They drive me mad, I think. Even at night, laying awake in my bed and staring up at the oppressive ceiling, I hear them turning, feel them grinding down my body.
The engineers claim that it’s free energy, the next step in our world’s evolution. It’s what the world needs, and everyone wants more. The production lines are running full steam, building them bigger and bigger.
The fools. None of them see our approaching doom, drawn closer by each turn of their infernal wheels.
I could get up, look out the window of my cheap little shanty room. Hell, I’d probably see it from here. They’re lauding this one as the biggest one yet, as if that’s a point of pride. It’s like ants praising the sight of the largest boot.
They’ll cry out, I know, once it’s too late to stop the side effects. They’ll ask who was there, who saw it start. Who could have stopped it.
I was there, and I’ll tell you, I did my goddamn best.
It wasn’t enough.
Watt started things, but it was really James Pickard who made the discovery – or, at least, he claimed it as his own. No one came forward to dispute him, so I guess he takes the credit. The architect of this whole goddamned disaster, and right now, half the world worships the very ground he walks on.
He presented it six months ago to the Royal Academy of Sciences, up on the stage in front of a cheering audience of nobles and high society toffs. I sat in the third row from the back, perhaps the only one cheering.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we stand on the cusp of a new dawn!” he cried out, his voice carrying through the grand hall, over the cheering. “The dawn of free energy! No more will we be slaves to the miners who haul coal and peat out of the Earth, the whale oil we harvest from innocent beasts of the sea! For I have found a new source, a limitless source, that will power all our great machines and make the world our plaything!”
Grand words, and they brought about renewed cheering. Pickard stepped back, towards the large, bulky shape that hid beneath a draped cloth.
“You are here,” he shouted, “to witness the most revolutionary technology ever to be discovered! This is but a prototype of much greater things that will soon come, that will spread throughout our planet!”
True words. Horribly true, like a seer’s prediction of her own imminent death.
He stepped back, picking up the edges of the cloth, and then waited. A showman, that’s what he was. An awful scientist, but at least he had the gods-damned gift of presentation, of driving his audience into a foaming, cheering frenzy of indecent arousal.
Only once the shouting and clapping in the great hall rose to deafening levels, once I could no longer even hear myself think, did Pickard finally tighten his grip on the sheet. He took a step away, yanking the cloth off the great hulking monster that lay beneath.
And in that moment, I swear he made eye contact with me, at the back of the audience – and smiled, the jaunty grin of the devil himself.
In that moment, the flywheel became known to the world.
It’s been around for ages, ever since some caveman worked out how to attach a weight to a spindle. Stores energy in its revolutions, building up speed which can be harnessed for other things. What Pickard figured out was how to sync it up with the very planet upon which we stood, to orient it precisely enough to gather that energy, to grease and keep it so smoothly turning that it wouldn’t shed that energy as friction, wouldn’t slow back down.
Once that energy was captured in his flywheels, it could be used for practically anything. Create the static sparks that inventors were already rushing to channel into wires and various other devices. Grind grain, push carts, even turn the cranks and gears at the hearts of our factories. No longer did we need steam, oxen, or the muscles of men. Not when we could use a flywheel.
They spread like lightning – or like a plague. Just as Pickard predicted, they spread, and they grew. A bigger flywheel, after all, could hold more energy, and there was always a need for more energy. It culminated with the erection of the Eye, in the heart of London, standing taller than the highest building, rotating with a low rumble that permeated through air and stone alike for miles. A constant source of energy for the entire city.
I heard it, now, outside my window. The doomstone of the apocalypse, grinding away the hours between now and the end of the world. With each thunderous turn, our end grows nearer.
They don’t listen to me, of course. That’s why I’m living in this rented room in a hovel. They kicked me out of my academy quarters, burned my notes, tried to destroy every sign of my research. They snatched the pages of calculations that I waved in front of their noses, burned them like a witch at the stake.
But they couldn’t erase those equations from my mind. I’ve copied them down, a dozen times, sent the envelopes to everyone that I hope might listen. They’ll certainly silence me soon enough, but I need to get the truth out.
That energy isn’t free. Those monstrous flywheels don’t pull their energy from the air, from some “infinite source,” as Pickard still claims in his loud speeches to the braying public.
All energy must come from somewhere. And with each turn of the flywheel, our very planet turns slower. It’s a slow drain, at first too slow for anyone to notice.
I, alone, counted the seconds. I saw that the days grew longer, longer than the Almanack predicted. At first, I thought it to be error, but now I know the truth. It matches the equations perfectly.
The flywheels continue to spread across the globe, growing bigger and bigger. But they cannot run forever. The toll they take is greater than anyone knows.
I hear a knocking at my door. They’ve come for me; I hear the rattle of sabers, the clink of pistols. I won’t be the one to tell my truth.
But I pray that someone else does, and the world awakes before it’s too late. Or else we, and all life upon this planet, are truly doomed.