Short Story by: mykaitch
“So what nonsense are you reading today Ensign?” asked Captain Clark amiably as she entered the Ship’s canteen and spotted the young Ensign, deeply engrossed as usual in a paperback novel. The Ensign looked up with a grin at his Captain and replied “Oh, its another Science fiction story ma’m, this one is by a British guy named Faraday, Michael Faraday.”
There was an easy going relationship aboard the United States Steamship Enterprise between the Captain, the Officers and the enlisted men (and women). With missions often lasting years it was vital that the crew worked as one from the helm right down to the stokers who kept the vast boilers at the heart of the ship, alight. The USS Enterprise had been in deep space now for just over a year and any day now was due to turnabout and head back for home. Ensign Edison was the youngest Ensign in the fleet and thought himself amazingly lucky to be taking his first deep space trip with the legendary Captain Jane T. Clark.
“So tell me young Edison” the Captain continued, “What is today’s tale all about ? We had some yarn about..” she paused a moment to try and recall the story”..ah yes, now how did it go, some idea that we could sit in our homes one day and actually see people on some sort of a screen, wasn’t it ?”
“Television” said Edison.
“Television. Yes that was it, sort of a box thing.” She laughed again, “As if. But hey, its good to have an escape channel, and you know sometimes that strangest of things come true – look at Bill Gates for example”.
“Yes, but he is really smart” said Edison, excited by any discussion that included the iconic Bill Gates, “He said that one day every home would have its own Steam Calculation Engine, and by God he made good on that dream. MicroSteam is the biggest supplier in the World now, why we couldn’t be here but for him and..”
“Whoa young man” said the Captain, stopping him in mid stream,” I only came here for a coffee. We’d be here all day if we talked about Bill Gates. So what does this Feriddee guy have in store for us ?”
“Fariday” corrected Edison, ”He has this idea that somehow we could run things by just joining wires together and something he calls a ‘current’ is actually inside the wire, and its this current thing that will make engines work. Far fetched eh ma’m ?” he offered.
“Well to me it is a bit wild. I mean, you look at that” She pointed to a tube that ran right through the centre of the galley. The tube was 10 feet in diameter and a myriad of tiny tubes ran from it giving the appearance of a silver vine.” Now that we can figure. We know for sure that inside that is super-heated steam at incredible pressure; the very blood of this great ship. Its a captive force and it is inside that tube. Now, you take a piece of wire. Well for one thing wire is solid so how do you expect to put anything inside it ? “
“I think Fariday means that his power is not quite like we know it; he seems to say that it is some kind of invisible force.”
“Hah! Well next you’ll be talking Death Rays and all that other stuff” laughed the Captain,”and how is your hobby coming along Thomas? I hear you have been pestering Chief Engineer Scott for time in his workshop again?”, she asked, her use of his Christian name deliberate; she had a fondness for this shy young Ensign.
Chief Engineer Scott ran all the engineering on the ship. In his spare time Ensign Edison liked to experiment with a few ideas he had, often his own imagination was fired up by the stories he liked to read. As a result he was always trying to cadge a few hours in the Ship’s workshops so that he could fabricate some machine or other.
Edison blushed.”Well ma’m, Mr Scott has been a bit busy of late but I am hoping to get some time later this week”.
“I’ll have a word with Scottie” she said, using the familiar name she always used when talking to the Chief Engineer, ”see what I can do”, she said with the slightest of winks, and with that she left Edison to continue reading his book. Had she looked closer she would have seen that what Edison was reading was not in fact a book, rather a handsomely bound copy of a presentation that had been made to England’s Royal Scientific Society.
Back on the bridge The Captain organised the most important task of the day, of every day. A message bullet must be prepared and despatched. These ‘bullets’ were loaded with written reports and fired back on a trajectory that was reckoned to take them all the way back home. There was a world wide law that any message bullet found must be reported, and large rewards were made for those that were. As a result any bullet that did, by some miracle, reach land and get discovered was always given up. In one hundred and twelve years of Space exploration only seven bullets had ever been returned to the Space Federation HQ. It was a very hit and miss business and Captain Clark was not the first Captain, not even the first person to idly wonder how amazing it would be if somehow, there could be communication both ways. As it was, this was the stuff of the books read by Ensign Edison, One such story was written by a writer who was widely ridiculed for his insistence that his ideas might some day happen (although Edison was never one of those laughing). The author, Arthur Clarke( with an ‘e’, no relation to Captain Clark), had written a story in which he suggested a number of Ships, each in a fixed orbit (Geo-stationary he called it) such that between them they could cover the whole planet, and through this network anybody could communicate with anybody. He didn’t say how, and most people imagined a vast spaghetti of steam telegraph tubes, each going up into the sky and connecting to the Clarkian Ships, or ‘satellites’ in Clarke’s words. Of course, the whole thing was far fetched, but it was entertaining.
Today’s bullet was now ready, the Science Officer having checked the messages that were to be sent. “Okay to fire Mr Speck?” asked the Captain of her Science Officer.
