Dr. Phil Rules the Waves

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September, 1636, Prague, Bohemia

Dr. Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz, president for life of the Royal Academy of Science, knew what was coming the moment Samuel Hartlib, the secretary of the Royal Academy, stepped into his personal laboratory at the top of the Mihulka Tower—there could be no other reason for him making the climb. “What am I being dragged off to this time?” he protested as he put away his pen and got to his feet.

Samuel had the cheek to smile. “Prague Radio is almost ready to begin transmissions.”

“And?” Phillip asked as he replaced his white lab coat with a jacket in a beautiful shade of orange.

“Someone from the Royal Academy has to be there when it is declared operational.”

“Why me?” he asked. “You’re the secretary. Why don’t you go?”

“Because, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz, sometimes only the president will do.”

Phillip sighed. “And I suppose you’re going to tell me that this is one of those times?”

Samuel nodded. “This is one of those times, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz.”

Phillip glared ineffectively at Samuel, whom he was sure was laughing at him. “There seem to be a lot of these ‘one of these times’ events,” he protested as he gave his laboratory one last check to make sure he hadn’t left anything on. Unfortunately, it seemed there was nothing more to delay the inevitable. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

****

The room was full of the usual band of hangers-on for whom being seen in the right place, and more importantly, being seen talking to the right people, was important. Phillip managed to pretend most of them didn’t exist—and thus he didn’t have to greet them—as Samuel hustled him to a place of honor.

Phillip found himself seated alongside Vernon Fritz, the up-timer with overall responsibility for getting Radio Prague built.

“Hello, Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Vernon said as he held out his hand.

Phillip knew enough to accept the offered hand. “Herr Fritz,” he said as they shook hands.

“Sorry to drag you away from whatever you were working on, Doctor.”

Phillip waved the apology away. “No need to apologize.” He shot a glance in Samuel’s direction. Yes, he was watching. Phillip redoubled his efforts to keep a smile on his face. “So Radio Prague is ready to go on the air?”

“That’s why we’re here,” Vernon said. “Have you got your speech prepared?”

“Speech?” Phillip just managed not to shout it out, instead keeping it to a loud hiss, mostly directed at Samuel.

Samuel passed Phillip some papers. “Frau Kastenmayerin and I prepared something for you.”

Phillip scanned the pages, shooting Samuel repeated glares as he did so. Samuel and his own wife were taking advantage of his disinterest in anything to do with the running of the Royal Academy to advance their own agenda. With a final glare that was intended to show Samuel that he knew what they were up to, Phillip put the prepared speech to one side and turned his back on Samuel.

Vernon had a grin on his face. “You weren’t aware that you would be giving a speech?”

“Of course I knew I would be giving a speech,” Phillip said, lying through his teeth. “It’s just that I was so caught up in my research that I didn’t get around to preparing anything.”

“It’s fortunate that you have such good support in Herr Hartlib and your wife.”

Phillip shot another glare in the general direction of Samuel Hartlib. “Yes, it is,” he muttered. “So, Herr Fritz, what do you do now Radio Prague is ready to go live?”

“I’m contracted to hang around for another six months to deal with any teething problems.”

Phillip understood about teething problems—he had a son and daughter who’d been born on the 29th of February. Fortunately the nursery maid his wife’s stepmother had located for them had known what to do. “We’ll miss Frau Rutilius and Herr Bockelmann when they leave.”

“Oh, they won’t be leaving when I go. They’re on two-year contracts.”

“They are?” Phillip hadn’t known that. It opened a whole new world of opportunities. “Would there be a problem with them wiring my apartment so that I have electric light?”

Vernon shook his head. “There shouldn’t be a problem with that. Both Mags and Dietrich are qualified electricians. They’ll just have to do the work on their own time.”

“Naturally,” Phillip said, even as he wondered how he could get them to do the work in their normal working hours. Nothing leapt to mind, but maybe Samuel could help. Sorting out that kind of problem was what he did best.

Samuel slid up beside Phillip. “Herr Doctor, it’s time.”

Phillip gave Vernon a smile before picking up the prepared speech. “I’ll catch up with you later,” he said before following Samuel to the podium.

****

Phillip nodded his head as a token bow to acknowledge the applause his speech was being accorded. After a few minutes he held up a hand to silence the applause. “Thank you, thank you. Now, it is my proud honor to pass the baton onto—” He paused to glance at Samuel, who like the good secretary he was, was indicating the next person. “—Herr Vernon Fritz, the man responsible for bringing us Radio Prague.” He stepped back to allow Vernon up to the podium.

Phillip tuned out while Vernon spoke to the crowd. At some point, he was sure, someone was going to flip a switch. Obviously it wasn’t him, because Samuel would have told him so. He edged away from the podium so he could whisper into Samuel’s ear. “How much longer?” he asked.

“The formalities will end soon, Phillip, but you’ll be expected to hang around and talk to people,” Samuel said.

Phillip sighed, probably a bit too loudly judging by the way Samuel’s brows lifted. “I have experiments I have to get back to,” he protested.

“Have to?” Samuel asked. “What could be more important than keeping the Royal Academy in the public eye?”

Phillip knew that to Samuel keeping the Royal Academy in the public eye had priority over everything else. He also knew that if it weren’t for Samuel acting as a gatekeeper, he’d constantly be pestered by people wanting the Royal Academy to fund their pet projects. In the interests of keeping Samuel sweet, he kept his mouth shut, settled back in his seat, and waited for the evening to end.

 

A few days later

Vernon Fritz was walking down the street listening to Radio Prague on a portable crystal set he’d knocked up out of some bits and pieces he happened to have lying around. Reception on his portable set was good, which considering how close he was to the transmitter, was as it should be.

In addition to checking reception, Vernon wanted to check on the local reaction to the new radio service. Obviously he wasn’t going to find many people wandering the streets listening to the radio, and he could hardly go knocking door to door to ask if people were listening to the radio in their homes, so that left just one option. He was going to have to visit inns and taverns to check. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

He couldn’t hear a radio playing at the first tavern he stopped at. He discovered why when he stepped into the main room. There were people listening to the radio alright, but they were taking turns listening to a single crystal set. That wasn’t what he’d expected from a tavern. He approached the barkeep.

“Hello, I’m with Radio Prague, and I was just wondering what you think of the new radio station.”

The barkeep snorted loudly and shot a glare at the single crystal set in the room. “It’s useless. I thought I was being smart buying a crystal set, but while everyone wants to listen, they are too busy trying to hear to buy drinks. At least with the newspapers they buy drinks.”

Vernon was nodding as he listened to the man’s tale of woe. “What you need is a proper radio, not a crystal set.”

“I most certainly do,” the barkeep agreed, “but do you have any idea how much one of those things costs?” Before Vernon could utter a word the man continued on. “And then there’s the cost of batteries. The crooks that run the recharging service charge a fortune.” He stared at Vernon. “You’re an up-timer, aren’t you?”

