Where Rob Johnson’s consciousness went for the next 10 days, nobody knew. In fact, many thought his brain-swelling coma would be a prelude to his death. Severe head traumas occurred frequently in the region, mostly as work related accidents in the mines, transport and logging operations. The doctors and medical personnel had done all they could.
It was the morning of the 10th day when he awoke to a multi-sensory implosion of tubes, wires, electronic beeps, and hissing sounds. He felt like he’d come from unbounded weightlessness to being trapped inside an iron maiden. He tried to make some sound, like one might do semi-lucidly in a nightmare to awaken. All he could manage was a faint “unnnnnnh”. Something was stuffed down his throat and hurt like hell. His eyes were trying to open but the light was so brilliant it smarted and things were all fuzzy. A blurry haloed image appeared overhead.
“Rob? Rob? Rob!” A female voice glided through his clouded senses. “Oh my God! Jim get the nurse in here! He’s back! Praise Jesus, he’s back! Rob! Honey! Can you hear me?”
He gave the slightest of nods and felt her hands on his and her lips all over his forehead. “Rob! I love you so much!” He figured this must be someone he knew, and as the memories began seeping back, his vision cleared and there was Judith, his sweet Judith.
Rob’s treatment and recovery was a tough go. In addition to a shattered leg, he’d had ribs broken, several vertebrae cracked in his lower back, and most seriously, trauma to the head. He’d been Medivac’d to the Charleston Medical Hospital’s Brain Trauma Unit where he underwent a series of triage procedures to get him stable and then after numerous surgeries and drug regimens, they put him on life support. Then came the long, agonizing wait and see roller coaster.
“Everything’s in God’s hands now”, the surgeon had said to Judith. She’d been by her husband’s side for nearly twenty years, and she wasn’t about to let him go without God hearing about it. She made calls to her church minister who called other churches, and before long, there were legions of church folks praying for Rob’s swift and full recovery.
Turned out, it wasn’t so swift or full. Rehab took two more weeks in the hospital, then 6 months of clinic visits, PT, and going from wheels, to crutches to a quad cane and finally, to a cane. There were, however, compensations resulting from his accident and a definite upside pertaining to his future.
The coal company carried comprehensive medical that covered nearly all the hospital and clinic bills; he qualified for disability payments, workmen’s comp, plus retirement. The company that insured the mining equipment sent a team of accident investigators who found that there was a mix-up in the type of hydraulic brake fluid. The wrong type was used. The maintenance manual for the previous truck models was followed instead of the new model’s. “These things happen more than you think”, the adjuster told Rob’s boss, Marty.
The investigation revealed that, as with any accident, other phenomenon came into play. There’d been heavy rains the week before and the terrain was mushier than usual; the truck had been slightly over loaded toward the back end. Ridiculous as it was, there was even a theory that if Rob had stayed with the truck, it might not have tipped over. All in all, the service mechanic was let go, and the insurance company paid off. Rob was not faulted. No one would have expected him to keep seated when the automatic tip over alarm went off inside the cab.
So, at the relatively young age of 50, Rob retired from work altogether with a considerable package of benefits. He was then able to devote himself wholeheartedly to pursue what had been his favorite occupations. He bought a few extra acres of land, planted it in corn, started raising goats and making cheese, built a TV room onto the back of their house, and dove into his favorite avocation: fixing and tinkering with all things mechanical.
There was something else that came of all the mixed blessings. His past inventions included a water powered sawmill, a windmill driven water pump made mostly from washing machine and car parts, a buckboard style horse-drawn wagon that had shocks and rubber tired wheels that turned on bearings making the ride smooth and easy for the driver and his horses. He was also quite handy at fixing things small or large. Being mechanically inclined, he was always working on some kind of vehicle or farm implement. He’d developed a reputation for this, and many neighbors had come to rely on his skills. He hardly ever charged beyond the cost of the parts.
But one afternoon in late July, it seemed his mechanical skills had left him.
After a half day of trying to jury-rig a hydraulic ram pump, Rob was getting nowhere. In frustration, he threw down his wrench and grabbing his cane, walked out of the shop and up the hill. He sat down on a bench beneath a tall sugar maple.
