The flash of light and sound of thunder surprised Andrew, especially given that it was a clear summer day, and no rain was expected. Being a boy of 12, of course he went to investigate, even though the light came from the south field, which was the farthest from the house. But he couldn’t be bothered with minor concerns like safety, not when there was a possible adventure in that field. Andrew was the type of boy that craved adventure, and always seemed to find them, even where there should not have been any. This fact both pleased and worried his parents, Ben and Gail, but they were one of the minor concerns at that point, much like safety.
However, when he finally got to the source of the light, Andrew didn’t find an adventure. What he found was a mystery. He could tell that the high grass had been burnt, but he didn’t smell the remains of a fire. He slowed as he approached the charred area, which was odd for him, since he was the type to bound right in without much caution. He thought that the closer he came to the blackened patch of earth, the more sense it would make, but the opposite seemed to be true. He could tell that there was no rhyme or reason to the burn pattern. It looked like pictures he had seen at school of lightning strikes, with the bolt pattern radiating out from the center. Looking up to confirm that it was still a clear day, his feet carried him on into the center of the scorched area. He was still looking at the sky when he reached the center of the area, and his foot struck something that sounded metallic. He jumped back, because he couldn’t remember hearing of lightning leaving anything when it hit. What lay before him appeared to be a charred lump of metal that could have been a machine at one point, but with how bad it was melted, he couldn’t really tell. He approached it again, a bit more cautiously this time, but found that it wasn’t radiating any heat. He started thinking it was some sort of satellite that had crashed, but thought that it should have been hot from going through the atmosphere.
He stood there for a good five minutes trying to figure it out when he heard his father calling for him to get to his chores. He turned to go back towards the house when he noticed the other two things that he had passed while he was looking at the sky. There appeared to be two books of some sort lying on the ground. One of them looked as bad as the lump of metal, but the other one seemed to just have a burnt cover. After making sure they weren’t hot, he tried to pick up both books, but the worst of the two just crumbled in his hands. The other book went under his arm, and he ran back to the house excited to tell his parents about his discovery. As soon as Ben saw him, he told Andrew to go in and change so he could help his mother pulling weeds. Andrew hated pulling weeds, and knew that his mother would be so focused on the task at hand that she wouldn’t listen to him talk about his discovery. He took the book and placed it on his bookshelf while he changed clothes, and didn’t think about it again until supper that evening.
Andrew was right about his mother not wanting to talk. Every time he tried to talk to her, she would interrupt him and point out the weeds that he was missing while talking. Finally, with a frown, he decided to focus on his work and wait until supper, when his parents were the most talkative. When the job was done, his mother told him that he had done a great job once he got it in gear. He was happy that she liked his work, and that helped put him back in a good mood. Around the supper table, his parents talked about the day’s events, as well as a few things that were coming up. Typical supper talk, in other words. When Andrew sensed a lull in the conversation, he said that he went into the south field earlier. Both of his parents started to say that they really wish he wouldn’t go that far from the house without letting them know first, and he agreed (for the fiftieth time, at least) to tell them before heading that way again, but he told them the events that led him there. When he got to the part about the lump of metal, his father said it probably was a satellite, and when he got to the books, his mother asked to see the one that had survived. He went to get the book, and bringing it back, handed it over to her. She opened the book to see all manner of scientific charts and figures within that went way beyond the simple science she taught at the elementary school. She couldn’t even remember seeing anything like this in her college courses. While Gail puzzled over the contents of the book, Andrew’s father asked him to describe the lump of metal again, and he went over as many details as he could, but what it came down to was a lump of melted something, in the center of a charred area, in the south field.
Andrew’s father said that they would go out and look the metal in the morning, since it was starting to get dark. Andrew knew better than to argue the point, so he just agreed, but he knew he wouldn’t be getting a wink of sleep that night. Even though he spent most of the night looking through the book, he actually did manage to get some sleep, and when the morning rolled around, he showed his father the charred area. He thought that he might have problems finding it, but he seemed to be able to walk right back to it. Ben followed him with the wheelbarrow, because he didn’t want to leave the thing in the middle of his field, in case it was either valuable, or dangerous. When he could see where the charred area was, he told Andrew to stay back while he went in and took a look. Approaching the burned spot, Ben noticed that Andrew was right; it looked just like a lightning strike, and in the middle sat the lump of melted metal. Ben pulled his work gloves from his back pocket, and pushing on the lump with the toe of his boot, noticed it wasn’t all that heavy. Actually, it seemed like the lump was rather light. He figured it would have been fairly solid, and thus heavy, but what did he really know about satellites? After he found out how light it was, he went to get the wheelbarrow, and then lifted the metal into it. It was even lighter than he figured. On the way back to the house, Ben and Andrew discussed how light the lump was, and talked about how something so small and flimsy could work in space. Coming back to the house, Gail met them at the back door, saying she had put in a call to one of her old college friends that worked in the science department at the local college. He had asked to come take a look at both the book and the lump, and she had agreed. Ben said it sounded like a good idea, so they met with the professor later that day.