“I see no reason to delay” replied Speck, pushing forward the lever to fire the steam cannon and sending another hope back home. “Message sent”, he finished.
“Thank you Speck” said the Captain, “Can you call Scottie for me ?” she added.
A few moments later the hailing tube next to the Captain’s chair emitted a short whistle. Clark picked it up, “Hello, Scottie. How are things in the engine room ?”
Scottie’s heavy accent sometimes made his words hard to follow and today was no exception, ”Och Jane, tis hard tee say. I dinna think the main boiler can take much more of this.”
“Aye, problem. We have some warp steam left but if we dinna get some new ‘o’ rings soon she’s gonna blow”.
“Do we have impulse steam?”
“Aye, that we do, but it’ll take us months to reach the nearest planet if we use impulse”.
“Well its your call Scottie. I had called for another reason but it seems this is a bad time”
“Och away with yer lassie, when is it a good time ?”
“Can you fit in an hour or two for Ensign Edison?”
“Aye,if he keeps ooota ma way, he’ll be noo trouble”.
“Thanks Scottie. Keep me informed”, said the Captain, closing the tube and fitting it back into its clip.
“Mr Checkup” she said to her navigator whose desk was just below the bridge. Set a course for Delta 3”.
“Aye, aye” replied Checkup, his fingers pushing and pulling levers to cross connect the complex steam tube maze that navigated the Ship.
“Ahead, impulse only”, ordered the Captain.
“Aye, aye” replied Checkup.
Some hours later Edison finished his shift (and his ‘book’) and was rushing down to Engineering. He was met by a heavily sweating Scottie who directed him to a far corner saying “Ye can set up over there laddie, just keep oot of the way fer now, and dinnae forget your stickies”, and Scottie turned back to the console he was working.
In most areas of the Ship an artificial gravity field was maintained which allowed the crew to move about and work quite freely. In the less used areas there was no gravity field which helped to reduce demands on the steam plant, but this lack of gravity meant that to move around required the wearing of a pair of ‘Stickies’. Stickies were boots soled with a special metal that was attracted to the metal of the Ship, thus the wearer walked as if he had sticky feet. Curiously, apart from its uses in Navigation, no other use had been made of the naturally occurring mineral.
Edison made his way over to the corner of the workshop and laid his book upon the empty bench. Over the next few hours be slowly gathered bits and bobs from all over the ship, and the once clear surface that he had started with was soon lost under a jumble of, well junk. For once, Scottie was content with his boilers had wandered over to see what Edison was up to. “What’s all this then laddie ? Tis one glorious mess to be sure.” He said with a friendly smile.
“Well Sir, its what I have been reading, here” replied Edison, offering his report to Scottie. Scottie opened it and scanned a few pages, then with a shake of his head he handed it back and said” One thing ah doo ken young Edison is this, ye canna change the laws of physics”, and with that he wandered off, heading for the Ship’s bar. Meanwhile, Edison continued to work. He had assembled a row of empty jars (pillaged from the galley) and was pouring a liquid carefully into each. Odd bits of wire led from the jars to another odd contraption that appeared to have been rigged from a huge bundle of binding wire, the broken handle from a winch, a jumble of gear wheels and strangest of all, the cut off soles from a pair of stickies.
Suddenly, the General Alarm klaxon sounded and the lights all reduced to a dim glow. Within seconds Scottie’s personal call whistle beeped and he grabbed the communication tube to talk to The Captain.
Lighting on the vast Ship functioned exactly the same as lighting back home. It had long been discovered (by one Theodore Osram) that low pressure steam could be ‘doped’ with the addition of a particular substance, and that when this so called light steam came into contact with another substance, light was produced in proportion to the steam pressure – it was the basis of all light devices and the principle was taught in every school on the Planet. Lithium was processed to create light steam, and anti-lithium was used to re-act with it and produce light. The process produces cold light, there is no heat at all. Both substances were extracted from a single crystalline form, Dilithium.
“Problem Scottie?” asked The Captain, for the second time that day.
“Aye, and its bad. Its the dilithium crystals ye ken”
“Can you fix it”
“Both ma crystals are cracking up right doon the middle. I cannae fix that”.
“Any ideas? “, asked the Captain, some urgency in her voice now,” We’re heading for Delta 4. Can you get new crystals there ?”
“Delta 4 ? Aye, plenty there, but they’ll be straight oot the groond and we will have tae shape them here on The Enterprise. Can we reach there in time Jane?”
“Mr Speck!” Jane called to the Science Officer,”Let’s get to engineering and see if we can rig some kind of a light source. Mr Checkup, you have the bridge”.
Speck’s lip curled up at the left, exposing his green teeth. Speck was not entirely human and this expression was common among his people when in deep thought. Speck turned to the crew close to him and assigned authority in his absence concluding with “Speck is leaving the Bridge”, and the trio made their way to engineering.
