She slammed the old plastic phone receiver down without waiting for a final goodbye, having gotten past the significance of the conversation. She didn't have time for the triviality of proper phone etiquette, not now. She had work to do, and she guessed she would see Dexter shortly anyway. He may not have been an official lab assistant, since she couldn't afford to pay him, but his interest in her work was ample compensation for his time. Combined with the fact that he lived only a few minutes from her, she was often unable to be rid of his presence. She'd continue their talk when he arrived.
After hurrying out the cramped kitchen of her single bedroom home, she bolted across the small sunny courtyard toward the separate garage. The spacious garage was a necessity for her when she was searching for her home in northern California two years before. She needed the space for her makeshift laboratory. To her dismay, she was forced to sacrifice the quality of the home for this provision to be met, but it was worth it -- or she hoped it would be.
The stale carport, which hadn't held a car in over two years, was devoid of light beyond that which seeped in through the cracks she was unsuccessful in sealing. She didn't want anyone to catch an unfortunately timed glimpse of what she was trying to do, although so far it hadn't mattered.
She fumbled for the power switch, finally grasping the flat industrial lever and flipping it with some effort. A rainbow of lights arose in an array of cheap, dusty equipment that lined the walls, and a single white halogen bulb burned into life in the center of the ceiling, directly above a boulder roughly the size of a two-door sedan. It was a rough brindle of grays and blacks, and had no finishing at all. It would have been right at home atop any mountain. The only significance of the stone was that it was totally free of debris; there was not a shred of moss, dust, dirt, or any other foreign material on the surface.
She crossed the rudimentary lab and slung her bag onto the workbench that held the only desktop computer in the cinderblock building, although it looked as if it belonged in the ancient technology exhibit of some museum. The black screen flashed with pixelated green characters while the hard drive whirred unevenly. She adjusted the exposed wires that connected the computer to a pair of mangy old leather work gloves that were strung up on a thick steel frame beside the bench. Each glove had a distinct metallic design of gold and copper rings interlaced around the hem that was obviously not part of the original garment, giving them an impression of moderate elegance. The metal rings were oddly ornate in appearance, each finely detailed and with no curvature, but only hard angles that gave an air of pronounced functionality, like complex circuitry made into a bracelet. The beauty of the gold and copper rings, however, was grossly overshadowed by the worn condition of the old gloves themselves. They each had several wires run to them along the hem; only a few connected to the computer, the rest of which ran under the table and out of sight, towards the rest of the equipment.
A hard knock on the garage side-door distracted her from fixing the problem with the programming as she planned, and a voice called through the thin door.
"Come in, it's unlocked."
The door flew open and in walked a youthful man with a husky build and a
wooly red beard. He could easily have been mistaken for a young auburn Santa Claus. He quickly joined her at the computer, ignoring the large stone that predominated the high-ceilinged workplace.
"Did you bring them?"
"Sure did," he answered coolly, holding out his clenched hand. She took his offering of a pair of oppositely polarized magnets, and then pried them apart with all the strength she could muster. He hadn't disappointed her. They were surely strong enough.
"Why do you need magnets?"
"You'll see. Go ahead and switch on the oscillator."
He turned away immediately without question, which pleased her. He was a good assistant who learned more by watching than by constantly asking annoying questions. The gloves took her attention once again, and she placed a magnet on each of the pair in symmetrical spots upon the metallic hem, connecting the wide gold and copper components on each with the magnets themselves.
The familiar pulse of the oscillator built behind her, and the command appeared on the old monitor. Start the Operation? No, not yet. She closed the prompt and found the editing application. After she saved the changes she made to the programming, she reset the system and the prompt popped up once again. Start the Operation?
Electricity clicked sharply from the wiring that connected the gloves to the computer system. She felt Dexter's presence return to her side, but she didn't acknowledge him. She was totally focused on the screen before her.
A series of three bars were filling slowly at the bottom of the prompt window, and beside them a numerical percentage was displayed in a small box.
The electricity between the gloves predominated the air, which was now flicking with static energy. 17%.
"Step up the oscillator frequency," she whispered without her eyes leaving the screen. She felt Dexter's presence leave once again. A moment later the sparking electricity built to a dull roar in response to Dexter making his adjustments. 35%.
At 59% the magnets began to glow; first a thin veil of orange, then a yellow that seemed to come from the core of the magnets themselves. She was worried they wouldn't hold, but they were doing better than any insulator she’d tried so far.
Bolts of thin lightning began to arc between the magnets, but they didn't move an inch. They just had to work. Come on, it's so close--
91%. The lights in the lab started to flicker. Jane could feel the hair on her arms and neck standing on end; not because she was scared or excited, but because there was so much electric energy in the air that it was impossible to relax in the slightest.
Don't overload the breaker, don't overload the breaker -- if we lose power now they won't complete the tuning process. 97% ... 98% ... 99% --
A humungous implosion of energy collected directly between the two magnets and exploded outward in the same instance like a three dimensional wave, enveloping the gloves and everything else in the building. Jane flinched when the wave passed over her, but felt nothing, as she knew she wouldn't. The EMP blast fried all the electrical systems in the garage; the computer monitor was dead, the air was quiet and empty of clacking energy, and the halogen bulb that lit the garage was black, leaving them in a dark, powerless room empty of light, except that which came from the only remaining source.
The gold and copper rings that adorned the old gauntlets were glowing warmly, as if the light was actually emanating from within the material of the rings. The light wasn't bright enough that it would be noticeable if the gloves were in sunlight, but in the darkness that surrounded Jane and Dexter in the lab, they were beacons of comfort.
"Did it work?" Dexter asked heavily behind her.
