A Shower of Sparks

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Chapter 2 (v.1) - Chapter 1: The Professor

Submitted: September 15, 2012

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Submitted: September 15, 2012

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Chapter 1: The Professor

 

Gears whirred and cogs clunked to a steady beat. Professor James Rhyse liked to think of the cadence as the heartbeat of the machine. The University Clock was built eleven years ago as a student run project. As a first-year he had helped design it, and he enlisted his brother's help to manufacture the parts.

James knew exactly how the clock worked. He knew how the cams, springs, and cogs interacted to form the gigantic machine. Despite his knowledge, he still found the arrangement magical. That such a complex and precise instrument could be build on such a large scale was truly a testament to a new and industrial age.

The tower which housed the clock was the tallest on campus, and the city. It was large enough to be seen from everywhere on the grounds of the University. Because it was built on the top of the hill, it made the spire at the top of the tower the highest point in the city. However, it wasn't the tallest building in Brighton. That title belonged to the newly constructed Brighton Cathedral, built where the old one stood which had dated back over six hundred years.

James often snuck away the clock tower to relax and think. The rhythm of the gears organized his mind, and, like the clock, made his thoughts march in his head with a steady and organized manner. He had some of this best ideas while sitting in the middle of the machinery.

Presently, James was sitting a massive and slow moving gear which rotated exactly once an hour. Despite being eleven years old, the gear kept up appearances and reflected light with a brassy hue. His brown hair which he kept cut short reflected as a dark gold in the gear. And his eyes, normally brown as the shade of his hair looked far more yellow than was natural through the gear.

James was thinking about the construction of a steam powered clock, which wouldn't need to be wound. Instead, the rotating wheel of the engine would drive the clock. In his contemplation James felt a nagging thought at the back of his mind. He felt like he had forgotten something, but he just couldn't place it. He looked into the reversed face of the clock, trying to find an answer there.

Time, it must be something to do with time. He went over his schedule on his fingers, and stopped on his fourth. “Dammit,” he swore under his breath. He pulled out his pocket watch and saw that he was over twenty minutes late for his lecture. “Dammit!” he swore again more loudly. He grabbed his hat and tweed jacket from a peg on the wall and ran out.

He flew down the stairs, taking the steps four at a time, down twelve flights. When he reached the bottom he left through the double doors which made up the exit, and down the stairs to the courtyard. Unfortunately, it had started to rain. James doubled his pace and ran on the walk past the college of Art, past the college of Medicine, and he turned to run up the stairs of the Natural Sciences building.

He ran though the hallway, dodging students and faculty, he wet shoes squeaking on the marble floor the whole way. As he ran past his office he did a double take, stopped, turned around and ran back to his door. He took his keys out of his waistcoat pocket and fumbled with them for a few seconds until he found the right one.

His office was strewn with its usual posters, letters, and paperwork that James hadn't bothered to organize. Once inside of the room he looked for a box containing his lecture supplies. After a few seconds of searching he realized they weren't in his office. To think he closed his eyes and set his right hand on his forehead, and gripped his temples with his thumb and middle finger. In his mind he retraced the events from his last lecture earlier this morning. He didn't have to think too hard, he remembered leaving the supplies in the he lecture hall so he didn't have to haul them back for the next one.

Once again, he started his run back to the lecture hall. He was in such a hurry that he forgot to close his office door. As he turned the corner into the next hallway, he nearly slipped due to his wet shoes. He staggered, but found his footing and continued briskly as before. He ran up the flight of stairs to the second floor, and turned towards the Experimental Physics lecture room.

Room 202 came up on his right. He stopped in front of the door and took a few deep breaths, attempting to get it back under control. Gathering himself, he straightened out his clothes and groomed his hair to make it seem like he hadn't just ran across campus campus in the rain.

With as dignified a manner as he could muster, he opened the door and walked into the hall saying, “Please excuse me for my tardiness, I had important affairs to contend with.” James didn't feel like he was lying, his time in the Clock was important. Looking around the room he frowned. More than half of his students were absent, the remaining were in the back, playing some sort of gambling game based on the hurried sound of coins being shoved into pockets. Only one of his students had been sitting in the front row, reading.

She was one of the few women taking physics, and even more impressive, she was doing much better than everyone else taking it. Which gave her the privilege of being one of the few students Rhyse knew the name of. Almyra Hill, though she went by Myra. Gregory Hill, the textile manufacturer, was her father. She worked harder than anyone else taking his class, and had a knack for organization. On top of that she was gorgeous.

