#FridayFlash: Truth, Justice and Natural Philosophy

Truth, Justice and Natural Philosophy

by Tony Noland

Inspector Harrod entered the interrogation room with a nod to the sergeant, who saluted stiffly in return. The patrolman turned up the gas on the fresnel lens-lamp, brightening the beam of light focused on the dwarf. Dust motes danced in and out of the beam as the dwarf blinked hard in the glare, his eyes glistening with sudden tears.

Harrod sat in the chair opposite. For almost ten minutes, he sat in silence, shuffling papers back and forth as he read the report on the table in front of him. On his stool in the center of the room, the dwarf began to sweat. He rubbed his hands on his pants, palms flat. The room was cold and the dwarf, barefooted in his suspenders and shirtsleeves, had been shivering until the lamp was turned up. The six gas jets were all on full; the heat was intense, and the light was blinding.

With a throaty sound that could have a hum, a harrumph or a grunt, the Inspector reordered the papers in front of him. He drew out a blank sheet of cheap, police department foolscap and picked up his mechanical pencil. Hand poised over the sheet, he looked up at the dwarf for the first time since entering the room.


The dwarf's eyed widened in surprise, then hardened in anger. "Name?" he repeated. "It's right there in front of you. I've been here for five hours, answering every damned question you have put to me. This is an outrage! I'm not going to start at the beginning all over again just because you -"

Blood sprayed from his nose as the patrolman smashed a fist across his face. The little man was knocked ankles over elbows, thrown to the right into a half-somersault with the force of the blow. He lay on the floor insensate, rolling and clutching at his face.

"Hoi! Wha' ye think yer doin'?" The sergeant's voice was gruff as he got close to the patrolman, pushing his big Cornish nose up into the young man's face. "Where'r yer gloves, ye tyke? Ye'll bust a finger handlin' a prisner w'out yer gloves, an' then what use'll ye be to the Queen's men? Put yer gloves on and get 'im squared away, ye bloody rook, or I'll have ye trawlin' the Thames on corpse patrol."

In best paradeground style, the patrolman snapped to attention and barked, "Sir! Yes, sir! Gloves, sir!" Flushing a bright red, he took a pair of leather gloves from his coat pocket and drew them on. The sergeant turned to the Inspector, murmuring, "Beg yer pardon, sir. New man. Still a bit raw. Sorry, sir." The Inspector, who had picked up part of the report again, gave every impression of not having noticed the dressing down. He waved a hand to dismiss the sergeant's apology.

When the patrolman had finished picking up the dwarf and slamming him back onto his stool, the sergeant leaned down and spoke softly into his ear. "Ye'll answer the Inspector's questions, every one of 'em, double-quick. That means w'out hesitations, prevarications or lies. Answer the questions an' there's a hot meal and a cold beer waitin' for ye. Play us around and it'll be long night, longer for yer sorry arse than for any of us. D'ye understand?"

The dwarf nodded, then said, "I need something to stop up the blood. A rag or something, for my nose."

"Stop yer own blood, ye little shit. We got no nursemaids here." The sergeant straightend, nodded to the inspector and stepped back into the darkness, leaving the dwarf to shiver, sweat and bleed in the center of the room.

"Now then," said the Inspector, "name?"

"Thomas Jenkins, sir."

"Your full name."

"Thomas Marian Peter Jenkins."



"Inventor of what?"

"Automata, sir."

The Inspector wrote down a few words, then consulted the report. "What kind of automata?"

"Mobile automata, sir."

"Which makes you more of a confidence man and swindler than an inventor."

"No, sir!"

"Automata cannot be made mobile. The control gearing cannot be made small and light enough to be carried. This has been demonstrated time and again by Her Majesty's Royal Academy of Technologists."

"But I have done it, sir! I swear! It's not a trick, I've done it! I built one!"

"You are not the first 'builder of mobile automata' we have had to deal with. The public are gullible."

"No, sir, I swear, it's the truth!"

"They see the marvels of Natural Philosophy around them and they come to believe that if we can sail an airship to the South Pole, we can do anything. However, Jenkins, we cannot break the laws of Physicality, can we?"

"Sir, please, just let me show you!"

"Like you showed your investors? Did you not know that one of your backers, a certain Mr. Smith, Esq., was in fact Lord Bramblebury under a nolo in cognito identity? And that Lord Bramblebury resents - to an extreme degree - being made a fool of?"

