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An Engineer in Paradise

This blog was started by accident - a chance mention of silk in a Challenge Question set my mind racing and the first, brief episode was born. The reaction to this and the follow-up episode was positive, so keeping the episodes together seemed like a good idea.

I'm a fairly unusual creature - an engineer who enjoys language and likes to use it to its full. Oh yes, and I'm a woman!

I hope you enjoy reading An Engineer in Paradise, remember: If you have nothing to laugh about - laugh on credit.

Episode 13: Biking across the Universe

Posted December 08, 2010 5:02 PM by English Rose

Jarad stared at the screen. It was filled with the data from his lunar observations and he was fed up of looking at it. He was fed up with noting the positions of the two moons. He was fed up with the long hours within the capsule with the port-holes (and the starboard-holes) darkened against the glare of the sun and the bizarre red cast to the light from the iron ore dust that covered the planet. Actually, he mused, I'm just plain fed up.

He looked at the final page of data – down to 729 possibilities – but he was fairly sure he was on Mars, the next rock out from the benighted planet whose inhabitants called it Earth. Imaginative.

How long, he mused – he had plenty of time so musing was his favoured mien this week – would it take to walk back? To long. What about a scooter? Surely he could reprogramme the replicator to build a space scooter, then he could ride home. It really was only a short hop between the two planets.

What a pity, he thought, that the civilization that had built that had built the extensive canal network to irrigate this world in its dying, drying days hadn't thought of or discovered the principles of fixed line space travel. It would have been far easier for him to repair and resurrect a space tram line than to build a scooter from scratch. Now he just needed to calculate the battery size he needed.

Let's see, he muttered, jotting the factors into a list with a unaccustomed level of enthusiasm. Soon his spreadsheet was replete with items such as required time of travel as a function of distance, air supply, pay load and acceleration level limits.

Eventually, Jarad fell asleep dreaming of roaring across space towards the planet that held those who had humiliated him. Navigation, he dreamed, was easy: turn right at the bright star and then straight on to morning!

Celestially inspired by Light Speed Motor Scooter

© 2007 English Rose Literary Productions

1 comments; last comment on 04/08/2011
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Episode 12 - Doggone it!

Posted October 26, 2010 5:46 PM by English Rose
Pathfinder Tags: Humour

Blaine strode through the wide corridor of the 44th floor. People nodded to him, a couple even passed him message slips; these he dropped surreptitiously on empty desks in the open plan area. He smiled at how easily people believed you were a big-shot if you simply acted enough like one. Several people smiled back; one over-enthusiastic fellow slapped him on the back. Blaine shook his hand without breaking stride, the congratulations still ringing in his ears as he turned the corner.

Two more strides and he could feel his shoes sinking into the deep pile of the wool carpet of the directors' corridor. Blaine altered his stride from the long brash stride of those climbing the corporate ladder to the slower, more assured stride of those who had climbed to the top and were now safely ensconced on the high platform. He made his way silently along the dark wood panelled corridor, breathing deeply the scent of beeswax polish, time and money that pervaded the space. He could hear the muted sounds of conversation coming from a room near the far end and continued his silent progress until he could slip into the room next door. Once inside, he quietly shut the door and used one of the mock Chippendale chairs to wedge the handle. With the lights out, he climbed on the live oak credenza; swung the portrait of the firm's founder away from the wall and put his eye to the fish-eye lens concealed behind it.

Blaine had cause to bless his academy instructors that day. Had they not reinforced with such enthusiastic rigour the insistence that an agent remain silent at all times, he would surely have made a sound as the scene in the conference room came into focus. With the aid of a stethoscope he could also hear the conversation between the room's two occupants. This audio enabled Blaine to identify the two men.

The first, prone on the polished teak table, Blaine quickly recognised as Andrew Wolfenden, CEO of a large semi-conductor company. The second had his back to Blaine, so it was a few seconds before Blaine recognised the voice as that of Michael Glenson, owner and chief executive of a leading city law firm. What on earth were the pair of them doing here, Blaine wondered, and why was Wolfenden tied to the table? The fish-eye lens also revealed something of which Blaine had previously been unaware: Glenson was one of them - the lens clearly showed his aura. Blaine wondered if his handler knew of this man's existence.

