Saturday, July 22, 2023

“Albert’s Dragons” • by Samuel Montgomery-Blinn

In the spring of 1893, Munich’s Elektrotechnische Fabrik fled Europe’s rising anti-Semitism and poor business prospects and, thanks to a generous endowment from Emperor Meiji, set up shop in the hills outside Kyoto. The new government’s balance of imperial and parliamentary power promised a return to mercantile prosperity for brothers Hermann and Jakob, and a bright future for Hermann’s obviously gifted son, Albert. That Munich had chosen rival Siemens and their “alternating current” for electrification of the city played no small part in their decision to leave, and so, packing blueprints, dynamos, meters, and young Albert’s budding library of Kant and Euclid texts, the family had made the transition to Japan and begun a brief honeymoon of fresh fish, cherry blossoms, and sliding doors.

By the summer of 1894, war had broken out with China, and though this simplified the political situation at home—some factions called for a ban on Western influences—this began the company’s forcefully guided interest in the use of direct current for weapons of war rather than for illumination.

Blueprints for Tesla’s coil were stolen and reproduced on a mass scale for the war effort. It had taken the brothers nearly six months—with 15-year-old Albert very much sharing the mathematical and engineering burdens—to come up to speed with the coil’s underlying alternating current basis. But the brothers never came to terms with its use as a weapon (and such a weapon it was) and Hermann’s heart finally gave out, helped along by laboratory accidents involving high voltage and current.

Albert had no such preclusions against such use of the technology. For him, the science, the mathematics, the fractal geometries, these were his world, his threads, and he was fast becoming a savant in weaving tapestries. Jakob was quickly surpassed in research and design, and when Albert’s uncanny abilities extended to a dominance over materials and engineering as well, the older Einstein could only stand by and watch, with growing unease, as his nephew increased Japan’s arsenal in both power and capability along exponential lines.

China fell swiftly. So swiftly that the Meiji government began to contemplate incursions into Mongolia and imperial Russia beyond, the latter already fragmented by the rise of pre-Soviet groups. The emperor’s councils turned to Albert for solutions to their army’s needs.

“But how will we conquer and patrol such a place as the Mongolian desert?” they asked. “I will build dragons,” Albert replied. “They will rise on steam, powered by the sun’s own furnaces.”

“But how will our men survive the fighting in the cold Russian steppes?” they asked. “I will build wyrms,” Albert replied. “They will crawl along the ground with treads and the men will be safe and warm inside.”

And so Albert built. Tesla’s ideas went out in favor of Ernest Rutherford’s. Many tonnes of thorium and uranium were mined and refined according to Albert’s specifications, and he cast his barrel-sized reactors from lead, riveted with folded steel. His dragons resembled the tatsu of Japanese myth, and flew on bellows of steam and breathed the fires of hell. They flew low to the ground with myriad stubby wings, using something Albert called “ground effect” but which neither Jakob nor anyone else in the emperor’s councils could understand.

Russia fell just as Europe descended into the conflicted aftermath of Archduke Ferdinand’s death. Into this fray, Albert’s dragons also descended, bringing with them unstoppable death and destruction which pushed back Allied-German forces across the Atlantic. Guarded by its oceans, the American continent built up its naval and air forces, and settled in for a long stalemate—a stalemate which did not long endure.

Albert’s dragons now needed no wings at all. The thorax was rebuilt with interlocking segmented lengths, each able to freely rotate along the z-axis and bend within 15 degrees of its neighbors. Each dragon had gained a brain, harnessing Babbage’s difference engine to calculate needed thrust and position for each segment’s steam nozzles. Pearl Harbor was devoured in an hour, the California coast ravaged within a week, and all resistance was razed to the ground and the eternal, sleepless global empire of Japan could now stretch its claws from pole to pole, across the meridian and back again. The Empire of the Rising Sun would now never set again.

Then Albert looked up, saw the moon’s loneliness, and gave his dragons the ability to breathe vacuum, to sustain and propel themselves on entropy itself. And sent them out into the darkness of space.



Samuel Montgomery-Blinn lives in Durham, NC.





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