The Dwarven Tea Machine (First Draft?)

The machine that stood on the counter gleamed. Its shiny metallic body rose from a rounded, well-polished wooden base, curving up towards a boxy tower on one end and an alcove at the other. An array of brass plates adorned the front of the machine, marking the buttons, rounded glass light housings and an embossed slot in a font that appeared to have been delicately carved from the metal itself. In one corner, a thick black cable snaked around behind towards the wall.

“Is that made of silver?” Aoife asked, pointing at the machine, eliciting a few smiles from the other children in the room as they gathered around it. Her twin brother Ciaran gingerly reached forward to tap at the corner near him, where somebody had intricately carved some larger words and the number 418 in what looked like English. His face and body immediately slumped as he found out that it felt too hard to be silver.

“What is it, anyway?”

“It’s the t-tae machine that C-c-connacht Trading gifted us. I th-think th-th-that’s the name?” Siobhán pointed at the larger font where Ciaran had tapped it. Her lips briefly moved soundlessly before she decided that pronouncing the name wasn’t worth the effort. “Diarmuid?”

“Hiberno-Tech Tea Producer,” the other boy with her supplied. One of his folded arms briefly rose to adjust the dark yellow Bakelite sunglasses in front of his eyes. “Don’t ask me what the four-hundred and eighteen means.”

“How does it work? Why does it have that…rope going into the side?” Ciaran asked.

“It’s p-probably elce…e-lec-trical.”

“Like the lights?” Aoife turned her head up towards the ceiling, where an upside-down wireframe bowl covered the round glass bulbs that cast a yellow glow onto the corners of the room. The rest of them briefly followed her glance, before silently agreeing that they had more pressing concerns, such as how to actually use it.

“Wh-why is it written in English?” Siobhán demanded of nobody in particular, waving a hand at the glossy pamphlet that lay open on the table. She turned to Diarmuid. “Diar…c-can you understand this?”

The boy silently removed his glasses, revealing a pair of blood-red irises that caused the twins to shiver, and began to read with a resigned comment about the number of five-pound words on the page. After a moment, he turned it over to follow the instructions on the next page, and shook his head in exasperation. “There’s at least a dozen steps here,” he finally, “and it doesn’t even tell you to actually fill the “boiling vessel” until after you’ve loaded a…capsule.”

“What’s a capsule?” Maebh asked as she paused in the doorway. Her green eyes briefly widened as she met Diarmuid’s.

“These, apparently.” Diarmuid picked up a wooden box that had been stamped with something. It rattled slightly as he turned it around in his hands, examining the spring that appeared to hold one end shut and the metal ratchet that ran along one side. He shrugged and continued, “The manual just says to stick the box into the hopper, and then press the ‘Validate’ button to check if it’s a valid box of capsules.”

“What happens if it’s not valid?”

“It says that if a red light flashes four times, remove the box and start again from scratch. If the light flashes only twice, it thinks the box is valid. Doesn’t say how it even knows if they’re valid, but I’ll assume they’re not taking…dead seaweed.” Diarmuid paused to briefly scowl at the machine before turning his attention back towards the pamphlet. “If they’re valid, it says ‘A green light shall flash twice if the boiling vessel is sufficiently full of water for your cup of tea’. Except that the bloody thing doesn’t show how much water it contains before you even start!”

“Wh-what about that g-g-gauge?” Siobhán pointed at a long glass window that stood next to a hole.

“Me and my big mouth,” Diarmuid muttered after a moment, nearly lowering his face into his left palm before he realised that his glasses were in the way. With a repressed sigh, he unfolded them and slid them back onto his nose, missing or ignoring the flash of relief on three of the four other faces in the room. “So yes, it does actually show that this is empty.”

Turning his attention to the pamphlet again, he continued, “Insert a valid cup into the alcove…if a light blinks twice, clear the alcove. And don’t start from scratch, oddly enough. If no light appears, make sure you inserted a valid cup.”

Adjust the ‘Timer Crank’ to match your desired brewing time, but don’t set this to more than five minutes…or at least they don’t recommend that you do so. Once that’s done, insert the ‘Brewing Key’ into the slot that takes it, turn it clockwise and hold for five seconds. If it succeeds, then a blue light turns on.”

Siobhán picked up a rectangular wooden block and turned it around in her hand. One end had been bevelled inwards and lined with a metal ratchet, similar to the box of capsules. “I th-think this is the k-k-key?” she asked, turning one side towards Diarmuid.

“That’s it,” he confirmed. The others peered at it, trying to read the words that had been carved into the top, before an exasperated snort drew their attention back to him. “What a surprise…we’re supposed to leave the key in place until it starts whistling, but if it’s turned off halfway through, we have to start from scratch again. If everything works, then it says to remove the key and your mug and ‘consume it at your lei-shure’.” He lowered the pamphlet, folded his arms again and gave them a sour look. “This dwarf machine had better produce the best bloody mug of tae ever.”

“I think I’ll stick with the teapot,” Maebh announced.

This is in fact the Firtollán/dwarven tea machine whose needlessly complicated process I posted in November. I haven’t decided if I’m going to actually have the kids go through the process, so it’s a first draft.

I didn’t realise this when I first wrote that, but part of this was inspired by numerous stories of DRM-infested crapware like Juicero or HP printers that refuse to accept anything other than Official HP Cartridges. Don’t ask me how an analogue equivalent to DRM would work in the early 20th Century…it doesn’t really work now as anything other than a money sink or shakedown scheme.

And while I’m at it, here’s the characters from this piece doing something else.

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