Prologue – Dunstable, UK 1840


Dunstable 1840

It was evening and dinner was being served at the two story house on the corner of Third Avenue and C Street in Dunstable. The house was white and was surrounded by a porch.  Inside was fine furniture and many gadgets that the owners had added over time. There was a water pump in the kitchen. Each room had a voice pipe. There was a dumbwaiter for transporting laundry from the second floor to the first. The lot was also large and had a garden that was the envy of all in town. The woman of the house had spent significant time choosing plants, cultivating, caring for and even hybridizing the plants in the well-ordered lot. She had a disdain for her agrarian upbringing, but the garden showed there was still a bit of farm in the girl.

Inside, dinner was being eaten by the family: mother, father and baby son. It was Wednesday night and nothing special was on the menu: ham, asparagus, and potatoes. Asparagus was now in season and fresh from the garden as were the potatoes. A light hollandaise sauce that the maid and mother had worked on together had covered the asparagus. Neither had learned much cooking and both now felt the need to learn. The beginning meals had gone poorly as a result. Learning had been difficult partly because of the lack of experience and partly because of the woman’s prickly personality.  But help from a friend who was a cook at a local pub helped with one and a new son had helped with the other.

The woman had started to recognize that her expectations of people were frequently unreasonable and unfair. She was learning that people were happier if she could let those go. And people being happier mattered to her husband. He had made it clear that his boy would not be subject to her unreasonable  expectations and his boy would be a farmer if that was his heart’s desire. The thought had appalled her (as was intended), but the man was insistent and persistent and she had learned to love seeing the boy play in the garden and messing with his food (as he was doing now). Her son was happy and she had decided that was important.

The meal was finished and they enjoyed the last of their glasses of wine. The husband said in a strong Northern accent full of rolling Rs and short on hard consonants, “I thin’ we should be able ta’ isolate the matter tonight. Your theory ha’ been solid from the beginning and the electronics are holding up. The storm tonight ‘ll help us get over the edge.”

The wife’s accent was Southern working class from the farmlands where she grew up. “Then here is to success tonight,” she said and raised her glass. The baby gurgled happily at the clinking of the glasses. “I need to tuck Jason away first. “ She turned and called into the kitchen, “Moira, please clear the dishes. I will see to Jason. Sean and I will be working late in the lab so try to take care of any matters with Jason on your own. Ring the bell only if you must.“  The wife, now mother, cleaned the baby’s face and gathered him up as the maid cleared the dishes.  Mother and child headed up the stairs to the nursery.

The nursery held the usual crib and bassinet. The mother set Jason in the crib and then used a speaking tube[1]  on the wall, “Sean, bring up some warm water. Jason needs a wash.” She removed the shirt and trousers from the child. His nappies had been changed earlier in the day, but were clearly due. She removed the offending diapers and set them in a covered pail. She set the boy down on the floor and the child toddled around the room naked giggling. “Come here you little stinker, “ she said playfully and chased him about the room for a bit. The husband arrived with a pitcher of warm water and cold water. He poured the warm water into the basin and then a bit of the cool. The mother lifted the boy up and set him down in the bassinet and started to rinse him down. The child wasn’t bothered by the water and enjoyed the attention. The dark ceiling had stars painted in silver with the shapes of the constellations. On one of the walls, a chalk slate was installed that was as yet unused by the child. There was a small wardrobe of clothes. The boy grew so fast that there were few items in it. The father dried the boy and put a new set of nappies on. The mother commented, “Your reputation will be ruined at the pub if they find out you change him.”

“Tis’ no work and why should ye’ have all the fun?”

“It seems the fun I get is taking nappies off and I always seem to get to do that.”

The father tickled his son a bit and said, “Really? I’ve not noticed that.” He lifted the child up and set him in the crib. Each parent kissed the child good night told him to be a good boy for Moira and they left him when the maid arrived with a book and a chair. The maid would take the boy out of the crib and let him play a bit after the parents had left. He would be ready for sleep then.

