“I’m going to need wood.”
It was, to be certain, not the type of request that director Aikana, loving watchdog and guarding force of the Pelgimbly Center for the Advanced Sciences, got every day. Oh, no—not in the least. Not, of course, to think that the fine scientific minds of that fabled institution of higher learning and earth-shattering experimentation could not make a request or two, or three, even—for this or that. Perish the thought.
“Cords of it.”
In their time, this most prestigious gathering of high forward tinkerers and whiz-bang enthusiasts had made all manner of extravagant and nonsensical requests—the magnificently all-encompassing greed of some of them so radiant it could stun a congressman, indeed, mayhap even a senator—of every possible kind, shape and aroma.
“I’ll need all different types…”
Over the years the Pelgimbly Center’s renowned wildmen of science had requisitioned everything from gold-plated submarines to diamond-studded Fruit of the Looms. Now, of course, Professor Trillingham had been studying the effects of the conductivity of gold plating in sea water when applied to electronically-charged sea creatures, and the blue caret BVDs were simply part of Doctor Kimbreubo’s experiments in instantaneous human travel via light waves, the diamonds, of course, utilized for their refractory capabilities and the Fruit of the Looms, because, well…
“Oak, teak, mahogany, larch…”
“Coconut, bamboo, the great Scotch pine…”
…Kimbreubo knew quality stitching when he saw it.
“Wood?” Director Aikana, at this point only a little stunned, said the word as if it were a curiosity. “Your latest project is only going to require… wood?”
No, not Professor Philip Morvently’s plea for the Center to send up more weather control satellites, or Dr. Maxim Ginderhoff’s repeated grant requests to build a second particle accelerator, nor even Associate Brodsky’s latest desire for six hundred cases of Luckies and a thousand laptops complete with cup holders and ashtrays for his battalion of nicotine-saturated chimpanzees had been the most lunatic boon ever asked by the Pelgimbly staff.
Indeed, the request before her was not the kind to which hard-worked director Aikana was accustomed. It was, unbelievably, far too tame, too innocent, too earthy and—gasp to a length that could awaken suspicion in the Amish—frankly far too inexpensive for her to believe it had actually come from a Pelgimblian.
“Yes—wood. All you can get.”
And for it to have come from Wezleski, well, of course, she thought, not that Wendel was ever as excessive as the others anyway… but, well—wood…
“What are you going to do with wood?”
She had to know. It was her duty, after all, to understand exactly the “what” and “why” of any particular “it” that one of her people claimed was needed before she could decide as to whether or not precious funds could be released for, say, another dysonsphere, or a dirigible. For in truth, despite their heart-felt, well-documented and often quite loud protests of the benefits of first-hand upper-atmosphere experimentation and gravitational contact, in truth she knew in her heart of hearts that Drs. Kuvish and Klokel only wanted a lighter-than-air craft for shooting skeet and cruising nude beaches.
Well, all right—what else do you do with wood? What else had she been expecting, after all? It was Wezleski. If he wasn’t splitting atoms with a pair of tweezers and a cocktail toothpick—baby onion still attached—as a bar bet to cadge free drinks, he was off somewhere teaching dogs to talk to quantums. He was the most difficult of all the men she had ever met—difficult in the sense that unlike most men, she had no handle on him. She could not manipulate him. She could not tempt him.
And she could not dislike him.
No matter how much mayhem he caused.
“Ahhhh, why? Burn it, I mean…”
A change in emotion, a sudden giddiness akin to the light-headedness the War Between the States could bring out in a true daughter of the Confederacy, the director’s mind went awash with horror. Specifically, the horrific thought of a Wezleski project that actually began with his starting a fire—
Cutting right to the chase, eh, Dr. Wezleski?
The terrifying thought of anything flammable being permitted to that one particular scientist before her turned the fingers of the director’s right hand into a fist so tight it might have fit through the funnel end of a #17 Piangersol Fessel tube. She caught hold of her emotions in exemplary fashion, though, calming herself with the undisputable grace of a debutante’s smile deflecting obviously damning evidence. Composing herself, she allowed duty to swell her defenses. She reminded herself that this, this was Wezleski.
Yes, Wezleski, the man who turned deserts into tapioca. Who trained hamsters to squeal a cappella. Who had once created a formula to bring the dead to life simply because he was short one warm body for poker night. Who mixed Martel Cognac with Yoo Hoo and regarded his discovery of the secrets of time travel as a nuisance. When it was Wezleski who sat before you, it did not matter what he wanted. Any request had to be questioned. And so, steeling herself against the answer, the director asked;
“Please… why do you want to burn the wood?”
