(Page 1 of 5)
by Joe Vadalma
The lights flickered, went out and came on again in Clarence Pumpernick's ranch-style home in Lake Forest, a Chicago suburb. It was well past midnight. Pumpernick had been working all day and evening in his basement workshop. When the lights came on for the final time and stayed lit, Pumpernick cried, "Eureka. It works."
* * *
A half-mile away, Phil, the sleepy night technician at the local power plant, noticed a fluctuation on a meter. He made a notation on his log and monitored the troubling circuit for an hour. He became puzzled. Something strange was going on. The power usage in the area where the fluctuation occurred was in the negative zone and stayed there the whole time. This meant that power was being fed into that part of the grid from a location in that sector, and more than a trickle, enough power to supply a city block of residences. He looked at a map of the area fed by the power lines he was monitoring. It was residential. He scratched his head and wondered how that much electricity could be feeding into the system from a residence. Had someone hooked up a portable generator? It would have to be a big one to feedback that much electricity.
At first Phil suspected the monitoring equipment. He switched in the backup and performed a test on the primary. Everything checked out perfectly. What's more, the backup showed exactly the same amount of negative reading. Although he disliked calling his supervisor, who was a bear when disturbed at home in the middle of the night, he decided he must. This was too much of an anomaly to simply ignore.
"Hello, Jack. This is Phil at the plant. ... Yeah, I know it's three o'clock in the morning, but I'm getting really strange readings from sector four." He told his boss what the problem was. "Yes, I switched in the backup monitor. Switch in an alternate circuit? Okay, just a minute."
Phil put his supervisor on hold and placed an alternate circuit online. Immediately, the readings on the alternate rose to the same negative reading as the original circuit. He picked the phone back up. "Same readings, Jack. Okay, I'll keep my eye on it and let you know whether there's any change. Goodnight. Sorry I had disturb your sleep."
* * *
Later in the morning, Jack arrived. He had the plant manager and an engineer with him. They checked the equipment for malfunctions. Everything was at optimum, except for the negative reading from Sector Four.
"The only thing that would account for this is that someone is generating a lot of electricity and feeding it into the system," said the engineer. "I see no other explanation."
"But, that neighborhood is residential. Mostly one story ranches," protested Jack.
The plant manager frowned. "Well, it's no sense guessing. How large an area are we talking about?"
"Ten blocks north-south, four blocks east-west." The engineer drew dark lines with a marking pen on a wall map.
"Okay, send out meter readers to locate which house is generating that electricity. Report directly to me when you find out the address.