Vernon nodded.

“Well, why aren’t you doing something about it. What I need is a radio that can be heard anywhere in my tavern, that doesn’t need electricity to work.”

Vernon backed away, promising to see what he could do. It would have served no purpose to tell the man that a radio for his tavern that didn’t need electricity was an impossibility—radio needed power in order to function.

The man shot a final couple of sentences after Vernon. “Maybe that Dr. Gribbleflotz can do something. I understand he’s the world’s greatest scientist.”

Vernon sniggered as he walked away. Dr. Gribbleflotz was not the world’s greatest scientist. If he was the greatest anything, he was the world’s greatest and luckiest fake, and there was absolutely no way he was going to invent anything that could solve the man’s problem. He headed for the next tavern, and this time he intended buying a drink before trying to talk to anyone.

 

Meanwhile, at the HDG Laboratories facility at the Mihulka Tower

Thump! Clatter! Thump!

Magdalena “Mags” Rutilius looked up from the new instrumental circuit she was struggling to assemble and saw a red-faced Georg Hoffman scrambling to pick up his crystal radio’s earpiece. “Stop!” she said. “Now, jump on it.” 

Georg looked at her in horror. “But that would break it,” he protested.

“Really?” she asked. “I thought that’s what you were trying to do.” She looked over her four assistants. This wasn’t the first time an earpiece had been dropped since Radio Prague went on the air, but on top of a fast approaching deadline to deliver the theremins they were making, Mags’ left arm was itching like crazy under its cast—she’d broken the arm saving Dr. Gribbleflotz’ lucky crystal from would-be thieves—as a result, her temper was not its usually sunny self.

“Look,” she said, trying to keep her temper in check. “This just isn’t working. You’re spending half your time fiddling with your earpieces instead of working.” She gestured to the incomplete theremins lined up against the back wall. “We need to get these theremins completed by the end of the week,” she told them, “so, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to listen to the radio only during your breaks.”

“But, Frau Rutilius,” Fritz Schmieles protested.

“Put them away now!”

No one was expecting the command voice from the small woman. All four laborants scrambled to remove their earpieces and stow their crystal sets. As they did so, Mags caught sight of their faces and suppressed a groan. The expressions on their twelve-year-old faces put her friend and mathematics tutor Daniel Pastorius’ best poor beaten puppy expression to shame, but Mags dare not show any apology for roaring at them however she felt. 

The four boys quietly turned back to their respective tasks, but their air of abject misery permeated the room. 

“It’s no good trying to make me feel guilty,” Mags informed the boys, schooling her face to sternness. She had no intention of telling them that they were succeeding.

“Why can’t we have a radio like they have in the kitchen?” Georg asked.

Mags laid down her tools and reached out to cover Georg’s hand with her own. “I’m sorry, but radios are expensive, and they need a source of electricity, which we don’t have, even if I could afford an electric radio.”

dprthrmn“But the Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Theremins don’t need electricity,” Fritz said, gesturing to one of the said machines sitting against a wall in the room awaiting the installation of the components Mags was working on.

Mags’ initial reaction was to smile at how Fritz insisted on giving the theremins their full name, with a lot of emphasis on Gribbleflotz. Clean clothes, three meals a day, and a warm bed to sleep in bought a lot of loyalty. She was just about to launch into an explanation about how the theremins converted the power generated by pumping the treadle into electrical power to drive the oscillator and amplifier when she realized what she was about to say and froze.

“Is there something the matter, Frau Rutilius?” Michael Thurn asked.

“Noooo,” Mags managed to say. “Hans, Fritz, bring that theremin over here.” She pointed to the space on her right.

“Lift it, don’t drag it,” she added when she heard the scrape of the theremin’s wooden legs on the floor.

“What are you going to do?” Hans Grünhut asked as he and Fritz carried the nearly completed Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Theremin over to Mags.

“Give me a moment,” she said. Mags studied the amplifier unit she’d been working on. If she replaced the oscillator inputs to the coil with the crystal set outputs . . . A smile spread across her face. She might have a solution to the earpiece problem. She disconnected the oscillator and turned her attention to the nearest crystal radio. Unfortunately, it was on the other side of the room, close to where the boys had been sitting.

“Okay, let’s get everything over beside that crystal radio,” she said, pointing to one of them.

The boys leapt into action and carried, not dragged, the theremin to the crystal radio Mags had pointed to. It took just a couple of minutes for Mags to solder the wires to connect everything

“Do you want this?” Georg asked.

Mags glanced round to see Georg was offering her fuel for the flame triodes. She shook her head. “Thank you, but we don’t need the flame triodes for this,” she said before she started to pump the foot treadle that spun the Alexanderson Alternator’s rotor. Soon she could hear Radio Prague through the speaker.

 

A few days later

Vernon walked into the radio station expecting to see everyone busy. They weren’t. They were gathered around a door watching something happening in the machine room. That didn’t bode well for the rest of the day.

Ernst Goetz, the locally-employed manager of the radio station, looked up. “Herr Fritz. We have been looking everywhere for you. Hans here has a problem.”

“What’s the problem?” he asked as he walked over. The sight that greeted him wasn’t pleasing. Hans had an access hatch of the main power cabinet open. He could hear that the Alexanderson Alternator was operating, which was comforting. It wouldn’t look good for the station to be off the air so soon after going live.

Hans Rohfritsch lifted his hands in a show of frustration as he pulled his head out from inside the cabinet. “Someone managed to break a coolant pump. That meant the coolant in the first bank of liquid rheostats started to boil, which resulted in a surge going through the main power supply. Fortunately, the backup system kicked in as it was supposed to.”

Vernon’s whistle wasn’t particularly pleased. “How the . . .” He managed to bite down on the expletive before it escaped. “The system is supposed to shut down before the coolant starts to boil.”

Hans shrugged apologetically before turning accusing eyes onto Ernst. “Someone pulled the override.”

Vernon turned his gaze onto the current villain of the piece. The override was only supposed to be used during maintenance operations and there were supposed to be safeguards in place to stop it being accidentally pulled during normal operations.

Ernst immediately started to stutter out excuses. “It was an accident,” he said.

Vernon raised his brows. It must have been some accident, he told himself. “You’re a front room guy, Ernst. What the heck were you doing in the machine room?” That got more mumbled excuses from Ernst. Vernon raised his hand to silence him. “Let’s forget about how it happened for now and just worry about getting it fixed.” He turned to Hans. “Can you fix it?”

Hans backed away from the cabinet he’d been working at and shrugged. “I’m pulling the boards to check on them. Meanwhile, it would be good if someone could unbolt the covers from the liquid rheostats.” He paused. “Maybe Frau Rutilius?”

“She’s still on the sick list,” Vernon said.