He spent a long time looking at the valley view. Finally, he decided he’d lay back for a while and do his best to relax. From his supine position, he stared up through the leaves into the patches of sky peeking through. He recalled the amazing experience that day of the accident when they were lifting him up. The day that had marked and bounded his life forever.
Perhaps, it was a mercy that he had no memory of the accident itself or the painful aftermath. But he had a keenly lucid recall of when his broken body was lifted up by the crane. He didn’t know what to name the experience: a premature meet the Maker moment, a kind of trance that the prophets of old had, whatever…All he knew was that it was real, it was of a highly spiritual nature, and the event had stayed with him as if it’d happened 5 minutes ago.
As he thought and remembered, the patterns of light coming through the trees started to move into different shapes, shapes he could recognize. He closed his eyes and could see the same shapes on the back of his eyelids. What surprised him most was that these shapes weren’t at all random; they were actually parts of the pump he’d been fixing. He closed his eyes again and lo and behold, there before him was a fix for the pump! Whatever he was being shown, however he was seeing it, he had no doubt it was going to work.
He sat up, grabbed his cane, and with renewed vigor, descended the hill to fast-hobble into the shop. He grabbed several items from his assortment of seals and washers, inserted them just so, and the pump was fixed! The problems that had absorbed half a day were resolved in four minutes. Hmmmmm. Thought Rob. I think I’ve latched onto something here. He smiled at his next thought. Or vice versa!
What he would gradually come to discover was that, by relaxing into a state of calm and turning his attention to solutions versus fixating on the problem or problems, the answer would just be there. Rob’s flair for fixing and inventing things had been supercharged.
It was this that eventually led him to invent something MIT engineers would’ve killed for: a frictionless magnetic motor that was as close to generating perpetual motion as the three laws of thermodynamics would allow. It did require fueling to start the motor and additional fuel to keep it running. It ran on small thumb-sized pellets. Carbon pellets to be exact. Like coal. One pellet would run a 50 HP generator for a week. An entire week.
He made several prototypes, and at the urging of his family, especially Judith, he drew up detailed schematics as best he could, filled out the forms Judith had requested, and sent them to the US Patent Office. After a month, his schematics and application were returned with a brief note stating that “The Patent Office has a long-standing practice of rejecting any devices purported to run on their own self-generated, i.e. perpetual, power. Your submission for patent review is thereby rejected pursuant to the aforementioned policy. “
He’d never claimed it was a perpetual motion device, only made mention that it was revolutionary in its minimal use of fuel and bordered on being a perpetual motor device.
Well that’s pretty damned funny, he thought. The typical steam turbine power plant was at best 37% efficient. His generator was slightly over 99% and might well be the answer to the nation’s energy woes. He’d already constructed several working prototypes (each successively smaller) that could be demo models and maybe capture the interest of some machine manufacturer who might bring him in as a partner or buy him out.
He thought about it. He went to the tree on the hill and relaxed about it. Nothing came. So, he followed his strongest inclination which was not to become a promoter or hawker of any sort. He’d just enjoy using the generators personally. He especially liked the prospect of no power bills. So, he called up customer service at API, requested a disconnect for the following week. The person on the other end asked him if they were moving.
Rob replied, “Well, yeah, in a manner of speaking.” They were moving . . . off the grid. And it all would have come together but for two significant incidents.
The first incident occurred while hooking up the latest generator and testing the current levels. The dynamo generated a surge that ran into the main API power feed and knocked out a few key SCADA , Supervisory and Control Data Acquisition devices. This knocked power out in half the county. Rob knew he just needed to tweak the capacitor and adjust the flow rate. No big deal. It took a day and a half before API could restore power and after performing forensics on the mysterious outage, their engineers concluded lightning had somehow surged through the lines, even though no storms had rumbled through the region. Only a few cirrus clouds had passed over the county that day. Yet, lightning remained the most plausible explanation for such a relatively localized event.
Whether or not the first incident had anything to do with the second one, the latter was most impactful. Rob had yet to finish his tweaking on the dynamo, which he had partly disassembled to add in modifications. It sat on his workbench looking more like a dissected sewing machine than anything else. This happened in early May.
Around mid-morning, a black SUV pulled up in the Johnson’s drive. Rosie saw them first. The dark-tinted windows and the out of state plates raised her suspicions. She went to open the front door just as two men stepped out of their vehicle.
