Somehow, I was doing more reading, studying, and test taking during the summer than I ever did at school. Amit and I both became proud holders of Technician Class amateur radio licenses. On the way back from the Knoxville Hamfest, I popped into a couple of stores, picking up some webcams in one place, and materials to build the frame for the scanner in another. I paid cash. Dad stopped at a different truck stop, and Amit downloaded the first batch of scanned books from Omnitia. That weekend, I built and tested the book scanner. Once I got into a rhythm, I could scan a good-sized book in as little as five to ten minutes. Dad had me start on some of his technical books. Amit also asked if we had a printer he could set up to use with our air-gapped laptop. Dad donated an old color inkjet from the office that he’d given up on because of the cost of the toner. Dad ordered a fresh set of toner cartridges and gave Amit the printer to use.
Monday morning arose. Amit and I were ready to begin scanning. The library didn’t open until 10am, so we decided to start scanning at the library after my class. We’d been so busy that we had yet to get started on our preparation for debate. The goal for our morning at Kudzu Joe’s was to do something about that.
We’d have to be ready to argue the affirmative, in favor of alternative energy incentives, or take the negative, against them. Toward the end of the summer our high school debate class would have a round robin tournament. We were paired up in four teams and we’d have a chance to argue once in the affirmative and once in the negative with each of the other three teams for a total of six rounds.
I always preferred taking the affirmative, because we’d get the initiative. The affirmative gets to pick the specific implementation of the topic to be debated, so the other team has to scramble to keep up. We were sure many teams would pick conventional aspects of alternate energy like wind, solar, hydrogen, or maybe nuclear, and of course we’d have to be prepared to argue against any of those when it was our turn to be on the negative. Amit and I planned to develop a case for Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generation (RTG). The idea is to use the heat from a radioactive decay to generate electricity. It’s a very safe and proven technology with a great track record: everything from interplanetary probes to pacemakers. We figured it was obscure enough that most of our opponents would have little research on it, until word got around about our case and other teams started digging. They’d oppose it with generic anti-nuclear power arguments and we’d be ready to cut them to shreds, because RTG wasn’t the same thing as conventional nuclear power.
Preparing to debate on the negative was more challenging because you had to be ready to take whatever specifics the affirmative came up with and counter them. Occasionally of course, we’d run into an affirmative case that we weren’t comfortable arguing against, either because the opposition was too well prepared or because they’d come up with something too obscure for us to have thought about – in effect exactly what we hoped to do to the other teams. When that happened to us on the negative side, we had to be ready with a “counterplan:” agree with the affirmative case but offer a better plan to implement their program. Amit called it “agree and amplify.” He wanted to do a free market counterplan – yes, the affirmative notion is a good idea, but it should be implemented in the free market, not by government action, funding, or subsidy.
We get a lot of free-market and libertarian types here in Tennessee as judges, particularly at tournaments with lots of amateurs, instead of professional debate judges. Read the judge right, and a free market counterplan can be very effective. Unfortunately, it was also an obvious counterplan, so the affirmative would likely be ready to argue why government action was essential.
In any event, we split up the debate research responsibilities and got to work. I took the lead on the RTG affirmative case, Amit took the lead on the free market counterplan. We divvied up the remaining alternate energy concepts we thought might come up and got to work. We broke for lunch and got back together at the library after my class.
The scanner was harder to use than I thought. I’d built it so it could be disassembled and put back together easily. Amit and I split up the pieces and carried it into the library in our backpacks. Up in the stacks there was a row of a half dozen study rooms. Each room had a table and chairs. We could close the door so conversation wouldn’t carry, but a big window allowed passers by to look in on what we were doing. The scanner had a 90-degree bed for the book and two cameras, one for each page. Many of the books were old and fragile, so the scanner allowed us to copy each page without having to stress the bindings by laying the books flat. I wasn’t quite able to flip the pages once a second but it was close to 50 flips or 100 pages scanned a minute.
The difficulty lay, not in the scanner, but in avoiding detection. We had a couple of close calls when a librarian or a student walked right past us, but fortunately didn’t notice what we were doing. Amit volunteered to serve as a lookout. That slowed down the scanning some, because I had to turn the pages and tell the laptop to capture the scans by myself. That afternoon, we scanned a dozen books. I focused on books from the same time period, 1905–1915, that were in the vicinity on the shelves – Dewey decimal 537–538. It was a good start. Then, Amit took the laptop home to compare our scans to the online scans.