"Please, sir! I can explain! I developed a method of vapor deposition of carbonblack that allows me to create infinitesimally small gearing. It's a matter of -"

"When His Lordship was made aware of the facts regarding the impossibility of what you claim to have done, he was, naturally, incensed." The Inspector set his pencil down and crossed his fingers. "It's no surprise to me that you were able to get away with it as long as you did, Jenkins. Being a dwarf, your head appears to be disproportionately large, implying an increased size of brain tissues. You used your deformity to maintain an illusory implication of biologically endowed genius, bilking the credulous among the quality. And, of course, even the more perspicacious, such as His Lordship."

"No, sir! I don't claim anything about my own abilities, that was never what I was doing. I have built a mobile automata! This microscopic gearing in the control box, it's like a kind of valve system that controls peiziomechanical motive forces. Listen, if you just let me explain, I can -"

"Take him away."

The patrolman yanked the dwarf off the stool, bent one of his arms behind him and frogmarched him out of the room, still crying his protests. The sound echoed on the brick walls before dying away into the background noise of Scotland Yard.

"Orders, sir?" The room changed to more normal lighting as the sergeant turned up the overhead gaslights and extinguished the fresnel lens-lamp.

"Hold him, sergeant. Give him bread and water, but don't be too rough with him otherwise. There's a team of men from the Academy of Technologists going over the notes and equipment seized from his laboratory and workshop. They're all Natural Philosophers, so the Academy must think there's something in what he's done. Tell Jenkins that it looks bad for him, that His Lordship wants to see him hang. Let him sweat in that barrel for a few days and he'll be so eager to clear his name that he'll move Heaven and Earth to give his work to Her Majesty's Government. Good evening, sergeant."

"Good evening, sir. Drive safely."

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Leave it to a dwarf to crack the miniaturization problem! Vicious bunch, these coppers and government men. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  2. Great story, Tony. Interesting plot, intriguing details and fully-formed characters all kept me reading to the end (which came too soon! but this is flash). Are these guys part of a bigger story? Iy certainly has legs, as they say.

  3. Very original and utterly engaging! A fascinating world, quickly and deftly drawn.

  4. @ FAR: Praesent corrumpit.

    @ flyingscribbler: Thanks! There's a slightly larger story behind these guys, but not that much more.

    @ allison: I'm glad you liked it!

  5. Interesting, engaging, fascinating, intriguing: all words I'd have liked to use, if they had not been already. Thanks Tony, really enjoyed that!

  6. Yeah, you're definitely a word pusher. Get us all hopped up on verbs and nouns that we soon can't live without them. Then you tell us all you have are adverbs, and those adjectives are going to cost us. But don't worry, these are friend prices, because you wouldn't want to rip us off.

  7. Deliciously drawn. More? Peace...

  8. Oh, I so want to know what an automata is. Please do tell me :)

    Very fun story.

  9. Very clever, great scene and a thoroughly convincing sense of a wider steampunk world. A lot of fun to read, too. =D

    And of course he had a mechanical pencil, in this world is there any other sort? ;)

  10. I know you imply the guy is Cornish, but I read that dialogue in an Irish accent. I felt rather sorry for the dwarf by the end of it.

  11. I want to know what an automata is too, it must be good if the Government want it!

  12. Good things come in small packages. Great characters.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  13. I was smiling by the time he claimed to design automata. It got wackier and wackier, which is my stripe of dialogue escalation. Thanks for the late night fun, Tony!

  14. @ Jack: Thanks! Feel free to repeat words - I do!

    @ Raven: "Yeah, you're definitely a word pusher." It's all purely medicinal, I swear.

    @ Linda: I have a bit more to this story, but not sure when I might write it.

    @ Michael: An automaton is a a mechanical device that guides it's own actions, like a non-electronic robot. In the Victorian era, automata were made that could play the piano, write out pieces of poetry with a quill pen and paint pictures.

    @ John Xero: Thanks, John! I'm glad someone caught the mechanical pencil reference. ;-)

    @ Icy: Yeah, the good inventor is in real trouble, and all because he did his work too well. As for the accent... pure artistic license on my part. Mea culpa.

    @ Helen: See explanation above. The automata in question here are worlds beyond any of the bulky, stationary ones that the Academy of Technologists has been able to make.

    @ Adam: Yeah, the inventor has talents that far exceed the size of his frame.

    @ John Wiswell: It's my pleasure!

    @ ganymeder: Thanks!

  15. I like how you pulled off funny and sinister at the same time.

    Cool world too.


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