“But it’s her left arm that is broken, Herr Fritz, and she’s right-handed,” Hans said. “If Frau Rutilius can get at the mounting bolts . . .” He gestured to one of the enormous liquid rheostats to complete the sentence before going on. “Otherwise . . .” He left that sentence hanging, because Vernon would know exactly what the otherwise option was.

Vernon looked at the rheostats and realized that there was a design problem and winced. The bolts holding the heavy liquid tank covers in place were virtually inaccessible from above, blocked by another cabinet mounted above them. The space between them was far too small for Hans. He could unbolt the front of the covers from below, but there was no way for him to reach the bolts at the back.

He checked the rest of the watching team. Some of them were smaller than Hans, but they were all giants compared with the pint-sized Mags. If she could get into the gap between the rheostats and undo the bolts holding the covers in place, then they wouldn’t have to disconnect complete rheostats, unbolt them from the floor, and lift the heavy units up just to remove the tops. It would save them days of backbreaking work. He made a note. The next time the station was down, they would have to move the upper cabinet. Meanwhile Mags was the answer, “I’ll drop by and see how she’s doing.”

“Dietrich has said that Frau Rutilius is suffering ‘cabin fever,’ ” one of the other technicians said.

That statement amused Vernon. Dietrich was actually Dietrich Bockelmann, an electrical trades graduate from Grantville who had graduated in the same class as Mags. The rest of the team at Radio Prague happily called or referred to him by his Christian name. Meanwhile, Mags was still Frau Rutilius to everyone but himself and Dietrich. As for the cabin fever, he could easily believe that, and he was pretty sure Mags would leap at the chance to get back to work. It was going to be his job to stop her from making her injuries worse. “If I don’t think she’s fit to come back to work, she won’t be coming. So, Hans, I want you to look at ways to get at those rheostat covers while I’m gone. Meanwhile, the rest of you can get back to work.”

 

Mihulka Tower, HDG Laboratories (Prague)

Vernon made his way into the workroom where Mags was muttering to herself as she fiddled with one of her retail crystal sets. He watched quietly for a while, listening to the sound of Radio Prague coming from one of the other work rooms. The reception was good, as was the sound quality. Eventually Mags looked up and saw him.

“Herr Fritz!” she said as she scrambled to get to her feet.

Vernon waved a hand. “Stay seated. I just dropped by to see how you were getting on.”

Mags glared at her arm in its plaster cast. “I can do most things, but the cast gets in the way when I need to hold something.”

Vernon nodded. He’d observed the difficulties Mags was experiencing as she worked on the crystal set. But he’d also noticed that she had ways to work around the problems. “How would you like to get back to work?”

Mags’ eyes lit up momentarily, then she frowned. “But I can’t work with a cast on my arm,” she muttered.

“Not in your normal area of expertise, but they’ve managed to boil the coolant in a couple of the rheostats, and . . .”

“Boil a rheostat? How did they manage to do that?”

Vernon shrugged. He wasn’t ready to apportion blame until he had the full story. “That’s not important. What is, is that Hans Rohfritsch can’t get at the bolts securing the rheostat covers, and we’re faced with the prospect of lifting up each unit just so we can get at the bolts so we can remove the tops . . . So, are you interested in helping?”

“Yes,” Mags said as she carefully put the equipment she’d been working with down and started collecting her tools. “I’ll need to get changed,” she said as she got to her feet.

“No problem. Five minutes here or there won’t make much difference.”

While Mags dashed off to change Vernon examined the crystal set she’d been working on. He’d been impressed enough with the earlier versions he’d seen back in Grantville to hire her over graduates from the electrical trades course with better grades. He could see that she was working on a new version, this time using a flame diode as the detector, replacing the finicky cat’s whisker and galena crystal method of demodulating the AM radio signal. He wondered how well it would work, but seeing that she’d even thought to try it reassured him that he’d made the right decision. Even if she’d managed to get herself on the sick list for the last few weeks by breaking her arm.

“I’m ready,” Mags called from behind him. “We just need to tell Frau Mittelhausen where I’m going.”

Vernon nodded and let Mags lead the way.

There was another radio in the kitchen. Or at least Vernon imagined it was the kitchen judging by the sounds and smells coming from beyond the door. He shrugged. Obviously Dr. Gribbleflotz, or more likely, Frau Mittelhausen, believed that it was worthwhile investing in radios to keep his staff happy. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford to buy several—and the batteries to keep them going.

****

Mags shoved her knuckles into her mouth and sucked on them. The taste of lubrication oil was offset by the taste of her own blood. Next time she saw her boyfriend’s father—Jason Cheng Sr. of Kitt and Cheng Engineering and the head of the engineering department at the state technical college in Grantville—she intended to have words with him about doing more to get engineers designing things for ease of maintenance rather than just concentrating on designing for ease of manufacture.

She pulled her knuckles out of her mouth to survey the damage. She now had a complete set of skinned knuckles on her right hand. The only reason the left hand wasn’t similarly decorated was the plaster cast that made it difficult to use the hand also protected her knuckles. She made a mental note: work gloves.

“How’s it going?” Vernon Fritz called from behind her.

“Just the last bolt to loosen, and we can lift it free.”

“So?” Vernon asked.

Mags took the hint and got back to work. A couple of minutes later she removed the last nut and washer. “Okay, you can lift it now,” she called out as she stepped as far back from the liquid rheostat as she could.

Using a block and tackle, the other workers quickly hauled the top of the rheostat free and swung it onto a cart, leaving Mags still in the cramped space she’d been working in. “Could someone help me out, please?”

Two hundred forty-pound Dietrich stepped as close as he could before putting a hand under each of Mags’ arms. “Alley-oop,” he said as he easily lifted her less than eighty-pound body out from between the rheostats.

“Thanks, Dietrich,” Mags said when he set her back on her feet. She turned to Vernon. “What do you want me to do now?”

“You can help try and breathe new life back into those rheostats.”

Mags sighed. It wasn’t what she’d hoped to hear, but the likely alternative was being sent back home.

 

Kitt and Cheng Engineering, Grantville

Jason Cheng sent the radio-controlled model of Hans Richter’s Belle into a tight turn as he tried to get it into the six of the model airplane being flown by his friend and fellow apprentice mechanical engineer, David Kitt. However, with two almost identical models, gaining an advantage in a close-in dogfight was next to impossible. He broke off and sent his model in search of altitude.

The bell of the timer rang out, calling an end to the flight. Jason circled while David landed his model of Colonel Woods’ Belle before landing his own model.

They were shutting down their respective models when Barry Thompson, their current immediate supervisor, walked up. “That last flight can’t have lasted more than ten minutes. Are you two slacking?”

Jason ran a hand over his aching neck. Keeping an eye on a model airplane meant you were constantly looking skyward. “We were dogfighting, Barry. Ten minutes is pushing the limits for that kind of intense flying.”