The next morning I got a text from Amit: “Busy. No Joe this AM. Come by after class.” I studied physics at Kudzu Joe’s for a while. As I got up to get a refill from Emma, I noticed one of the truck drivers who used to hang around the place walk in. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen any of them in a while. The truck driver bought a coffee from Emma and was heading for the door when he noticed me behind him. He froze a second, then said enthusiastically, “You’re Rob’s nephew, ain’t ya?”
“Yes, sir?” I confirmed tentatively, confused about what was going on.
He stuck out a hand. “Bud Garrety,” he introduced himself, shaking my hand vigorously. He had quite a grip. “That uncle o’ yours, he’s a godsend he is. Not a load to haul for months, and now more work than I can hardly keep up with. Lemme buy you your coffee,” he insisted, slapping a five dollar bill on the counter.
“Thank you, sir,” I acknowledge gratefully, but no less confused, “however, it’s actually free refills.”
“Well then, yer next one’s on me, and the young lady can keep the change,” he insisted, undaunted.
Emma took his money, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
He beamed proudly. “Well I need to be…,” he cut himself off and added quietly, “but I know your uncle don’t want no loose talk, now does he, son?”
“No, sir.” It appeared Mr. Garrety and I were keeping Uncle Rob’s secrets so well that I was still completely clueless what this was all about.
“You thank him for me when you see him again, you hear?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “And thank you, Mr. Garrety, for the coffee.”
“See you around,” he said.
Mr. Garrety had to be involved in whatever it was Uncle Rob was doing that involved lots of trucks, but I was no closer to understanding the mystery. At least Mr. Garrety had just given me a great excuse to ask Uncle Rob about the trucks when I saw him next. I got back to work on physics.
When I finished my homework and got tired of physics, I got online and researched alternate energy sources for my debate preparation. Finally, it was home for lunch, off to class, and then to the Berkshire Inn to see how Amit was doing.
“I had trouble getting the optical character recognition to work,” he told me. “I finally set up the computer to flash the scans side-by-side so I could eyeball them manually. And, I got one!” He triumphantly handed me a couple of print outs. On one he had written “Omnitia” and on the other he’d written “Tolliver.” “I also got your old printer working,” he added, “so now I can print hard copy from a dedicated printer that’s not connected to the network.”
The discrepancy Amit had found was on page 640 of The Principles of Electric Wave Telegraphy by J.A. Fleming in 1906. I remembered scanning that book. It had been a real pain, because it had a bunch of pullout or foldout pages. The Tolliver copy listed “HEAVISIDE, O., On the Interactions of Electromagnetic Waves, 1905” in the bibliography of papers. The Omnitia copy, however, had no mention of Heaviside, and two entries down, a listing of a paper by Sir Oliver Lodge was stretched way out so “p. 72” fell on a new line by itself, just enough to fill in the space from the missing Heaviside entry.
“When Franklin was talking about Heaviside’s work on the interference of waves and how it described bouncing electric waves, he may have been talking about this paper that Fleming had listed in his bibliography,” I concluded.
“Seems likely to me,” Amit agreed. “There’s no indication the paper was ever published in a journal. Franklin must somehow have corresponded with Heaviside to know it was supposed to end up in Heaviside’s third volume of Electromagnetic Theory.”
“Or some mutual friend shared the paper and the news,” I pointed out. “Heaviside’s process was to serialize his work in papers, then compile them in a book.” I pulled up my scan of Electromagnetic Theory Volume 3 and reviewed the table of contents. “That process was breaking down in 1905. He couldn’t find a journal to keep up with him, judging by the table of contents. Franklin might have just assumed Heaviside’s intention was to include the paper in volume three. But he didn’t.”
Amit looked over my shoulder at the table of contents for volume three of Heaviside’s Electromagnetic Theory. “There’s no ‘Interactions of Electromagnetic Waves’ in Heaviside’s table of contents.”
