We Didn't Start the Fire

From the Story Arc: Sparks!

Previous Story in the Arc: Only the Good Die Young by Petrograd (Tuesday, October 03, 2006)

(posted Sunday, October 15, 2006)

Co-written with Belladonna Aura, Tesla anecdotes adapted from Tesla, Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney

Fall, 1885

Nikola Tesla walked towards Edison's office, beaming with pride. He had worked hard for the better part of a year, but it would be worth it all today. Edison had almost gaped at the proposal: a complete overhaul and upgrade of every single dynamo in his holdings, with implementations of completely new designs and technological improvements on the cutting edge of innovation. The work was hard and tiring, but it was finally complete.

Eddison glanced up from his desk as the tall, slim man entered. "Ah, Nick, what brings you here? Needed an escape from the drafting table?"

"Mr. Edison, I've finished the work on your dynamos. By next week, every generator in your company will be at the highest standard of the indusrty!"

"Well, bully! Quite the job you've done too. You've filed the patents with the firm I trust? We should see about getting you a raise... how does $18 a week sound?"

Tesla didn't even blink at the mention of nearly double his pay. "I've come for my bonus, you see. You offered $50,000 if I could complete the project." Enough to support his own laboratory, free from the oppressive hold of Edison, finally able to work on his polyphase alternating current experiments instead of Edison's primitive DC.

Edison let out a guffaw. "Tesla, you don't understand our American humor. Now, about that raise."

Tesla clenched his jaw and walked out of the office, out of the building, and out of Edison's company for the last time.

* * * * *

Astra Kyne Murdock, her arms laden with books and her notebook computer, trotted into the CCCP library expecting to find it empty. It usually was, although the new comrade, Russian Trawler, was sometimes here reading among the Russian-language books, especially since Commissar Bella had taken to adding things that were not Marxist/Socialist in nature. A nice lot of books in Russian and English on myths and folktales, for instance. And a lot of classic Russian literature, Dostoyeski, Puskin...which was why she was here. She was going to write a paper on the three versions of Eugene Onegin, prose, opera and ballet--

But all of the tables were occuppied, full, running over, with a welter, a chaos of books, papers, printouts, old magazines--even an ancient microfiche reader. At the center of the chaos was one person.


She blinked.

< Comrade, what in the Sam Hill are you doing? > Kyne asked, before Astra could say anything.

Petrograd jumped at the interuption, spilling a stack of ancient newspapers across boxes of slides. "Ah, Ms. Murdock, pryviet! Am tracking down a madman."

"Um..." She tried to work out what on earth he could mean. "An old supervillain?" she hazarded.

Ivan just chuckeled, "Nyet, the 'father of modern science.' Has been dead for... am thinking 70 years."

"The father of..." Her brain wasn't working.

< Tell me you don't mean Edison? That old fraud. Ninety percent of what he claimed for his own discoveries he stole from his employees. >

He shook his head momentarily. "Am sorry, am forgetting myself. Hello to you as well, comrade Kyne. Nyet Edison, but are close, am more interested in one of his 'contributors': Nikola Tesla. Crazed Serbian pioneered half of modern science, and could have credit for the other half if he had kept up with records."

Now it dawned on Astra. Oktyaber's gloves, and now the rest of the suit. "Oh! You're trying to fix Uncle October's Electric Knight suit!" She looked over the mess. "Um, Comrade Petrograd? Can I help? I'm good at organizing and research." She didn't wait for him to answer, either, she put her own load down in the corner and began sorting through the ancient newspapers, carefully locating the Tesla articles in each one and stacking them by the copier. "I'll make photocopies of these for you, they're easier to stack--"

Before the afternoon was over, as Petrograd watched--dumbfounded, she thought, though it was hard to tell through that helmet--she turned six tables of "stuff" into two. Books were butterflied open to the right section and stacked that way, one on top of the other, with post-it tabs on the pages for good measure. Far too many old newspapers had been turned into a nice, neat folder of photocopies. The microfiche was also now a stack of printouts. And so forth--

And once that was done she began all over again, sorting by topic.

Petrograd finally stuttered, "B-but comrade Murdock, what about your studies?"

"Hmm?" she replied absently, trying to decide if a particular set of documents should go under "Real Estate Transactions" or "Failed Companies." It was Kyne who answered. < No worries, Ivan. This paper isn't due until just before Xmas break. The kidlet is a workaholic. >

He nodded approvingly, before practically diving to Astra's side. "Ah, you've found these! I have been looking for all morning, leads on Tesla's defunct beorgois corprations!"

Wordlessly she handed him the folder.