At last Blaine's brain registered the details of Glenson's threat to Wolfenden. It became obvious that Wolfenden would not give Glenson the information requested. Blaine didn't fully understand Glenson's threat to "cook [Wolfenden] like a Weiner" when first he heard it, but Glenson soon demonstrated the meaning very clearly.

He produced two large metal tubes or rods; Blaine couldn't tell whether or not they were hollow. Then he realised it didn't really matter, when Glenson held one in front of Wolfenden's face, pressed a button, causing fins to spring out along their length. Blaine could only listen in horror as Glenson explained what would happen to Wolfenden – how 110V wouldn't kill him, at least not directly. It would, however, slowly heat his body tissues, effectively cooking him. Of course, this process would take some time, but they had three days, as this was a Labour Day weekend. He, Glenson, would be back to check on him, Wolfenden, a couple of times, just in case he changed his mind about revealing the information. Glenson gazed fondly at his finned tubes, and sighed. He retracted the fins and put the tubes away.

"Using those would be too quick," he explained to Wolfenden.

Twenty minutes later, when Blaine was sure Glenson had left the building, he let himself into the conference room and released Wolfenden, removing the croc-clips from the bound man's hands and feet.

An hour later and the men were at Blaine's safe house, working on a disguise for Wolfenden. Blaine put a call through to his handler.

Lightly inspired by Hot Dog

© 2007 ER Literary Productions

7 comments; last comment on 10/27/2010
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Episode 11 - Ice to See You

Posted September 25, 2010 11:28 AM by English Rose
Pathfinder Tags: Humour

The letter arrived in the first post. She recognised the handwriting as Blaine's. Her heart beat a little faster and her mouth became dry. She tried to swallow and found that her throat would not co-operate. Her eyes widened in shock as it dawned on it that she had not realised how much Danny had come to mean to her. She wasn't sure how she would feel if …

She took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly through her nose as her yoga teacher had taught her. After a couple of these centring breaths, she opened the letter.

Ten minutes later, she put it down and stared unseeing out of the window. Several emotions swirled around her: relief that Blaine had found nothing to implicate Danny; and a mixture of horror and fascination at his suggestion as to who may have sent the box.

Dealing with him would be tricky – and that would be after they'd succeeded in locating him. Blaine had ideas about that too … She decided to do some checking about that on her own. Meanwhile, she decided, she needed a walk.

Twenty minutes later, she was striding across the meadow, with the frozen grass stems snapping beneath the vibram™* soles of her walking boots. Her breath formed steamy clouds that streamed out behind her like flags before they dissipated. The early morning sun struck reflections from the ice crystals on the trees and fence posts. Her stride faltered as she reached the lake, and she blinked, seeking to refocus in the bright sunlight.

She moved slowly towards the shore of the lake, still not convinced that her brain had correctly interpreted the sight before her. After a few more minutes of walking along a stretch of the shore, trying to get a different view, she was convinced. There really was a pillar of ice emerging from the frozen lake. Sitting atop this marvel, she could see, was a small white cat.

As she watched, a squirrel ran across the ice and began climbing the pillar. The cat peered calmly over the edge of its perch and when the squirrel came in range, batted it swiftly across the head. The squirrel gave a squeal of protest and dropped back to the icy surface of the lake, where it stood and, in eloquent squirrelese, berated the cat, volubly.

The cat, as cats are wont to do, sat down, stuck one of his (she was convinced it was male) back legs in the air and proceeded to clean between the pads.

Well! she thought, the things you see when you haven't got your gun!