“Heaviside does talk a lot about electromagnetic waves,” I noted, “but I couldn’t find anything about electric waves bouncing off each other. Maybe Mr. Burleson will have better luck figuring it out.” It wasn’t spectacular, but it was progress: an obvious example of history having been rewritten if only in a small way. We had a second clear discrepancy between an old book and a modern Omnitia scan. Our discovery confirmed that the Franklin edit was a deliberate attempt to hide information about Heaviside’s work. Amit and I transitioned to the exercise room to continue our discussion and speculations. Amit was convinced we were looking at a digitally altered copy of a scan of the same text that was in the physical book. I wasn’t so sure. Looking carefully at the scan, I could see hints of the texture in the paper in the borders of the type. No letter was exactly the same. I didn’t buy it. Would someone actually go to all that trouble? Someone meticulous enough to fuzz letters just right so as to simulate the soaking in of the ink? That would be almost as easy to do with real ink and paper. And these were the same electromagnetic villains sloppy enough to delete a page reference to Heaviside from the index of Franklin’s Electric Waves despite there being a mention of Heaviside on the page.
Amit countered that modifying the physical printed copy would be even more difficult than modifying the scan. But he allowed it was curious anyone would go to the extreme difficulty of concocting such a convincing scan.
In the end, neither of us was certain whether what we had discovered was a recent change made in a scan of an old book, or an accurate scan of a book modified long ago. If it was an old modification, then there were some old books with omissions and edits and others, like the copies we’d found in the Tolliver library, without the edits. We made little progress resolving the question before I headed home.
* * *
Every so often, Dad would sip from a small shot glass of bourbon after dinner, as he sat in his favorite chair in the living room. At the time, I found it a noxious drink – it would be years before I developed a taste for bourbon, myself. Somehow the interaction of time and temperature with wood and liquor turns raw ethanol into a complex mix of flavors. Something similar happens to old books after a century or so. They acquire a subtle yet distinctive odor with hints of vanilla and musty grass. Even today, when I smell old books, it reminds me of the Tolliver Library and scanning books with Amit.
“Interesting,” Dad said, thoughtfully, savoring a sip of bourbon, as he examined the two versions of the Fleming bibliography. “This does tend to support your theory that the edit was deliberate, but both of these edits are so minor, so subtle. I can’t imagine why anyone would go to the trouble. That’s why I tend to favor the notion that these are edits in the scans, not in the original hard copies of the books themselves.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Amit is right. It’s easy to alter a digital copy,” Dad explained. “Altering a physical copy? You’d have a real problem matching the paper and ink, unstitching the binding, and replacing a substitute page. It would almost be easier to reprint the entire book. Modifying a line or a page here and there and to do so in a way that a casual observer wouldn’t notice something off in the paper, ink, or font – that’s a real challenge.”
Dad made good sense. “You don’t think it’s possible?”
“It’s certainly possible,” Dad argued. “A skilled forger with sufficient time and motivation could pull it off. Get hold of period paper, maybe from other books of the era printed by the same publisher. Recreate the ink recipe, being careful not to include any modern chemicals or trace elements that might give the game away. Digitally match the font. Etch a plate. Reprint the page. It would take a real craftsman to pull it off, but it could be done.
“There was a guy I heard about, Mark Hofmann, who made a career out of forging old historical documents. He posed as a collector of rare old books and papers, and he concocted some plausible but embarrassing forgeries that cast doubt on the origins and history of the Mormon church. He found period paper by cutting out blank pages in old books, so it passed carbon dating tests. He perfected a recipe for old ink. He’d hand write letters. He had a printing plate photographically engraved so he could reproduce some lost early colonial document that would be worth millions. Experts authenticated his forgeries. Church officials, prominent Mormons, and other collectors of historic documents bought them, paying lots of money.
“But Hofmann lived lavishly and spent even more than he earned. In desperation, he planted some bombs to distract his creditors, killing a couple of people. He almost blew himself up, too. An amazingly persistent forensics examiner went back and found subtle clues. Hofmann’s ink cracked differently than real period ink, supposedly different letter writers shared common quirks, stuff like that.
“So, yes, old documents can potentially be forged and will pass all but the most scrupulous and careful authentication. If you don’t leave pipe bombs with your associates and draw attention to yourself, you may very well avoid detection. Still, it would still be much easier to do the forgery digitally.”