The professor, John Glassner, examined both the book and the lump, although he spent much more time on the former than he did on the latter, and when he closed the book, he did so with a frown. He asked to see the spot where Andrew had first found the objects, and stood there shaking his head. Back at the house, when all four were sitting around the dinner table, John spoke to them. He said that at first, he had thought that the metal was indeed a satellite, but what was before him didn’t seem to really fit any designs he had heard of, even in the melted state. And the book was an even larger disappointment. He said that the first few pages seemed to work in theory, but they worked on principles that he had never heard of, and the things from deeper in the journal (as he called it) were just plain ludicrous. He said that there were passages that talked about machines that had made the world a better place, and since there were no such machines, the journal must be a work of science-fiction. However, he said, the place that was documented in the journal sounded like a really nice place. He handed the journal back to Andrew and offered Ben fifty dollars for the metal, so he could study it to see if there were any surprises lurking inside. Ben said that since Andrew had found it, it was his call. Andrew thought about it, and agreed to the sell, because what was he going to do with a lump of metal? Better for it to go where someone might be able to make sense of it. He did ask that if John found anything special, he would let them know, and John agreed. John did call a few weeks later, but just said that the analysis was complete, and it seemed to just be a bit of junk, possibly from a passing airplane.
As far as Ben and Gail were concerned, the matter was closed, but Andrew’s mind kept returning to the journal. He found himself going through the journal in the following years, as he went to high school, then on to college. He never told any of his friends about it, because he didn’t want to seem like a nut. He did, however, find himself drawn to the science courses that were offered, and even took an intro to physics course from one Dr. Glassner. John asked if Andrew still had that old journal, and Andrew said that he did. That was the only time that they discussed it. Halfway through his college career, however, his focus switched from science to sociology, seemingly overnight. That may have had something to do with a cute undergrad in the liberal arts department. The more time he spent with Lisa, the less time he thought about the old journal he had found in his father’s field. Three years later, when the two were married, the journal was packed along with a collection of other books and placed in storage. There it remained for fifteen years, only seeing the light of day when the box was moved from their first apartment to their first house, accompanied by Andrew and Lisa’s son Devin. The journal would have stayed boxed up, if not for the wreck that took Lisa’s life.
Devin was twelve. Lisa was coming back from work one damp night, when her car hydroplaned, and slammed into the side of the bridge she was crossing. She should have been okay, but the airbag inflated with a bit too much force, breaking her neck. Andrew and Devin were understandably devastated. Andrew took the money from the car company settlement, sold the big house that seemed to be drowning in memories of Lisa, packed up, and moved Devin and himself to the other side of the country in order to make a fresh start. While they were unpacking in their new house, Devin came across an old journal that looked a bit scorched. When he asked his dad about it, he heard the first real laugh from his father in nearly six months. He was glad to hear it, so he made sure to get all the details from his dad. Even after all the years, Andrew could still remember most of the details from that experience. At the end of the story, Andrew decided to offer Devin the journal. He said that if Devin wanted to pick up the old threads, then he was more than welcome to.
Devin read over the journal just like his father before him, not really understanding the science of it, but enjoying the mystery of it anyway. The years passed, as only they can, and Devin found himself returning to the journal more often as he grew up. After high school, he went to college and majored in electronics, with a minor in physics. His dad noted that he had been on much the same course, until Lisa came into his life. That brought the only frown on the day of Devin’s college graduation.
By now, Devin had a very good mind for electronics, and the figures in the journal started making more sense to him. The odd thing was that the technology had just recently advanced to the point where the figures at the beginning of the journal were correct. After a deeper study of the journal, he decided that he needed to make his own notes, but he didn’t want to write in the old journal that was starting to fall apart, a bit like the one his father had told him about. He went to a local bookstore and found a journal that was about the same size as the old one, but in much better condition. He started transferring the data from the old journal to the new one, adding a few notes here and there. When he got deeper into the journal, he decided to try his hand at making the first of the four machines mentioned within.
He set to work with the electronics that were specified in the design, when he came up against his first problem. There were components that are mentioned that did not exist. However, after some study and some thought, Devin decided that he could most likely create the components that he would need. It took him the better part of a month, but he was finally able to get the guts of the machine in working order, and the casing was simple by comparison. But when it came time for him to turn on the machine, he hesitated. He wasn’t afraid that the machine wouldn’t work, because he knew the electronics involved. Rather, he was afraid that it would work, and that it would do exactly what the journal said it would do. He decided to turn the machine on, but not before having his father witness the moment. Andrew had told Devin not to get his hopes too high with the machine, because Andrew had become convinced that the journal was a bit of sci-fi that had gotten lucky in guessing the coming technology. Devin kept telling his dad that there was no way random guesses could have made something so accurate, but Andrew was skeptical after all this time. The time came and Devin asked if his father would like to activate the machine. After a moment’s thought, Andrew suggested they flip the switch together, and Devin agreed. As they were about to flip the toggle switch on, Andrew asked what the machine was supposed to do. Devin said that as close as he could figure, the machine has only one function. Unlimited clean energy.