©10 July 2007 English Rose Productions

Loosely inspired by The Wonders of Ice

*Other sole patterns and constructions are available

17 comments; last comment on 12/28/2010
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Episode 10 - Focus on the Chocolate

Posted March 19, 2010 6:24 PM by English Rose
Pathfinder Tags: Humour

Next day, she stepped off the plane to a wall of flashing bulbs. The press were out in force, the photographers desperate to get the best picture of one of the most glamorous women to visit the city in – oh- days. The cult of celebrity really was getting out of hand, she mused behind the fixed expression with which she faced the sea of reporters. Widening the "happy to be here" smile, she waved jokingly at the photographer on the highest ladder. He ignored her and continued shooting pictures if the retreating back of the latest generic songstress, even though it was all but obscured by her bodyguards.

Later on at Capitol Hill, she had a moment's worry that she had been captured by one or more of the photographers, albeit to them just a nameless face in a sea of nameless faces that were the backdrop to the three-day star. Bit if she should be recognised, how would she explain her presence here? She decided to cross that bridge when she came to it.

She followed the other tourists into the Assembly Building, watching for a group large enough…even better, she thought as she merged into one of the organised tours. Groups made for excellent cover; she could leave it when she wished.

In the event, she stayed with the group for the whole tour. She had seen the warning signal earlier and so did not stop as planned. She tagged on behind a group obviously from a regular meeting group. This time when they got to the Statuary Room, Blaine gave her the all clear signal and wandered over to John Adams's desk. She meandered to the other marked spot and said quietly to herself, "So, did Adams really eavesdrop on his opponents?"

"Definitely, if they were standing there." Blaine whispered in her ear – although he was standing over half the room away. Quickly she summarised the weekend's events, including her doubts and suspicions. Blaine listened in silence, apparently reading the historical notes on the desk. Without looking up, he instructed her to return home, avoid Danny as much as possible and to carry on working while he made some enquiries. He asked her if he could have the mechanised dolls' house. She told him she'd leave it at the usual drop point.

They were taking their leave when groups of children arrived at both foci, eager to test out the phenomenon they had heard about in Physics lessons.

She drifted out of the building and headed back to her hotel, making plans to deliver the dolls' house to Blaine. She recalled that he was fond of chocolate, so on the way home she popped into a Hotel Chocolat shop and bought a selection of their fine products and scrounged one of their larger boxes. That night she set about packing the dolls' house and chocolate. The goats had to be locked out of the house as they, like Blaine, were rather partial to chocolate.

She checked her recording schedule and decided she could deliver the parcel herself.

Loosely inspired by Who wants Chocolate?

1 comments; last comment on 03/19/2010
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Episode 9 - Coining a Boxed Idea

Posted February 21, 2010 3:41 PM by English Rose
Pathfinder Tags: Episode 9 ER

The scent of pinewood was strong – and very welcome after the stressful last few months, she thought as she breathed deeply, the windows of the Explorer rolled down; they had decided against bringing the Gremlin. Danny was driving and she felt all of the tension drain away as they drove deeper into the forest and closer to the cabin.

At last they arrived, both spotting repairs that were needed, but which they agreed would not be tackled this weekend; this weekend was for them. Danny wanted to fish, so once the car was unloaded, he set off looking for bait, armed with a car battery, a water bottle and some metal rods.

Left to herself, she went for a leisurely walk in the woods, looking forward to the balmy sense of peace that pervaded the broadleaved section of the forest. Later, as she returned from the hidden mossy glade in which she had spent the afternoon – still drowsy from the liquid-like atmosphere; the dappled light in myriad shades of green and the silence that wasn't truly a silence: a silence composed of birdsong, nearby and far off; the drone and buzz of insects of various busyness; of the soft flutter of the butterflies, moths and skippers; and of the rustling of invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals in the undergrowth – she gazed at the cabin from the anonymity of the trees, all but invisible in the shadows to anyone standing in the sunlit clearing, and saw that someone had been to the cabin.

Ten minutes later she sat on the porch swing with the note in her lap. Who on earth – or elsewhere, she mused sardonically – would have reason to do this to her? There was no doubt that it was personal, the details in the note confirmed that.