The couple headed down the stairs and left the house through the kitchen.  The rain and wind were significant now with trees bending and sheets of rain coming down.  There was a pathway to a locked work shed that was perhaps 20’ by 20’. Most would have thought that it contained garden tools. There was another shed for those. The inside of this shed was lit with gas lamps and had tables lining the edges as well as a large work table down the middle.  Along the outer edge were a variety of activities that had nothing to do with gardening or wood working.

One station had a series of plants. The woman was studying the effects of different fertilizers. Another station clearly had chemicals and a burner.  The man was looking at the purification of certain metals from ore. There was a microscope on the center table. Another station close to the window had a set of prisms and lenses that, during the day, would test of effects of color on different materials.  Close to a double set of doors was a large portable reflecting telescope. It was a Cassegrain[2] design which allowed for a larger mirror with a shorter tube.

The couple proceeded to the end of the shed where a spiral stair case led down into a basement. First they donned their safety equipment. There were the standard lab coats. Both had leather aprons and leather head coverings. Each had smoked goggles with adjustable iris to protect their eyes from fragments and from light.  Having dressed for the activity, they headed down the spiral stair case. More experiments were housed here. These were powered by electricity that was generated from a set of Daniel Cells[3] and Leyden jars that were stacked along the wall. The Leyden jars[4] collected charge from the air and lightning and allowed a quick high voltage electrical discharge. The more Leyden jars one has, the larger the discharge. This set was stacked 20 high and ran 10 feet along the wall. They each checked the connections to the primitive batteries and jars. The equipment was going to be severely test tonight.  Having verified their power source, they entered the main experiment chamber and closed a large and heavy wooden door behind them.

The woman commanded, “Goggles on.”

The man responded, “Goggles on. Raisin’ lightin’ rods,” and he began to turn a series of hand cranks. A tall copper pole was rising above the shed. One already was attached to the house and a third was attached to the garden shed.  Heavy wires would shunt the lightning charges to the Leyden cells that would regulate the flow of electricity to the batteries.  Thunder started booming and a bolt of lightning hit the first rod. The woman observed the gages tracking the charge strength of the batteries. More and more lightning strikes hit the poles. Even in their basement, the noise was loud. It must have been all the more so for the child and maid. The woman reminded herself to give the maid a day off tomorrow. Working for this family wasn’t easy.  She read the gauge and shouted “75% charge” over the din of the storm.

“Venting chamber,” the man shouted back and a hand crank created a vacuum inside a large bell jar. Inside the jar was a complex of intertwined brass and silver loops. “50% evacuation”

“85% charge.” The bolts of lightning continued hitting the rods and charging the batteries.

“85% evacuation. Starting  Toepler pump[5].” The man started a second crank on a complex set of tubes that pulled gas through mercury in a one way action. The mercury itself was heated to make extraction faster and more complete.

“95% charge – start the rotation sequence”

“Tha’ chamber han’t finished venting,” the man shouted in protest.

“Start it. We’ll be overwhelmed with power if we don’t start using it.”

The man engaged a switch and the loops started to spin. “93% evacuation – we need at least 98% if this’ll work.”

“I know dearest, I did the calculations while you watched. Try tuning up the heat on the pump or find a blower to increase the heat exchange,” she shouted back.

“Don’t start the next sequence until we reach my mark,“ he shouted back over the rising din. He scrambled around the room and found a mechanized bellows. He turned the heat up and started blowing air on the coils of the heat exchange for the pump. “96%  – its going faster. Smart idea love. “

“Thank you dearest. 99% charge – the Leydens will start popping soon if we don’t start using it.”

The man counted as the gauge fell, “98%, 99% start phase II”

The woman flipped a set of switches and the loops started turning faster blending the silver and brass into one color.  “Field activity rising, “ she shouted. The loops caused a loud whine in the room.

