Connecting the last wire to the relevant test point with a quick dab from her soldering iron, Taylor lowered the magnifying glass and put the iron back into the stand. She waved a hand in front of her face to blow the wisp of smoke from the flux away, then studied the block of electronics in front of her on her desk. Carefully, slender fingers went over each sub unit, checking the wiring against a stack of hand-written notes next to her. "Master clock," she mumbled as she worked. "Yeah, that's connected from here, to here, to… here. Good. Phase error control signal… also connected." She wiggled a small connector and scowled when it popped loose.

"Stupid mmcx connectors, they never properly..." Pressing delicately she smiled when there was a tiny click under her finger. "Got it. I hate these things, note to self, next one use an SMB connector." She quickly jotted a few words in her notebook, then leafed through a whole pile of carefully drawn schematics to the right page and altered one section, circling it in red ink and writing in the modification, time, and date next to it.

It was important to document things properly, she felt.

Going back to checking her work, she kept checking the wiring, talking very quietly to herself as she proceeded, until she finally finished, straightening up with a smile. "Great. Everything's hooked up, and ready to test." Picking up the multi-cored cable she'd soldered to a dozen points inside the circuitry she looked at the free end, double-checking that all the color-coded wires were connected to the right pins on the complex plug at the end. "And this is right too," she muttered. "Not making that mistake again..."

The girl plugged the cable into another one that led to a stack of test equipment, much of it salvaged from the TV shop down the road after it shut down due to the owner having met an unfortunate end as collateral damage during one of the all too regular gang fights. The company that had come in to clear out the place had dumped most of the contents into a couple of large dumpsters around the back, which she'd noticed on the way home from school. Seizing the opportunity she'd persuaded her father to take the family truck over and spent a happy two hours scavenging a vast haul of useful odds and ends, along with enough obsolete but functional components to keep her going for years.

Now, she flicked the power switch on the front of the old dual-channel oscilloscope and watched as the indicator light came on along with a faint high pitched whine from the thing. It might have been mostly tube based, but it had been a very expensive device in its day and the specification was still good, it was just about six times the size of a modern one and took twenty minutes to warm up and stabilize. For the price of twenty bucks to the guys clearing out the shop to let her haul away half the stuff they were going to shovel into landfill anyway, it was a bargain.

Luckily her dad had known them, as the union had contacts everywhere. It came in handy at times.

While she was waiting for the scope to become usable, she turned on half a dozen other units, then rummaged around in a drawer for her good multimeter and the really fine probes. Eventually everything was on and ready and she had finished clipping several test connections onto power inputs and signal measuring points.

Finally, having obsessively triple checked there were no shorts between any of the half dozen different voltage lines, she took a deep breath and prodded the master power switch on her test console. It depressed with a small click and the rather anticlimactic result was that four green LEDs lit one after the other.

She smiled widely.


Picking up the meter she set it to the right range, then carefully measured a dozen different voltages throughout the thing she'd spend a month building. "Yeah, twelve volts is good, six volts is good, minus fifty two volts is… a quarter of a volt high, but whatever, close enough for now, five volts good… Everything's in specification. So, if I do this..." She flipped two toggle switches and adjusted a small potentiometer with a tiny screwdriver, then looked at the screen of the scope, on which two waveforms wiggled their way along. "...that happens. OK, so far so good." She leaned closer, pushing her glasses back up her nose, and carefully inspected the display, then clicked the timebase adjustment knob a couple of places. "Not quite right. So I need to..."

Picking up a non-conductive adjusting tool she inserted it into the core of one of the coil slugs on her circuit and very slowly turned it clockwise. The trace shivered and changed. "Good… Good… Whoops, bad, very bad!" A faint hum came from the device in front of her and she could smell something getting hot. Quickly turning the control back a quarter of a turn she relaxed when the hum and the incipient burning smell both faded away. "Close."

Adjustments were made to a few more coils, a couple of variable capacitors, and two little modules she'd made from scratch from some salvaged silver wire wrapped around a pair of assemblies constructed out of graphite rods from an old battery with a small painstakingly shaped piece of quartz on each end. One of them started glowing a very faint violet with a hissing sound, while made her pause, inspect it closely, then slowly nod. "OK. I think that's right."

The girl looked through her notes, glancing between the circuitry on the bench, her instruments, and the papers, before she finally shrugged. "Yeah, it's fine. I think. Nothing's on fire, anyway, so..."

She dropped the notebook back onto the bench and reached out for the last switch, the one that turned on the phase modulator, then flicked it to the on position.

A deep hum made the entire room vibrate for a second or two, rose rapidly in pitch to a whine, and faded away. The second rod lit up bright blue for a moment then dimmed down to the same faint violet glow as the first one, both of them alternately fading up and down in antiphase with each other. "Wow. Cool," she said to herself.