Her hair was straight and fiery red, and she often tied in a tail in the back of her head. The hair contrasted beautifully with her milky white skin, which was smooth and flawless. Her eyes were a bright green, which shown with a rabid curiosity and a hungry ambition. Rhyse enjoyed watching her look up and to the right when she tried to understand the lesson. Her lips were full and red Rhyse often thought about tasting them. Today she wore a simple dark blue dress, low cut and displaying an ample bosom.

“Class, find your seats, and try to gather in the front two rows. It seems like we have a small class today.” He leered at the boy who had lingered the longest in the back corner. He had no idea what his name was. “Gambling is strictly against school policy, but I'll ignore your slight if you ignore mine.”

The boy replied, “We weren't-”

James cut him off, “I won't hear of it, now take your seat.” He continued, “This class is for your benefit not mine. I couldn't care less if half of you fail it. Where are the rest of you anyways?” he asked the same boy.

“They, uh, left. They left about ten minutes ago, after you, uh, didn't come here ...” the boy trailed off.

“I get the picture, like I said before, their loss.” James saw his supplies sitting in a box under his desk, and heaved it to the top of it. He then proceeded to arrange all of its contents on top of the table.

“Okay, so as you remember from last week's lesson, we are learning about electricity.” He went to the board in the front of the room and chalked up the words Electricity Week 2. “We know that electricity is created by a physical property we call charge. We learned last week that natural events like lightning strikes are created by charge building up in the atmosphere. When the charge difference is great enough a connection is made, transferring a lot of electrical energy over a very short period of time.”

James started preparing the demonstration by soaking some rags in a brine solution. He continued, “But electricity doesn't need to be transferred in a single, quick bolt. We can control the flow of electricity to a fairly constant rate. And it happens that there is a little story behind it. About thirty years ago, Laurence Thompson was dissecting a frog. And yes this is still the same Laurence Thompson that still works in this building, though back then he didn't have quite as much of an impressive beard, and it probably wasn't as grey.”

“Normally all of the tools they use over there are iron, but somehow a copper pin got thrown in the mix. When old Laurence went to cut the frog with a scalpel the muscle that was attached to the pin twitched.” The rags finished soaking, and he was now arranging a tower of metal discs separated by the brine soaked rags. “Thompson thought he had discovered some sort of 'life energy'. We physicists were naturally curious, and we wanted to see if we could replicate it. Now I say, 'we,' but keep in mind that at this time I was smaller than this desk.”

“Much to the annoyance of the biology department, we, the physicists, managed to prove that this life energy was no more than electricity. But from that incident we learned that a reaction between metals can create a steady flow of electricity. And we built this electric pile.” James hit the apparatus he had just finished completing, then said, “Proving other scientists wrong is one of the perks about physics.”

 

He continued the lecture by demonstrating the pile, separating water into its two gasses, then lighting them again, making the whole class jump. In addition to this he went over electrical potential, and how it was like a pressure for electricity.

 

“No homework this week, we didn't cover all we needed to. You are all dismissed,” he said, closing the class. James had tried he best to go through the lecture quickly, but he didn't explain current or resistance.

He turned around to erase the chalkboard, which had filled up with various reactions and equations over the course of the lecture. He felt disappointed in this lecture, that he could have made more of an impact if he hadn't been so absent minded. Most of his class was absent and the ones who were left seemed to be half-asleep. The only student who seemed interested in his lecture was Myra. This fact didn't come as a surprise.

However, he was surprised to fine her standing in front of his desk as he turned around. “I was wondering if you wanted any help carrying your stuff back” she said. Her voice was high and musical.

James paused a moment, letting her voice ring in his head. Her voice was lovely, everything about her was. He smiled and said, “Yeah, sure, thank you, for helping that is.” he picked up the small instruments, equipment, and bottles of chemicals left on the table, and placed them in the box. “The pile is the heaviest, I'll take that. Can you carry this box?”

She picked it up, “Oh, this is heavier than it looks.”

“Can you still carry it? There are fragile bottles and dangerous chemicals in there,” he asked, he didn't want anything to break if it could be avoided.

She nodded and said, “Don't worry, I can do it.”

He believed her. After he picked up the pile, he started walking out. Together they walked out of the door. Professor Rhyse was going to start down the hallway, but Myra stopped and asked, “Aren't you going to close the door?”

