Dunstable, July 1862
Jason and Stephan headed to the workshop after breakfast. The assembly sat on the work table covered with a cloth. It consisted of a box three feet wide, four feet long and about a foot deep. There was a water inlet towards the top and on the left and a water outlet on the right at the bottom. Both had levers to cut off flow if necessary (Stephan had said it was a useful feature for maintenance). The gas line came in on the left side low again with a shut off valve. Along the top edge was the exhaust for the gas. Under the cloth on the front face on the lower left was an access panel to Jason’s solenoid and the primary lighting assembly. The box was black enamel. Stephan pulled off the cloth showing fancy script letters with brass embossing that said “McNeil and Co Water Heater” and in the bottom right was a brass embossed “no. 1”.
Jason looked at the box and was a bit choked up. “When did that happen?”
Stephan smiled through his beard, “Last night when you were finishing the dishes. Jolene and Peter applied a bit o’ polish.”
“I don’t remember the signage on the cover,” Jason said in a whisper.
Stephan put his hand behind his head as if to scratch and said, “Ah well, there was a bit left over on our budget from the metal smith. Luke was surprisingly generous although he said something about ‘discount on first run’. I missed the full details of that me’ self.“
Jason continued to stare at the black box with his name on it. “Wow. It looks so much better than I could have done.”
“Nonsense lad. You did this and I only helped a bit. And now you know what proper pride is. That solenoid system is damn safer and cheaper than a pilot. I just added the plumbing,” Stephan clapped his hand on Jason’s shoulder.
Jason sniffed a bit a, “’just added the pluming’ my ass. I wouldn’t have gotten past drawing without you. Now I’ve got a proper lump in my throat. It’s just a water heater.”
Stephan said quietly in his ear, “Nay, it’s your water heater – no damn grade, just your name. Think it will pass?”
Jason wiped his eyes on his sleeve, “It better or Jolene will chain me to the sink and I don’t care to think what she will do to you.”
Stephan laughed and said, “I’m not worried. She’s ordered #2 for the washroom and a proper tub. We’re going to need a workshop in a bit.“
“Well we won’t know for sure until we get this monster hung properly,” Jason said.
“You’re right on that. I think we are going to need a bit of help to get it out and onto the brackets. I’ll go fetch Peter and Stephanie,” Stephan left with a turn and went out of the office.
With Stephan gone, Jason ran his fingers over the smooth enamel surface. The embossed lettering was slightly raised. He wondered what his Aunt and Uncle would think of this after the argument. Then in an odd thought, he wondered what his parents would think. Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs of thought, he looked inside the access box. The wires (though uncolored) were neatly bundled as Stephan had told him. A label on each gave the lead and terminal. Stephan had said such things matter and was starting to see why. If the heater ever needed replacement, no one need get a burn or electrocution in trying to figure out the right wires to pull. Stephan, Stephanie and Peter returned and surrounded the box which weighed close to 300 pounds. Stephan distributed the lifters with himself and Jason opposite at the base, while Peter and Stephanie were at the top and mostly steadying the heavy box. On three, they lifted and moved to the door. The door was too narrow for all four so Jason and Stephan carried the full weight. Amidst grunting on Stephan’s and Jason’s part, the assembly was angled through the door. Stephan cursed something about “his own damn workshop” and the device was through and weight distributed to all four again. They moved to the sink and set it down on one while Jason and Stephan paused and caught their breath. Stephan then provided directions. “Jason and I will take each end. You two get in the middle and push up. Use your legs; arms and back won’t be enough. Jason and I will stand on boxes and winkle it into place. “
Jolene stopped her chopping and moved over to supervise and help. With groaning and straining, the box was lifted to the necessary height and then tipped gently towards the wall and landed with a bit of a clank.
