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London, Where It All Began - Page 4: November 22, 2010 - January 5, 2011

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A Stout-Hearted Man
A Mutually Beneficial Agreement
Colt Pocket 1849
Monsieur de Fermat’s Little Theorem
The Smell of Cocoa

A Stout-Hearted Man

Entry for November 22, 2010 Written by David L. Drake

As he walked, Erasmus’ cane tapped out a cadence that bespoke his determination to get back to his flat. He thought back on his last five hours: organizing a team to seize the Professor Farnsworth’s electrical discharge device at the Egyptian Court, traveling with Farnsworth to the hospital, getting constables to volunteer to guard over him, scratching out the details of the day’s events on a commandeered hospital notebook, and requesting the Yard to find a scientist that could determine the nature and safety of the professor’s contraption for storage. Quite the ordeal. As a result of his actions, Professor Farnsworth took a great deal of damage. He lost his middle and ring fingers on his left hand, and his right hand and arm were badly burned. The doctor indicated that his right arm should be operable in a few months, but that his scarring was permanent.

Erasmus was walking from the Westminster Hospital, where the professor was cared for, located just cater-corner across from Westminster Abbey, to his flat. He spent his walking time contemplating two very different subjects: a stiffer drink than usual to compensate for the day’s labors, and the very interesting woman that he met at the Egyptian Court.

The drink would help him justify to himself that freeing Professor Farnsworth the day before was defensible, given the damage that the professor caused in the Egyptian Court. If he had just brought him in to the Yard, all of this would have been circumvented. He was being his own harshest critic, and no one at the Yard could have predicted this outcome to yesterday’s actions, but it still ate at him. The solution for tonight was simply some strong spirits, shake it off, and get some sleep.

As for the woman, that was a different manner. Like many things that Erasmus couldn’t help but ponder, she generated more questions than answers. He wanted to call on her to simply find out why she flattened the Duke of Milton. Or how she learned to move so quickly and deliberately in the presence of unexpected peril. And more importantly, why she felt it necessary to leave the scene so quickly when she clearly had no part in the cause of the blast.

Erasmus pulled out her card, singed as it was. This was the seventh time he had done so over the past five hours, as if by inspecting it again, it would reveal some new truth. It was a calling card with her name on it, but using her peculiar nickname of “Sparky.” Most unusual for a formal calling card. Perhaps she was known by this name better than her given name, and as such, it opened more doors. She had indicated that he could inquire after her at the offices of Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines. The way she said this made it sound as if she was well-known enough that her name alone would allow discovery of her within an international company. Well, ironically, he did need to contact her because she was a witness to the professor’s misdeed, so visiting the London airship port will go on the agenda for tomorrow. Or was that an excuse to call on her? Well, back to considering that stiff drink, he thought, pocketing the card carefully. The cane continued. Tock, tock, tock.

The crowd was light at the Olde Cheshire Cheese. Upon arriving, Erasmus didn’t have time to even sit at the bar before James Crocker stopped him. “Your friend is here! Great chap.”

“My friend?”

“Yes! I let him in upstairs. He said that you were expecting him. He said his name was ... oh, you know. I can’t remember! You know the chap. While waiting, he told some hilarious stories, oh my.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. It just slipped my mind. Been waiting to see him all day. Thank you for taking care of him.” This was quite unexpected. Erasmus took just a second to determine the best way to proceed. “Don’t bother sending supper up. We may come down. Or go out.” Erasmus ascended the stairs carefully.

While in the upstairs hallway, Erasmus placed his bowler back on his head to free his hands and prepared his cane. He twisted the handle and exposed just a glimmer of blade. Holding the scabbard in his right hand, his right thumb restraining the handle, he cautiously tried the door handle of his flat with his left hand. It was unlocked. Now is as good a time as any, he thought, and squeezed his eyes shut for a good number of seconds to have them  adjust to darkness, and then stepped into the room in a lively fashion.

His eyes surveyed the room rapidly looking for any movement or signs of danger. Instead he saw a figure sitting in the dark in his chair, which had been moved to the far side of the room near his bed, along with his table. The individual’s calmness oozed though the room, causing Erasmus to relax, despite himself. It was not the reaction Erasmus expected or wanted for himself.

“Alistair Bennington Rutherford, as you may have deduced. You may re-fasten you sword stick, if you wish. There is no danger here, as I will explain.” His voice was smooth and unwavering. It had an air of command. He made no sudden movement, in fact, he moved not at all during his strange introduction. “Please, light your lamp.” Erasmus did secure his cane, as suggested, but kept it with him. He then lit the lamp with cautious, measured actions. He placed his bowler on one of the coat hooks, and walked, watchfully, over toward Alistair. The nature of his cane was known to almost no one, so the request to re-fasten it did not give comfort to Erasmus.

Alistair spoke as if he owned the flat. “I wish I could offer you a chair, but as having only one, please sit on the bed.” Erasmus nodded and sat, placing the cane on the bed. He didn’t want it too far away. Erasmus thought it was time to break his silence. “Thank you.” Erasmus kept his right hand on the cane, mentally measuring the time and movement it would take to unsheathe the sword and reach Alistair with a cutting blow. Over the next few seconds, he mentally practiced this several times.

Alistair began,“Mind if I start the conversation?” Pause. “Good. First, I wanted to talk to you privately. There are those I work with that wouldn’t understand my motivations in speaking to an officer of Scotland Yard. They may take it incorrectly. Please do not be off-put by my meeting you in this manner.”

“Fair enough.”

“Glad you can see my point of view. Second, I wasn’t fully honest with you at University College. Professor Farnsworth and I have an understanding where I pose as his principle graduate student to stay close to him. He needed a great deal of oversight, and I was helping him. This ruse is not even known to his other students. His affliction is due, at least partially, to me.”

Alistair is far too familiar with me, Erasmus thought; he knows my place of lodging, the details of my life, even my cane. If he knows this, what of the things he knows but hasn’t said yet? The set of things that makes a keeper of the peace feel that they are in charge of a situation were being eroded, which should have put Erasmus’ guard up, but instead, the tone of Alistair’s voice and his demeanor kept putting Erasmus strangely at ease. He found himself trying to fight this and stay sharp, but it just wasn’t working.

“How so?” Erasmus replied.

“A bit of my history is needed to understand that. I was raised in the manner of  the upper-class, as you may have determined by my clothes and my manner of speech. I was very interested in the nature of science, and six years ago I was accepted as a graduate student at University College as a chemist, although I had interests in a great many other things. I worked in the various laboratories for many hours, driving myself to find the results I was seeking. One weekend while taking a much needed hiatus, I took an extended recess with my non-scientific friends, students of philosophy, art, and history, and we gathered at one of their ‘clubs,’ which was actually a collection of wrought-iron chairs and tables in the greenhouse of one of their spinster aunt’s house. They filled the air with pipe smoke and the sounds of bawdy songs, while they introduced me to absinthe. Later that night, full of energy, I re-entered the laboratory, I was able to complete experiments that would have taken me weeks to work through, simply because I was thinking through the issues of the experiments more precisely. I realized that it gave me the ability to concentrate, precisely imagine things I hadn’t before, and remove all distractions and inner doubt. I saw this as a solution to my long laboratory hours, eliminating my previous experimental trial and error. You see, the alcohol relaxed me, the wormwood opened my mind, and my scientific imagination was allowed to operate.”