Concentrate: she chided herself on wasting time. She had to solve this problem before Danny got back. That way, if it all went wrong, at least he wouldn't be hurt; and if she succeeded, he need never know about it. She looked again at the ten boxes of discs. She had to identify the one that was slightly lighter that the other nine and place this on the device to disarm it. If she got it wrong, the heavier box would detonate the charge. She wondered briefly if this was Control's way of letting her know that he knew of her idea of a fun train journey.

She had only twenty minutes left before the charge self detonated, and there were no scales at the cabin. She tried weighing the boxes against one another in her hands, but couldn't tell if one were truly lighter than the others. Perhaps, she wondered, it was all a hoax. She walked to the device, intending to take it as far into the woods as she could in ten minutes and leave it there. She spotted a label: Do Not Move. This Instrument Contains a Mercury Switch. It seemed that her attacker had thought of everything.

She stared into the woods as she ran through a mental inventory of the cabin. Was there anything she could use to make a balance? She could do it in only four weighings … but would she have enough time? Damn it! At this rate he have time for only one weighing – now there was an idea – a differential weighing of different numbers of discs from each box…

She started looking for a suitable pivot point and balance beam. After 10 minutes, she stopped; she was down to just over 5 minutes to prevent the explosion. Her gaze landed on the CD rack. What if…

She checked through the titles, and smiled as she spotted one of Danny's albums, one she had always hated. That would be perfect. She marked 10 equi-spaced points around the circumference and then rummaged through the odds and ends drawer for a suitable "plug" for the hole and some string. Once this was assembled, she placed the ten boxes on the marks and lifted the contraption by the string – slowly and carefully.

She breathed out softly in relief: it was obvious which box was lightest. She grabbed the relevant box and hurried out on the porch. Inserting the box, she held her breath; the counter stopped at 1 minute and 17 seconds.

She sat back on her heels as the tension began to drain out of her. She closed her eyes in relief – then opened them again sharply as she heard clockwork begin to run. Morbidly fascinated, she didn't move, but watched as the sides of the box slowly unfolded, to reveal what at first glance appeared to be a dolls' house.

The front door of the miniature building opened, and she could see that the detail was not carried beyond the entrance hall from which a butler glided out, carrying a note on a silver salver. She took the note.

"Wait at the marked spot on Friday next and I will tell you the secret of your birth"

Her brow furrowed as she sought a clear meaning from the riddle, until the thought that had been hovering around, waiting to catch her attention finally got what it had been seeking. She checked the tree-line for Danny – no sign of him yet. She turned her attention to the box/house once more. The note had promised an explosion if she didn't complete the task: so where was the explosive? Was it truly safe? Or could it be detonated remotely?

After a thorough inspection, she began trying to dismantle the box; the butler had already run back on his rails to his position inside the front door, which had shut behind him. Suddenly, she smelt burning, and ripping off the roof saw a small fire smouldering on the butler's salver. As she smothered the nascent blaze, she mused that had she not disarmed the box, the note would have been destroyed. But would this have destroyed the cabin? Or had she misread the first note?

The note! Where had she left it?

The swing. Yes, it was still there, half tucked under a cushion. She had just folded the two notes together and tucked them in her back pocket, when Danny appeared in the door, holding up three beautifully marked trout. She stared at him.

"Where did you go fishing, hon?" she asked unsteadily, a thought swimming deep in the shadows of her mind, like a trout in the still pools of the river. As Danny told of his day's fishing, the thought swam closer to the surface until she could see it clearly: the direct route back from the fishing spot was across the glade, there was no reason for Danny to have come through the house. He should have walked in through the porch. She kept her face calm as she listened to his stories, while double checking each detail.

When he wound down, she offered to cook the fish. Danny handed them over easily enough, and went to out his gear away. The fishes' eyes were cloudy; they had not been swimming around this morning. She kept her council and cooked the fish.

Loosely inspired by Boxes and Coins

© ER Literary Productions

4 comments; last comment on 03/22/2010
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