Stepping onto the porch she said, “May I help you gentlemen?” Her tone was slightly challenging. She was also feeling the effects of a string of sleepless nights helping her boy Ben get over a bout of flu.
The two gentlemen were evenly tall, one appeared more muscular than the other. They wore ties and dark jacket suits. The driver removed his sunglasses and squinted his eyes in her direction. The other guy swiveled his head around taking in the lay of the farm. “Yes, ma’am. We’re with Consolidated Enterprises in Richmond.” He drew a business card out of his pocket and approached the porch. “Here’s my card. I’m Merrit Swain and this is my associate J. B. Foster.” Foster stopped his head motions long enough to nod.
As she took his card, she said, “I’m Rosie Johnson. And, if you’ll pardon me, I don’t recall anyone saying we’d have visitors coming from over in Virginia. Richmond, did you say?”
The man offered an apologetic smile, “Yes ma’am, Richmond. We happened to be in this area visiting our Logan office and thought we might drop by for a word with Mr. Johnson, that is if he’s available. And if this isn’t good time, we’ll be glad to come by next time we’re in the area. And, pardon me ma’am, but we thought Mrs. Johnson would be quite a bit older.”
“I’m his daughter in law.” She had kept the last name Pierce, but didn’t want to get into any more personal. She’d never known Judith Johnson, who’d been taken by cancer before she’d met Jim, her husband.
Rosie thumbed the card. She didn’t recognize any local company by that name. They could have just looked up their number in the phone book and called ahead. Still, she wished not to be rude even if they had “Fed” written all over them. Putting them off might not be a good idea.
“I see then. Is your husband’s father at home, Mrs. Johnson?” She noticed a slight pushy quality as if he had grown tired of the niceties.
“Why, yes. He’s likely where he always is these days. Around back in his shop. Can’t miss it.” She noted their polished shoes. “When you go through the gate yonder, please be sure to close it back and do watch your step. This is a farm.” They nodded and proceeded toward the back.
Now what in the world would these fellas be wanting to see Rob for? Could it be that blackout he caused? Hmmmmm. Whoever they were, she thought it rude to just turn up on their doorstep like that. She had to laugh seeing the non-speaking one stop to examine the bottom of his shoe.
Meanwhile, Rob was in full-on putter mode. That’s what his darling Judith had called it. Years had gone by since she had died, but he still felt her presence. In his own estimation, he’d been quite productive. He’d oiled up his lathe, greased the bearings in his milling machine, and swept the floor clean of all the little scraps and metal shavings which he’d dump into his recycling barrel.
He was surprised to see two men out in the yard walking toward the shop. The dressed like city office workers, but appeared capable of law enforcement. Like, Rosie, he tabbed them as “feds” of some sort.
Rob stepped out the door and stood on the steps to greet them. The lead fellow came up and introduced himself and his associate, Mr. Foster. Foster nodded and then appeared to be looking past Rob into the shop. Rob didn’t cotton to such strangers poking around in his business. Disdain and distrust were the hallmarks of the local population who often referred to such men as “revenewers”. It mattered not the branch of government.
“So what brings you out to our little slice of paradise?” Rob tried to be cordial.
Swain responded, putting on a fake good ole boy accent. “Well, now. Our company has received second hand information about a particular device you’ve designed that can generate electric current practically out of thin air.”
Rob could feel the hairs on the back of his neck raise up. No one but the US Patent Office had seen his plans which had repeatedly been rejected. Somehow, somebody had passed them along to this outfit. He asked. “Now what did you say your company does?”
The lead man smiled to show his willingness to be patient. “Consolidated Enterprises is an investment group that reviews rejected patent applications and assesses potential and practical utility as a beta-tested product for commercial markets.”
Rob cocked his head and frowned. “I thought all patent applications were strictly confidential. Even the rejections.”
“Yes sir. That’s mostly correct. But on occasion, the director can release the information at his or her discretion, which is why we’re here. We’d like to see any prototype units you might have made and discuss how we can partner together on a build out of your device should it actually perform as you have claimed.” Swain looked back over his shoulder and said, “Isn’t that right JB?”
“Absolutely!” the other man quipped.