“Ready to add Helium gas, ” the man shouted

“Field activity is still rising…wait. I’m increasing power.” She turned a knob and the silver brass loops now looked like a ball they were moving so fast. “Add the Helium”

“Helium added”

The woman flipped a switch and said “moving current through peroskvite crystal”. At the center of the now whirring ball was a perovskite crystal [6]that was enhanced with Barium, Copper and a relatively newly discovered element called Yttrium.

The man said, “I am seeing flashes. Add more current.”

She adjusted dials, “90% charged and falling”

He called back, “it’s brighter – it will hold more current. Add it. ”

She adjusted the dials and watched the falling charge indicator with concern. Suddenly the room went bright white. At the center of the loops floated a glowing orb that seemed to throb. The man said, “It’s holding – we trapped some.”

The woman replied, “Charge is falling… loop structure …is steady. “

“Yes,” the man exclaimed loudly “the captured matter is powering the loops on its own”

The woman looked over some gauges, “Measuring output – heat is rising.” There was a strain in her voice.  At that moment, there was a loud bang at the door.  Both looked at the door and the banging became more insistent.  The man had a look of concern.

She shouted, “heat is still rising, but the rate of increase is slowing. Is there something I should know?” The glowing orb now had an almost rainbow look. Colors were shifting through the spectrum.  The man began shifting shelves towards the door.

He came over, “I’m not sure, but nothing good. There is trouble on the other side of the door. We may need to defend ourselves here.” The bangs had changed and were now large and loud thumps as if someone was ramming the door.

“What the hell is going on?” she demanded amidst the din.

“I don’t know dear. It could be any number of things. I am sure we’ll find out when they break through the door.” He was pushing a large table in her direction towards the control panel.

A shout came through the door, “Mr. O’Neill open up the door and we’ll let the woman go. But you owes us a bit.”

She looked at him appalled. “This is over a card game?”

“I very much doubt that dear,” he said shoving the table between her and the door.

“Give us the Omicron. The owner was most upset. There is quite a reward for you and the Omicron.” The door splintered a bit.

“Omicron?” she asked.

“Something I made before we met.”  He shouted through the door, “It isn’t here. Contact me in the usual fashion and we’ll talk.” He rocked the table down forming a barrier to the splintering door.

“The reward for you is almost as much as it is for you and the device. If we can’t have both, we’ll settle for one. ” A splintered hole appeared in the door. A gloved hand tossed a small spherical object in the room.

“Martha, cover behind the table and cover your ears. “ The woman was angry, but knew his tone and got behind the table. That man moved in that direction when the most unearthly sound erupted. The man staggered a foot or two and collapsed.  The woman held her ears but felt faint. She could see the rings starting to shake and wobble at the noise. The orb was taking a nasty yellow red tone. The door splintered more. She struggled to pull the man behind the table.  She was getting more light headed. The wobble on the captured material was growing worse.  Finally, she pulled the man all the way behind the table.

She reached up and set the dial to full power. The spinning wheels whined in protest. The door banged again in the middle. The light flashed brighter now in blues and violets. The door burst open and three men stepped through. But the disruption of the door was enough to push the spinning device over the edge. There was a squeal and a bright flash and the wheels flew apart in every direction like so much shrapnel. The jar exploded and the energy of the orb blew through the floor and ceiling above.  The inch thick protecting safety shield between the couple and the experiment was shoved back hard and grew incredibly hot. The woman passed out from the noise and explosion.

The three men saw the glowing orb briefly and then might have seen its decay. But, when the spinning wheels and containment field collapsed, pieces of the glass jar and the wheels sprayed out. They were wearing armored suits and that prevented punctures. But it did not save them from the flash of matter from the center of the galaxy. The three were blasted back out the door and against the far wall and fell, burnt beyond recognition.

