“Hate to say it, but I haven’t heard anything good about this man. Why would you think to even go in there in the first place?” asked my driver.
“He invited me,” I answered, trying to be polite.
“I don’t mean to sound rude, but how’s that? He’s been awfully private his whole life. I don’t reckon he’s ever had anyone in his place. At least not since he moved here.”
“He might not, but my friend Mr. Stoughton said I should take the opportunity should I get it.”
The stage rumbled slowly down the old cobblestone route, creaking and moaning unceasingly. Hooves clipped on the ground at a steady rhythm. The oil lamps burned a dark, polluting light. The sky was engulfed by the sharp, terraced tops of the buildings crowded so firmly together. I stuck my hand out the side of the coach. Scanty rain-drops fell from the sky and pattered softy over everything.
“How long might it be?” I asked.
“Not more n’ five minutes,” replied the coachman. As we neared our destination the rain became harsher. The wind blew like ice in my face and whistled around the edges of the buildings so close to me.
As we rode on towards the man’s house, I saw the structures become more and more sparsely distributed from each other. Diminutive hedges grew in the spaces between the buildings, giving a small amount of privacy to their owners.
“Yep. Ol’ boffin never liked anyone ‘round his property. Heard he’s chased em’ away more n’ once in ‘is life,” said the driver. He sat up suddenly. “I believe that’s the place right there. How long do you think you’ll be?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. It may be a while.”
Worry came over the driver’s face, though he tried to hide it.
“I’ll take a pass back over here in a half hour. Will that be good?”
“Yes sir. Here’s your tip.” I swung down from the coach and handed the coachman a few pence, which he placed in his pocket.
“Good-bye. I’ll see you later,” I said. The stage rumbled down the avenue, leaving me alone. I took my first look at Mr. Hakebourne’s mansion. It was a large, many-roomed dwelling, built of nightshade rock. The height and size of the building made it quite imposing. The front door was large and bulky, with heavy cast-iron furniture.
I walked towards the mansion, trying to keep my eyes trained on the ground. I rang the bell hung beside the door. It made a harsh clanging sound. I waited anxiously.
The door creaked open. Behind it was a tall man with short black hair. He wore a stiff black suit, and his eyes darted back and forth.
“Are you the man I invited?” he asked harshly.
“Yes. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hakebourne,” I said. We shook hands. He seemed quite cold.
“Well, I don’t want to waste time. I’ll show you right to the basement.”
“Is that where you conduct your research?” I asked.
“Yes,” replied Mr. Hakebourne. We walked across the huge front room, and turned to a small hallway to the right. At the end of this narrow passage was a plain wall which looked out of place.
I stood there awkwardly for a few seconds, waiting for something to happen. Mr. Hakebourne walked over to the wall, slid a small piece of wood up, and pushed whole the wall to the side.
“I was wondering how you get down there,” I joked. Mr. Hakebourne didn’t laugh. We walked down a cramped metal stairway into a room made primarily of more metal. In the centre was a complicated machine, about half the size of a man. It was on a circular metal pedestal. To the right of this circular room was another room, this one much bigger. The ceiling was at least fifty feet high. I looked back at the invention on the pedestal.
“Is that your machine?” I asked.
“It is. That’s what I invited you to see.”
“Can you explain how it works?” I asked.
“I will,” Mr. Hakebourne said, walking right up to it. Now, he seemed to be in his element.
“First of all, I have a harness made of hollow stitched nylon frame which has been filled with hydrogen. It is considerably lighter than air.” He pointed to each part he described. “To that I attached a light aluminum frame with two coal oil distillate fuel injectors and carburetors. They create a flame which starts the boiler off. I’ll tell you a secret. The boiler doesn’t have regular water in it. I collect my water from a secret location in France.” Mr. Hakebourne pointed to a metal cylinder which looked like a miniature steel barrel. There was a dial on it, showing the pressure inside. It was at zero.
“On top of them are the gyroscopic stabilizers.” Those were two shiny brass gyroscopes adorning the aluminum cylinders. There is have a throttle which will let the steam out of the boiler. Of course, that alone would not be sufficient. However, I created a pleasant little gas mixer which will add to the already considerable power of the machine. I prefer to call it a Jet-Pack. There is only one slight problem, but it hasn’t occurred yet.”
“What is it?”