“Oh and of course, Mr. Johnson, we will see that you are well compensated. I have a bonus contract right here.” He pulled out a folded document from inside his coat. Rob caught the dull metallic sheen of something inside his waistband. “Why you could receive five thousand dollars by the end of today.” He looked around the yard. “Just think what you might do with all that money.”
Rob had to think fast. There’s so many holes in their story, but how can I put them off? A flash of insight came as he realized, the application he’d sent in was only a preliminary model. It had taken many more modifications to get the generator to work. And, judging by how it had reversed direction and blacked out half the county, it still needed more tweaks. The guys actually needed a working prototype and they’d come to see if he’d made one that worked.
As Rob reached for the folded document, Swain pointed to the shop. “Mind if we have a quick tour?”
At a temporary loss, Rob stood aside and ushered them in. He heard the backdoor to the house slam and saw his adopted grandson, Ben, running toward him. He waved Ben off and then gestured to “shush”. Ben stopped in his tracks and made for the barn. When Rob entered the shop, he realized the next few moments would be pivotal. Swain was looking over the dissected generator on the work bench while Foster eyed the spines of notebooks shelved on the back wall.
Suddenly, Rob had a notion. It would be a gamble, but he’d do his best to play it. “Well, that thing on the bench is all that’s left. Never could figure out how to get it to work. Reckon those Patent people were right. So much for perpetual motion. But hey, you say you’re looking for new contraptions?”
“Well, look it here.” He pulled out a drawer full of sketches he’d made. Extracting one, he exclaimed, “Now this, this is what everyone needs. It’s a clothesline sensor that tells you when the clothes on the line are dry. You calibrate it and it senses the moisture level. When dry it sends an alarm.” Seeing no glimmer of interest, he persisted. ”And this. It’s a home made gyro copter. I got an old washing machine motor and some windmill blades. Geared it all up. I flew it up as high as the barn, till the extension cord came outa the wall and y’see here’s what it gave me.” He took off his hat and showed the massive scars from his head injury. He noted how the two strangers looked at one another.
“Here’s some more!” He pulled out several other drawings and schematics in apparent desperation to garner their interest.
Swain raised his hand indicating he’d seen enough. “We’re really not here to see anything other than the generator you say you tried to build. We were hoping that some-”
“I was just getting started, here’s my prize invention.” He showed them a drawing of what looked like a handheld radio with numerical buttons. “It’s a wireless telephone. You can actually carry this around in your pocket and call people. Just have to be within a quarter mile. I know it will work.”
The men made ready to leave and stepped outside. Swain put on his sunglasses. “I believe, we’ve seen all we need to see, Mr. Johnson.” He looked at the contract Rob still held and extended his hand. “I’ll take those papers, Mr.Johnson.”
Rob passed them over and watched as Swain stuffed them back in his coat. Again, revealing what had to be a holstered weapon.
Rob had one more ploy to certify his lunacy.
“Hey, wait fella’s! Let me take you up to the field and show you the crop circles and where the UFO landed on top of the barn. I don’t know how they did it. It scared the animals something awful!”
The two men were already walking away at a brisk pace. The lead man gave a parting hand raise as they passed through the gate. A few moments later, the dark windowed SUV disappeared down the driveway.
Rob, felt washed in relief. Those men were nothing but bad news. So much for the Patent Office keeping things private. If those guys were business execs, well then I’m the King of France.
A small hand tugged at his sleeve. The dark haired lad turned up his face to ask, “Granpa, I didn’t know we had aliens in the backyard? And don’t you already have a cellphone?”
Rob looked at the bright-eyed youngster and laughed. He thought he’d heard sounds outside the shop window while he and those two were inside.. “I’m not even gonna say, you’ll understand, Ben, what all that was about. I’m not sure I will either.” Lines crossed his brow. “But I’d say it’s time to retire that little dynamo. It seems to be causing a lot of trouble right from the get go.”
“Can you show me the crop circles and where the aliens landed?” Rob laughed again and tousled the boys hair. The boy whom he’d come to love as his own kin. “Well, maybe after we grab some lunch. Say, I thought I heard your momma calling!”
The boy let go of his hand and ran toward the back door. Rob smiled and gazed upward. “Y’see Judith? I’m still here making trouble and bailing myself out of it.”