Young Niko stood beside his uncle in the museum hall. He turned the steel engraving over and over in his hands, his mind doing somersaults along with it. A flash of white light exploded behind his eyes, followed by a cascade of images that rivaled the waterfall in the etching. He saw a great wheel, twirling under the force of the frothing waters. The vision faded; Niko breathed a wistful sigh that echoed in the large and empty corridor.
"See these falls, Uncle Pavle?" he said, holding out the portrait.
Offering only a cursory glance, Pavle gave a noncommittal grunt.
"Someday," Niko continued, "I am going to America to harness their power."
"What will your father say?" Uncle Pavle snorted.
"Nothing good, I'm sure," Niko admitted.
"You know what he wants for you," Pavle chided.
"But is that truly my destiny?" The boy's voice, just beginning to change, cracked. "Ever since I was small, I've known I was meant for greater things."
Pavle cleared his throat and said nothing.
"One day when I was scarcely old enough to speak, my cat Macak came in from the chill. I stroked his back, and the sparks danced and crackled beneath my hand," Niko's voice quavered with passion. "Then a halo of light surrounded his body, as if he were a saint or an angel. It was then I knew."
"Hm?" Pavle shot the boy a distracted look.
"That mystical power, Uncle," Niko continued. "It is my calling to master it."
"Your father expects you to join the priesthood," Pavle said.
"Yes, Uncle," the boy replied, a small smile curving his lips. "But perhaps I'm meant for a different path."
"Hmmm," the older man mused. "Perhaps you are, at that."* * * * *
Niko walked in the city park with his friend Anthony. The sun hung low above the horizon and the evening breeze blew soft and clean. It was good to be out in the fresh air, good to feel strong and healthy again. The illness had seemed to last an eternity. Unable to work or rest, he was tormented by too-bright lights and sounds that echoed like gunshots. Doctors had come and gone, unable to provide any remedy, finally giving him up as a lost cause.
He was better now. The puzzle had saved him - the riddle of alternating current and his need to solve it.
"Have you made any progress?" Anthony's voice broke into his thoughts.
"I have the answer," Niko replied.
"That's wonderful - " Anthony began, but Niko silenced him with a wave of his hand.
"I have the answer," he began again, "somewhere inside my mind. The solution is there, waiting for me to find a way to express it."
Anthony's smile faded. The two men paused, watching the sun as it slipped below the horizon. Pink and orange streaks began to trace their way across the evening sky. Suddenly, a verse crept into Niko's thoughts.The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!
Niko didn't realize he was reciting the words aloud until he saw his friend's forehead crease with confusion or perhaps concern. By then, he was in no position to explain himself; he was too absorbed in the task at hand. Snatching a stick from the ground, he began to sketch a diagram in the sand. Behind his eyes, the solution was drawn in perfect detail. Throat constricting with excitement, he watched it come to life.* * * * *
In the quiet of his empty office, Niko's pen scratched against a sheet of paper. Late nights at work were not uncommon for him; his daily hours were from 10:30 am until 5 the following morning. Tonight, however, was different.
He finished writing the letter and signed his name. With a leaden heart, he sat back and examined his handiwork.Dear Mr. Edison:
It is with great sadness that I resign my position at Edison Machine Works, effective immediately. Thank you very much for the opportunity you have provided to me. I wish you the best in all your future endeavours.
Sighing, Niko placed the letter on his desk and began to pack up his few belongings. He was starting to wonder if coming to America hadn't been an enormous mistake. Perhaps when his pockets had been picked on the way to his ship, he should have taken it as an omen. But how could he, with his letter of recommendation in his pocket and his goals so firm in his mind?
Upon arriving in the Land of Golden Promise, he'd been taken aback by its spare and stark appearance. Buildings were rough and utilitarian, as were the people inside. Still, Niko had been able to put his misgivings aside in the excitement of meeting Edison, the man who would help him realize his dreams.
Edison had dismissed his statement that alternating current was the future of electricity as "utterly impractical". Even so, Niko had been sure that things were looking up. After all, the man had hired him on the spot to redesign his generators, promising a payment of $50,000 upon completion. It was a foot in the door, and surely Edison would come around to his point of view sooner or later. If not, Niko would have a small fortune with which to seek the backing he needed elsewhere.