Her eyes wouldn't let go of the gloves; she scanned the hem for the magnets, but they were nowhere to be found. She couldn't believe it — she lowered her eyes to the workbench, and to her extreme surprise she saw the two magnets lying on the bench, blackened to a crisp. She reached out and brushed one gently, but it only rolled over at her touch. She picked it up and pushed it toward the other magnet, but she felt no force between them. Their sacrifice was whole.
"I'll reimburse you for the magnets.”
"Don't worry about it —."
She took the gloves from the wire frame with the care one might expect
someone to handle explosives and placed them on her hands. The loose wrists of the gauntlets were held open by the solid rings, so her hands had no trouble finding their way. The glowing rings fell just behind her thin, pale wrists. She held up her creation, admiring the dim brightness of the functional part of the invention. There was no way the process failed this time, she'd never gotten results even close to these. But she knew there was only one way to be sure.
"Well, you know what they say. Learn by doing."
Dexter was silent while she approached the large stone in the center of the garage. Still without power in the cramped space, she could only barely see the outline of the boulder thanks to the faint light that managed to seep into the garage from outside. Thankfully, she didn't need to see the stone to test her invention.
Face to face with the hunk of gray rock, she pressed her gloved hands against the rough surface, as if she might push the huge thing across the room. She put all her weight against the stone; she could have been doing standing pushups. After a moment, a barely audible sound crept to life inside the garage. It echoed off the metal roof, like a giant tuning fork had been struck against the structure.
The source of the vibration was the stone that Jane was manipulating with the gauntlets.
Despite her pressing directly into the rock surface, she couldn't feel the vibration in her arms or hands at all. It stopped at the edge of the gloves she wore. The pulse continued at higher and higher rates, until finally it ceased altogether, leaving an echo of the vibration ringing through the air. The glowing rings around her wrists were now locked in their orientation with the huge monolithic stone, and she sighed with relief. It worked!
Without hesitation, and with very little effort, she lifted her arms above her head and locked her elbows so that her palms were facing the ceiling — and the immensely massive stone glided effortlessly off the floor in an arch through the air to follow her motion. She didn't need to grip with her hands at all. She lifted the entire mass of the giant stone as if it were no more than a feather hanging from her gloves.
She jumped at the loud whoop from Dexter's celebration, but the stone stayed securely above her head. If she closed her eyes, she couldn't feel the slightest indication that she was holding anything whatsoever. She finally figured out the secret!
"My God, you'll be rich! Who do you think will end up offering the most for it? Can you imagine what this is going to mean?! Not just for you, but for the world! It could change everything!"
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," she replied, although she was barely able to control her own excitement. She started to return the stone to the floor, only pausing for a moment at the point where her arms were directly in front of her to marvel once again at how little effort was required to hold the unimaginably heavy object. After the stone was once again resting on the floor, she went to pry her hands away from the coarse surface.
The gloves would not budge. The worn out material was still malleable as it had always been and responded to her movements, but the gold and copper rings felt stuck in their position. Her wrists could not force the rings to move. Instead, in a strange fit of sudden hand based claustrophobia, she jerked her arms violently away from the stone, relaxing her hands so they slid from their leathery prisons with ease. The vacant digits of the gloves fell limp against the stone, held in position only by the still metallic rings, which continued to float directly above the surface of the rock.
"I'm guessing that wasn't supposed to happen?"
They stood in silence for a moment while Jane stared unblinking at the
gloves, thinking hard. She hadn't considered that there might be a trick to detaching them once they were in use. How could you disrupt such a powerful static state?
"Could I make a suggestion?"
It was barely louder than a whisper. He probably didn't want to offend her, but she was grateful for anything that may help.
"Be my guest.”
"If the gloves fell into harmony with the natural frequency of the stone, then all we should have to do is change the frequency of either the stone or the gloves just long enough to separate them, right?"
She supposed that made sense, but what he suggested was far easier said than done. It had taken her almost two years to discover how to change the frequency of the gauntlets in the first place.
"And how might we go about doing that?"
"Well, I -- I don't know," he answered, defeated.
"When you figure it out, get back to me.”
Her focus returned to the problem at hand. Whatever the solution, it
probably wouldn't be something quick and easy. She pressed against the surface of the raw rock, but it didn't slide across the floor as it might if she was still wearing the gloves. Good, she thought. The stone is only weightless if you control the gloves.
She circled the hunk of rock, her glare unbroken. After a few revolutions she stopped at a set of old wooden shelves by the door. Amongst the musty boxes, broken tools, and rusted pieces of spare hardware was a cobweb ridden canvas tarp cramped and forced into the bottom ledge. She pulled it from its resting place and shook off as much of the accumulation from over the years as she could, filling the air with a thick cloud. She flung the tarp over the rock, completely covering the gloves in the process. Until the power came back on she had no reason to wait around in the dark garage.
"We'll leave it for now. When the power comes back, we'll try again."
She gestured toward the door, out of which Dexter promptly exited. She followed after collecting her bag from the workbench. Once she was outside and the heavy padlock on the door was secured she took a glance at her phone to check the time. 7:15 already?
"I'm starving, do you wanna grab a bite?" Dexter asked, having stopped at his car, an unassuming maroon sedan with a visible layer of clutter built up inside.
It was late, and although she hadn't eaten in hours herself, she didn't want to lead him on. She had a sneaking suspicion his interest in her extended beyond her research.
"I'm good, thanks though. I'll see you at school tomorrow. Have a good night."
She nodded once to him before ducking inside. She listened for the slam of the car door, which was followed shortly by the ignition of the engine, and the slow reverse out of the narrow gravel driveway.
She sighed. She wasn't against the idea of being with someone younger than herself, but she didn't want to risk losing Dexter as an assistant. He was too smart, worth too much — certainly more than he would be as a romantic partner. But he was handsome ...