“It would be easier if the change were made right at the time of the printing,” I pointed out. “Maybe someone persuaded the printer to modify the book? Change the original type – just a line or two on a couple of pages – and print new copies. Perhaps they tried to recall the original printing and remove copies of the books from circulation, but they missed some. A few copies from the initial printing were missed and one ended up at the library here. But most of the copies in circulation have the change.”
“That’s an easier to imagine scenario than a later forgery,” Dad acknowledged. “But the Franklin book was printed in New York. The Fleming book – he was British, right? Unless it was an American printing?”
I checked my scans. Both the Tolliver copy and the Omnitia scan said the book was printed by Longmans, Green, and Co., 39 Paternoster Row, London. The title plate also listed offices in New York and Bombay. “Probably printed in London.”
“That complicates matters,” Dad said thoughtfully. “If it were government coercion, it was two different governments in cahoots. Whoever it was would need a presence in New York and in London.”
“So,” I summarized, “we have three scenarios: first a modern digital cover-up likely with collusion from Omnitia, second a more recent elaborate forgery, or third, someone coerced the printer to make the changes and missed some of the copies already in circulation.”
“I still think the first is more likely,” Dad opined. “a modern digital change. Next most likely is a change right at the time of printing like you suggest. A modern forgery is extremely unlikely. It wouldn’t stand up to any scrutiny without enormous effort. And there must be hundreds of those books around in various university library collections. The best way to test the modern digital change hypothesis is to find other old copies of Electric Waves and Principles of Wireless Telegraphy. If the old books all match the Tolliver copies, then you are probably looking at a modern digital alteration. If you find altered books, then you’ll have to do some detailed testing to try to identify whether they are alterations from the original printer or more recent forgeries.”
“I can visit libraries, and check for copies,” I pointed out. “I don’t even have to use an online catalog since I know right where they ought to be shelved.”
“Avoiding any sort of electronic trail is a good idea,” Dad agreed. “let’s continue this conversation with your mother over dinner.”
I wasn’t sure this was a good idea. “Should we be adding Mom to the discussion?”
“Son, you have to assume when you tell a man something he’s going to tell his wife. Your mother is one of the most trustworthy and level-headed women I’ve ever known, which is a big part of why I married her in the first place. You would be wise to take her into your confidence as well, and you should seek out her opinions.”
I agreed that Dad should tell Mom, but I had a pretty good notion she wasn’t going to like it.
At the dinner table, Dad brought Mom up to speed on what we’d found. It took most of the meal. Mom’s counsel was of caution. “You and your father are running around playing secret agent investigating this mystery of yours. If you’re right, the folks with whom you’re tangling are ruthless experts willing to kill to keep a secret.”
“I don’t think his suspicion of a conspiracy to kill electromagnetic scientists is at all credible,” Dad pointed out to Mom. “He found a coincidence. Many people, even prominent people in the nineteenth century died at what we’d consider to be young ages due to diseases or cancers we could cure today.”
“The only suggestion we have of foul play is over a hundred years old, Mom,” I pointed out. “We’re taking the risks very seriously which is exactly why we’re being so careful and ‘running around playing secret agent.’”
She was not convinced. “‘The most exquisite folly is made of wisdom spun too fine,’” she chided us as Dad and I cleared the table. “Go ahead,” she said. “I’ll take care of the dishes and leave you boys to playing with your fire – mind you don’t get burnt.” Mothers.
“I wish we could just order used books,” I noted to Dad as we settled back into the living room. “But even if we placed the order anonymously online, the books have to be delivered to a real world physical address.”
“That’s a problem,” Dad acknowledged. “Why don’t you and Amit search eBay, Alibiris, and ABEBooks anonymously and see what you can find? Be a bit vague in your search terms so it’s harder for a third party to figure out exactly what you’re looking for. You could search on “electric waves” and “wireless telegraphy” then manually sort through the results. Add a bunch of other searches to hide the significance of the ones that really count. Something might pop up at McKay’s here locally. Unfortunately, most of the top used-book dealers are too far away for us to just stop by and purchase a book – like Powell’s in Portland, Oregon; Zubal Books, in Cleveland, Ohio; or Books-on-Benefit in Providence, Rhode Island. Depending on the location, Rob or I might have an acquaintance we could trust to swing by, purchase a book in cash, and then ship it to us. If you find any leads from book sellers or dealers in Memphis, Houston, Birmingham, or anywhere along the route of our road trip in August, we could swing by and pay cash for what they have. But that’s the only safe way to make an anonymous purchase.”