Alistair continued. “But I wanted to enhance absinthe’s facility, heighten the effect. So I spent a year or so, adding various compounds that heighten awareness, yet relax the brain’s desire to be cautious. I was quite successful. And I shared my elixir with my colleagues and friends. For most, it was just as effective for them. So, I started a side business, mixing and selling it. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients are pharmaceutical substances, and others can only be created in a laboratory. In the last few years, this has become a reasonably lucrative business. Although I believe that my elixir could be sold through more normal distribution channels, I don’t want to stop the flow of sales to set up such a system.”

Erasmus wasn’t completely trustful of this reasoning, and wasn’t quite sure if Alistair’s confession to him that he had a questionable business going on was really the reason for this chat. “Please go on,” he urged.

“Unfortunately, some of my customers have a reaction to my elixir that I’m trying to understand and eliminate. Professor Farnsworth is one of them. He wished to continue consuming the elixir, but as you could see by both his physical change and his mental state, some modification of the elixir is needed for him so that it gives him only the positive effects. That is what I was trying to provide him. So, please don’t think of him as a criminal or a lunatic, but rather as a man who is ill. I need to find him the correct balance of substances that will help him recover.”

“I would like to believe that you are trying to help the professor, but how do I know that you haven’t simply created a pleasant-tasting poison, one that affects its imbibers like opium affects its smokers?”

“Because I’m a testament to its positive effects. Are you a stout-hearted man, Chief Inspector? Can you handle a strong drink?”

“Of course, my good man. What did you have in mind?”

“First, fetch your revolver.”

This was the last thing that Erasmus expected at this point in the conversation. But his trust in Alistair grew as he listened, and his curiosity was overflowing. Deep in the pocket of his leather overcoat was a revolver that he carried infrequently. It was heavy and slow to reload. It was often more scary than deadly, and the chance of hitting what one was shooting at was proportional to the frequency of practice, which Erasmus didn’t do enough of. He wanted to see how this played out.

Erasmus produced the revolver and placed it on the table.

“Excellent,” exclaimed Alistair, and he then produced a bottle of Green Fantasy from a deep coat pocket, and a tumbler glass from another. He then poured only a small quantity into the glass. “That should do it,” he stated.

Alistair looked Erasmus in the eye, and said without faltering, “Drink this, look at your revolver, and tell me what you see.”

Erasmus thought, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

A Mutually Beneficial Agreement

Entry for November 29, 2010 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Anu handed her a small, colorful tin just as she was stepping out the door. Sparky opened it in the coach. Amazing! Lord Ashleigh thought of everything. There was no way he could have known that she had eaten nothing all day except for the stale biscuit, but here in her lap was a perfect little snack to revive her: a few slices of bread with sharp cheese, a small jar of something that appeared to be pickled, and some nuts dusted with pungent spices. She was so famished she ate one of slices of bread and cheese while Virat drove her to within a few blocks of Mrs. McCreary’s. He deposited her without so much as saying a word. Sparky was bone-tired as she walked the last few blocks, thinking only of finishing her repast with a little tea, and sleeping until her body was well and truly ready to awake.

But, of course, it just wasn’t going to be that easy. Mrs. McCreary was standing at the top of the steps when Sparky arrived and the expression on her face was truly horrible to behold. Ah yes, McTrowell was still wearing her leather duster, work pants, and knee high boots. This was going to require some very creative storytelling.
“Miss Llewellyn, what is the meaning of this horrible, shameless attire?!”

“Oh, Mrs. McCreary, you can’t imagine the unspeakable horror to which I have been subjected today! I must get inside before other decent folk see me.” Sparky rushed up the steps and squeezed past the rotund landlady before she could raise an objection. At least she was inside. “I was having a quiet, reviving stroll through Hyde Park. I stopped to admire the construction of the Crystal Palace. As I was walking around the building, there was a horrible blast and I was thrown to the ground. I must have fainted from the shock because I awoke to find myself covered by the coat of a chief inspector of Scotland Yard, quite a polite and chivalrous fellow, I might add. My clothing was so damaged by the blast that I wasn’t decent. I was quite fortunate that the chief inspector happened upon me in my state of distress rather than some ruffian or heaven knows what other unspeakable misfortune might have befallen me! Well, I certainly couldn’t wander about in that state, so the clever chief inspector procured some bits of clothing for me from the workers at the site. So, as you can see, I really must get cleaned up and dressed in more appropriate attire. Good evening, Mrs. McCreary.”

With that, she dashed up the stairs to her room. She could tell Mrs. McCreary didn’t believe any of her far fetched story, but wouldn’t stoop to calling her a liar outright, particularly given the mention of the presence of the chief inspector. It seemed Sparky was going to have to find new lodgings on her next trip to London because she could tell her level of impropriety exceeded even Mrs. McCreary’s greed. It was all she could do to change into a nightgown and eat Lord Ashleigh’s generous little snack, which proved to be quite fiery, requiring quite a bit of herbal tea to wash down. The sun was only setting when she collapsed into a sound slumber.

The sun was well up the next morning when she awoke, but it was still earlier than the day before when she recovered from her “experiment.” She selected her most demure ensemble for the day and pinned her hair up in a tight, sensible bun. There was no sense incurring any more of Mrs. McCreary’s wrath. It proved to be unnecessary because her landlady was nowhere to be found when Sparky arrived downstairs, nor was there tea waiting for her. She must have really irritated Mrs. McCreary this time! Nevertheless, she walked several blocks before hailing a cab to take her to the London airship port, a luxury a poor Welsh schoolteacher couldn’t have afforded. She tried not to focus on the events of the last couple of days as she rode to the port in silence.

As usual, there was no silence to be had at the port with the comings and goings of passengers and cargo. Even the usually business-like offices of Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines seem to be enveloped in a flurry of activity. The guard let her in past the ticket booths to the offices in the back where she discovered the source of the perturbations; Reginald Wallace, the president of Western & Transatlantic was in the manager’s office. Wallace was the sort of man who filled a room both figuratively and literally, a state of affairs aided by his propensity for wearing red and lots of it. This sartorial selection had a way of setting of the slightly red cast of his complexion, particularly when he was in high dudgeon over the failings of a subordinate, whether real or merely perceived. At the moment he was stabbing his stout finger at a garishly decorated broadsheet on the manager’s desk and bellowing about the importance of some opportunity to show what Western & Transatlantic was made of, causing the manager to cower lower and lower in his chair behind the desk. Sparky tried to sneak a peak around Wallace’s belly at the broadsheet without being noticed, but to no avail. Surely the man had eyes in the back of his head.

“Dr. McTrowell, just the bold adventuress I was looking for.” Oh dear, she didn’t like the direction this was going. She glanced down at the broadsheet. There was a physically unbelievable rendering of airships tilted at alarming angles sailing improbably over high mountain peaks. No, she didn’t like the direction this was taking at all! “I was just trying to get it through Mr. Littleton’s thick head the importance of demonstrating the technical superiority and airworthiness of our airships by entering and winning this race. It will be a huge boon for our continental routes!”

