Author : Juliette Harrisson
‘I don’t know why you still bother with this,’ Sam said, looking down at me as I crawled along, knee-deep in mud. ‘There’s no funding for it, no one wants it, no one’s interested in it. Why do you do it?’
‘That’s not true,’ I answered testily, ignoring his offer to help me out of the ditch and deliberately brushing my muddy jacket against him as I hauled myself up. ‘Plenty of people are interested, they’re just not people with money.’
‘Don’t you think you should get a proper job, and stop pestering Mum and Dad for money?’ grumbled Sam, saddling his horse and preparing to head back to the city.
I pulled out my quill, ink and notes and prepared to write up the day’s work. ‘This is a proper job,’ I answered in a flat monotone. I sighed and looked up at him from my desk. ‘If you must know, I think there could be money in this.’
‘Oh?’ Sam paused, about to mount, and re-tethered his horse to come and talk to me, adding another log to the bonfire on his way.
I took a deep breath, not sure how to start. ‘There’s money in science and technology, right?’
‘Of course!’ Sam snorted. ‘Scientific and technological advances make our lives better!’
‘Well, I – that is to say, several of us at the Department – we have a theory. We think that a long time ago, maybe a thousand years ago, people were more technologically advanced than they are today. We think that something happened – we’re not sure what – and that technology was lost. But if we can find something from that period, some remnant of their technology that will give us a clue how to work it, perhaps we can re-develop their old machines.’
Sam raised his eyebrow and said nothing. I could tell he wasn’t impressed. I ran a hand through my hair, feeling frustration gnawing at the edges of my bones.
‘Look, you’re my brother, you love me. Don’t you want me to do something I’m passionate about, something I care about?’
Sam turned his back to me and mounted his horse, and for a moment I thought I’d lost him. But then he looked down at me and managed a small smile. ‘As long as you don’t bankrupt us all while you’re at it,’ he said.
He started to ride away and I jumped back into the ditch. But within a minute or two I was yelling at the top of my lungs, ‘Sam! Sam, come back! Come and look at this!’
I had broken through a layer of dirt to a hole in which lay a trove of discarded goods – most likely, the remains of an ancient rubbish dump. I could see a small, dark grey box with thin brown material spooling out of it, lying against a bigger, more square box and two small cylinders. Hands shaking, I pulled out an academic paper entitled ‘Batteries – the electrical missing link?’ and an illustration of an ancient portable device called a ‘Walkman’.
Wordlessly, I handed both to Sam.
‘ “Mains electricity,” ’ Sam read aloud, ‘ “is currently beyond the financial or technological capabilities of our government. However, if we could successfully reproduce the antiquated device known as the ‘battery’, it might be possible for limited use of electricity to return to our homes and offices.” ’
‘What does that look like to you?’ I demanded smugly, pointing to the illustration and the object I had uncovered.
‘Yeah, well,’ said Sam, looking both pleased and embarrassed. ‘You just got lucky!’
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