"He is in the shed ... again!" I heard a familiar voice shout from the garden. "I'll show you," was quickly followed by running footsteps.
I had just finished soldering the last of my resistors into the Control Panel and was unplugging my soldering iron when the door opened.
"Daddy, Uncle Mike to see you." My eight-year old daughter was silhouetted against the bright Summer sky in the doorway, her hand clutching a book.
"When are we going for an ice-cream?" she asked, her head tilting slightly. "You promised."
"Later. Give me twenty," I told her as my boss appeared behind her. She scowled slightly and ran back into the garden.
Mike held out a small package for me which I took from his hands trying to ensure that my body was blocking his view into my shed as best I could, but he had already seen the space behind me.
"What's this?" he asked and gestured at the large contraption that filled my "shed". I turned to face it, and tried to quickly think of a plausible explanation. A large, fifteen foot by nine foot, translucent glass box stood on a two foot high plinth. Cables, wires, and electrodes encased the top and some of the sides of the box and two monitors with two keyboards were perched on a small open cabinet directly in front of the glass cuboid. Steps led up to it in the corner.
"It's something I'm working on," I told him as he walked up to it.
"Dude, it's something out of a sci-fi novel. What the bejesus does it do?"
"Ummm... ," I uttered. This was a conversation I did not really want.
"Can it time travel or bring things to life or what?"
I sighed and shook my head. "It brings characters to us".
"What do you mean characters?"
"People. Well entities of people." He looked at me and looked back at the machine. "Characters from books."
"We already have that, mate. It's called films. That's a shit thing to build," he replied derisively.
"Yeah, you're right," I told him. "Silly idea". He looked placated for a moment and then stared back at me.
"What are you not telling me?" he asked and I glanced at my watch despairingly.
"It's simple. You load the book into the computer. It crunches the data and then displays the characters."
"And what else? You can't talk to them or touch them?"
"You ummmm ... kind of can. Obviously the bigger the book, the more data it can extrapolate about the characters and the better it is"
"And touching them?" he asked incredulously. "You're pulling my chain, aren't you?"
I hesitated for a moment. For all the world I wanted to show off my engineering, my invention but ... to Mike? He, of all people, would appreciate its beauty and possibilities the least!
"I fucking knew it. So what is this?"
"Ok, look I'll show you." I walked to the console and pressed the top button. The screen flicked into life and I stared at the display for a moment.
"Hercules Poirot?" I asked him and he shook his head.
"This is a trick. How do I know there isn't some fancy light projectionny thingy in there to show something you've already cooked up. No. On that reader there are some of your old books – Summer Camp. Show me those characters."
I glanced across at the package. "You read Summer Camp?"
"Yeah. I want them. You can't have cooked that up, right."
I sighed. "OK. Give it a few minutes."
"It needs to process the data to generate the characters," I told him in no uncertain terms and slid the memory card from the Reader into the front of the console. "It will select the most important characters and bring them to us." He looked at me sceptically. "It's not seen those books before. It has to process them."
Three red lights appeared on the top of the glass chamber and I gestured for Mike to walk up the steps. We pushed open the heavy door and then shut it behind us. The chamber was vibrating slightly and the walls began to shimmer a white mist – blocking out the view of shed behind me.
"So what will happen?" he asked me as I the mist got thicker and the chamber became darker.
"You'll see," I replied and a few moments later, bright light filled the cabin.
Out of the mist, shadows started emerging and then an older woman with short reddish brown hair came into view. She was naked except for a pair of bikini bottoms and was dripping wet.
"Susan?" Mike asked, his eyes staring at her bare chest.
"Yes," the character replied.
"Why is she wet?" Mike asked me but Susan replied.
"I was swimming when I was interrupted."
"The machine takes the character from what they would have been doing at the point at which we requested their presence. I asked for Summer 1988, the year following Paul's marriage. So because it is Summer..."
"I get you," he interrupted.
By this time more and more shadows were emerging and entering the small cabin. Mike surveyed the room repeatedly.
"You must be Paul and Trip, right?" Mike asked the young guys in the front of the assorted array of characters. Both were tall and dressed in suits and surveying the two of us intently.
"Tell me who did you marry? Who did you end up with?" Mike asked without waiting for a reply.
Trip turned to his left and put his arm around the petite girl. "Wren."
"I know you got together with Wren. It says so in the Prologues. Who have YOU got together with?" Mike shouted, pointing his finger at Paul.
"Well it wasn't me," a tall, well dressed woman at the far end of the line up replied.
"Yeah, I know it's not you Kendall. You're too tall. We know this."
"Too tall?" Leah mouthed to Gina. Gina shrugged in confusion.