“Yes, well, it would certainly be impressive and newsworthy.” She was far too tired to be thinking as fast as the circumstances clearly required. “I’m sure I don’t know a thing about the impacts of such an event on commerce. I’ll just be off to the Lewis & Clark now.”

“Why are you going to the Lewis & Clark? It’s not setting sail again for several days.”

“I’m just going to arrange to have the mechanical surgical assistant sent to the Great Exhibition. I should think a demonstration of the exceptional medical services aboard Western & Transatlantic should be good for commerce as well.” She hoped the smile she was putting on was winning.

“Possibly, but I didn’t give permission for the surgical assistant to be moved.”

“Of course not, Mr. Wallace, since I built it from materials I purchased. Therefore, it belongs to me and doesn’t require your permission for me to move it.”

“And yet, it’s bolted into my airship.” The cat-that-ate-the-canary smile he was now wearing was not having a positive effect on her recently abused stomach. “Since we were discussing commerce, I believe you and I may be able to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement.” She was quite sure that “mutually” didn’t mean “equally,” and that she was going to be on the unequal end of the agreement.

“And what ‘mutually beneficial agreement’ did you have in mind?”

“Quite simply, you may take the surgical assistant to the Great Exhibition in exchange for agreeing to pilot the Burke & Hare in the race.”

“Mr. Wallace, you have far more capable pilots than myself who would dearly love an opportunity to flaunt their expertise in such a prestigious event.”

“Yes, but none so colorful and newsworthy as you, Dr. McTrowell. Who can forget the Pecos incident?” There it was. Reginald Wallace never missed an opportunity to trumpet the flamboyant exploits of his ships and pilots for the benefit of his own enlargement. He probably would have been a circus ringmaster, but owning an airship line was so much more profitable.

“Very well, Mr. Wallace, you have yourself an agreement.” She shook his hand ostentatiously, ensuring that everyone in the office saw it. She knew from painful experience that he never went back on a handshake, but without the handshake, no agreement existed.

“Littleton, have the surgical assistant trucked to the Great Exhibition immediately. And get this broadsheet up on the wall.” He smiled magnanimously upon everyone in the room as if he were doing Sparky a great favor. “Dr. McTrowell, the Burke & Hare sails for Munich in a week. I’ll see you at my table for dinner that night.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes sir.” She got a better look at the broadsheet as Littleton was tacking it to the wall. Emblazoned in an arc across the top of the broadsheet were the brightly illuminated words “
Bavarian Airship Regatta.

Colt Pocket 1849

Entry for December 6, 2010 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus lifted the glass, and give it a sniff. Licorice, well, anise to be precise. Other unique aromatic spices came through, too, but not ones that he could discern. He then asked Alistair, “I understand why you’d want me to experience your elixir, but why the revolver?”

“Do you have any background in engineering or the hard sciences, Chief Inspector? Chemistry or physics?”

“No, not formally. I’ve learned this and that through my life, particularly in investigating cases where I’ve worked with experts. But certainly not university study.”

“Then I’m suggesting that you think of the revolver as a non-trivial object that you are familiar with. One that you’ve operated, in this instance, fired, as I gather from the newspaper’s accounts of your last major case. Trust me on this, it will become clear.”

Erasmus was not a man who was known for hesitation when action was called for. He saw this situation in that manner. He could either shoo out this intruder, or see this through, and answer many of the questions that had arisen over the past two days. He decided that the latter was the way forward.

He raised the glass to his lips. Alistair interjected, “Given the small quantity I poured, drink it all at once, but let it roll around in your mouth for a bit, even under your tongue. It will expedite the process.” Erasmus raised one eyebrow at this, and then mentally committed to consuming the libation.

Erasmus tipped the glass up and let the liquid flow into mouth. It was like drinking any strong liqueur: sightly syrupy, pungent, and aromatic. As instructed, he let it linger in his mouth, as if savoring it. After a few seconds, he swallowed. The bouquet lingered, and there was a slight bitter aftertaste, but it was short lived.

Erasmus looked back at Alistair. Was that a slight smile Erasmus perceived? Perhaps. Alistair’s eyes went down to the revolver, and Erasmus’ followed. The firearm laid on the table with its handle toward Erasmus, its barrel towards Alistair. Erasmus remembered the last time he fired it, which was just a few weeks ago. It was fired in haste, in the heat of the moment. The report of the gun and the smoke it issued seemed to come back to him as happening both rapidly and slowly, as memories of the past often do when regarding life and death decisions. The recollection focused in on pulling the trigger, the exertion to pull it, the concentration to get the shot to hit the intended target, and where it went instead.

His mind then jumped to cleaning the revolver. The parts on the table. The smell of solvent and oil. The small squares of cleaning rags that he used. Being a good steward of the gun, he cleaned it after every use, so he was familiar with each of the major components: handle, hammer, cylinder, barrel, trigger, and loading lever. But, the smaller components started to also become perceptible. Moreover, he could see how those parts fit together in the revolver itself. It was as if the parts were somewhat translucent, and their interactions were apparent. The hammer had to be cocked manually, of course, rotating the cylinder into place, and as the trigger is pulled it would press against the combination bifurcated trigger and bolt spring before releasing the hammer. What? Where did he get that terminology? Oh, yes. He remembered scanning through the manual for the revolver when he received it from the armory at Scotland Yard. It’s a Colt Pocket 1849, with a four inch barrel for easy carrying and concealment. The parts list was easy for him to remember now, with its 50-plus parts, and how to care for each one. Disassembly and reassembly was fairly obvious now.

The process of the internals inner-workings continued to be revealed. As the hammer stuck the cap, it acted as a very small fuse, igniting the black powder, and the subsequent explosion forced the shot down the cylinder out towards the barrel. The criticality of having the hammer stay in place after striking became apparent: so that the expanding gasses wouldn’t eject backwards or upwards out of the gun, which would reduce the force expressed on the shot. That explained the shape of the hammer head, its weight, and fulcrum location, as well as the shape of the hole for the cap.

As the shot left the cylinder, it entered the barrel. But what’s this? A good portion of the gas from the explosion escapes at the point where there was a small gap between the cylinder and barrel. And with the rifling within the barrel, what little pressure was left would leak out around the shot. It now became apparent to Erasmus that whatever punch the black powder gave the shot while in the cylinder was all it was going to get, and after that, it was only using the barrel to aim and give the shot some spin, and slow it down. If the action of the pushing the shot forward also forced a newly added leaver back, causing the cylinder forward until it met the barrel, it would significantly aid in the velocity of the shot. But that would also complicate the revolver. The rifling could also be improved through the use of flat sides of the barrel rather than raised grooves. All of this additional velocity of the shot would actually improve the consistency its flight, making the revolver more accurate.

Erasmus continued to stare at the revolver. Alistair sat calmly in his chair, with a faint but controlled smugness. He finally decided to break the silence. “Talk to me.”

Erasmus suddenly realized that he had been silent for the entire time. He also hadn’t touched the revolver, although in his mind he had felt its weight in his hands, fired it, reloaded it, and walked his way through each component and mechanism.