* * *
At Kudzu Joe’s the next morning, I shared the previous night’s brainstorming with Amit. He liked the idea of searching for other copies of the books to try to figure out whether we were looking at an old or a recent conspiracy. He and I worked out a used book search strategy, and he agreed to spend some time searching during his next wardrive. Amit also pointed out that many libraries had online listings of books, and he proposed to look into it. Once we had our plans laid out, we worked on debate research until lunchtime.
Amit joined me after class at the library for more book scanning. There weren’t all that many physics books older than 1923, so we decided on a strategy of scanning them without reference to availability of an online scan. We began working our way through the 537-538 section, but it was slow going with Amit having to serve as lookout in case one of the librarians came by. I think the librarian was getting suspicious because the visits seemed to be getting more frequent. It was a frustrating and not terribly productive experience. There had to be a better solution. We gave up for the day.
Amit’s father had him running errands for the hotel. He could wardrive on his trips, find an open WiFi connection, download a book or two and continue driving on. When he had a break, he’d stop and do some serious searching while downloading a book or two in the background. He found some promising results in the online library catalog at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
* * *
That Friday, I drove into Knoxville – solo, since Amit was busy at the hotel, and Dad was off with Uncle Rob. My first stop was the John C. Hodges Library on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus. As I was walking through the first floor, an archeological exhibition caught my attention: “Centaur Excavation at Volos.” There on display was a half-excavated skeleton of a “centaur,” half-man and half-horse. I marveled at the time and energy it must have taken to create such a convincing looking, yet obviously phony display. I was struck by the relevance to my own quest: untangling what I was convinced was a similarly convincing, yet carefully constructed rewriting of science and of scientific history.
Unfortunately, the library didn’t have a copy of Franklin’s Electric Waves. They did have a copy of Fleming’s Principles of Wireless Telegraphy, however, up on the 6th floor. The library used a more complicated classification scheme from the Library of Congress, rather than the Dewey Decimal system with which I was more familiar. I got off the elevator, hung a right and found Fleming’s book at the arcane location TK5741.F6 1910. Wait, 1910? Not quite the same edition. The Tolliver Library had a first printing from 1906. The Hodges Library copy was a “second edition, revised and extended” from September 1910. I looked for the bibliography, but this edition only had books, not papers. I pulled out my digital camera and snapped a few shots of the bibliography just in case, but it looked like a dead end.
My trip wasn’t a complete waste, however, because I had a list of books to investigate on electromagnetic history. Just a few shelves away, I found a marvelous book about Heaviside by Paul J. Nahin, Oliver Heaviside: Sage in Solitude. I was tempted to scan the whole book, but since it wasn’t old enough to be in the public domain, I refrained. I continued my search down on the fifth floor where I tracked down a copy of Bruce J. Hunt’s The Maxwellians QC670.H84 1991. I didn’t have borrowing privileges, nor would I have wanted to leave a trail if I could avoid it. I resolved to figure out a safe way to acquire copies, soon!
On my way home, I found a copy of The Maxwellians at McKay’s Used Bookstore. I also stopped by Harbor Freight where I found a wonderful wireless motion detector. That would come in handy the next time we scanned some books.
* * *
By the end of June, Amit and I were on a roll. We’d start the day at Kudzu Joe’s reviewing the previous day’s results. Amit’s OCR routine threw so many false positives we still had to manually review each page. At least he had it set to highlight the text, so we could focus on potential discrepancies. We didn’t find any actual hits, however. In well over a hundred books, we had a grand total of two suspicious changes, one each in the Franklin and Fleming books. At least it made sense why this rewriting of history had apparently escaped detection. We knew it was there and despite our best efforts it was next to impossible to find the evidence!