“Yeah,” David said, rubbing his own neck. “You can’t afford to lose your concentration when you’re flying planes that aggressively that close together. Otherwise you’ll collide and bang go two models.”

Barry nodded. “Okay then, ten minutes is the limit for close flying. I’ll pass that on to the movie guys.” He paused a moment. “Should I tell them the models are ready, or have you two not finished playing around with them yet?”

Jason glanced over to David. He got a shrug in reply, which meant, if David was thinking the same as him, that he didn’t think they could put off handing over their handiwork any longer. “Go ahead, Barry.”

He would have said more, but just then Rosina Trempling, the office manager, appeared. “Jason. Your father just rang. You were supposed to be home half an hour ago.”

Jason shot a glance at his watch. “It can’t be that late,” he protested. He looked around at all the gear that had to be put away before he could head home. He was going to be in soooo much trouble.

“Just leave it and go, Jason,” Barry said. “David and I can put everything away.”

“But you’ll owe me,” David said, making move-along gestures with his hands.

“Thanks,” Jason said before grabbing his personal gear and making a run for it.

 

Meanwhile

Jason’s older sister, Diana, had her nose buried in a book. It was no ordinary book. It was an offset-printed photographic reproduction of Dr. Shipley’s copy of Grey’s Anatomy, and the very expensive book’s presence in her personal library was a good reason to be glad of her family’s relative wealth.

She was reaching out to turn the page when there was a knock on her bedroom door. She sat up. “Yes?” she called to the still-closed door.

“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” her mother called.

Diana groaned and muttered about yet another interruption to her studies. “Coming,” she called. She placed a bookmark in her book before closing it and got to her feet.

 

Some time later

Jason made his apologies as he pulled out his chair and flopped down. “Sorry. But David and I were test flying the Belles and lost track of the time.”

“How are they going?” his mother, Jennie Lee, asked.

With that question, coming from his mother, Jason knew he wasn’t in any trouble. “They’re working perfectly. The engines are firing without a hitch.” That last was important, because he’d built the engines himself, copying one of the engines his father had made. Sometimes it helped to have a father who was a mechanical engineer who had been heavily into radio-controlled aircraft before the Ring of Fire.

“So you’re ready to hand them over to Gino?” Jason Sr. asked.

Jason nodded. Gino Bianchi was the director and producer of the proposed Hans Richter movie, and the person who had commissioned the two radio-controlled scale model Belles. “Barry’s going to give the studio a call and let them know they’re ready.” He looked inquiringly at his father. “So, what are you going to have David and I work on next?”

“Funny you should ask that,” Jason Sr. said, “because we’ve been asked to send someone to Prague to help with a problem the radio station has experienced.”

“Prague!” Jason said, all excited. “Can I go?” Mags, his girlfriend of more than four years was currently working there, and he hadn’t seen her since June—not even to check up on her after she’d been injured in an encounter with a couple of housebreakers.

His father nodded. “You’ll be going, as will the rest of us.” He looked pointedly at Diana.

“What?” Diana protested. “But I can’t go to Prague. I’ve got an anatomy test to prepare for, and I’ve got assignments to write, so I need access to the library.”

Jennie Lee turned to Diana. “You, young lady, need to cut back on your studies and relax a little.”

Jason stared at his mother in disbelief. “Who are you and what have you done with my real mother?” he asked.

“What he said,” an equally incredulous Diana said. “The only reason you haven’t grounded him for life for graduating only second in his class is because he was beaten by Daniel.”

“Who happens to be a certified genius,” Jason said, “with an IQ off the scale.”

Jason Sr. and Jennie Lee smiled at each other before turning to face Jason and Diana. “That is beside the point,” Jennie Lee said.

“Teacher’s pet,” Jason muttered, referring to the fact his mother was one of Daniel Pastorius’ mathematics tutors, and that they shared a true love of mathematics.

His mother glared at him. “I was speaking to your sister,” she said before turning her attention back to Diana. “You’re getting too far ahead of the rest of your intake, and the teaching staff are running out of material to give you before the class is scheduled to start working on the wards.”

Jason Sr. smiled at Diana. “We’re proud of you. You’re going to complete the BSN curriculum six months ahead of the previous best by any student, and your mother and I think you deserve a short break.”

“But what will I do in Prague?” Diana protested. She gestured towards Jason. “It’s all right for him. He gets to visit his girlfriend. But what will I do while we’re in Prague?”

“You could visit the hospital,” Jason suggested, “to see what’s happening with Dr. Gribbleflotz’ vibrating bed experiment.”

Diana snorted. “That’s a load of crock,” she said. “There’s no way vibrating beds can help patients heal faster.”

“And how do you know that, young lady?” her father asked. “At least Dr. Gribbleflotz is willing to test the theory before reaching a conclusion.”

“And,” Jason said, eager to add his two cents worth, “your friends on the veterinary program did say that cats’ purrs help speed up healing in animals.”

He got a glare from his sister in response to that. “If it was a viable treatment someone would have been doing it up-time,” she said.

“Just because you’ve never heard of anyone researching the field doesn’t mean it won’t work. Keep an open mind!” Jason said. “You never know; it might turn out to be a revolutionary cure.”

“You mean your girlfriend’s hero might finally manage to invigorate the Quinta Essentia of the human humors,” Diana said.

“Children!”

Jason and Diana froze. Their mother very rarely raised her voice. There was a mutual exchange of glares as they fell silent.

“Thank you,” Jennie Lee said. “We are all going to Prague. That’s final. Now, let’s start planning the trip.”

 

A couple of days later, Grantville

Jason Cheng Sr. slipped into the drawing room as quietly as he could. His son and his fellow apprentice mechanical engineer were attempting to produce accurate engineering drawings of two completely different bearing housings. When their drawings were complete they’d be checked for errors and corrected before being turned over to Ollie Reardon, who would then hand them on to some of his machine shop apprentices, asking them to make the bearings.

He edged up beside Barry Thompson, the company’s head, and only, qualified machinist. “How are they doing?” he quietly asked.

Barry whispered back, “They had a few teething problems finding things in the engineering drawings standards manual, but they seem to have worked out what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Jason Sr. nodded. The drawing standards manual laid down the conventions to be adhered to by engineering and drafting personnel in the preparation, revision, and completion of engineering drawings. If his son or David Kitt deviated from the standards, it was likely Ollies’ apprentices wouldn’t be able to follow the drawings. It was, naturally, a test—testing Jason and David’s ability to produce proper engineering drawings, and, after they’d been corrected, the ability of Ollie’s apprentice machinists to follow said drawings.

Before too long Barry called out that time was almost up. That resulted in a brief flurry of activity as the two youths gave their drawings a final check, making subtle alterations here and there.

“Time’s up,” Barry announced a few minutes later.

