner’s forty sizes have bloomed: four thousand varied combinations mate my wrench with every iteration of the myriad impenetrable locks stapling a standard drive to itself.

Like my grandfather, I bend my body to the needs of this machine. He craned headfirst into engine blocks; I employ my tools halfway up ladders into loci of imponderable force.  His hampered rotations created brute couplings to assist the combustions of motion. Mine are tiny tweaks, caressing the ego of the fine-stretched fiery spring which winds this craft into heat and air and gravity as well as speed.

A fumble dropped his spanner through the engine and onto the oily grass: if the grass swallowed it, other tools would serve. Failure brought him sullenly in from the yard to be revived with supper, the squatting diesel beast to be tamed another day.  If I drop mine, as I do now, from sweating hands urgent with need, it rebounds from a bulkhead to vanish, in a spray of sparks, into the heat-death of the drive. It leaves ungentled the hiccup which afflicts the life support and threatens to grow into paroxysms of failure. Frantic, I ransack the stores for the spanner’s missing twin, while the lights flicker and the air grows stale.

My grandfather’s oath, like his spanners, was a sturdy thing. It still serves. Fuck.

9 thoughts on “Spanner”

  1. This is 295 words, and absolutely resists being any smaller. I also darkly suspect that I’ve edited it into incomprehensibility: the language in this for some reason wanted to be particularly dense. Generally the 250-word limit is very good for me, but I think the 350-word version of this is a better piece of writing.

  2. I really liked this and I love descriptions of the rarely mentioned relationships between people and their tools.
    I enjoyed the technical heavy vocabulary (who would have thought ‘specificity’ would ever fit into a micfic) – it communicated the engineering mindset well.

    For the first and last paragraphs are the best – clean tight and lovely.

    Perhaps, as you suggest, the word limit pressured you – but I feel the third paragraph could have been skipped without much reducing the content that was important to me. And the last sentence of that paragraph is the only one that I stumbled on due to it’s complexity (density?).

    I loved ‘defined by the sinew of his arms’ and ‘nut-analogue’.

    Also the ending was great – some things stay the same!

    1. See Rudy’s comment re the need for the third paragraph, not just for pacing, but for developing the parallel ;>. I really enjoy how everyone sees something different in these comments – I have no control over how people read, it’s endlessly fascinating. That last sentence is very dense, but it’s saying what I want it to say, so I fear I may simply be incorrigible on the density front. Sigh. (The previous one, “brute couplings” etc, is horribly compressed and really doesn’t work. Sigh). But I’m glad you feel this works as “engineerese” – it was really intended to work as dense Mieville-style convolution, but if it does double duty, yay!

      and thank you.

  3. Our Space Engineer is attempting to repair life support on a ship. While doing so, they think back on their grandfather — a mechanic — and the similarities and differences between their shared occupation. Then, in a moment when it would have been better not to, Our Space Engineer drops their spanner and loses it.

    I didn’t particular feel that this suffered from trying to cut it down. I enjoyed how the language is very descriptive and sometimes seems to play double duty, like with “I bend my body to the needs of this machine”.

    I also enjoy how the fourth paragraph is the where we first see any “action”. For me, the description of the previous paragraphs help the three sentences of action to feel more powerful than they would without them. So I’m not sure if losing the third paragraph would be a good thing. Maybe it would destroy the timing of the story?

    Having the engineer describe a bit of the engine as being imponderable felt wrong to me — isn’t their job to understand the forces it employs? You said you were worried about incomprehensibility: the only place I had to ponder a bit was at “created brute couplings to assist the combustions of motion.” Everything else was great!

    Very cool writing in this!

    1. Glad the pacing worked for you, that paragraph also felt essential to me, which was why it was so difficult to cut this down. “Created brute couplings to assist the combustions of motion” is the one phrase I really had to fight, and it’s about a third the length it should be, so I have to agree it doesn’t quite work. It will in the longer version. She says, in tones of low menace.

      Interestingly, I didn’t see the grandfather as a mechanic, my mental image was my own grandfather, retired and fiddling with cars for fun – hence yard and grass et al.

      but I’m happy you enjoyed this.

  4. Hello! this is the middle bear, not too long, not too short, just right! (This in response to word worries).

    I think the language density is very Mieville (still reading Kraken. Progress improved since I cast Charlie Cox as Billy http://a8.vietbao.vn/images/vn2/van-hoa/20725489_images1378267_3_Charlie_Cox.jpg excuse the vietnamese link now where was I?)

    Right, Mieville, dense and deep and equal-opportunities empowering all polysyllabic words in the dictionary. That’s you here. (Aside – we should generate some statistics per writer. Like average word length. yes.)

    This comment is a wayword puppy. I like your story. I like the way it develops from innocuous comparison of olde- and newy-time spanners to gently having plot, tm, with developments and all. Very cool.

    Favourite bit – the last sentence. I seem to be fond of profanity this fortnight.

  5. Kewl!
    I really enjoyed this.
    It is very dense and Mieville-esque, but is still very groovy.
    It does feel a little cramped.

    Top word treats for me:
    > fanciful nubs
    (tee hee) and
    > loci of imponderable force.
    Although, like Rudy, I raised an eyebrow at imponderable for our engineer.

    I found
    > four thousand varied combinations mate my wrench with every iteration of the myriad impenetrable locks stapling a standard drive to itself.
    and
    > His hampered rotations created brute couplings to assist the combustions of motion.
    extra thick and heavy, but not incomprehensibly so. Just stickier to get through.

    > If I drop mine, as I do now, from sweating hands urgent with need, it rebounds from a bulkhead to vanish, in a spray of sparks, into the heat-death of the drive.
    felt a bit long and busy.

    Whinge, whinge, whinge, but I thought it was great!
    Beautifully painted picture of the two times and people.

  6. I enjoyed this, but found it very quite hard to read. It was very dense and filled with poetry. I particularly love the following bits:
    “The limitations of my grandfather’s spanner were defined by the sinew of his arms”
    “Like my grandfather, I bend my body to the needs of this machine. He craned headfirst into engine blocks; I employ my tools halfway up ladders into loci of imponderable force.” (imponderable works for me in capturing the immensity of the force)
    “Failure brought him sullenly in from the yard to be revived with supper, the squatting diesel beast to be tamed another day.”
    And the last sentence, which is a beautiful culmination of the piece.

    I think I would have preferred the context of the narrator to be less dramatic and life threatening, so that it was more similar to the grandfather’s situation.

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