“Well, its obvious to me that I’ve been oiling it too much after I clean it,” Erasmus chuckled. Alistair smiled, and added, “go on.”

“The trigger and bolt spring could be adjusted to allow the trigger to move smoothly for a slight distance farther before the hammer is released; this would prevent a jerking of the pistol when firing, which I am currently prone to. There is also a problem with the loss of gas thrust after the initial detonation of the powder, reducing the consistency of the shot’s flight. The issue could be addressed by creating a container of sorts for the cap, powder, and shot which would allow easy loading from the breach. I would need to know more about alloys and manufacturing processes to have a full explanation, but I certainly could draw it and explain how it can be ignited by the hammer, and allow the revolver to be rapidly loaded. The container could also seal off the gases that are leaked between the chamber and the barrel. Another explainable improvement is the automatic cocking of the gun by the trigger or by the recoil. This would greatly aid constables that need rapid firing pistols, and may even allow a sizable rack of the containers of which I mentioned to be automatically fed into the line of the hammer-cylinder-barrel. The challenge is ejecting the empty containers without injuring the shooter, but I could illustrate how it would work. But these suggestions all seem obvious now. The real improvement is to sidestep the issues of powder completely, given the noise, heat, and procurement, and instead pull the bullet out of the barrel using electrically controlled magnets. It may take some doing, but it would be a greatly improved system altogether.”

Alistair allowed himself to smile to the point of dimples. This seemed to be exactly what he had hoped for. “I’m impressed with how far you got on such a small amount of the elixir. Bravo. You should think about sending Mr. Samuel Colt a letter on these improvements.”

Erasmus suddenly seemed more aware of his surroundings, as if coming out of a trance. “I’m amazed I didn’t actually pick up the revolver. It feels like I turned it over in my hands hundreds of times. Taking it apart. Reconstructing it. Even modifying it and shooting the modified version.”

“No looking at your watch,” Alistair challenged. “Tell me how long you’ve been contemplating your pistol.”

“Twenty minutes at least. No, ..., closer to twenty-five.”

Alistair held up the pocket watch that he had been holding under the table. “Five minutes and twenty seconds. Incredible, yes? And you’ll remember it all. The effect will fade over the next few minutes since I hadn’t tendered you with that much. I should also mention that your mind has now had a taste of running at a higher tempo. You’ll remember that, too.”

“I am impressed. Your little demonstration worked. Scientific advancement could be greatly aided by your elixir, I gather. Am I missing something?”

Alistair smiled. “It’s not a panacea. Good ideas need to be followed by hard work. But my experience is that the elixir has the same effect on manufacturers and tradesmen. They see how to improve their processes and the generation of products. There aren’t that many people aware of it yet, but its use is growing,” Alistair said, with a bit of pride showing.

“However,” he continued, “it doesn’t play well with physicians. All they do is feel their internal organs operating at the most detailed degree, and they panic. Not a pretty sight, as you can imagine. I and my distributers dissuade medical practitioners from partaking.” Erasmus realized that this may be one of the reasons that Alistair hasn’t tried to get pharmaceutical approval for distribution: physicians would think that the elixir drives people insane. Not a very good endorsement.

Alistair looked at his watch again, but this time in an almost theatrical way, to make sure Erasmus understood the gesture. “I must be going. My main goal here was to have you fully understand Professor Farnsworth’s plight. Please keep this in mind as you go forward.” Alistair rose and extended his hand for shaking. Erasmus took this to be more of an “agreement on particulars” rather than a “parting on good terms” gesture. Erasmus shook his hand despite the subtle implication.

After the handshake, Alistair went straight for the door, and left. The whole of his exit seemed abrupt and calculated.

Erasmus’ mind was still running at its new-found speed. What could he do to take advantage of this? He looked around his room. Of course, it was obvious. He flung off his vest and shirt, grabbed his cane, and prepared to practice. If a deeper insight into his defensive arts was possible, this would make the evening complete. Erasmus felt rejuvenated from his day, had mentally organized tomorrow’s timetable, and prepared himself for a complex attack to the nearest dressmaker dummy. “Before I sleep,” he thought, “perhaps I can also scratch out a quick letter to Mr. Colt!”

Monsieur de Fermat’s Little Theorem

Entry for December 16, 2010 Written by Katherine L. Morse

McTrowell was quite certain it was time for a bite of food and something refreshing to wash it down. She glanced at the ornate street clock in the center of the airship port. She marveled at both its beauty and its accuracy; she stood for several minutes, watching the hands click around the face. When she came out of her reverie, she remembered her need for sustenance. It was half past noon. If history were any indication, Jean-Michel would be having a light lunch and a pint at The Olde Cheshire Cheese in about half an hour. He had an unusual taste for strong English beers for a Frenchman and The Olde Cheshire Cheese was his favorite source. She secretly suspected it was the reason he always accepted the annual invitation to the Inventors’ Symposium. Not only did a pint sound truly delightful, but the promised proof of Fermat’s theorem seemed just the invigorating, intellectual diversion she needed from all the unpleasant excitement of Abusir and Wallace.

She started walking and thinking. She would need to spend all day tomorrow setting up the surgeon’s assistant and connecting it to the steam engine Lord Ashleigh had promised, or should she start thinking of him as Maharaja Raya? She would need some sort of enclosure around the engine to reduce the noise. She would need a surgical table. What about a mannequin to simulate a patient? And then there was the question of whether this whole ruse would cause Abusir to reveal himself and his plan. She didn’t like days with more questions than answers.

It was crowded and noisy when she entered The Olde Cheshire Cheese, as usual. Although she personally preferred quieter venues, this particular one had the advantage of being so full of “eccentrics” that she was never cause for particular interest. She threaded her way through the clutches of other patrons, searching the corners of the room looking for Petit and was just about to give up when she spotted him in a corner by himself. He had a fresh pint in front of him and was observing the crowd as if he were trying to divine the equation for its movement, shifting and coalescing through some hidden motivation.

“Jean-Michel, may I join you?”

“My dear friend, what an unexpected pleasure! I have just ordered le déjeuner. Please join me. To what do I owe this visit?”

“I needed lunch and I was hoping to hear your proof of Monsieur de Fermat’s little theorem.”

“But of course. However, it is not to be heard without a fine, English beer.” He raised his hand to signal a tap boy, a mop-headed lad in otherwise drab clothes except for a green vest. “A pint of bitters for my good friend, please. And another porter for me as well.” He turned back to McTrowell with a slight smile on his face. “I should tell you that the gendarmes arrived at the Symposium after your fisticuffs with the unpleasant duke.”

“Oh, dear. Are they looking for me?”

“Oh no, I believe the chief inspector felt the Duke got, how do you say, his comeuppance. A very sensible gentleman, the chief inspector, not like so many you meet.”

“A gentleman inspector, you say?”

“Yes, a rather polite and well groomed fellow with luxurious mustachios of the type that would make any Frenchman proud.” He smiled again.

The tap boy in the green vest returned with a pint glass filled with an impenetrably dark liquid with a dense, foamy head that he put in front of Petit and a much lighter brew that he placed in front of McTrowell.

