The Curious Case of the Chronofundibular Emancipation Engine
by Tony Noland
"You will, of course, forgive me if I think you an imbecile."
Professor von Kindermord puffed, blowing aside the minute particles of brass filed away from the piece he was working on. Squinting, he peered through the jeweler's loupe affixed to his spectacles. "But of course, my dear Harrison," he replied. "I should be honored to have you think me an imbecile. Nothing else would so utterly reassure me that I have settled on the best possible course of action." He set aside the tiny triangular file and picked up a set of micrometers. The measurement he took of the complex, bi-torsioned worm gear obviously pleased him.
"And if I take the further liberty of considering you to be a madman? A veritable Prince of Bedlam?"
"Such things are proven or dis-proven in the fullness of time, Harrison." The stoop-shouldered old German drew on a pair of white cotton gloves. With angelic care, he loosened the benchdogs and the lifted the worm gear from its cradle on the bench. Cupping it in his hand like the Star of India, he took slow, careful steps across the room. "If you would be so kind, Harrison? The door, if you please?"
Harrison, a protuberant man, wide of forehead and red of face, stepped around his rival and opened the heavy oaken door. He reached into the hall and turned up the gas, the better to light the Professor's path. "Shall I precede you, sir, or would you have me follow?"
"I take your meaning, Harrison, doubled and doubled again though it may be. Whether I would or no, you and every other man of Science shall follow where I lead, for this is to be the triumph of the age." His milky blue eye glanced into the face of Britain's native intellectual champion and saw that his bolt had gone true to the mark. With steady, careful steps, he carried the final mechanical element toward his lifework's culmination. "Harrison, I am an internationalist. May I extend my offer to you one final time? Assist me in this? We, working together as men of Science first and foremost, can set a precedent that could once and for all ages sweep away the foolishness of national ambition. Let us not be German and Briton, but man and man. Let it be so, Harrison. What say you?"
Their slow, steady walk had brought them down the hall to another door, which Harrison opened for the Professor.
"No, Professor. The nations of the world are what they are through divine providence. Our respective monarchs are fixed points on this Earth as the stars are fixed points in heaven. I would achieve the honors of Science for my nation and for my Queen, and for no other. What you propose is democratic anarchy, the only possible outcome of a gentle, pernicious, mass regicide. I would rather try and fail as a proud Briton than wear the laurels of success in a world without Britons at all."
"Ah, my dear Harrison. Such a pity."
"Not so very much a pity, my esteemed Professor, for this construct of yours cannot succeed. It simply... cannot." He looked up at the Chronofundibular Emancipation Engine, a massive structure of interconnected mechanica, electrum-plated drive rods, enhancement gearing and galvanic fluid conduits. Harrison stood, taking it all in. Sudden doubts were as plain on his face as his chin whiskers. If it worked as the Professor expected, then he was beaten and the world would see a new Golden Age. If it did not...
At the heart of it all gleamed what appeared to be a crystalline tank. Harrison nodded at it. "Is that one of Madame Curie's autoluminescent condensers? Rather large, isn't it?"
"Ah, Harrison. Must we play these games right up to the very last leg before the finish line? It is my own design, building on the principle of the Curie condenser. There are 279,936 infinitesimally narrow Curie condensers within that leaded crystal vessel. Once this final guidance element is in place... like so..." - the brass worm gear slid into its housing with a click - "the lignum vitate gearing will regulate the flow of liquified radium across the wolframite mesh. As you well know." The Professor closed the access panel on the control box, pushed a small rod upwards and opened a valve. He stood back, as did Harrison.
The central tank began to glow with the unearthly blue of Curian elemental combustion, but far more evenly and brightly than Harrison had ever seen in his own laboratory. His breath caught in his throat. The machine was coming to life. Pipes and gauges ticked and groaned as pressures built, then gearing began to turn as the thousand and one tiny push rods took up the strain. Harrison turned to face the Professor.
"Any.. any last words, Professor? What shall I say about you at your funeral oration?"
"Your bravery in the face of defeat does you credit, Harrison. Will you shake hands?"
Harrison clasped the old man's hand, dwarfing his thin, bony fingers with his own hand, thick, beefy and red. They stood together for a moment, then the Professor climbed slowly onto the seat of the Engine and said, "I should advise you to step behind the observation screen. If this does, by some evil chance, not quite live up to my expectations, I would not wish you to be injured in the explosion." Harrison bowed and moved behind the protective screen, his eyes fixed on the Professor, now outlined by the penetrating blue glow from the tank.
The Professor lifted a hand in salute, took a deep breath, then twisted a control valve open. In a brilliant flash, the entire engine disappeared. Harrison was thrown forward into the screen with the thunderous concussion of air rushing into the vacuum. Then, almost before he could register that the machine had worked, that the Professor's Engine had actually accomplished the impossible, he was thrown backward by a second pressure wave, equally explosive in the contained space.
Harrison picked himself up and rushed from around the screen, only to see the Professor leaping down from the seat of the Engine. Broadly muscled, with back straight and hair once again a dark, walnut brown, the Professor jumped up and down, shouting in his native German, "It worked! By heaven and by God, it worked! I'm young again! Young! Young! It worked! Harrison! It's fantastic! Did you see? Did you see? Where are you, my good man? Did you... see... the Engine... it worked..."
The Professor's neck craned back as he looked up at his erstwhile rival. Harrison, after a moment, crouched down to kneel on the floor, the better to speak with, congratulate and console Herr Doktor Professor Wilfred Mannheim von Kindermord, the unquestioned Titan of the Scientific Age, who now stood less than ten inches tall.
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