Both Jason and David laid down their pencils, pushed their chairs back, and stood. “Why do we have a time limit?” David asked as he rubbed his neck.

Barry glanced to Jason Sr., inviting him to answer.

“If you had all the time in the world,” Jason Sr. said, “you’d never make a mistake, but we’re running a business, and we can’t afford to have you spending hours we can’t charge preparing drawings, so you have to learn to work to a time limit.”

Jason and David exchanged looks. They’d learned about chargeable and nonchargeable hours when they first started their apprenticeships. Chargeable hours were included in the quote and produced income, while non-chargeable ones cost the company. David’s mother had told them in no uncertain terms not to accrue non-chargeable hours.

“Barry, if you don’t mind, I’d like a few words with Jason and David.”

Barry glanced around, raising a brow in Jason Sr. “Hey, no problem. I’ll just collect the drawings and start checking them.”

“Thanks.” Jason Sr. turned to the two boys. “I’ve just been on the phone to Gino . . .”

“Is there something wrong with the Belles?” Jason asked his father.

“No, but it is about the Belles.” Jason Sr. grinned. “How would the pair of you like to show off your flying skills to the good people of Prague?”

“Hey, cool,” David said.

“Why does Mr. Bianchi want us to fly the Belles around Prague?” Jason asked.

“He wants to use them to raise interest in his movie.”

“But he hasn’t made the movie yet,” David protested.

“Is he trying to get investor interest, Dad?”

Jason Sr. shrugged. “Maybe, but that’s not our concern.”

“Mum’ll be very concerned if we aren’t going to get paid,” David said.

“Yes, your mother would be concerned,” Jason Sr. agreed. “However, we have been paid for our work to date.”

“Including the Belles?” David asked. “We only just turned them over.”

“The check is in the mail,” Jason Sr. said. Then he grinned. “Actually, your mother has already deposited the check.”

“So if we’re taking the film company’s Belles to Prague, what happens if anyone asks to have a go?” Jason asked.

“You tell them no,” his father replied. “We can’t risk the Belles in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing.”

“Even the king?” Jason asked.

Jason Sr. winced. The king was probably a special case. “We’ll have to make sure the king doesn’t want to try flying one of the Belles. Gino can’t afford to lose either of them before he finishes shooting the movie.”

“There’s an easy solution,” David said. “Just take some round-the-pole or simple control-line models.”

“That’s a good idea, David.” He stood up straight and smiled at the two boys. “I’ll leave you two to sort out what you need in the way of models and spare parts.”

 

A few days later, Prague

Jason Cheng was enthralled with what he was seeing and hearing as he observed his father investigating what was wrong with the Radio Prague installation. He glanced quickly at his fellow apprentice mechanical engineer and smiled. It looked like David was also enjoying the opportunity to see an expert at work. Of course, Jason was a still a teenager, having only recently graduated from high school, so although his brain was one hundred percent attentive to what was happening, another part of his body had other considerations. It had been more than four hours since his stomach had received sustenance, and it didn’t approve. It voiced this disapproval with embarrassing audibility.

Jason Sr. turned at the first audible rumblings from Jason. “Are you feeling hungry?” he asked.

“I’m good,” Jason said, waving his hand, but his stomach disagreed, releasing another loud rumble.

“We can stop now,” Vernon Fritz, the up-time installation manager for the Radio Prague project, said with a grin.

Jason Sr. glanced over at David. “How about you? Are you ‘good’ like Jason too?”

David grinned. “Actually, I am feeling a little hungry,” he said.

“Well,” Vernon said, “rather than let your apprentices starve, how about we find somewhere we can talk while we eat?”

Jason Sr. cast an expert eye over the machine room and nodded. “Let’s.”

****

Jason stepped into the inn just behind his father and Mr. Fritz. The first thing he noticed was how quiet it was. He managed to hold onto his curiosity until they were seated and their orders taken. But once the waiter walked away he lost no time asking. “Why’s it so quiet? I would have expected them to have a radio going.”

dprtcrstlVernon glanced around the inn. “There are radios in here.” He pointed to several small groups at one the wall end of their tables. “Those people are listening to crystal sets.”

“Crystal sets?” David muttered. “I would’ve expected an inn to have proper radios.”

“Shush!” Vernon said. He glanced around quickly before turning back to David. “It’s a bit of a sore point with a lot of the public houses. They want proper powered radios, but even those that can afford them are being held ransom by the battery suppliers.”

“Can’t they just use some other source of power?” David asked.

“What?” Vernon asked. “I’m sure that if someone could come up with a viable alternative to the crystal sets the innkeepers will beat a path to their doors.”

Jason stared at Mr. Fritz as the workings of his mind tried to process what he’d said. The only reason he and Mags hadn’t seriously pursued the idea of getting married was the inability to afford to establish and maintain their own household. If he could come up with a way of powering radios . . . But then reality reared its ugly head. There were two insurmountable problems preventing the inns from using radio. Firstly, there was the lack of affordable amplifiers—the only ones available were up-time ones, and then there was the fact radio needed electricity. A crystal set might be able to feed an earphone using just the faintest bit of broadcast energy, but an amplifier needed real electricity, from either a main supply or batteries. He sighed. It had been a nice dream while it lasted.

 

That evening, the castle

Dietrich Bockelmann stopped and pointed to a window set high up in the exterior wall of the Mihulka Tower. “That’s the window Liova came flying out of.”

dprtwmhlkJason looked up and whistled. The window in question was just below the tower’s conical roof, about five floors up. Mags’ cat must have fallen at least fifty feet. “How the heck did he survive falling that far?” he wondered aloud.

Dietrich shrugged. “I’m just glad he did. Can you imagine how Mags would have felt if . . .”

There was a lot of body-English in Jason’s wince as he hunched his shoulders protectively at the potential repercussions of Liova dying. Mags loved her cat almost as much as she loved him, or at least he hoped it was in that order. “She would have been inconsolable.”

“Yeah, well, fortunately, he didn’t die, and the only person hurt was Mags.”

There was something in Dietrich’s tone that drew Jason’s attention. A quick glance at his face told Jason that Dietrich was still feeling guilty for not being there to protect Mags. “You were at work when those guys broke into Dr. Gribbleflotz’ lab, Dietrich,” Jason said. “I don’t blame you for what happened to Mags, and I’m sure she doesn’t either.”

“I blame me,” Dietrich said.

There wasn’t anything Jason could say in reply to that, so he changed the topic. “Shall we go in?” he asked.

“Sure,” Dietrich said before leading the way in.

They were confronted by a woman the moment they stepped into the building. She looked Jason up and down before turning to Dietrich. “Would this be Mags’ young man?” Ursula Mittelhausen asked.

“Yes, Frau Mittelhausen. Allow me to introduce Jason Cheng.” Dietrich nudged Jason towards Frau Mittelhausen. “And this is Frau Mittelhausen, without whom nothing would get done around here.”