“A votre santé.”

“And to the health of the new petite, Petit, may it be a girl as lovely as her mother whose charms her father will not be able to resist.” She thought Petit’s cheeks turned a little rosy at her toast, but it was hard to be certain in the dark of the corner.

The bitters were true to their name. The first swallow made her screw up her face. She set the glass back down. Rather than let Petit know that she didn’t really care for his choice of beverage, she returned to the reason for seeking out Jean-Michel’s company.

“Before we were interrupted at the Symposium, you were going to share a proof with me.”

“Ah, yes, Monsieur de Fermat’s last theorem. As you know, Monsieur de Fermat asserted that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation a
n + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two. And then he died without revealing the general case of the proof! I believe I have rediscovered the general proof!”

In her excitement at the prospect of hearing the proof, Sparky forgot her first reaction to the bitters and took another swallow. It was no better than her first taste that clearly showed on her face. This time, Jean-Michel noticed.

“My dear friend, I think this peculiar type of English beer is not to your liking. Please accept mine instead. I have not yet tasted it.” Without waiting to hear her answer, he took her bitters and slid his porter over in front of her. He took a swallow. “Mon dieu, this is truly bitters.” She took a swallow of the porter. She had to admit she found it more approachable. Jean-Michel reached for his valise to retrieve some papers, but was interrupted by the tap boy bringing his lunch. She had been hungry when she arrived, but the sight of the bread and cheese platter was not appetizing and she was feeling unsteady again. A trip to the loo felt in order.

“Pardon me, Jean-Michel. I’ll just be a moment. Enjoy your lunch.” He smiled and nodded, taking a bite of bread and cheese, and washing it down with a couple more swallows of the bitters. She was searching for the appropriate exit when she spotted a tap boy and thought to ask for directions. He was wearing a vest too, but this one was blue rather than green. Why were all the tap boys in the Olde Cheshire Cheese wearing vests? No wait, this was the same one who brought their beers. Why would he have multiple vests and why would he change in the middle of working? No, it wasn’t just his vest that was now blue. His dirty blonde hair and fair skin were now bluish too. Oh no, could she be having a relapse? She staggered around in a wobbly circle and faces blurred past her. She thought she saw an unpleasantly familiar, dark, malicious face. She turned around again. It was gone.

And then, despite her delirium, she had the most terrible moment of absolute clarity of her entire life. The bitters had hidden a taste even more bitter that she hadn’t recognized without the licorice root. The face had been the workman from the Grand Exhibition. Abusir!

Jean-Michel! She staggered around in another circle searching for the direction back to the table. She stumbled into other patrons, spilling their beers but ignoring their curses.


The Smell of Cocoa

Entry for January 5, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus awoke with a start. Something just wasn’t right, and he had to figure out what it was. He decided that he would rush through his morning routine, which was not his usual. Early rising and being the first to work was not his style. It went against his natural tendencies and clashed with his philosophy. But this morning was different. And to make it worse, it was his gut that drove him forward, and so he needed to figure out the particulars of this instinctual response.

As he approached his table to pour a basin of water, he saw it. A clean square of cloth had been laid out on his table, and his revolver had been lovingly disassembled until every possible removable piece of his pistol was placed in a most orderly fashion. It looked so tidy an effort that it gave the appearance that he was planning to lead a private instruction on the construction of the Colt Pocket 1849.

Erasmus didn’t have time to concern himself with this. He typically didn’t carry it with him, given the hassles of a cap and ball pistol, and he would need to take the time to reassemble it in the evening. Today needed to get started, the revolver would have to wait.

He made it out of the Olde Cheshire Cheese building in half the time as it would normally take. Bowler on head and cane in hand, he started his usual serious stride toward Scotland Yard. Erasmus’ young friend William popped out from behind a corner and caught up from behind. William was uncharacteristically agitated, and he started the conversation before he was along side Erasmus. “You’re up early. You must have heard the news then.”

“Actually, no. But I suspected something happened. Do tell.”

“Well, the first part of it is that you are the main subject of the front page article of the
Times, at least the law-abiding side of the story. The article details the explosion at the Great Exhibition site and the chatty professor’s success at ruining Babbage’s machine. The second part is what you probably don’t know. Farnsworth escaped from Westminster Hospital last night! The headline’s rather interesting. The reporters quoted you after the explosion ...”

William then held up a copy of the
Times and jabbed a finger at a midpoint in the front page article. Sure enough, there was Erasmus’ exclamation at Professor Farnsworth’s rantings. Erasmus took the paper into his hands and by unfolding it, revealed the headline: ”Mad Scientist Escapes!” “Oh, great,” he thought out loud. “That will stick in the minds of citizens everywhere.”

As he walked, he scanned down the article. “The professor escaped at 8 PM last night. Do you know any more about how it happened?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t. I just saw the article and thought,” William paused, “well, Sir, I thought that I could help you in some way.”

“Good man. Your aid would be appreciated. I must get to Scotland Yard to follow up on yesterday’s activities. But I feel that there may have been a link between an unexpected visitor I had last night and the professor’s escape. My gut is telling me that he was there to detain me while others were freeing the professor. I need you to look into it.”

“What’s his name, Sir, if you know it?”

“He is one of the professor’s students, per se, but no time to explain the particulars. His name is Alistair Bennington Rutherford, and he operates a manufacturing plant that distributes a variation of absinthe that goes by the name Green Fantasy. He has been ...”

“Sir! Sir!” William interrupted, “I know where that may be. The manufacturing plant. It’s buried in the textile mills, I believe. I’ve seen the chemistry students that loiter outside of a particular warehouse. Many cases of clinking full bottles that go both in and out. It caught my eye, it did. I could investigate there. Undercover, and all that. Maybe ask for a job and get a quick tour or something.”

“Jolly good! What luck! The critical item is that I need to find out where to find Mr. Rutherford. If I’m correct, he may be dodging me, and I need to confront him.” Erasmus gave William’s shoulder a solid two pats, but before sending him off, he added, “Stay low and in character. We don’t want to give away that we may know the location of the plant or Alistair, if you find out, and our association should also be kept hidden. Best of luck, lad, best of luck. Oh, yes, and feel free to use the other fellows! Relay the same goals and cautions if they join you.” He added one last pat to William’s back, and William was off, clearly excited to be part of the hunt.

When Erasmus entered Scotland Yard, it was abuzz with activity. Bartholomew Horner, Erasmus’ superior, met him at the door. “Early today. Good. I’m sure by now that you are aware of Professor Farnsworth’s escape. I want to have you organize and brief a team of constables I’ve assembled for recapturing him. After that, I’d like you to brief the metropolitan area constables on what to look for so they can provide additional coverage. After that, work with one of our printers to get out a public notification broadsheet to report sightings of the professor. Given the nature of his crime, I want to have him back in our control as quickly as we can.”

“Excellent plan. However, I would first like to talk to the constable that was guarding the professor. Is he about?”