James paused, then shifted the heavy electric pile to one arm to free the other, then closed the door. He chuckled, then said, “Thanks for reminding me, I guess. I don't think it matters though, this door stays unlocked until the cleaning get here.”

The two of them walked down the hallway towards the staircase. James noticed that Myra was about a head and a half shorter than he was, though to be fair, she was of average height; he was two inches over six feet tall. As they were heading down Myra looked down into the box like she was trying to avoid eye contact and said, “That was a brilliant lecture you gave, Professor.”

“Hardly,” he replied, “I was rushed and didn't cover half of what I wanted.”

“Oh,” she said in her bell-like voice. “Perhaps we can find some time together to go over what you missed.”

James gave an involuntary smile at the thought of being alone with Myra, but he knew he shouldn't act on the thought and quickly repressed it. He thought instead of his wife, Kathryn. “There is no need for that,” he said, exiting the stairwell. “I would rather teach everything to everyone at the same time, just wait until next week's lecture.”

“Oh, but what if I want to know it now?” she asked.

“Then you can keep up your expectations until next week, and you will be all the more pleased. There is merit in delayed gratification.”

James felt guilty again, but not because of his wife. If any other student had asked him for some time to schedule a private lesson he would be happy to oblige. But Myra wasn't like the others, for one she was far ahead of everybody else in understanding physics. Where everybody else was struggling, she was excelling. Another reason was that he secretly didn't trust himself alone for too long in her presence. Yet, it felt wrong to treat one student differently than he would another.

They continued in silence until they reached James' office. James stopped at the closed door, and set down the pile on the floor. He took his keys out of his waistcoat, and went to unlock the door. The door was unlocked though. “I must have forgotten to lock it while I was going to your lecture.” He said as he returned the keys to his coat and opened the door.

“By the Mother and Father!” Myra exclaimed, as she walked in. “I think you may have been burgled, do you want me to report to this to the dean?”

James was insulted, he didn't think his room was that messy. Sure it was cluttered, that much he could admit, but he didn't think the room was that messy. The room looked they same as how he had left it. Even so, cabinets lay open, papers were collected in large piles across his desk, and there were a number of miscellaneous contraptions lying on the floor.

He picked the pile up and set it down again by front of his desk. Then he placed his hand on Myra's shoulder to reassure her. “I haven't been robbed, Myra, my office always looks like this. And if the dean needs to be contacted I think his son would be more appropriate than some student to report it.”

This seemed to convince her. She placed the box on a relatively clutterless area of his desk and looked up into his eyes. They held eye contact for a few seconds. James looked into her eyes and saw confidence. He looked deeper into her eyes and saw his own reflection. In that reflection he saw a man looking lustfully on, and he knew that was what Myra also saw. She asked, “Are you sure you don't want to give me that lesson?”

“I'm sure,” he lied.

Myra broke eye contact and made her way slowly to the door, as if she expected him to change him mind suddenly. He wanted desperately to just that. He wanted to submit and schedule a lesson alone with her, and then, he didn't know. Something he reckoned. He wanted to pursue the chance and go through a door he knew he might never come back out of. But he thought again of his wife and held his tongue as he watched her go, as she went through the door she looked back at James once more they held eye contact, but only for a moment.

After she left and closed the door, James rifled through the box of stuff from his lecture, trying to find a place for each item in his cluttered office. After a while he gave up on organizing, and put the box away in a corner. He took a seat at his desk and inhaled deeply.

He thought about what had just happened. Why would she do that? He felt confident that she was trying to seduce him, he just didn't know why. She doesn't need better grades, she already has top marks. What had just happened had made whatever relationship he had with her many times more complicated. She was planning something, he knew it, she didn't seem the type to fall victim to a petty school girl crush. Because of this he felt wary about pursing whatever happened in the room. He felt a new fear regarding Myra that he hadn't felt before, though for some reason this fear only made her more interesting.

Dammit James, you have a wife, you shouldn't even be entertaining these thoughts. He started to dismantle the pile because it would corrode if it stayed together for a long time. After that was done, he started organizing again. He looked at all of the papers lining his desk and the table in the corner of the room. Most of them were notes he knew he probably would never read again, though he decided not to throw them out, he might need them one day.

Something seemed off to him about the room as he cleaned. Maybe I really did get robbed. He decided against it though. Everything was still as he had left it. The same drawers were open, the same piles of paper were on his desk, and the same gadgets littered his floor. Myra has gotten into my head. He concluded that nothing was wrong then packed his briefcase with a stack of books and papers on his desk and left.