Ursula held out a hand, and with a quick glance Dietrich’s way for reassurance that it would be correct, Jason took the hand in his and shook it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Frau Mittelhausen. Mags has spoken about you often.” Which was true, Mags had, although not always in a complimentary manner.

Ursula’s smile suggested she suspected as much. “I expect you’ll want to see Mags. She’s up in the workroom.” She stared hard at Dietrich. “Dinner will be in half an hour.”

Dietrich grabbed Jason and started to tow him away. “I’ll see that they’re both down in time,” he said.

Jason cast a despairing look at the fresh bread on the kitchen bench. “What’s the hurry?” he demanded.

“Mags has got something you need to see.”

“What?”

“She’s made something I think has real prospects.” He set off towards the workrooms.

“What?” Jason repeated his demand as he chased after Dietrich. The last thing she’d made was her theremin, which had been adopted by the Prague chapter of the Society of Aural Investigators as the Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Aural Detector. That was a nice little earner. He wasn’t sure what the current market price for them was, but he did know the first one sold for thirty Venceslasthaler, or about three thousand dollars. “What’s Mags made this time?”

Dietrich glanced over his shoulder. “Follow me and you’ll find out.”

He stared at the Dietrich’s departing back for a few seconds before hurrying after him, catching up with him just outside the main workroom in the Mihulka Tower.

There was sunlight shining through a window, illuminating Mags. Jason just stood there, taking in the vision before him. Meanwhile, Dietrich made their presence known, and Mags’ head shot up. She saw Jason, burst out of her chair, flew across the room, and threw herself at him. Fortunately, Jason was able to catch her, even as she swung her arms around his neck.

“Ouch!” Jason protested when Mags’ plaster cast hit his head.

“Sorry,” Mags said before hauling herself up off the ground to kiss him.

“Hey, Georg, who told you to stop pumping?” Michael Thurn called out.

To Jason’s disappointment the shout by one of the laborants caused Mags to break off the kiss and lower herself to the ground, but not out of his arms. He looked over to where a laborant was starting to pump the treadle of a theremin box. He glanced down towards Mags and was just about to ask what was going on when he heard the theremin’s high pitched note turn into music. Hearing it, he realized there had been music playing when he first entered the workroom, and if the music was restarting as Georg pumped the theremin . . .

“Is that a radio?” he asked, pointing at the machine emitting the music.

Mags shook her head, but Dietrich contradicted her. “Yes,” he said.

“But it’s not,” Mags protested, turning her head towards Dietrich. “It’s just a theremin I rewired so that the input is from a crystal set instead of the oscillator.”

“Which makes it a radio.” Dietrich looked towards Jason. “I only discovered what Mags had done a couple of days ago, after we heard you were coming to Prague, otherwise I’d have told Herr Fritz.”

“But why would you want to tell Herr Fritz that I’d wired a crystal set to a theremin?” Mags demanded.

Jason pulled Mags until her back was against his chest, and hugged her. “Because there is a demand out there for radios,” he said.

“Especially ones that don’t need electricity,” Dietrich said.

“But it uses electricity,” Mags protested.

“Dietrich is talking about mains or battery power, Mags. And your new radio doesn’t need either.”

“Yeah,” Dietrich agreed. He turned to Jason. “How do you think it’d work in a bar?”

Jason thought about for a few seconds before deciding he didn’t have enough information. “I think we need to find out,” he said. He turned to Mags. “Do you have one we could take to a local inn or tavern?”

“No, I don’t,” Mags said. “I have orders for modified theremins for the Society of Aural Investigators to fill.”

“We only need one,” Dietrich said.

“And just for one night,” Jason added.

Mags glared at Jason.

“Please.”

Mags released her breath in a noisy sigh. “All right. But only for one night, and I go along with you to make sure it comes back.”

“Well of course you’ll come along with us,” Dietrich said. “We need someone who knows how to set it up.”

“But not until after dinner,” Jason hastened to add. He’d already been embarrassed once by his stomach today, and he didn’t want a repeat.

“Sure, after dinner suits me, too,” Dietrich said.

“Men,” Mags muttered.

 

Later that evening

“It’s just down here,” Dietrich said over his shoulder as he led the way along the Loretánská, the main street heading west from the castle.

“Where are we going?” Jason asked. He was carrying the legs and treadle unit while Dietrich carried the theremin. Mags, of course, with two strong males to do all the heavy lifting, didn’t have to carry anything more than the three hand tools she’d need to put everything together.

Dietrich pointed. “Over there. The Black Ox.”

Jason looked at the sign hanging above the entrance. If he squinted, he thought the animal could be called an ox, and as for the color, given the light, he was willing to call it black. “How do we handle this?” he asked.

“I go in and ask Pavel if he wouldn’t mind letting us test a prototype human powered radio in his tavern.”

Jason noticed the use of the man’s Christian name. “Just how well do you know this guy?” he asked.

“Dietrich moonlights at The Black Ox as a bouncer,” Mags said.

“Ahh!” Jason had no difficulty accepting Dietrich was moonlighting as a bouncer. He lacked the solid, neckless look of the stereotypical up-time bouncer, but at over six feet and two hundred forty pounds he had a more than adequate physical presence. Add brains to that, and he was probably every bar owner’s dream bouncer—able to enforce the rules, but smart enough to know he didn’t have to actually hit people to do so. “So you don’t think there’ll be any problem?” he asked.

Dietrich shook his head. “Nope. Not unless it works so well Pavel wants to keep it.”

“What?” Mags demanded. “I thought this was just going to be a test.”

“It is,” Dietrich said, “but Pavel is running a business, and if he can have a proper radio going, he’ll get more people buying drinks.”

“We’ll cross the bridge when we come to it,” Jason said. “Meanwhile, how about getting this show on the road?”

“Sure thing,” Dietrich said, before leading the way into the tavern.

****

“Dietrich!” a swarthy man in a filthy apron called as they entered. “And you have brought friends. Please, introduce me.”

“Pavel Dusek, the proprietor of this establishment,” Dietrich said. “And these good people are Jason Cheng and his betrothed, Magdalena Rutilius.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Pavel said. He turned back to Dietrich. “So what brings you around to my humble establishment at this hour?”

Dietrich grinned. “This,” he said as he doffed the theremin radio he’d been carrying strapped to his back.

Pavel ran his eyes over the wooden box before turning back to Dietrich. His brows rose in question. “And why might I be interested in a Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Aural Detector?”

“Ahh,” Dietrich said, “but this isn’t just a Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Aural Detector. Magdalena here,” he said, gesturing towards Mags, “has managed to combine the technology of the Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Aural Detector with a crystal receiver to create a human-powered radio.”

Pavel’s eyes opened wide. “A what? A radio, you say?” He took another look at the device. “Does it work?”

“Of course it works,” Jason protested. “That’s why we brought it here.”