“Higgins is here. Ducking the reporters, I’m sure. He’s outside the briefing room, since he’s volunteered to be part of the search team. Oh, that reminds me. Expect more reporters to want to discuss the investigation with you. Especially with this ‘mad scientist’ headline. I’m sure that’ll haunt you for a while. I’ll get the rest of the search team lined up to be briefed by you at the top of the hour. If there’s anything else you need my support on, let me know.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Erasmus did a quick visit to his office to drop off his leather cape coat, bowler and cane, and then headed straight to speak to Constable Zachary Higgins.

Constable Higgins was well respected within the Yard, at least until last night. He had been a stand-up constable for four or so years, but letting a criminal of such recent notoriety escape wasn’t good for one’s reputation. Erasmus knew this, and so felt that if he was to get the constable to give him the full story of what happened last night, he needed to be as positive as possible.

“Higgins. How are you holding up?” Erasmus queried. Higgins was standing outside of the briefing room, looking a bit lost and alone. He was clearly trying to keep his chin up, but only slightly hid his feelings of defeat. “Well, Drake, it’s been a rough morning. You’re the first to talk to me, to be honest. I’ve actually been up all night running around the streets near the hospital trying to find him. Haven’t slept a wink, and I want to get back out there to catch this clown. Volunteered for the search team, I did.”

Erasmus smiled, and said, “The professor may be a lunatic, but he’s a smart one. He built that electrical contraption that can conjure up the equivalent of a lightning bolt. He’s not your average criminal.” Erasmus paused to see if Higgins offered more details, but the constable just shook his head and shuffled his feet for a second. Erasmus didn’t have time for this.

“Higgins, the newspaper said that Professor Farnsworth escaped out the window. I know they almost never get the details right. What’s your account of the events?”

“Well, he did leave through the window. But it had been secured from the outside, and he was in restraints in the hospital bed. I was outside the door, since the lights were off in his room so he could sleep.”

“Was the time of escape accurate? 8 PM?”

“I do think so. I was checking in on him once an hour. At the 8 PM check, the window was opened, and no sign of the professor. The restraints looked like they had been picked, but I didn’t see any tool that could have performed the deed.”

“Higgins, I have my suspicions that someone was aiding Professor Farnsworth. The newspaper report didn’t mention anyone else. Be straight with me. Was there anyone else there?” Given the hour, Erasmus thought that Alistair might have gone straight to the hospital from his apartment. That would make sense given his relationship with the professor.

“Your suspicions are justified, Drake. I didn’t pass this along since it would have made me look like I had shirked my duties, which looking back, perhaps I did. At around 7:30, a fellow came along all happy like and told me his wife had just given birth to twins. He was dancing around and offered me a touch of drink from his flask. I refused, of course. So he said just a drop. Symbolic, he said. It’s just symbolic. So he poured no more than a few drops of liquid into the flasks top, we clinked the two like glasses, and I just had a taste of the stuff, and he took a swig from his flask. I gave him his cap back, wished him the best, and he was on his merry way. The drink was absinthe, I think. Tasted like a child’s licorice drop. But then the strangest thing happened. My mind wondered far and wide, and I was thinking how this guy’s dancing around reminded me of a prancing street juggler I once saw, and then I realize that I don’t know how to juggle. But I suddenly realized that I’m sure I could figure it out. Next thing I know I’m outside the hospital juggling three small rocks like I’d been doing it all my life. And then it hits me that I’m neglecting my guarding duties. I rush back in, and that’s when the professor was gone, a little after 8.”

“I’ll keep this quiet. The one detail that’s important to me is what did the man with the flask look like?”

“Oh, there’s no mistaking this one. He had on those puffy pants and long vests that are so popular with the student artists. Shaggy black hair, and a little pointy beard, also black. Looked harmless enough, despite being about a hand taller than myself. Couldn’t have been any older than 22 or 23.” Erasmus thanked Zachary for the details, mentally filed it away, and got his busy morning underway.

By noon, Erasmus felt he had put in a full day. The briefings went well. During them, he listed the places he thought the professor may return to, his colleagues, and the nature of the electrical apparatuses he used as far as he thought was needed. The search team was eight good men, and they were to work in teams of two, starting their investigations at the locations Erasmus listed. The metropolitan constables were to just keep a wary eye out for any sign of the professor, and to be quick with the sound of alarm.

It was at this time that William stopped by with news. Since William was in training as a constable, it wasn’t odd for him to be at the Yard. Erasmus felt that keeping William’s “additional support” quiet would be for the best, and his coming directly to Erasmus’ office today was warranted.

As Erasmus looked up from his desk, William burst through his office door. “Sir, I did it! I was in character throughout! Did it on me own, too. You should have seen me!” Erasmus gave a friendly “come on out with it” hand gesture as William grabbed a chair, plopped in it at a speed only a teenager can, and burst into his story.

“I acted as if I was looking for work, and went in alone. I figured that it would look odd if there was a group of us. I was on the right track with my original hunch. The warehouse I originally thought of is a distribution point. Mr. Rutherford rarely goes there, but where they mix the stuff is where he spends his time. I got to be friendly with one of the case haulers, who gave me the address of the mixing plant. He knew Mr. Rutherford personally, and said that he spends most his time talking with future customers. Scientists and musicians, and the like. This afternoon he said Mr. Rutherford will probably be at a private club for artists. The Blue Cat, over on St. James’s Street. I stopped by the place on my way here. Not much of a private club. More of a dive with tables and bad art on the walls. May I join you?” It seemed to Erasmus that William had said all of that in one breath.

“Hmm, this could get messy, or even rough. But you could be my back up. Let’s go.” They both stood at the same time, Erasmus grabbed his walking attire, and out they went.

The sky had clouded over, giving the city of London a stark grayness despite being midday. William took the lead with a bounce in his step. His enthusiasm was a tad infectious, and Erasmus smiled at his puppy-on-a-leash mannerisms.

Suddenly William turned around. “Lunch? Have you eaten, Sir?” It just occurred to Erasmus the effect that the elixir had on him last evening. He hadn’t eaten since midday yesterday. He hadn’t been hungry or even thirsty for a full 24 hours. That just wasn’t right. He filed that away for thinking about later. “No, lad, I haven’t. Let’s stop for a quick pot pie.”

The Blue Cat was near the corner of St. James’s Street and Pall Mall, hidden among the type of shops that have small friendly store fronts that hide repair and light fabrication rooms in the rear. Its entrance was down a set of stone steps, leading to a heavy blue door with a small brass knocker. Once close enough, Erasmus could see that the knocker had the face of a hissing cat encircled by a hinged ring. Erasmus and William looked silently at the door for a few seconds, and then Erasmus gave a sweeping gesture to William to take the lead, and he backed up the stone stairs one step. William gave a Erasmus a “here goes” eyebrow raise, turned to the door, and clinked the knocker twice.

Shuffling sounds could be heard from within, a muffled request to hold on, and a young man wearing a beige poet’s shirt and baggy pants opened the door. “Huh,” is all he said at first, and gave both William and Erasmus a quick look over, followed by, “I see you came by again. Still looking for work?”

William began, “Yes. I wanted to see if Mr. Alistair Bennington Rutherford had come by so we could talk. May we come in?”