The machine, called the hydro-generator, worked. After testing the power output, Devin decided that he could meet his house’s power needs for an entire year with a single gallon of purified water. With enough of these machines, they could power any number of things, including full cities. He even figured out how to ramp the machine up, and power the entire country using the equivalent of a decent sized swimming pool full of water. Neither Devin, nor Andrew, knew what to say when Devin finished crunching the numbers. This was exactly what the journal said could be done. Devin applied for a patent for the machine, as well as the components that he had to create for it, and as soon as it came through, he put the machine to work. First, he powered his house, then his block, then his whole town. When the news came out what was happening, he was approached on behalf of the government to see what he could do on a national scale. Since he had already come up with those figures, he offered to share the design, but only on the condition that the information not be confined to just one country. This was something that could make the entire world better, and not just one part of it. Begrudgingly, it was agreed to share the technology when it was determined that there was no real way to turn it into a weapon.
Within three years, most of the countries in the world were running off of the hydro-generator. Devin was also busy working on the next machines in the journal. The second was supposed to make electric vehicles completely self-sustaining and would make them more affordable than their gasoline powered counterparts. This machine worked as well as the hydro-generator, but there were more people against the use of the technology. However, once Devin used a bit of his influence, and mass production started, all the people that had been against it now wanted in. Now all the old car companies were in a race to build the best designs around the small capacitors that would power them. Over the course of a year, a person was hard pressed to find many gas-run vehicles on the road, once the car companies instituted a trade in campaign that would benefit everyone involved.
The third machine was not like the first two. Those two could be called engines, but the third was a scanner. It was supposed to detect illness long before the current technology would be able to, and could help prevent it, or at least, treat it much earlier than was previously possible. This machine was accepted without hesitation. The only downside was that when Devin used the scanner on his father, they found that Andrew was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. However, there was nothing in the journal about curing such diseases. Devin and Andrew spent much time together after that. They never talked about the journal, or its effects on the world. They did spend a lot of time talking about Lisa, and her effects on them. Most of these conversations ended in laughter, bore more than a few ended in tears. It was a good time for father and son.
Andrew died later that year.
Devin took some time off from working on the journal, but eventually went back to it in order to find out what the final machine did. The previous machines had the effects on the world listed after the designs, but the pages that came after the final machine’s design were strangely blank. Devin had no clue how this could be, but every scenario he could come up with ended in very bad ways. Was the machine going to destroy everything? Was it going to be the machine that the world went to war over? Was it going to negate all of the good that the other three machines had created? No matter what, the best scenario he could come up with was that the machine just didn’t work. But why had whoever wrote the journal not just said that the machine didn’t work? Why not some sort of warning? Why nothing?
Devin couldn’t wrap his mind around it, but due to his curious nature, which he had inherited from his father, he decided to build the machine anyway. When the time came, he thought that he may not even turn the thing on. He wasn’t sure, but he still wanted to see it completed. During the entire process, Devin made sure to keep meticulous notes in his journal, even improving upon the ones that he had copied from the old journal. He worked for nearly six months on the device, and when it was finished, it had incorporated designs from the other three devices. It had the generator’s power source, the capacitor’s ability to be self-sustaining, and the scanner’s sensitive detection sensors, but it was still light and fairly compact. Devin couldn’t begin to guess what the device would do, but when he was going over the notes in both journals, and trying to decide what he should do to the machine, the decision was taken out of his hands.
Devin was deep in thought when he noticed a low humming in his workshop. It was so low and insistent that it took him a minute to realize he had been hearing it for some time. After hunting for the cause of the hum, he found that the machine was the culprit. While he was looking at the machine and trying to figure out why it was making the noise, the sound went from a low hum to an insistent pulse. Not only was it pulsing, but the sound was speeding up. Devin wasn’t sure he wanted to be there when the device did whatever it was powering up for, so he started to run out of the room. As he was passing through the door, he remembered the journals lying by the machine on the workbench. He had just enough time to turn, spot the journals, and take a step towards them when he was blinded by a flash of light. When his vision cleared, he expected to see half of his workshop blown up, but all he saw was a scorch mark where the machine had been. He walked over to the bench in order to write in the journal that the machine has simply disintegrated itself when he noticed that both of the journals had gone up with the machine. He was so glad that he had made copies. He went to his office to pull a copy to write his observations in.
The flash of light and sound of thunder surprised Andrew, especially given that it was a clear summer day, and no rain was expected.
© Copyright 2016 CharlesLeeMcCabe. All rights reserved.
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