All those hopes had been dashed in the space of a 5-minute conversation this morning. Bursting with pride, Niko had approached Edison in the hall and informed him that he'd finished redesigning the dynamos. The other man had nodded brusquely and continued walking.
"Sir," Niko had asked, "Might I inquire as to when I shall receive my payment?"
"Payment?" Edison had chuckled. "When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke."
Personal effects gathered, Niko pulled on his coat. Taking one last look around the room where his dreams had lived for the past several months, he turned off the light and walked out the door. It was a joke, all right, and he was the punchline. Still, he was determined to have the last laugh.* * * * *
Niko stood at the back of the crowd, hat pulled down over his eyes and shoulders hunched. Up at the podium, his former employer had already begun his rhetoric.
"Think of direct current as a river flowing peacefully to the sea," Edison called out. "Alternating current, on the other hand, is like a torrent rushing violently over a precipice. Unpredictable. Dangerous. Uncontrollable."
Edison paused. Voices buzzed in affirmation. When they were silent, he continued.
An approving murmur rose from the audience. This was the part they had been waiting for.
"Topsy here is crazed," Edison said, gesturing with a flourish at an elephant, slumped and forlorn. Chained to post a few feet away, the enormous beast was outfitted with sandals of wood and wire. Large men flanked her on both sides.
As the throng pressed closer to the stage, the drone of voices took on an almost fevered pitch.
"Topsy has murdered three people," Edison said, "and her handlers have called for her execution. You'll find that alternating current is the perfect tool for this deadly job - and for no other purpose."
The crowd rumbled in anticipation. A consummate showman, Edison let them wait before nodding to his technician.
Stomach churning, Niko watched as the switch was thrown and smoke billowed into the air. Without a sound, the elephant jerked briefly before collapsing onto her side. By the time the scent of burning meat reached him, it was already over. Inside the pockets of his overcoat, his fingers curled into angry fists so tight his nails bit into his palms.
Niko's ears rang with the shouts of the crowd. Despair flowed over him like an incoming tide. All his efforts would be for nothing if Edison's smear campaign succeeded. His whole life, he'd worked for nothing but this one goal. Time and time again, this man had made a mockery of it, and all in the name of egotism and greed.
The familiar white light flared behind his eyes, blinding him to all else. Gone were the park in which he stood, the people, the despair and anger. In their place came the images, etched in his mind's eye with a painful clarity. He saw himself, lying in bed at age 17, extracting his father's promise to send him to University if only he'd live. Studying at the Polytechnic Institute, hell-bent on a conquest the world thought impossible.
Lightning flashed again; the scene shifted. Dirty and exhausted, he stumbled home after digging ditches for $2 a day. The vision changed; he was building his invention at long last. With no blueprints, he'd used only the picture in his mind. Brought to life, the machine worked just as he'd imagined. One final burst of white heat - he was signing the contract that would bring his dream to fruition.
By the time the world returned to normal, the crowd was dispersing. Head pounding, Niko stood alone and watched them go. The scent of singed flesh still hung in the air, but he barely noticed. None of that mattered now.
All his life, Niko had always found a way. This time would be no different.* * * * *
The air in the small room vibrated with activity. Around him, engineers were abuzz with frenetic activity, but Niko remained calm as he watched the falls crashing over the rocks. The rushing water was just as it had been when he'd seen it in his mind's eye as a boy. In only moments, the dream would come full circle. All his life, he'd known this day would come.
In his five years as a consultant for the Niagara Falls Power Project, he'd been questioned over and over. Would the machines really work? After all, they'd existed nowhere beyond his own imagination. Investors and engineers on the project had been reluctant to believe the devices would function as well in reality as they did inside Niko's head. As they waited now for the switch to be thrown, their anxiety was palpable.
Niko himself had no doubts. The visions had brought him to this point, against all odds. They would not fail him now.This entry tells part of the life story of Nikola Tesla, the man who made AC electrical current possible. For anyone who's wondering, yes, he really did experience visions and no, I didn't know this when I initially chose to write about him. It was obviously fate. If you're interested in reading more about Tesla, you might check out his autobiography.