"Taylor? What the hell was that?"

"Sorry, dad, I got a harmonic feedback loop going, but it's fine now," she called back.

"Try not to do it again, three mugs just fell out of the cupboard and all the birds on the lawn flew away," her father shouted, sounding mildly amused and only slightly annoyed.

"My bad!" Taylor grinned to herself, then turned her chair to the side and reached for a pair of headphones, which she slipped over her ears. She plugged the jack on the end of the cable into the front of the heavily modified ham radio that was next to the oscilloscope, her electronic widget not only connected to the antenna socket where the normal coax plug would have gone, this hanging loose next to the bench, but to a number of places inside the chassis. Setting the controls to the right configuration she very gently turned the tuning knob, listening intently.

A rustling sound like someone crumpling paper a very long way away wavered around the threshold of audibility, and as the knob ever so slowly rotated, little bursts of strange sounds came and went. Some of them were reminiscent of animal calls overlaid with what might have been the sound of the sea, a couple were a weirdly atonal almost-music but not quite, one was a distinct crackling that was more like frying bacon than anything else she could think of, and quite a few were past her ability to even put a description to.

She picked one of the louder signals and slowly fine tuned the receiver until it was as strong as she could get it, then fiddled with the sideband controls for a while to see if that would make it better. The strange underwater gobbling noise faded and got louder, phasing in and out in a bizarre manner. Eventually it more or less stabilized and she nodded in satisfaction. Returning her attention to her scope she changed a few settings then studied the results with a small frown.

"What is that?" she asked herself very quietly, watching the trace plot out something strange. It seemed to have a pattern to it but it wasn't something she could really identify. Writing half a page of notes on it, along with exact settings of everything, she finally put the pen down and returned to the radio, moving on to another signal.

This process repeated over and over for the rest of the wet and windy mid-march day until she finally took the headphones off and leaned back. "Well, it works, but I'm not sure what it actually does," she remarked.

"Keeps you mostly quiet, which is useful," a voice said from behind her rather unexpectedly, making her shriek in shock and whip around. Her father was grinning at her reaction and holding out a plate in one hand with several sandwiches on, and a glass in the other one which was full of milk.

"Holy crap dad!" she shouted. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"

"I hardly snuck up on you, I knocked on your door and you didn't answer," he protested, still grinning. "It's half past six and you've been sitting there for more than five hours. I thought you might be hungry."

"I didn't hear you," she said more calmly, somewhat embarrassed.

"I noticed." He offered her the plate and glass, which she took with a smile of thanks. Leaning over her shoulder he studied the mass of electronics. "Does it work?"

"I think so. It's doing something, anyway. All the power draws and that sort of thing are right, and the interphase modulation signals are perfect, but I'm not sure if what I'm getting is what I should be getting or just something random." Taylor took a bite out of the first sandwich, then gestured with it at the device on her desk. "The downconversion must be working or I wouldn't get a signal at all," she explained in a muffled voice before swallowing, then continuing more understandably, "and I am getting a signal. I just can't figure out what it is yet."

She took another bite and chewed, regarding her latest project with mildly irritated satisfaction.

Her father put his hand on her shoulder. "You'll figure it out sooner or later, you're good at that sort of thing."

"Thanks, dad." The girl smiled up at him.

"Oh, while I remember, Kurt said he found some old radio tubes in one of the sheds we've been clearing out," her father went on, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket and looking at it. "Spares for the ship to shore radio transmitter the union used to use, but it's all been replaced with newer stuff these days. Big things, he said, nearly a foot long. The number is, um… 8166 slash 4 dash 1000A? Does that mean anything to you?"

She thought for a few seconds. The part number sounded familiar. Eventually she nodded. "Yeah, that's a high power tetrode amplifier tube."

"Any use to you? We don't have any need for them. He said there were half a dozen of the things."

"I can figure out something to do with them," she laughed. "Thank you. And thank Kurt too."

He ruffled her hair as he put the paper on the desk. "I will do. One of the guys also gave me three dead microwaves, maybe those will have some useful parts too."

"Magnetrons are always useful," she assured him, glancing at the one she'd rebuilt that was squatting in the middle of her project, emitting a dim red glow from the heater filament.

"OK, I'll bring them home on Monday." He looked out the window, where it was getting dark. "I was thinking we could go out for chinese tomorrow. For a Sunday treat."

"I'd like that, Dad," she said softly.

"Me too." Smiling at her, he made a mess of her curly hair once more, then left chucking to himself at her squawk of pseudo-rage.