The heat had triggered the fire suppression device the man had installed earlier this year and the room started filling with water.  That seemed to be enough to cool the out of control reaction.  The falling water also revived the man who looked up through the hole in the ceiling to see a circle of lights hovering. He groaned as two more people came through the hole in a platform and then pulled him and his wife onto the platform. Too weak to fight, too wet, burned in too many places, he passed out.

The ship gathered as much debris as possible via some magnetic device. But Lanterns started approaching from down the street and the operators of the strange floating ship did not want any more attention. The ship shot upwards in a discharge of heat and light. The house broke and caught fire in the ship’s wake. The leaves of the bushes and trees were stripped bare. The water in the basement boiled. In the house a woman could be heard screaming for help and a small baby was crying.

 

[1] Speaking tubes were used in conjunction with bells to manage requests from servants. The tubes were extensive used in maritime ventures and were part of early aviation.

[2] Cassegrain reflecting telescopes were introduced shortly after Newton’s original reflector telescope in 1678. Cassegrain design was a significant improvement by reducing the length of the tube and allowing for larger mirrors.

[3] Daniel Cells were the first electrochemical batteries created by John Frederic Daniel in 1836.

[4] Leyden Jars “stored” static electricity between two conducting materials and glass. They were discovered by Pieter Von Musshenbroek of Leiden (Leyden) and were named after the town.

[5] The Toepler pump was an early “natural” piston pump. The mercury would boil trapping gas pulling it down in a one way valve fashion.

[6] Perovskite is a high pressure mineral typically created at the center of the earth but can be found in volcanic rocks around the world. When “enhanced” with the elements mentioned, it becomes a high temperature super conductor

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9 thoughts on “Prologue – Dunstable, UK 1840

  1. Pingback: Published! | The Finder's Saga

  2. Hello! Got your link and started reading your stuff. I figured I’d start at the beginning, and prologues are about as beginning as they get.

    First off, the ideas you have here are well thought out, you give as much information as you can, especially when using terms people might not get. So far, it looks pretty good, and I can’t see any problem with the storytelling itself.

    There were a couple things regarding the style I thought I’d mention, if it’s not a bother.

    When I was studying journalism, we were taught to avoid passive writing unless it was necessary. Use of “had” in the past tense was usually the most common one, often before a verb in things like “had been”, “had done”, that sort of thing. We were taught that because when writing for a newspaper it can take up more space than necessary, but also because, as the name suggests, it gives a more passive feeling to the piece. I only bring this up because there were a few places where “were” or “did” could be used instead and still communicate the same thing, but otherwise it’s not especially necessary, as it could have been a stylistic choice.

    The man also dropped his accent after a while. Not really a problem, since you explained what he was supposed to sound like, it’s just a change in the writing style I started to notice by the end, and wondered if I missed something.

    The last thing I noticed was some word repetition in spots where it may not have been necessary.

    Sorry it’s not much of a critique, the things I mentioned are low priority to say the most. I found everything else did exactly what it needed to for the opening of a story. The characters were not left one-dimensional, the setting was established, a conflict was clearly introduced through the Omicron… the only things I was able to spot were some sentence structures that could use some tightening up, but that could be the journalism student in me, who is even now editing this critique.

    It’s kind of late here now, so I’ll give the first chapter a read later. Probably tomorrow. Anyway, hope I was helpful. Hopefully I’ll be able to a more useful analysis of the next part.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate the consistency questions. That is always something I work on. I am not a linguist and accents are hard to replicate in writing well. As for the passive voice issue – I struggle with that. First off, I tend to write in that. I look for it in my technical writing and remove it. However, my recollection is that novels of the 19th century had characters heavily in the “passive” voice. I could be wrong in that assumption. I will watch. Active is always cleaner and easier to read.

      Like

      • That’s fair enough, really. I personally don’t have much of a problem with passive writing, but there are a couple spots where it can mess with your flow a little bit. I managed to not read more of your stuff yet, so I’ll be looking at it soon.

        Like

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