“All together – LIFT” Stephan commanded. The box shifted up; the brackets on the back slipped over the brackets fastened to the wall in a tongue in grove fashion. “Jason, push your side to me.” Jason shoved and the box seated itself. The water pipes and gas pipe on the left pushed together. “Alright folks, hold it in place while I seal these lines. Jason get the flashing and attach the vent to the furnace. Jason got the tin sheet and covered the venting tube. Stephan had set up a soldering iron on the sink shelf. Jason started bracketing the sheet in place in preparation for the solder. Stephan used a blow torch to seal the pipes protecting his eyes as he worked. Smoke rose from the welding and soldering and Jolene shouted imprecations and general threats. Stephan smiled a bit as Jolene alternately cursed and wailed sorrow while she ran around the room throwing towels on bread, vegetables and other food items. The welding and soldering done, each used a hand drill to make holes for the anchor screws. Using a 3/8” bit, Jason drilled six holes in studs.
“If the brackets are holding this thing, why do you need screws, Stephan?” Peter asked.
“I will not have this fall off the wall. If it did, there would be fire and explosion. The brackets hold the weight, those screws will keep it to the wall. Jason, use the wrench to screw the bolts in.”
Jason began screwing the fat screws. It was tight despite the predrilling. Peter grabbed a ladder and tried putting screws in. Stephan grabbed a set of pliers and screwed in all the screws on the bottom of the device. The three finished and the final brackets with tightened in place.
Stephan said, “That’s set. Now Jason grab those pipe pieces and the faucet and we’ll get the waterline completed.” Stephanie and Jason grabbed the piping and handed it to Stephan who quickly set the pipes in place. The faucet and pipe were secured with strips of metal to the wall or sink. Plumbing done, Stephan said, “Let’s check for water leaks.” He opened the left valve and rushing water could be heard through the box. He opened the right and more rushing could be heard as well as some knocking. “We’ll have to work on that” he said. The pipe on the outside all seemed dry. The weld appeared to be holding well. He opened the faucet and a whoosh of air and then water came out. Stephan opened the electronics access panel and looked closely. The pipes in the system had been pressure tested, but jostling does things and it was best to be safe with water and electrics. There were no drops or moisture. He turned to Jason and said, “Your turn lad.”
Jason looked in the access hatch and flicked the override button. He lit a match and held it to a hole in the panel and waited for moment and the sound of the gas lighting.. Stephan felt the vent which was going warm. Jason opened a said access panel and looked in. “Good mixture – everything is blue. Looks good.”
“Then let’s fire this beast up” Stephan said loudly.
Jason flipped off the override and the gas stopped flowing. He got a pail and some soap in it.
“What is that for?” Jolene asked.
“The dishes will need cleaning” he said.
“My kitchen first you lump,” she said prompting a round of laughter. Jason turned on the water which was initially cool but then got warm and then hot. Jason jumped around and shouted “Yes, Yes.” The others saw the steam and felt the water and then clapped hands and whooped. Peter thumped Jason on the back. Stephanie gave Jason a hug. For a moment Jason was overwhelmed again and pulled a hanky and sneezed into it. Jolene seem to be wiping her eyes and then gave Jason a hug and whispered in his ear , “number two in my bathroom.” Jason laughed and turned to Stephan who grabbed his hand and shook it hard saying, “well done lad. Well done.” Jason shut off the water and listened. That gas shut down and cut off. Stephan looked at the big box and said, “never a doubt.” For moment everyone seemed to stare at the big black box.
Then Jolene clapped her hands, “Enough. My kitchen is a disaster. Stephan and Jason get those horrid tools out of here. Peter and Stephanie grab buckets and sponges. We’ll have to wipe down everything. Stephan and Jason, bring towels to dry everything down afterwards. Hip hop now!” and a flurry of activity ensued.
About an hour later, the buckets were emptied and the towels hung to dry. Stephan motioned Jason into the office. Jolene looked stern, but Stephan said something along the lines “we just need to review our notes.”
She replied, “If those notes are amber colored and wet, I might believe you. He doesn’t stay long in there and you both come out sober. There are dishes to be done with his new fangled heater.”
“And he’ll get them done, but we need to properly finish the project.” Stephan pulled Jason into the office and then looked at him and whispered, “You’ll get those dishes done won’t you?”
