An Engineer in Paradise Blog

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!

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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

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#1

Re: Episode 9 - Coining a Boxed Idea

02/21/2010 8:30 PM

Kudos! The imagination at the heart of engineers, works well for anything they put their minds to tackle (or can't keep themselves from contemplating!).

Nice tapestry!

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#2

Re: Episode 9 - Coining a Boxed Idea

02/22/2010 4:18 AM

Good to have you back...but where were the cats in that story?
Del

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Re: Episode 9 - Coining a Boxed Idea

02/22/2010 5:35 AM

The cats were at the cattery for the weekend. The goats were at a holiday farm, in the petting zoo.

The story didn't need a cougar. Although, I suppose Danny could've driven one.

Episodes 10 to 15 are all written (and have been for ages), it's the typing up that bores me so.

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#4

Re: Episode 9 - Coining a Boxed Idea

03/22/2010 5:21 PM

Good stuff as always, ER!

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