After reviewing the previous day’s haul, Amit worked on another fascinating project that had just started up. His father had described Amit’s network traffic monitoring application to the Berkshire Inn’s regional management team, and now Amit was on the hook to make a presentation on it to the company’s management at their operations center in Charlotte, NC in August. If it went well, Berkshire Inn might want to roll out Amit’s application at other Berkshire Inn locations for a trial. He was coding furiously, trying to clean up the user interface and make the application easy for non-experts to use. Amit was positively gleeful at the possibility of having his code distributed across multiple Berkshire Inns. He assured me he could exploit the company’s intranet to disguise our Internet traffic and eliminate the need for wardriving. Even with all this to keep him busy, he still continued flirting shamelessly with Emma.
On my side of the table, I’d either do debate research, work on my physics homework, or study more about the electromagnetic pioneers and the geopolitics of the early 1900s. We hadn’t been able to confirm whether the electromagnetic villain whose fingerprints we’d found was working on modern digital copies or had been active only around the time the books were published. I was confident, though, that we’d find the edits in old books and prove it was a century-old conspiracy. That the pioneers of electromagnetics and wireless engineering could be talking seriously about bouncing electric waves sounded crazy. I couldn’t believe it wouldn’t get a mention in the history books. Unless it had been suppressed almost immediately, word would have spread.
In the back of my mind, I was still amazed at how dangerous it had been to be an electromagnetic pioneer. The originator of modern electromagnetic theory, James Clerk Maxwell died prematurely. Heinrich Hertz proved the validity of Maxwell’s theory by discovering radio waves and was dead within a year of publishing his book, Electric Waves. Maxwell’s ideas were formalized by Hertz and a group of other physicists that historian Bruce J. Hunt had dubbed “the Maxwellians.” The Maxwellians worked out the implications of Maxwell’s thinking and streamlined it into modern form. These men included George FitzGerald, Oliver Lodge, and Oliver Heaviside. FitzGerald died not long after he’d worked out what would become some of the basic principles of relativity theory, deriving them from a study of electromagnetics. Oliver Lodge became convinced of the reality of psychic phenomena and it looked as though the last half of his life was spent largely writing about spiritualism. The only one of these pioneers who kept working on electromagnetics to the end of his life was Heaviside. But even Heaviside was clearly slowing down by the time his book came out in 1912, and he never finished the fourth volume on which he was working until his death in 1925. Heaviside complained of continual harassment distracting him from his work, of rocks through his windows, and vandalism from the neighborhood boys. His friends thought he was paranoid. But what if someone actually was out to get him, to keep him from productive work?
So three of the five pioneers of electromagnetics died prematurely at the peak of their careers. A 60% mortality rate was scary high. Dad was convinced it had to be natural causes since an assassin would have used poison. Death by cancer was inherently a death by natural causes. But three out of five dead in their prime? I wasn’t so sure. The odds against that had to be astronomical. And the remaining two were harassed or distracted away from making significant further progress. It was as if someone realized that killing them all would start to look suspicious and merely sidetracked the remaining two. Between the editing of electromagnetics books and the high mortality rate, I became increasingly convinced Dad was wrong, and there had to be a connection. I had frustrating hints of a much larger picture, but without more pieces of the puzzle, I could do little more than speculate.
After a morning a Kudzu Joe’s, I still went home for lunch. Dad was off with Uncle Rob or in Knoxville working on Dr. Kreuger’s place. I regretted telling Mom about the 60% mortality rate business, because it just made her more nervous. I avoided discussing my research with her over lunch for fear of sparking more lengthy maternal admonishment to be safe and careful. That didn’t work, of course.
“I’m so proud of you, son,” Mom told me over one lunch. “You’re growing up into a fine young man. You have that same energy, determination, and drive that I dearly love in your father,” she added with a maternal smile. Then the smile faded. “But you have your father’s faults as well,” she added sternly. “You may understand intellectually that there are bad people in the world, but you’re so confident in your abilities, that you think you can overcome any obstacle and defeat any adversary. Usually, that’s a good thing. But there are powerful forces at work in the world: ruthless people with power and influence who will trample over anyone who gets in their way.
“My grandfather…,” she began, “well that’s not my story to tell. My family, the Tollivers, have been working for generations to acquire power and influence, to make the right sort of connections to break into the elite. Men like your Uncle Larry, or Uncle Mike, or like Sheriff Gunn only care about preserving and enhancing their power, and they won’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to get what they want.