“It should go quicker,” he said conspiratorially.
“I thought so. Sit and we’ll do a proper celebration.” Stephan pulled the glasses and the scotch bottle out and then poured two fingers in each. He pushed a glass over to Jason and then raised his glass, “to a proper job.” They clinked glasses and each took a sip. Stephan looked around. “We’ll need to get you a proper workshop soon. We can’t keep using this place. I’ve got bills to pay,“ Stephan said.
“Thanks for helping me. I couldn’t have moved forward without your kick in my pants,” Jason said.
“Twas good to see. And a bit o’ fun to be in the game again. You think a bit like your dad, but that farm practicality was helpful. You were much better about dressing your wires than Sean ever was. And he would never wash dishes. Come to think of it, I am not sure you mum did after she married him. I think they must have just bought china unless they got the maid to do them. Ah well, to your parents would be proud.” They clinked glasses and sipped. “And to your aunt and uncle who will be and managed to raise a fine young man.” They clinked glasses again and took another swig. The glasses were only a quarter full now.
Jason mused, “I think I might be able to control the temperature with gas flow…”
“Silence! Enjoy this for a moment before you begin your grand redesigns. And file your patents. Let some lesser engineer improve your design. You have created the Instant Hot Water Heater.”
Jason bowed and said “Cheers then” and took another sip. He looked around and asked, “What else do you have stashed in this place?”
“This and that. This and That.” Stephan said elusively.
“Of course. Have a good size one with a hands free mount.”
Jason finished his drink. “Then it should be perfect for looking at that piece we found yesterday.”
Stephan sat up quickly and grumbled, “Couldn’t wait a bit longer to enjoy the glow?”
“You promised last night,” Jason said.
“Errr… fine. Fine” He went to a cabinet and pulled out a brass assembly with multiple lenses. “This was really your pa’s line of work.” The device had three lenses that could be combined to different magnifications. There was a candle with mirror on either side for illumination. “Your mum and dad used this a fair amount. I wasn’t much in to research – least wise not on anything that small. All right let’s take a look at this little bastard.”
Jason retrieved the object from Stephan’s desk. Stephan lifted the cradle and focused the light. He placed the object on the stage and pulled over the large lens. “Let’s start at lower power.”
Jason maneuvered the lens and the object was rendered large and clear. It had a grey blue color in the light. It was clearly a quarter spheroid of some sort. The general pattern reminded Jason of an orange with a hollow core. The edge was a blue silver metallic and clearly slotted. The sections seemed to have engravings on them in odd angular patters. He flipped the object and looked at the featureless exterior. There was no etching, corrosion or other evidence of weathering. Jason looked up. “This could have been dropped yesterday. “
Stephan took a look, “Titanium, Cobalt, alloy and a bit of something new to prevent that. Something that gives that hue – I would expect Iridium.”
Jason looked confused, “What is Iridium?”
“Super dense metal that is usually found on asteroids,” Stephan said as he squinted through the magnifying glass.
“Asteroids?” Jason asked.
“Urg… Rocks floating in space. Iridium is considered rare on Earth, but I’m not sure it’s been isolated yet. Boy, I told you it wasn’t from here,” Stephan said in a clipped tone.
Jason flipped it back over and picked a smaller lens with higher magnification. The increased magnification made more detail visible. Jason focused on a divider between the sections. The divider seemed to have tiny wires that emanated from it. The wires terminated in various geometric shapes. “That’s odd. They look like wires but they are impossibly small.”
“Choose your adverbs carefully. If it is there, then ‘impossibly’ is not the right word. Why do you say it looks like wires? “ Stephan said in a low tone.
“If I made it larger, they would look like the bundles you had me make in my device. They terminate in small geometric shapes,” Jason said. He knitted his eyebrows in concentration.
“Let me take a look.” Stephan stepped up and took the smallest lens and highest magnification. “Hmmm…we are looking at microelectronics for certain. That’s electronics that is done at the microscopic level. I’ve seen something like this before.” He looked up. “I am going to throw some ideas out here and see if you can keep up. You are aware that sound is made up of waves?”
