The following day, a Friday, Leah was still smarting over her upcoming punishment on the weekend. She barely spoke to or looked at her mom, who was more interested in texting someone over the phone during breakfast anyway. Finally at school, she sighed and huffed her way though classes, even going so far as to shoot eye daggers at her former friends. The reasonable one wanted to make amends; Leah would have nothing to do with it at this moment. Maybe she’d reconsider the one, but definitely not the other. However, in between all of the fleeting thoughts of how to clean fast, or wishing horrible things upon her mom and former friend, was the man she encountered in the house – and the small circuit board that was in her backpack. Leah waited until after science class was done before she approached her teacher timidly. Science, like math, were interesting to her, but she struggled at times with the terminology and application. Her science teacher was older, with that slight ‘mad scientist’ look forming in his older years, with unkempt hair beginning to gray randomly, and equally slapped together wardrobe indicating he didn’t care much about outward appearances.
Leah cleared her throat softly. Her teacher turned to her, “Leah! We just started the unit, you’re having trouble already? Not good!”
She blushed. “No sir, it’s not that.” Though, she admitted to herself, it was going to be with this unit. “I-I found this the other day.” She rummaged in a small pocket on the side of her backpack and produced the card. “I-I thought it looked interesting, but it a-also looks old, and I wanted to see if you knew anything about it.”
Her teacher eyed the card curiously as she pulled it out, shot her a look when she said ‘old’, but he could see that she was for some reason, nervous about this. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look, he thought. Her teacher took the card, swapped out his glasses for some thicker ones nearby that had magnification lenses in them, and took a look at the writing on the chips and board. He muttered and hmm’d a bit, turning it over and back again. Then his jaw dropped. “No… it couldn’t be!” He examined it closer again and his eyes, already widened by the magnification lenses, became huge. Leah suppressed a giggle. “Where did you say you found this, Leah?”
“I-it was in some dusty old boxes I found,” she said. Leah hadn’t really thought much about an alibi, so she bent the truth. “There were a lot of them,” she added, in order to turn her teacher’s gaze back to the card, and not her blushing face.
“I’ve heard of these, but like you said, this is old tech,” her teacher continued, using the card to punctuate his thoughts in midair. “They’ve since been replaced by much newer, fancier, faster, smaller models, but this was the beginning! Oh, how exciting those times were!”
Leah stopped blushing long enough to give her teacher a perplexed look. “But what is it?”
“Oh! Oh goodness, that’s right, you are too young to have been around during the beginning. It’s a control board for a stereolithography machine.”
Leah’s perplexion, and curiosity grew at the same time. She shifted on her hips. “Stereo-whatnow?”
“Stereolithography. You’d know it now as 3D printing.”
Leah’s eyes bulged slightly, making her normally cute face look as though someone had taken a small squeeze to it. Her lips parted in a small ‘O’. “And this… was the beginning, you say?” She pointed at the card in her teacher’s hand.
“Oh yes, I remember helping the designer work on these cards, the machine, the whole process. I was young then, and it was a summer internship. The guy was really smart. He created a few of these, tried to market them, but at that time, there were a lot of players rushing to get in on the ground floor. So many processes, lasers, fluids, strings, wood even! You name it, they tried to make it into stereoli- 3D printing,” he translated at the end.
“You knew the designer?”
“He was a mechanical engineer, last I remember. Sunk his savings into making these parts, the models, proof of concept, everything. He was newly married too, I remember his wife stopping by when he and I were working late most times, and she would chew him out for ignoring her. Anyway, he was ready to go into production when suddenly someone else beat him to the patent for his stuff, and locked him out of starting up the company. It was horrible, I’d never seen a man so dejected before. And you say you found a box of these?” her teacher eyed her suspiciously.
Leah took the card from her teacher’s hand and stuffed it back into her pack. “Yep, thank you for the history lesson, sir, I have to get going otherwise I’m going to miss lunch entirely, see you!” Leah backed out, spun on her heel and waved as she left the classroom.
That man in the house must have been the same designer! She thought. And I landed on all of his stuff, no wonder he was so pissed. Armed with this knowledge, she began to figure out a plan to meet this man again. So interesting! He made all of that stuff, the beginnings of a … what did her teacher say? 3D printing machine! Leah’s heart raced as she walked faster down the halls, thinking of all of those old computers, chips, that vat of liquid, and that man’s look at her, so intense, so full of passion.
Leah blushed again.