He grabbed his hat and frock coat of the rack by the door then locked up his room for the night. It was time to head home, time to get back to Kathryn. He walked through the courtyard and out the gate, onto the Circle, the end of University Street, which wound down Ivory Hill.

It was still raining, so James buttoned his coat and lifted up his collar. It was a lighter rain, little more than a drizzle now, though it was colder now. Wet flakes of snow came down with the rain to make for a cold journey back home.

Fortunately his carriage was already waiting for him. Sticking out his hand, James ran to it, and Bertie, the cabbie, opened the door for him.

“Going home, Professor?” asked the cabbie.

“Fast as is prudent if you will.” Bertie climbed up to his seat and started the horses, and the carriage rattled down the hill on the cobblestone road.

“Miserable weather,” James said. He crossed his arms over his chest to keep warm.

“Aye, at least you get to huddle up inside. There's a blanked under the seat I was using earlier, you can keep warm with that.”

James reached under his seat and found a woven wool blanket. He put it over his legs and looked out the carriage window at the street. He saw the top of the University Clock going down behind houses as he descended the hill. A number of red brick buildings lined the streets. Most of these were residential halls for the students, but there were also shops, grocers, and diners. A student never had to leave the hill until they graduated, but they still did.

Brighton boasted some of the most extensive museums of Art and Natural History. And the newly built theater was already an icon of the city.

Factories along the river were spewing out smoke as the fires deep inside fueled the engines of industry. Many of these factories belonged to his brother, Tyler. Ty had cornered the steel industry, and had expanded into manufacturing and transportation. Half of the city was working directly for him.

James had always admired his brother's insight and success. He secretly harbored a regret of not going into industry as well. Making things was so much more interesting than simply teaching theories. His father, Jacob Rhyse, wouldn't have allowed him though.

“We, the Rhyses, are an old family.” He remembered his father telling him and his siblings when they was young. “Our lineage can be traced back to nobility of over a thousands years ago. We even share blood with the royal family.” He continued, “We have ruled over the city for centuries, and we do not need to become petty merchants.”

His father had a change of heart concerning his brother's occupation after he saw how much money Ty and his company Firewheel Industries were taking in. However, he still maintained “one business man in the family is a crowd”.

“Bertie,” James started again, “how's the family doing?”

“Same as ever, wife spends all my money, kids are always sleeping when I get home, so I never see much of them. You know, sometimes I think of getting out of the country, see what else the world has to offer, the mountains of the North, or the mysterious islands of Permia. But my wife buys every new little gizmo your brother cooks up, and buys some new expensive dress every month. At the rate she's spending we may have to move into some shack in The Pit.” He spat. “Forget leaving Cosland, I'll never leave Brighton at this rate. But that's my life, how are things with Kathryn?”

“Not so great, marriage is tough work. You know, we've tried for years to have children, every night. Nothing. Personally, I think she's barren, which is a shame, I do love her. We don't talk about it, we really don't talk much about anything anymore. I really don't know what to do about her.”

“Well, ya love her, which is more'n I can say 'bout my wife. You should consider yourself lucky Jim, children suck. They're just extra mouths to feed, least until they move out. They leave a mess everywhere, and they always get into things they aren't s'posed to. Just the other day my littlest nearly set the house on fire. But that's not really fair, I love those twerps to death.”

“Do your children have jobs? That may teach them a little respect and discipline.”

“Awe Jim, you aught to know me and the missus don't believe in that. Remember childhood? I played in the streets with out any cares, not sure what you did, but I wouldn't want to deny them a little fun while they can.”

“This is a new age Bertie, we can't just sit on our hands like we used to. You can either move with it or fall behind. And Ty would gladly hire your kids, he calls it his social service. He says it keeps those rapscallions off the streets. From what I hear it isn't hard work, and he pays well, a mark a day as I understand it.

“Tell ya what, I'll think about it.” He paused to direct his horses. The carriage turned off the hill, and onto Park Road. He started again, “Jim, You're certainly right, everything is all different now than from when I was a kid. There's always something new being constructed. Buildings are popping out of the ground like wildflowers these days. A lot of it really is convenient; new roads, faster travel, but ya miss out on those small things. Ya know, I used to love swimming in the Albian, now it seems like ya can't step a toe in without getting sick. I remember when I could look up at the night sky, I saw hundreds of stars.” He chuckled. “Nearly all of 'em are hidden behind this wretched smoke now.”

“I suppose everything has a price. I think the stars might be one I'm willing to pay.”

