Chapter 8: Ms. Madeline

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

Reads: 367

Cleaning a house, cleaning an old house or an apartment, or any well-lived-in space can be dangerous. It's not dust or mold or heavy furniture that pose the danger... but rather buried memories. 

So, it was one of the things Ms. Madeline dreaded most: to tidy the shop. Dig into a shelf? Dig back in time. She would find: half-completed projects, a small cleaning drone half-repaired, old notebooks filled with memories of university experiments never quite realized, a pocket watch, a gift? An award? The useless, the broken, the forgotten; bringers of memories, tucked away, in boxes behind books, in baskets stacked higher than she could reach, looming spilling wires, threatening to topple in every empty nook and corner. All these things were nostalgia bombs that could eat up entire afternoons.

If she was going to help Tanisha free her father she'd need an organized lab. She'd need to know the location of every diode and transistor, every obscure dev board bought from those tiny, almost secret fairs for electronics enthusiasts, where parts, and modules were traded and sold, where you could find... new things and sometimes things that once were new, but now were long forgotten. 

Little Tanisha had chosen a bold mission, dangerous for a girl her age. A jail break! But, Ms. Madeline always took young people very seriously. And, after all, she hated the jails. So, it never occurred to her to tell Tanisha it was too difficult. 

Ms. Madeline was, in fact, looking for something in particular as she struggled to clean. A dev board she'd seen maybe 5 or 6 years ago in the Toronto caverns robotics district, down level 8. A module that exploited an ancient weakness in legacy wifi to allow the transfer of executable files to lightweight industrial drones. The kind of drones still used in prisons, prized for their obscure old tech. The people who ran such places imagined obscurity made them invulnerable to more modern software exploits. After all, to take advantage of that old forgotten bug in the door locks one would need to smuggle the transmitter unit in to the prison, find a way to power it, find a way to contact it from the outside without being noticed, and all of that at once was very unlikely.

But, Ms. Madeline lived to realize the unlikely.

She could see the devboard in her minds eye, a bright yellow chip board designed by one of those engineers who understood that, if properly made, a PCB could be as fine and beautiful as jewelry. It was mostly old-style SMD parts, only 4 layers, it even had some ancient, through-hole components. All the traces, placed with care, and more than that, with artistry. 

She remembered marveling at the devboard, Wanting to buy it just because it was beautiful. But not just visually, it was also the elegance of the exploit, the execution, the engineering, the layout of fine paralex copper traces, the glinting bits of solder, blue and black capacitors and multi-colored striped resistors, induction coils and crystal packages, glinting like tiny gemstones. 

She also remembered not having much money, and being torn between several of the electronics on offer. She remembered thinking "I don't have any immediate use for this kind of wifi meddling" but also thinking "I probably will in the future..."

Did she buy it or not! and if so where was it!

It was tempting to just ransack the place looking for it. But, her mother had told her, and after ignoring her mother for many years, she had learned the hard way, that the best method to find anything was by cleaning. 

So, she dug in to the boxes and resisted the pull of the memory bombs. Gradually, bringing order to the messy workshop.

There was an upside to all of this sorting. Along the way she'd found a number of other useful gadgets and projects that would help Tanisha with the jailbreak. An ice-cube sized remote vehicle with camera that could carry the board and possibly install it, a very nice soldering iron that ran on high density batteries that would make her mobile kit much lighter, a notebook with hand-drawn circuit diagrams for the magna-snap systems still used in most institutional doors. 

She could probably rig the ice-cube car to open such doors with just a few modifications... 

"Stay focused!" Ms Madeline felt her mind wandering off tantalized by the possibility of combining this component with that... she always wanted to see what *could* be done, push the technology ... and that was the wrong kind of thinking for an operation where failing carried great dangers. 

She thought about how she'd need to wipe down the boards and housing for fingerprints and DNA, sterilize everything that they sent in... there didn't seem to be any easy way to avoid having at least some of her creations discovered. 

As she was mulling on this problem she came across a box of photographs. A box! Of printed photographs, her father had mailed them to her when they cleaned out the old apartment... Before she could deflect the memory bomb she was looking at the old images, childhood, her first science fair, a graduation photo where she looked near tears because NOT going to grad school had suddenly became very real. "You got back there" she reassured herself. But, going to grad school later just wasn't the same, not in the sciences. No one did anything remarkable after age 30. Or so everyone seemed to say. The doubts and sadness came back. 

And Ms. Madeline realized she had landed on the worst kind of memory bomb. "Snap out of it." she told herself. tempted to simply toss the thing in the trash to avoid a repeat of such an episode in the future. 

But the she saw something pale and copper rolled in the corner. 

It was thin, like paper and rolled up and stored in a glass tube sealed with soft silicone corks on each end, what was it doing in the photo box? What was it?

And then she remembered "Flexible paper circuit board!" she'd put it in the box of photos since some photo papers could also be used to create paper circuits with the proper chemical treatments. (so that's why she'd kept all these photos!)

The paper in the glass tube, however had already been treated and it could be masked, the excess copper pealed away to create traces for low-voltage on a paper surface.

"And paper BURNS" she said smiling.

here was the solution to leaving no evidence in the jail. She'd simply make everything of paper! And then

she'd make it all go up in flames. 

Submitted: October 25, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.


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