“Actually,” Dietrich said, inserting himself between Pavel and Jason, “although we know it works in the laboratory, we don’t know how well it works in a proper working environment.” He smiled at Pavel. “We’re hoping you’ll allow us to test it.”

“And how much will this cost me?” Pavel demanded.

“Not a pfennig,” Dietrich said. “After all, you are letting us test it in your bar.”

“Although we would like your honest opinion of how good or bad it is,” Jason said.

Pavel nodded, as if understanding and accepting the conditions. “Where would you like to set it up?” he asked.

“I’ll need access to an aerial and earth,” Mags said.

Pavel nodded again as he surveyed his bar. A few seconds later he pointed towards a table set up against a wall. “Can you set it up over there?” he asked.

Mags nodded. “Come on,” she said to Dietrich and Jason. “Let’s get it up and running.”

It took only a few minutes to set up the theremin radio and connect it to the aerial and earth wires that had previously been servicing a crystal set. Then Mags started pumping the treadle. Soon the sound of Radio Prague could be heard coming from the speaker. Around them the bar quietened as customers stopped talking to listen to the radio.

“Can you make it louder?” Pavel asked.

Mags nodded and started pumping the treadle harder. The harder she pumped, the louder the radio grew.

“That’s good.” Pavel nodded approvingly. “Just keep it at that level.”

 

Some three hours later

Mags was still feeling a little confused by events when they finally arrived back at Dr. Gribbleflotz’ residence in the castle. They entered to be greeted by Frau Mittelhausen. She looked the three of them over, surely noticing the absence of the human-powered radio.

“Did Pavel like Frau Rutilius’ human powered radio,” she asked.

“He loved it,” Dietrich said.

“He loved it so much he’s paying Mags ten dollars a day to keep it,” Jason added.

“Well, of course he is,” Dietrich said. “He’ll get more than ten times that in increased custom once word gets out that he has a radio you can hear without an earpiece.”

“I thought that might happen,” Ursula said. “And no doubt, within days, other bar owners will be beating on Dr. Gribbleflotz’ door demanding he make one for them.” She smiled. “It’ll be just like the Society of Aura Investigators, except there are a lot more bars than there are investigators.” She turned to Mags. “I think you need to resign from your position with Radio Prague and start making radios full time.”

Mags stared at Frau Mittelhausen, terrified at what she’d just suggested. “But I can’t do that. I can’t afford to give up my job.”

“You will have a job, Magdalena, making radios . . .” Ursula tilted her head as she looked at Mags. “You could call your business Mags Electrical.”

“Mags Electronics would be better,” Jason said.

Mags whirled round to face Jason. “What are you talking about?” she demanded. “I can’t just quit my job at Radio Prague.”

“Sure you can.” Jason reached out and dragged Mags closer so he could hug her. “You’ve been on light duties since you broke your arm, so they’ll hardly miss you. And, Mags, you could become filthy rich. The Higgins Sewing Machine Company will have nothing on Mags Electronics. The demand for radios must outweigh the demand for sewing machines by a couple of orders of magnitude.”

Mags blinked. That certainly appealed, but she could see a major problem Jason and Frau Mittelhausen were missing. “I don’t have the money to start a business like that, and—” She turned to glare at Jason. “—don’t suggest that your parents can lend me the money.”

“Mags,” Dietrich said.

She swung round to look at her friend, who was casually leaning against the door jamb. “What?” she asked.

He gestured towards Ursula. “I think Frau Mittelhausen might be about to suggest that Dr. Gribbleflotz lend you the money.”

“Oh!” Mags swung her attention back to Frau Mittelhausen. “Dr. Gribbleflotz?” she asked.

Ursula smiled. “Dietrich is right. Not that it’ll be the doctor himself putting up the money—he has little interest in anything outside his personal lines of research—but rather the holding company that owns HDG Laboratories. And I’m not thinking of lending you the money. I think we should form a company together. You contribute the knowhow, while we provide the money for facilities, materials, labor, and of course, distribution and marketing.”

“And just how much of this company would the holding company own?” Jason asked.

“Let’s be generous and call it a measly eighty percent,” Ursula said.

“EIGHTY PERCENT?” Jason roared.

Mags turned to her boyfriend. “Settle down. That’s just an opening offer.”

“Not only are we offering startup capital, but we are also providing access to the distribution channels we already have in place for the doctor’s products,” Ursula said.

Mags nodded. “Yes, but without my knowledge, there’s no product to sell.” She ran her tongue around her lips. “I might be prepared to go as high as fifty percent.”

“Hold it!” Jason said. “How about I talk to Mom and Dad and see what they think before you sign your life away, Mags?”

“And you’ll probably want to consult a lawyer, too,” Dietrich said.

Mags glared at her two companions. They were ruining her fun with logic. She turned to Frau Mittelhausen. “I guess I’d better see what Jason’s parents think.”

“You do that,” Ursula said, “but there is no way you’re getting to keep fifty percent.”

****

Jason drifted into the inn where he and his family were staying while they were in Prague, his mind more on the prospect of Mags leaving her job at Radio Prague and returning to Grantville than on what time it was. That attitude came to a screaming halt when he stepped into the room and was confronted by his parents, his sister, and David Kitt sitting around the table playing a board game in the light of an oil lamp.

“Did you have a good time?” his father asked in a very conversational manner.

“Yes,” Jason said uneasily as he removed and hung up his coat before changing his outdoor footwear for a pair of indoor slippers. “Dietrich took us to a bar he knows.”

“I would have thought you and Mags had better things to do with your time than hang out in a public bar,” David said.

Jason grinned. “Yeah, well, normally you’d be right,” he said. “But when I got to her lodgings I discovered she’d built herself a human-powered radio. Me and Dietrich thought there might be a good market for such a thing, so we all went to a bar Dietrich knows to see how well it works in situ.”

“A human-powered radio?” Jason Sr. asked. “From what Vernon had to say, I’m sure there would be an eager market for such a thing. How does it work?”

“She’s feeding the output from a crystal radio through a theremin,” Jason said.

“Using the theremin as an amplifier.” His father shook his head ruefully. “I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of it earlier.”

“Same here,” Jason admitted. “It’s one of those things that’s so obvious once someone else has already thought of it.”

“So how well did it work in situ?”

“Really well,” Jason said. “We could hear it from the other side of the room, even with the usual noise you’d expect from a bar at night.”

“So you spent all night at a bar?” Jennie Lee asked.

Jason shook his head. “No. We had dinner first . . .”

“Why am I not surprised,” Diana muttered.

Jason ignored his sister’s sotto voce comment and continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “. . . before going to The Black Ox. We were only there for a few hours, but Frau Mittelhausen was waiting for us when we returned.” He grinned. “She wanted to know how well it worked, too. Anyway, Frau Mittelhausen thinks Mags should quit Radio Prague and go into business making them full-time. The demand is going to be astronomical. Every public house that can receive a radio signal will want one.”

