August 24th – The Festival of the Seal Renewed

There are certain streets around Buentoille where you might feel warm draughts of air coming up from grates in the street. These are caused by the passing of underground trains; air is pushed in front of them, escaping at points like this to avoid excessive drag. There are other points, however, where standing atop these grates would do you quite some damage, and they are necessarily raised high above the ground, in chimneys and funnels. These are the exhaust systems of the Patrimony Delanik Atmospheric Rail, the quickest way to get from one side of the City to the other.

There are only three stops on the Atmospheric rail; it was, after all, built for speed. Running west to east, through Ranaclois district in the City centre, the stations are marked not only by the exhaust systems, but also by bright signage and lighting, and a tall semaphore tower. The system is only operated by seven workers, although more provide assistance on the platforms, sell tickets at the entrances, and crucially perform maintenance works.

Today the railway will not be running, but closed for these essential annual works. Checks are carried out every week, with small repairs made when necessary overnight, but today the seals will be replaced. At the front and back of the train carriage there are lubricated rubber seals which are designed roll, maintaining an almost perfect vacuum whilst reducing friction to the lowest point. Unfortunately, as these are moving parts they require regular replacement as they can otherwise become worn out quickly. Each seal is designed to last for at least a year and a half, but they are replaced once a year for reasons of safety, efficiency, and Buentoilliçan almanachial tendency.

The Atmospheric Rail functions much like a pneumatic tube, and the term ‘rail’ is fairly misleading because there are no tracks beneath the single carriage that runs back and forth along the tube-like tunnel. Rather than using electricity or steam or a combustion engine to drive the carriage, there are powerful air pumps at each station which create a vacuum in the tunnel in front of the carriage, propelling it forwards at great speed. To slow the carriage when it approaches each station (only three minutes down the line), the opposite is enacted, pumping air out behind it and into the area before it.

In order to ensure that the carriage reaches its destination safely, it is progressively slowed for the second half of the journey, in a process that requires exact timing. As such, the system is run quite literally by clockwork, with the operators’ only role to ensure that passengers are safely aboard and to shut down the system if anything is out of place. The operator on each platform ensures, along with the attendants who control access to the carriage, that everybody is onboard in the allotted time, shutting off the system (and simultaneously changing the signal atop the semaphore tower in the process) if anybody attempts to get on too late, or if they notice any issues with the timing of their system. The operators atop the semaphore towers of the other two stations will then shut down operation at their ends, too. The system is only re-engaged at the next quarter of the hour when the issues have been resolved and the signals turned green once again.

The system could probably be a lot safer and cheaper if it were run on rails and without the seals, but then it certainly wouldn’t be as fast, and Patrimony Delanik, the woman who invented it, was nothing if not a speed freak. She had pioneered automobile racing circuits in Litancha, and, not finding the roads for such things in Buentoille, she turned instead to pneumatic transportation. Delanik was also highly superstitious (she was, for example, never without her lucky scarf on a race day), and this is probably the root of the pomp and ceremony that surrounds the replacement of the seals today. The lubricant that covers them is first blessed by a Hierarch of the Chastise Church (quite how Delanik persuaded them to do this in the first place is unknown, but the tradition has been carried on), and then several charms protecting them from ‘weather and rodentry, fault or failure, sabotage and accident’ are cast over the prepared seals by the gathered staff of the Atmospheric Rail. Finally, after they are securely attached, a large feast is held in the carriage, where the staff and their families repeatedly toast the seal’s health.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Totem of Idam Festival