“I suppose you're right, but then again you can leave the city and see the stars again whenever you like.” The trip continued in a mutual silence.

As they continued through the public square James made note of a number of beggars panhandling on the side of the road. James noticed that many of them had red sores over their face and hands. Must be something bad going around, Jim thought. My sister is probably already handling it.

The cabbie entered the gate at the base of the hill and wove his way through the streets.

At 15 High Street he stopped. James exited the cab into the wet street. The rain had stopped since he entered the cab, though the ground was still damp. He handed Bertie two marks, and hurried inside to get out of the rain.

The footman took Jame's coat and hat after he walked inside. Winston, the butler, greeted him cordially. “Welcome back, Professor, while you were away, these messages came for you.” He handed him a small stack of letters.

“Thank you Winston, is anybody else here?”

“Both your father and sister are at Council, your wife and the other ladies are out on the town, shopping I assume.”

“Very well, I'll take dinner in my study then, and bring up some tea as soon as you can have it ready.” James walked up the grand staircase one flight and turned into his study.

In the middle of the room was his desk, more cluttered than the one at the university. On the walls there hung some small pieces of art; most were landscapes of the mountainous region of Cosland, but there was also one small portrait of his wife.

James sat down in the chair behind his desk and laid down the handful of letters. Many of them were from his students. They were always trying to boost their grade some way, sending in some revised lab work, or writing out long winded essays about why they should get a passing grade. He thought half of his students should become essayists with the amount they like to write. Some of his students even tried to bribe him. James had to laugh at this effort, if there was one thing he wasn't lacking in, it was money. Whenever this happened, James would give the money back and dock the kid five points for his idiotic attempt. He set aside these letters on a large stack of papers, he didn't want deal with them at the moment.

He shuffled around his bag for his sketchbook. In it were designs for new machines. There were machines for every sort of function; drilling machines, digging machines, machines for pumping, and machines for swimming in the water. Currently he was designing his most complicated machine yet, one that would fly above the clouds.

But he couldn't find his sketchbook. He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes to think about where it could be. “I probably just left it in my office,” he said to himself. He let out an exasperated sigh. This wasn't the first time he had left something at the office. He could feasibly go back to the University now and grab it, but that would be a lot of time spent on a small problem, and he had other work to do.

For a while he worked on a review of one of his colleague's paper which was going to be published in the Scientific Journal. It was an interesting experiment relating to how electricity can influence magnetic fields, though like all scientific papers, it read like a brick wall. Eventually a servant delivered his tea, and he decided to take a break.

He squirted a little lemon juice in the tea and started drinking it. While he sipped, he looked up at a self-portrait of his wife. She painted it in the emerging style, which employed the use of thick brush strokes. James thought it looked as though it were viewed out of the eyes of someone going blind. Even with the thick strokes, she managed to capture the delicate features of her face. Her hair was layered with every shade of brown between oak and chestnut and cascaded over her shoulders in loose curls.

She was beautiful, that he knew and told her often. Though the thought of her was bittersweet. He had always wanted a large family, but after two years of marriage she had born no children. The passion had long since passed. They spent the days away from each other, and the nights tolerating sleeping next to the other one.

James felt bad about the state of his and Kathryn's relationship. It wasn't her fault that she didn't have any children. But without them, his whole relationship with her had no purpose.

He thought back the first time they had met. The University was hosting an inter-department party. He was reluctant to go. At the time he was busy designing the University Clock, and preferred the isolation of his room. His roommate, Bill Bradley, had convinced him otherwise.

When James arrived at the party he went straight for the bar. He didn't have any hope to make it though the night sober. He sat down at the bar and ordered some brandy, and looking around he noticed there was a lady in modest dress next to him. This lady was Kathryn, concentrating in art and writing. He remembered talking to her at the bar for the entire night about all manner of things, though he had long since forgotten the actual content of the conversation. It was probably about what they wanted to do, how they loved and hated their families, and how much they hated large parties like the one they were at now.

They spoke past the time the band stopped playing, and past the time where everyone but the bartender left. He remembered that the bartender wasn't too thrilled with how late they stayed. He was especially irate because he didn't order any more drinks after his first brandy, and even that he didn't finish.

James reached the bottom of his tea cup and looked back at the stacks of papers and letters on his desk. He decided he didn't have the mind to finish his work tonight. He left the tea cup and saucer on his desk and walked out to the hallway. He decided he wanted to eat dinner in the parlor.


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