“There are some lions whose tails are best left unpulled,” she admonished me.
I promised Mom I’d be really careful. And, I kept right on doing what I was doing. Really carefully, of course.
I remember clearly another Friday from that June. I went to Knoxville with Dad and helped him run the electrical power in Dr. Kreuger’s underground refuge. The place had gone from a hole in the ground to a structure in under a month. But then, most of Dad’s construction projects were like that. The structure went up quick, the detail work of plumbing, HVAC, and electrical took longer, and the finish work – the dry wall, trim, painting and cabinetry in residential jobs seemed to take forever. Instead of the giant hole that had greeted us a month earlier, there was a raised gravel field maybe five or six feet above grade and topped with low foundation walls. The walls were a giant nine-foot spaced periodic honeycomb with raw rebar stretching up like a Venus flytrap to catch a passing house and anchor it to Earth.
The place was a network of cargo containers sandwiching concrete walls between each one. The bottom level of cargo containers was all supported on concrete piers making about a three-foot-high crawl space. I figured out pretty quickly why Dad brought me along. My job was to run, or more correctly, crawl, the Romex power cable from the power panel where Dad poked it through a hole in the floor over to where he was drilling through the floor to install power outlets. Then, he’d drill another hole and I’d drag the wire from the earlier hole to the newest hole. A half dozen holes later, and it was back to the power panel to start on the next circuit. I couldn’t complain though. Last summer I worked on a renovation project in a rental house where the plumbing had leaked sewage all over the crawl space. As the junior apprentice, I got stuck with that job. Fortunately, I had a full body suit. It only took a few hours, and we completed the crawl space part of the work before the day got hot and unpleasant. But that odor was stuck in my hair for days and no amount of scrubbing or washing could completely remove it. Dr. Kreuger’s refuge was actually one of the nicest crawl spaces I’ve ever worked in, because it was so new and clean and cool.
Most of those June afternoons were not nearly so memorable. I went to physics class after lunch. It was fairly easy after all the private tutoring I’d had from James Clerk Maxwell via Matter and Motion, supplemented by my father. I had to keep at it to avoid getting complacent, but I was cruising toward an easy A and one more core class for which I was not going to have to pay university tuition, once I’d transferred in the credits.
After class, I was off to the Tolliver Library where I’d meet Amit and scan more books. The wireless motion detector was invaluable – at least hourly a librarian would check to make sure we were behaving ourselves. We had the sensor set up at a choke point and we got a good thirty seconds to a minute of warning whenever anyone was drawing near our study room – plenty of time to secure the scanner under the table and pose earnestly studying over books or homework for the benefit of any passers by. We had a few false alarms as students walked by, but the traffic was low. We were well on our way to exhausting the library’s supply of older physics and engineering books, so we’d started scanning journals and periodicals as well, like Physical Review and the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineering.
When we were tired of scanning and studying, Amit and I would swing by the hotel to work out and swim in the pool. Sometimes Emma would join us. I was still a bit amazed that Amit of all people had attracted her. I had to hand it to Amit – that girl looked hot in a swim suit. Not that Amit could do much of anything about it. The pool area was under video surveillance – which, come to think of it, may have been why Mrs. Patel was working the front desk where she had access to all the live video feeds. Amit did a wonderful impression of being completely nonchalant about Emma. He rarely slipped up. But one afternoon as I was heading out, he asked me if he could borrow the wireless motion sensor.
“Why do you want it?”
“I thought I’d go back to the library after dinner to do some research with Emma. Just generic alternative energy stuff – nothing that would give away our case.”
Nice redirection on his part. I held his gaze for a moment or two longer than was comfortable. Then I asked, “So why exactly do you need the motion detector?”
He was squirming a bit. “So we can study without being disturbed,” he explained with a poker face that needed some work.
“Learn lots,” I said, handing it over.
“Oh, we will,” he assured me.
On Friday, April 27, look for Chapter 4 Notes: On Chekhov’s Gun, Mark Hoffman, and the Maxwellians, and
On Wednesday, May 4, look for Chapter 5: Independence Day.
New chapters post on Wednesdays, notes post on Fridays.
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