“I’m sure Frau Mittelhausen is right, but there’s no way we can help Mags start such a business,” Jennie Lee said. “Kitt and Cheng Engineering has to be our first concern.”

“That’s okay, Mom,” Jason said. “Frau Mittelhausen’s suggested Mags go into business with Dr. Gribbleflotz’ parent company. Mags will be responsible for making the radios and aura detectors while she sees to everything else. She said she wanted eighty percent of the new company for the parent.” He turned to his father. “That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

Jason Sr. nodded. “Eighty percent is more in line with what a vulture capitalist rather than a venture capitalist might demand. I wouldn’t have thought Frau Mittelhausen would demand that much.”

“I don’t think it was a demand,” Jason said. “I think it was more an opening gambit in a negotiation. Certainly that’s how Mags treated it. She came back with a counter offer of fifty percent, but I don’t think Frau Mittelhausen will go that low.”

“Mags shouldn’t make any agreement without consulting a lawyer,” Jennie Lee said.

“That’s what Dietrich said,” Jason said. He turned back to his father. “I told Mags I’d ask what you thought might be a reasonable distribution of ownership of the company.”

“That’s a tough one,” Jason Sr. said. “Let’s see,” he said, preparing to count points off on his fingers. “Mags is contributing the intellectual property, while Frau Mittelhausen, for Dr. Gribbleflotz, is offering capital and marketing.” He held up three fingers. “There are three parts to the deal, and Frau Mittlehausen is offering two of them. Maybe Mags should be prepared to let them have up to two thirds of the company.”

“But she shouldn’t make any commitment without seeing a lawyer,” Jennie Lee repeated.

“No, she shouldn’t,” Jason Sr. agreed. He turned to Jason. “When can we talk to Mags and Frau Mittlehausen?” he asked.

“I’m supposed to meet Mags after she finishes work tomorrow to go over the details.” He looked at his parents. “Can you come too?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Diana said.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Jason said.

“Children!” Jennie Lee said. “We will all be there.”

“Does that include me?” David asked.

“Sure,” Jason said. “You’re welcome to tag along.”

 

Next day, the Mihulka Tower

Mags was waiting with Frau Mittelhausen and Lips Kastenmayer, a younger brother of Dr. Gribbleflotz’ wife, when the Cheng party arrived. Mags made the introductions before leading everyone into a workroom where she had set up a theremin radio.

“That the radio?” Diana asked.

Mags smiled at Jason’s sister. “I know, it just looks like a theremin, but it works.” She looked at Jason. “Would you mind?”

“No problem,” Jason said. He walked over to the theremin and started pumping the treadle.

The sound of Radio Prague started to emerge from the speaker and everyone stood quietly and listened for a few minutes.

“That’s enough, Jason,” Jason Sr. said. He waited for the radio to fall silent before speaking again.

“So, Mags, we hear you’re planning on quitting your job with Radio Prague to start your own business?”

Mags sighed and looked appealingly at Jason. “I want to, but Frau Mittelhausen can’t see any role for Jason.”

“Don’t you worry about me, Mags. Mom and dad are planning a major expansion at Kitt and Cheng Engineering, and I’ll be part of that.”

“Really?” Mags asked, darting glances to Jason’s parents.

“Really,” Jennie Lee said.

“Yes,” Jason Sr. said. “You might think you’ve invented a radio, but what you’ve really done is created the basis of a new sound reproduction industry, and Kitt and Cheng Engineering intends being in on the ground floor supplying you with all the components you’re going to need.”

“One moment,” Ursula Mittelhausen said. “What do you mean by a sound reproduction industry?”

“Mags’ radio just connects a radio signal to an amplifier in the theremin,” Jason said. “Well, there are plenty of things that can use that same amplifier. We did a bit of brainstorming earlier, and came up with a few things Mags could add to her production line.

“In addition to the aura detectors and radios, there are also record players and public announcement systems,” Jason Sr. said.

“Also sound systems for performers,” David said. He mimed playing an electric guitar and smiled at Mags. “That was my idea.”

Mags winced at that. She’d heard David playing his electric guitar before, and she didn’t think the world was ready for that noise. “Fortunately, you’ll have to be your own power source, limiting you to twenty or so watts.”

David clasped his hands to his heart. “You wound me. My music is brilliant, and the louder the better. Which is why your boyfriend and I want to borrow one of your spare theremins so we can experiment with installing a glow plug engine to spin the Alexander Alternator.”

“I don’t have any spare theremins.” She gestured to the one across the room that she’d used to demonstrate her radio. “That one belongs to a member of the Society of Aural Investigators.”

“That’s okay,” Jason said. “Dad’s happy for David and I helping you build some more.”

“We’re going to need to take a couple back to Grantville with us for development work,” Jason Sr. said.

“Is your company going to be competing against Mags’ company?” Lips asked.

“No.” It was a resounding declaration from all four of the Chengs and David Kitt. For a moment they smiled at each other before Jason Sr. took charge. “We’re happy just helping design peripherals and making components for Mags’ company. We’re even happier to leave her company to put them together and worry about marketing.”

 

October, 1636, Prague

Vernon Fritz was once again conducting an unofficial survey of radio reception and listener satisfaction around Prague. He was walking down the same street he’d been walking down on his first monthly survey thirty days previously when he noticed a crowd gathering around the entrance to one of the many public houses that lined the street. Curious to see what had them gathering around the bar he approached.

As he got closer he was sure he could hear the current broadcast from Radio Prague emanating from the open door. He checked the portable crystal set he was wearing and confirmed that the sound was from Radio Prague. He increased his pace and quickly arrived at the door, where he forced his way in.

The room was crowded with men sitting at tables chatting quietly while they drank or ate. In the background was the sound of Radio Prague. He had questions to find answers to and glanced around the barroom, seeking the barkeep.

The bar owner met Vernon’s eyes and hurried towards him. “The man from Radio Prague,” he said as he reached out a hand to Vernon. “You have come to admire my new radio. It is one of the new Gribbleflotz Ethereal Plenitude Auricular Amplificators.” The man smiled at Vernon. “I told you Dr. Gribbleflotz would find a solution.”

****

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2 thoughts on “Dr. Phil Rules the Waves

  1. leegibson

    Great story by two of my favorite authors of R O F , but in this same issue David Carrico has just let drop that the armies of Murad IV have attacked Vienna in July!! I wonder if capitalism-as-usual will be bouncing along in Prauge and Grantville in October? I suppose we will know more after January 2 when the next major release in the canon comes out. (My order is in. Is yours?) Also – I may be wrong – but don’t I remember some references to pedal powered radios in the USE Army? Maybe I’m just having flashbacks to old WW II movies🎥? Anyway, I love the characters and the way they are developing.
    Lee

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