“What’s with him?” he asked, gesturing to Erasmus with a quick jab of his chin. William smiled and retorted, “Oh, my father? He’s just along for the walk. Thought he might make a good reference, if needed.” William actually winked with this, and Erasmus looked around, as if uninterested, to play along with the ruse.

“Well, there’s not much going on here now, being the middle of the day, and all. I don’t know when Mr. Rutherford will be by. Might as well come in.”

William and Erasmus went in and let their eyes adjust to the dimness. It was as William had described. A few tables and chairs. A crude bar was set up, with a limited selection of drinks. The place was empty.

“You can wait here if you like. I can’t really offer you a drink; it’s a private club.” He smiled with the knowledge that calling this room a private club was dripping with irony. He continued, “I’m working on a piece in the back, so if you’ll excuse me ...”

Erasmus spoke up, seeing an opportunity to explore more, “Do you mind if I look? I’m very interested in art. We have a good deal of it in the house. Always looking for new pieces.”

“Fine by me. Everything in the back here is a work in progress, so don’t be too hasty to judge. Watch your step. Floor’s a mess.”

To the left of the bar was a draped doorway. As he pulled back the drape, a low-ceilinged work area was revealed, which was better lit and had a few easels, a stool, and a paint-splashed table crowded with the tools and supplies of the craft of painting. The work room had two additional archways, leading to similar rooms. The artist went straight away to an easel and pulled back a cloth that was protecting his work in progress. The image he was working on was quite experimental, a rolling landscape dotted with cows, or were they horses?, but using larger and heavier strokes than one would see in paintings in most sitting rooms. For Erasmus, he thought that the effect was interesting, but not anything he would ever buy. He then turned his interest back to exploring the premises.

Without explanation, Erasmus ducked through the archway on the left, which lead to another work area, this one had the trappings of a student of clay sculpture: a table with a number of terra cotta colored pieces on it that appeared to already have been fired, various scraping and smoothing tools, and small bits of clay everywhere. A bag of powdered clay was on the floor next to a tin bucket that was sadly unmaintained. Erasmus’ ears could now detect that this was a rabbit warren of a dozen or so rooms, with voices coming from one of them buried in the back. If Alistair was such a busy man, this seemed an odd place for him to frequent. The answer lay in the people here, most likely. He started to make his way back through the gas lit rooms, toward the voices, just as he could hear William making small talk with the baggy-shirted painter.

As he got closer, Erasmus could tell that the two artists were in a bit of celebration, after completion of a difficult task. He hung back in the shadows of the room adjacent to theirs to determine what success they were discussing. The two were dressed in leather aprons and goggles, the latter currently draped around their necks. In the room was a bathtub-sized pan with high sides and two wires running out to what looked like an electrical generator. Erasmus recognized this as electroplating equipment, but more sophisticated. Two gold bars were on the floor next to the pan, one looked as if its surface had been melted away. A clay cast was on the table that had been used for creating the underlying metal sculpture. The cast was broken, obviously removed from around the artwork. Shiny silver-color castoff metal was still stuck to the bottom of the cast.

The two leather-clad artists were beside themselves. They were drinking and carrying on as if they had just won some grand fortune at a betting table. And what’s this! The far one had the black hair and pointy beard as described by Constable Higgins. What fortuitous luck! Best to continue listening in.

Erasmus’ left elbow touched something that gave like it was going to tip over. He carefully turned his head to see what was on the table next to him as he slowly backed his elbow away. Hidden by the darkness was a bottle, but no ordinary bottle. It was a half-full stoppered bottle of Green Fantasy. A glass was next to it. Erasmus was frozen. With just a taste of this, he could solve this entire circumstance in five minutes. He knew he could. He could still hear the conversation in the next room, but his attention was now on the bottle. Erasmus forced himself to look back into the next room to hear the black bearded one say how overjoyed he was that the twins were healthy and his wife was fine. As he turned back, he had apparently picked the bottle up in his now slightly shaky hand. Just a sip, perhaps. No, not a good plan. He was on duty, and all that rot. A look back at the artists, and he recognized the cast. It was the statue of Osiris, the same one that was in the Egyptian Hall. He looked at his hands. He had somehow taken up the glass and poured about twice as much as he had had the night before. He could smell it. He could imagine the unique taste. The glass moved halfway to his mouth and stopped. A constable’s whistle had been blown outside in the street, twice, loud and long, but it seemed miles away and muffled, as if Erasmus had pillows over his ears.

He slammed the bottle and glass to the table and sprinted through the warren, past William and Mr. baggy shirt. He threw open the door and bolted up the steps to find a most curious scene.

Across the street was the well-known Lobb shoe store. In their doorway was Professor Farnsworth brandishing one of the electrical discharge pistols in his burnt right hand, his blackened finger nervously on the trigger. The cable that attached to the pistol now ran to a backpack apparatus, which most likely supplied power to the pistol while letting the professor be completely mobile. Clutched in the professor’s left arm was a panicked young lady, being employed as both a shield and hostage. Her arms pinned and her eyes wide, she appeared to have witnessed the incredible capability of the pistol, stunning her to silence. At that particular moment, she was looking with horror at the professor’s damaged left hand that was grasping her right arm as well as it could with it’s remaining three fingers. Incredibly, the professor had a leather holster strapped to his right leg that was obviously made to accommodate the pistol, but looked a good deal like a repurposed fine gentleman’s shoe.

The window of the shop has been slightly melted from the inside, causing the gilded-paint signage to run. The pistol has obviously been discharged inside the store.

The street had been cleared of people. The constable that blew the alarm was hiding or left the vicinity completely. Apparently, Erasmus’ description of the power of the pistols had been heeded. No one was on scene except Erasmus.

The professor was full-tilt maniacal. Twitching, wild-eyed, and grinning at his circumstance. But now the Chief Inspector was here. Someone to point his pistol at, Erasmus thought. And the professor obliged his thought and leveled the pistol at Erasmus. As the pistol moved it made a humming sound not that unlike the sound of a dragonfly on wing. It must be partially powered, thought Erasmus.

William charged up the stone steps, breathless. Erasmus instinctively held out his right arm with a “stay behind me” wave. William slowly backed down the steps, but not to the extent he couldn’t watch what was about to happen.

“Chief Inspector Drake, how nice for you to show up, again. Would you like to see how I’ve improved the electrical discharge pistol? I gave the owners of the Lobb shop a little demonstration!” He chuckled to himself, and grabbed his young hostage tighter.

Erasmus’ new goal was to keep the professor pinned down until more fire power showed up. Let’s continue his little dialog, he thought. “And a good day to you, Professor. I see you got free of the hospital room.”

“My friend Red came to the rescue, of course. Easy to break into a room that’s meant to keep someone in. Red told me of your little chat. What prompted your initial visit? You’ve thrown quite a spanner into my plans.”

“Well, it all started with the smell of cocoa in the temporary exhibit room at the grand pavilion. It didn’t make sense. That’s why I visited Red.”

As he said this, Erasmus took a nonchalant step forward hoping to get a tad closer to the professor. The professor became incensed, and his pistol quivered in anger. “All of this over the smell of cocoa?” He turned the quietly humming pistol to the young lady’s head, which made her long blond hair stand on end out to her left, directly away from the pistol like a comet’s tail points away from the sun. It gave the impression that it was a still picture of the pistol blowing her head off. The young lady produced an audible whimper that indicated that she understood her predicament.