"Bolshoi, spaceeba!" He looked back over her stacks, uncomprehending, "Have you seen.... is brown pouch, full of stock transcriptions, marked 1921, and similar one from 1930? Am trying to trace lists between the two and figure out which are missing after Stock Market crash."

She handed him a flat file box, and began making labels for the stacks.

Petrograd dug through the box, marking notes in, of all things, grease pencil on a yellow graphed pad, before looking again over the stacks "Patent's Filed, work record... are having seen Crey municipal legal motions, 1982-current?"

"Umm...." she thought, and then brought out a bigger box, one that had once held a full ream of copy paper, out from under the table. "They file a lot of legal motions. Do you want me to cross check those on the computer with Mr. Tesla's properties? It would make a lot shorter list." She smiled. "I'm good with research on the net."

Petro quickly pushed his highlighter back into his belt. "You can do that? Was thinking legal clerks would to have sorted them as I asked, but..." he looked again at the gigantic box.

Astra giggled. "Of course! Especially from here! I can borrow Waitron to help, she can pull up the legal stuff and the property records a lot faster than I can, then I can run the cross-tabulation program Vickie built for me."

Ivan just bowed his head, sliding the files back towards her and punching Waitron's code into his radio.

"Comrade Petrograd, how can I assist you?" The robot sounded...jovial. Whatever was going on with that AI of hers...well it did seem harmless. Even beneficial.

"Comrade Waitron, spaceeba! Is software thing again, you are knowing... Bah, perhaps Astra can to explain better."

"We need to hack into Crey Systems legal again, Waitron, only this time it should all be unencrypted and I don't expect a lot of ice and firewalls. Legal motions for abandoned property aquisitions pretty much in the New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island areas. Then I need the records from 1910 to 1940 for Nikola Tesla's commercial properties." She thought. "You know, I think we might need more than that later, but that's what Comrade Petrograd wants right now."

"Crey Legal on property seizure?" The sound that came from the radio was very like a snort. "Hardly a challenge....there. Sent to Computer Two there in the library. And....there are the Tesla files as well." Astra unsnapped her USB key bracelet and plugged it into the front of the computer, bringing up the program Aunt Vickie had gotten for her so she could run cross-tabulations on practically anything. She fed it the two files as well as the GPS grid map from the USGS and kicked off the program to give her the results plotted an a map for printout.

"Can you to compare the map with Congress and Freedom Corps raid databases?"

"Waitron? Can you call that up for me?" Astra' fingers flew as she sent jobs to the printers.

"Cake." Waitron sounded just like her father. The file arrived and she fed it in.

Petrograd grabbed the maps from the printer, scanning over them. "Da, is as I thought, were all turned into labs or production facilities, cleaned out. Am needing whatever records they found there."

After a moment, he turned to the radio with a chuckle. "Well, if is challenge you are looking for, maybe you can to find where Crey's paper trail ends..."

"Crey's paper trail then? That's more like it." A pause. "Nice problem. It's going to involve shipping records, warehouse records...not at all hard to heck into but fun to trace...." A longer pause. "Oho! Nice. Very nice little problem you've given me, Comrade. Amazing how trucks leave those sites, but never arrive anywhere, just turn up back at the motor pool the next day. This will be fun. How long do I have, human time?"

Ivan began to say something reassuring, but cut himself off immediately. After all, Waitron was looking for a 'challenge.' "How soon can you have them?"

Instead of answering him directly, Waitron addressed Astra. "Astra, run a search on newspaper archives for June of 1973, looking for--"

"Oh! Someone might have written something about the records being moved. On it." Several searches later, Astra was peering at a blurry old photo from a cheaply printed leftist newspaper of the time of cartons being unloaded. "I have a shot, can you enhance it?"

In answer, the photo vanished from the screen, replaced a few moments later by one clear enough to read the address number, and identify the skyline of Baumton. It was Astra's turn again, calling up an old survey map and plotting those numbers across the zone. No telling what street it was on, or rather, had been on, but this did narrow things down a bit. She crosstabbed those sites with Crey properties and got...one hit.

"These are going to all take varying amounts of time, Comrade Petrograd," the 'bot said. "But there's your first one."

"Spaceeba, comrade Waitron, Astra, you are greatest!" Petrograd grabbed the sheet the second it cleared the printer, already on his way out.

As Astra watched Petrograd heading for the Boomtown porter, something occurred to her. Tesla was an inventor, a thinker...a hands-on mechanic too. But so far as she knew he had never had anything to do with, well, the hero business.

"Comrade Petrograd!" she called to his retreating back. "Why would Tesla build a super-hero suit?"

But he was gone.

Kyne sighed inwardly. < Astra, I do believe that man is going to get himself killed. >