“The hydrogen vest would pose I problem should I collide with something. However, we don’t have to worry about that right now. I doubt it will happen.”
“Yes it is.” I stared at the machine for a few more seconds. It was constructed with brilliance unmatched by that of anything else I had ever seen.
“Good Lord. I suppose it makes sense that they call you brilliant. Thank you very much for showing me.”
“I’m not finished yet,” said Mr. Hakebourne quickly. “My demonstration wouldn’t be complete unless I use my invention.”
“Are you quite sure?” I asked. My heart was beating quickly. Without answering, my acquaintance picked up the Jet-Pack, which seemed to be as light as air. He strapped a few cinches around his waist and shoulders, and turned to face me.
“This machine will surely have a multitude of uses, from war to industry to personal transportation. Frankly, I get excited myself about its potential.” I felt very lucky, but also quite fearful to see a live demonstration. Nobody else in the country had ever seen anything like this, except Mr. Hakebourne himself.
“First of all, one must start the coal-oil injectors. Then, turn on the gas release valves at the same time as the boiler exhaust system. Would you mind telling me when the PSI gauge reaches 145? Thank you very much.”
“Where is it?” I asked.
“Right on my back.”
I noticed a large dial which marked the PSI of the boiler.
“I’ll tell you,” I said.
Mr. Hakebourne quickly pulled two cranks on the side of his Jet-Pack. A quick, mechanical noise ensued. With every beat a huge ball of fire burst out the back of the apparatus. It was very impressive. Shortly, I could just make out the PSI gauge rising steadily. One hundred, one twenty, one thirty…
“It’s at one-forty-five!” I yelled over the noise of the fire. Mr. Hakebourne spun two little levers on his control-panel. Small blue jets shot out of the back of the pack, making a loud whooshing sound. As I looked at Mr. Hakebourne, his feet almost seemed to lift off the ground. I ran over to the side of the man. Under the control-panel was the main trigger. Mr. Hakebourne put his finger on it and slowly started to pull it. A phantasmagoric inferno shot out of the back of his pack. Burning white jets of steam burned the ground under him. The steamy whistling sound was so unbearable I had to cover my ears. The tongues of fire grew even bigger underneath the Jet-Pack. Through the smoke, I could just see Mr. Hakebourne’s smile. His feet started to lift off the ground by half a metre.
The scientist pulled the trigger back completely. WHOOSH! He flew through the air at a dreamlike speed, shooting a huge jet of white steam out of the pipe behind him. The room became misty as the steam dispersed. The outline of Mr. Hakebourne’s body became cloudier and cloudier through the mist. He shot up, foot by foot, until he was at the very top of the dome
Slowly, the noise of the machine subsided. The scientist went down at a controlled rate until he was once again on the floor in front of me. The steam ceased to exit through the pipes, and the flames became smaller and smaller until they too disappeared.
“Thank you for showing me your Jet-Pack. It’s been quite a night,” I said. Mr. Hakebourne didn’t say anything, but he quickly waved to me and walked back towards the basement. I opened the door and left.
Luckily, the stagecoach was waiting for me. I took it back to my house and went to bed. It was after midnight.
For the next days after that, I told no-one about my trip to Mr. Hakebourne’s mansion. It weighed on my mind, though, and I couldn’t help but tell someone about the miraculous invention I had seen.
The next morning, I set out towards the mansion with my friend William Attwood, who was a reputable barrister. I only told him that Mr. Hakebourne had invented something which was most definitely worth seeing.
“Now what exactly would you say this man has invented? Pray tell me.”
“I would prefer not to at the moment. You should see it for yourself. If I told you, you might not believe me.”
“I hate to say it, but you haven’t quite been yourself lately. What happened?”
“I felt like someone should know about this.” My thoughts were interrupted when I heard commotion ahead of us. Off in the distance, I could see a group of people rioting and shouting. I spurred my horse into a canter, and arrived there within a minute.
Mr. Hakebourne’s mansion was alive in a blazing inferno. It was about to crumble under the heat. My jaw dropped open. The gigantic fire blew threateningly in the wind. Around it, a crowd was gathered. The mansion slowly crashed to the ground, piece by piece.
“Where is Mr. Hakebourne?” I hurriedly asked to the man who appeared to be in charge.
“He never got out,” replied the man.