When she'd finished eating the last of the sandwiches and drunk the milk, she put the plate and glass on the floor next to the desk and picked up the headphones, slipping them over her head again. Going back to carefully picking her way through the signals her invention had made available to her, she finally stopped on one of the first ones she'd found, the one that sounded a little like someone frying bacon while arc welding happened in the background. There was something about it that seemed vaguely familiar, unlike most of the others.

Listening to it intently she watched the signal jump about on the screen of the oscilloscope, which she spent the next hour fiddling with, until she froze in surprise, her eyes widening.

"It's data," she breathed, leaning closer. "That's the pattern, it's framing pulses with a payload between them. It was driving me nuts trying to work out why that sounded familiar."

She tweaked the scope controls more confidently now, watching the results, then nodded and looked around for some more test cables. Finding what she needed she quickly hooked half a dozen signal generators together in a rat's nest of wiring, using one to trigger another, the final complicated signal being combined with one from the innards of her device and connected into the oscilloscope on the trigger channel.

Flipping a switch on the front of the scope she watched the trace instantly stop randomly moving around in a near-meaningless mass of green light and semi-stabilize. "Not quite the right frequency," she mumbled, adjusting one of the signal generators, then another, the green line slowly moving towards something sensible. "And the pulse length is wrong… closer… that looks about right." The trace was almost stable now, clear sync pulses separated by quickly changing data that was different from frame to frame. She squinted at it, while making some final adjustments, then sat back and stared at the results.

Eventually she picked up her notebook and recorded all the settings of everything, along with a quickly drawn sketch showing how it all hooked together. When she'd done that she went back to staring at the screen with her elbow on the desk, her chin propped up on her fist.

After nearly twenty minutes of watching, she said quite firmly to herself. "That is a video signal, with a data subcarrier, and an audio signal buried in it too. I wonder if I can turn it into something I can actually watch?"


It took her two months.


Turning on the second generation version of her original invention, Taylor connected the old laptop her father had found in a second hand shop to it and opened the screen. Prodding the power button she waited more or less patiently for it to finish booting, then double clicked the program she'd written after a lot of experimentation and much reading of the books she'd borrowed from the library on signal analysis. While it initialized the data storage array which took much longer than a modern machine would have done, the hard drive clicking away inside the ancient computer, she turned the ham radio on and checked that it was still tuned correctly. A little careful tweaking and everything was ready.

She typed a few numbers into several text input boxes that were waiting for input and hit enter. The screen blanked, went black, then a whole series of colorful lines started slowly moving down it, forming a pattern she studied carefully. Eventually she went back to the first screen and changed two of the numbers, before repeating the process. This time she smiled.

"Got you."

She tapped the space bar.

The screen flickered and produced a surprisingly good video image.

Taylor examined the picture with her eyebrows getting higher and higher. After nearly a minute, she shook her head, blinked, and checked again.

"Holy shit," she said numbly. "I've got alien TV."

The fourteen year old girl watched the three entirely non-human but clearly intelligent creatures, that looked slightly like a cross between a human, a bird, and a cat, talk to each other in front of what was clearly some alien form of whiteboard or something of that nature. One of them picked up an implement and wrote something on the pale blue surface in bright red ink while the other two watched. When it finished, it pointed to some other symbology with one of the remaining three four-fingered hand-equivalents it had.

The other two aliens made strange gestures that she fancied were a sort of nod. One of them picked up a weird looking thing that was sitting with several other even weirder looking things on a kind of bench between them and the camera and held it up, two hands pointing to two different aspects of the whatever-it-was while the free one indicated one line on the board behind it.

"I've got alien educational TV," she said in disbelief.

The creature kept apparently explaining aspects of whatever it was it was holding, the one that had written what she was beginning to suspect were a set of equations looking on with what she couldn't help but think was slightly smug agreement while the last one gave the impression of being the new guy. She had no idea why she thought that, but it certainly was what she thought.

After about five minutes, the demonstrating alien carefully held the device a little higher, prodded one bit of it, then let go.

It hung in the air perfectly stably, making her gape, then look even closer.

"That's really cool," she finally smiled, watching as all three aliens started discussing something, the first one motioning to the writing in a manner that suggested explaining it point by point, while the second one kept picking up parts from the bench which were obviously bits of a similar device to the one that was merrily ignoring gravity. The third one appeared to ask questions, quite obvious ones if the body language she imagined she was seeing was real.

"It's an antigravity 101 class," she finally decided. "Holy crap."

There was no sound, but that wouldn't have done her any good anyway, and the images were more than interesting enough. Making sure that her program was recording all this to the hard drive, she grabbed her pen and a fresh notebook, flipping it open and quickly starting to scribble in it.


Three and a half months later she showed her father her first antigravity machine, along with two hundred pages of theory that explained in detail exactly how it worked and why.