The three of them, Scottie, Speck and Clark stood at Scottie’s console throwing ideas around, searching for a short term fix and the lights continued to dim. In the far corner of the workshop, Edison began to crank a handle. There was the sound of a loud crack, not unlike the sound made by a calving iceberg, and both dilithium crystals split into two identical pieces, another property of the element. Unfortunately, when dilithium calves, it also loses all its special properties becoming little more than a decoration. The lights went out and the entire ship was plunged into an oily darkness, and Ensign Edison continued to crank.
Quite unexpectedly, from the farthest corner of engineering, a dim glow began to emanate. Dim at first then slowly getting brighter, brighter, even brighter – the whole area a glowing with light. Light bounced off dials, created black shadows under vast boilers, sparkled from the maze of shiny steam tubes, it was magnificent. And still Edison cranked. The three officers looked at each other in amazement ( well except for Speck who knew no emotion so he just curled his lip up again and said, ”Interesting”). They made their way over to a now heavily perspiring Edison, who was still cranking. It was Scottie who spoke first.
“What in the name of mother of god have ye got there laddie!” he exclaimed.
“Currents Sir” said Edison, gasping for breath now.
“Currents ye say! Stand aside and let me crank a while”, and Scotties took over the handle.
“Its okay Sir” said Edison, “We should be okay for about half an hour now until my Current Store runs low”, he pointed at all the jars, strung together on the bench.
“Hmm, fascinating” said Speck as he examined the apparatus.
“So this is what you have been up to” said Clark, smiling at Edison,”you may very well have saved The Enterprise young man. Can you explain all this to us”
“If I may, Jane” interrupted Speck. “It appears that the handle turns some gears and attached to the gears are those Sticky soles. Observe, as the soles spin they rotate inside that big coil of wire. Some kind of force, Currents if you will, seems to be generated and young Edison here catches it in those jars. Its quite simple really”.
“Glad you think so Speck. So what about the light ?” asked Jane.
“Ah, that’s the very smart bit” said Speck “ as far as I can surmise it seems to be coming from this jar” and Speck leaned over to pick up a jar that was shining like a tiny captive sun. He gasped and withdrew his hand as he felt the heat it gave off, “Most interesting” he said, “The light source appears to give off heat as well”.
“Yes, it does Sir”, said Edison, answering the unasked question.” Inside the jar is a tiny wire that glows white hot when the Currents are there, so we get light and heat.”
“But why doesn’t your wire burn out Edison” asked Jane.
“I sealed the Jar in an air-lock, so there is no air in the jar”, he replied.
“Clever, Edison. Very smart indeed”, said Jane, “ I think you have a bright future young man.”
“Ma’m. This might not be the right time but about that future ?”
“Yes, go ahead. You just saved the ship. I think I can find some time for you.”
“Well Ma’m. When we get back home, its just that, well I, err”
“Come on Thomas, what do you want ?”
“I would like to leave the service, so set up a company and make more things.”
She thought a moment and nodded her head.” You would be a great loss to the service but I think if we kept you it might be a greater loss to mankind. Tell me, what is that contraption ?” she asked, pointing to another assortment of scavenged parts.
“Thank you ma’m. That ? Of that’s not finished yet, I can’t get it to work, steam pressure is all wrong. I have been trying to keep a record of steam use. I call it a phonograph. I might get it working one day”.
“And this company of yours. Any ideas what you want to call it yet ?”
“Well, I admire the work of another Brit, Sir Isaac Newton. I thought I might set up The Newton Current Company, who knows, one day I might rival Microsteam!”
“Indeed you might” said Speck. Joining the conversation, ”but if my Earth history is correct (which it always was), Newton discovered gravity by observing the fall of an apple whilst sitting in his orchard, did her not ?”
“Yes sir ?”
“Perhaps you might call your company, The Apple Company. Has a ring to it don’t you think ?”
“Hmm. Yes sir, it does sound better. But how about, just Apple ?” said Edison,
“Apple ? “ Yes, that does sound quite good and still has its hidden connection to Newton.”
So it was that millions of miles from Earth a young Ensign named Edison founded Apple Inc. The light began to dim and Edison grabbed the crank.
“Dinnae fret laddie. Ah’ll soon have yon crank fitted tae a steam shaft and it can turn forever” said Scottie, already tinkering with a spanner, about to create the world’s first hydro-electric plant.
“Take a note Mr Solo, Captain’s Log, star date 316912.8, USS Enterprise ”began Captain Clark,” We are some distance from Delta 4. We have lost both dilithium crystals. A young Ensign has invented a device that gives us better light than we have ever seen before, and it affords some heat too. More details in Science Officer Speck’s report. Accordingly, Ensign Thomas Albert Edison is awarded the rank Lieutenant (junior grade) and the new position of Ship’s Inventor. It is with much regret that I have also accepted the resignation of this fine young man, effective when we reach Earth.”
Clark turned back to her helmsman. “Mr Solo”, belay that course for Delta 4. Set in a course for Earth. We’re going home”.
© Copyright 2017 mykaitch. All rights reserved.