“Vibrations of air. I think that goes back to Newton,” Jason said.
“I am not quizzing, boy. Now if the frequency is high enough we can’t hear it. And it if is in sufficient loudness it can cause damage,” Stephan said.
“Like the opera singer who shatters glasses,” Jason said excitedly.
“Righto – never understood why anyone wants to listen to that caterwauling. Anyway, I am fairly certain this device was made to generate a sound for incapacitating humans – it is an ultrasonic grenade. It would overcome anyone who was not protected,” Stephan said.
“Did it explode?” Jason asked.
“They don’t explode as such, which makes this little bit all the more mysterious. Something destroyed it.” Stephan squinted through the glass again and then sat up and scratched his beard. “Think about it lad. If this is broken apart, you mum and dad put a fight.”
“Would this person you and my dad dealt with be responsible?” Jason asked in a harsh tone.
“The sonic grenade is not Millicent’s style. She would more likely disrupt his investments and contracts and leave him destitute and friendless or thought to be mad,” Stephan looked thoughtful.
“Nice lady,” Jason said sardonically.
Ignoring the comment Stephan continued, “The sonic grenade means whoever this was, wanted the targets alive. Hmm… complicated. Sean may have been cheating, but I am less convinced that is what this this about.”
“I don’t understand. What are you getting at?” Jason asked.
“I said Millicent would destroy a person’s reputation, but Millicent would likely give the offender a stern talking to first. Let ‘em make amends. I would have known if Sean got that talk. Millicent would have talked to me as well to make sure I wasn’t caught up in his shenanigans. This is looking more like a snatch and that could mean several things,” Stephan said. He leaned back in the chair and rubbed his eyes.
“So they weren’t cheating (whatever that means), but someone took them. Why?” Jason asked.
“I didn’t say they weren’t, but that isn’t why they are gone. Lad, it’s a big galaxy. There are slavers. And your father was not universally loved and admired. Sean had annoyed several important types over the years. Anyone of them might have snatched him to collect old debts as it were,” Stephan said.
“So they could still be alive?,” Jason voice raised a bit on the phrase.
Stephan looked at his hands, “They probably are and mores the pity. These are harsh folk. I am not sure being alive is a blessing.” Stephan put his hands on his knees and looked up at Jason, “Someone sent a platoon, grabbed your mum and dad, and destroyed a house with people in it. They are most likely forcing your parents to do things they don’t want to do. These are not merciful folk. They may even like torture. You might want to rethink that hope of yours.”
There was quiet. “I’d like to look at that lot more closely.”
“What do ye hope to find?”
“Answers. A History. A place to build water heaters. I don’t know. But you know more from that fragment than you did 20 years of doing nothing.”
Stephan ignored the comment. “Let’s say you find something. What then? What will you do? You can’t chase these folk. They’re gone.”
“I won’t know what I will find until I look. I’ll tell you what I’ll do then. But I am short on information for a whole lot of reasons and I am tired of being in the dark,” Jason said defiantly.
“Fine,” Stephan said, “Fine. But you will be cautious. That water looks clean and clear, but we know it is dangerous. Things may look harmless or inert but they aren’t. And there will be no tests using any of my ‘special’ equipment.”
“I can live with that. I would be safe regardless, but I will be doubly so.”
“And lad, as a favor, I’d like to look over your shoulder. I’ve hid from this too long and I’ve done you no favors by hiding, but I can let you know when you’ve hit a tangle.”
“I can live with that too, but I reach my own conclusions. I was planning on visiting again tomorrow.”
“Go on your own this time. You don’t need me as a guide. If you pick up any more trinkets, use gloves,” Stephan said.
“Fair enough. I need to get caught up on dishes today. But I should have mornings and Mondays free now,“ Jason said.
“For now, but Jolene will want that second water heater.” Jason took the empty glasses and headed to the new sink for clean-up.