“One step closer and her head disappears,” the professor said through an evil smile. As he minutely moved his right hand, the young lady’s blond hair instantly jerked about to remain as distant as possible from the bulbous end of pistol.

Through gritted teeth, Professor Farnsworth growled, “We had just finished celebrating a critical technical breakthrough relating to electrical reservoiring. The day before you showed up, we had a troupe of dancers and jugglers entertain the graduate students. They used cocoa on the floor to prevent slipping on the smooth marble.” By this point, the professor’s growl had built to a shout. “You bumbled in and interrupted my life’s work, Chief Inspector!”

No backup yet. Erasmus needed more time, wanted to change the direction of the conversation, and fast. “Young lady, are you all right?”

She stuttered something and then froze again. The professor rolled his eyes and hissed, “Oh, answer him!”

She slowly stammered out, “I’m ... fine, Sir. Just my nerves are rattled.”

Erasmus wanted to continue this conversation and keep the professor from getting more excited. “What’s your name, dear?”

“Margret. Margret O’Malley. I work at Lobb’s. At the till.”

Professor Farnsworth rolled his eyes at the banality of the exchange. “Enough of this jibber-jabber! I must take my leave. Good day, Chief Inspector.” At this, the professor lifted Margret until her legs dangled and took a few steps to his left toward Pall Mall. At that second, the search team arrived with additional constables. Finally, thought Erasmus, more firepower.

The professor reacted by cursing and sweeping his aim across in a wide arc, causing Margret’s hair to hang down naturally again and the constables to dive for cover, with the exception of Constable Zachary Higgins, who stood his ground. He had determination written all over his face. The other constables brought out their firearms. From Erasmus’ perspective, it was as if the buildings had all grown blue arms with revolvers. The constables all understood the situation and the odds. The electrical discharge pistol probably took awhile to fire, if the professor hasn’t modified it to fire immediately. Whoever is in its line of fire may be killed, but the others can bring the professor down. However, they had no knowledge that he had used the weapon to kill anyone, so preemptively firing on him was unjustified.

Erasmus took a small step forward saying, “Professor, we have no proof that you have injured anyone. If you lower your pistol, and give yourself over to our constables quietly, the magistrate will be lenient.” The professor was incensed again. Waving the pistol through a few more arcs, he shouted, “Enough! I made this pistol for blasting my way out of situations just like this. Watch this!” His waving pistol locked onto Erasmus.

Erasmus instinctively reached into the inside pocket of his cape where his revolver would be and found something that he had placed there! It was a short cylinder with a long nozzle or barrel with a button-like trigger on the side. It fit well in his hand. Was this the magnetic gun that he had mentally invented? Had he build it overnight, as some sort of sleepwalking inventor? And surely if he had, it would fire instantly rather than taking time to charge up.

Upon thinking this, Erasmus pulled out his new-found weapon and in a single motion leveled it at the professor and pulled the trigger. The sight and sound of the empty oil can made Professor Farnsworth rear back with laughter. The first thought Erasmus had in that split second was that the oil can was placed there to remind him to buy more oil so he could reassemble his revolver. How ironic.

The second thought was his grand luck, and shouted, “Now!”

Zachary sprinted toward the professor. The professor lowered his pistol again at the poorly armed Erasmus and pulled the trigger. The sound of the pistol’s warming up began — an ugly high-pitched whine. Margret screamed a soprano note that created a strange harmonic with the pistol’s electronic screech.

Erasmus took two steps forward and lunged, counting correctly on Zachary’s success. Zachary’s arms wrapped around the professor’s thin legs, causing the professor to spin around, landing on his back in the street, with Margret thrown free, off-balance. Erasmus caught Margret in the middle of her fall, saving her from a hard landing. The electrical discharge pistol fired straight up, a thunderous crack was sounded, and a blue-white flash that looked like lightening straightened out into a rod ensued. The immediate effect was to cause a perfect hole to be augured into the clouds above, as if some deity had decided to drill a hole so he or she could spy on these earthly shenanigans.

Zachary moved like man on a mission, deftly knocking the pistol out of the professor’s hand, which went skittering away as far as its tether allowed. And then, splash, the entire condensed contents of the vaporized cloud segment rained down onto the block in a perfect ring the size of the hole bored in the clouds, drenching those in its path. The strange meteorological phenomenon was short-lived, but it made everyone, including the professor, look up at the blue sunshiny hole in the sky in awe.

The next half hour contained the usual steps back to normalcy: the constables came out from hiding and returned their revolvers back to their hiding place; Professor Farnsworth was placed in restraints while he ranted about his mission to stop the use of thinking machines; Margret thanked Erasmus at least three times; the Lobb shoe shop owners were released from being tied up with shoelace string; a Scotland Yard cabriolet was brought around to transfer Professor Farnsworth back to the Westminster Hospital; and the constables all thanked Zachary and Erasmus for their actions and preventing bloodshed. There was nothing that could be done regarding the Lobb’s cash register that Professor Farnsworth reduced to a molten blob. No one wanted to touch any of the knobs or switches on the electrical discharge pistol’s backpack in fear that it would cause some additional catastrophe. Erasmus requested a special team to be called in to address the issue of the dangerous technical device. The hole in the clouds started to fade, but a gathering crowd of pedestrians all stood around looking at it as if they had never seen blue sky before. Reporters showed up, of course, but they were mainly taking the reaction by the crowd; they would get the story from the members of the Yard later.

By the time that Erasmus got to the hospital, where he planned to verify that the professor was properly guarded, multiple reporters from each of the London newspapers and a few reporters from out-of-town and foreign papers met him at the steps. He gave them short versions of how he distracted Professor Farnsworth with an oil can, of Constable Higgins’ heroics, the recapture of the professor, the rescue of Margret O’Malley, the freeing of the Lobbs, and the effects of the odd cloud-clearing pistol. He joked that the Mad Scientist’s invention now had a “good use” after all. But secretly, he was glad that the electrical discharge pistol didn’t fire straight the first time he encountered it, or he wouldn’t have been here having these interviews.

Once he was finished with the reporters, he went in to talk with the guards. All three of them were in place, their rotation plan was well understood, and they were briefed on the possibility that someone might try to free the prisoner.

Erasmus then decided to talk to the professor, to see if his normal side had returned, still keeping in mind Alistair’s request for leniency for the poor man. As he neared his room, he saw Alistair kneeling by his bed. Erasmus held back, curious as to what exchange they were having.

Alistair was beside himself. “I’ve failed you, Professor. I have created this problem for you, and I swear I’ll do whatever it takes to save you. You have my word on it.” The professor responded, but his lucidness was only temporary. “Be gentle with yourself, Alistair. I am what I am by my own hand. But ... please help me escape! I must stop the machines! Please, I beg of you!” A tear silently ran down Alistair’s face. Erasmus turned and walked down the hall alone, until he heard a cry for help. As he moved down the hall towards the shouting, he thought, “I’m needed again, once more into the breach.”

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