“Oh, that’s simple,” Wezleski beamed. He really did. He had one of those untroubled, innocent faces, one that revealed all to whom he conversed. There were no secrets with the good doctor. He was, as a person, as guileless as a cocker spaniel, as uncomplicated as a beer brewed in Pennsylvania. Whatever he said, Aikana knew it would be the truth.
The director stared at the doctor, her nerves finally at their end. What new calamity was the most accidentally lethal man in the history of academic research planning now and would the riches the proving of his latest theory bequeathed to the Center cover the vast expenses connected to the devastating destructions of discovery? These thoughts pounding at her brain with the fury of a bad-hair wedding-day, she asked the last question she would for that morning.
“And why, in this day and age, considering your particular field of current inquiry, would you need to generate steam?”
And that was when Dr. Wendel Q. Wezleski, Ph.D., explained the connection between quantum theory and steam power, while fields of dollar signs began to dance behind the thick lenses of director Aikana’s bifocals, their ballet a splendor to behold.
* *** *
“Hey Linda, he really thinks this is going to work, don’t he?”
“Yes, Spit. He does.”
“It’s Spitz. Spitz!”
The young man standing somewhat to the left of the center of Laboratory Hangar 27 could not help but shout. He was, after all, not only being provoked by a beautiful woman, but by one who decided long ago that she would spend all of her days being annoying to him. It had not been a conscious decision, of course. Even the suggestion of such a thing would have embarrassed the good doctor to no end. But, doing it she was and Edward Hoolihan Spitz, Eddie to his friends, knew why she did it.
“You were thinking that being Mr. Spitz was any better?”
Eddie’s best friend was Doc Wezleski.
“I mean, Mr. Spitz, Mrspitz? Isn’t that that little creep that would bother Superman every three months?”
The Doc and Eddie were almost always together. Indeed, Eddie considered himself Dr. Wezleski’s right-hand man. The two had been, in the commonest vernacular, pals for years. Sure, Eddie would be the first to admit he was just a kid compared to the Doc, even though they were but a mere three years apart in age.
“I’m like some high school rookie compared to the Doc,” he had told a friend once. “But then, isn’t everybody?”
Eddie Spitz knew Doc Wezleski was his mental superior. But, as far as Eddie and… well, most everyone else was concerned, the Doc was everyone’s mental superior. He could not think of a thing the Doc couldn’t do. Really—what accomplishment, what bit of research, what bold step forward or bizarrely daffy stunt was not already a part of his voluminous resume, or on his agenda for tomorrow?
Of course, Eddie knew what was bothering poor Dr. Linda Ginderhoff, daughter of the Center’s own Dr. Maxim Ginderhoff, Ph.D., esteemed doctor of thermodynamic physics, holder of the Kimwhiply Chair, and senior department head of the Variant Realities Department. She was the daughter of the man who was, for all intents and purposes, the Doc’s greatest enemy. Old Ginderhoff hated Wezleski with an intensity matched only by that of a birthing star. Or perhaps his daughter.
“You’re just jealous of the Doc,” Eddie offered smugly.
Linda snorted. She made the noise in a lady-like manner, well, in the manner of a lady scientist at least, but it was still delicate enough to not turn too many heads. Normally she would never have responded to such a feeble accusation, but she was ever-so-tired of Spitz and his foolishness. And now, to be forced to share a working area with Wezleski, that irresponsible, over-confident, self-indulgent…
“You have fun with those important equations and all your linear measurements, doctor,” Eddie said with a casual satisfaction. “The doc and I are going to be busy today, too… conquering time and space!”
Linda Ginderhoff snarled inside. Her face did not move nor did any outward part of her give off any social or even pre-social signals. She was the dictionary definition of calm. Her gloved hands did not shake, they did not ball. They stayed loose and poised and as casual as weeping willows in a gentle breeze. Her glacial poise was frightening.
And yet, she could have screamed with the rage of the mad and all their cousins. Heaps of them, dying in a pit, killing each other in a boiling fury could not begin to match the anger that assaulted her every time she was forced to think of Wendel Q. Wezleski. Indeed, her mind was fuming at such an unclockable rate the doctor could actually see her blood pressure rising through the intense throbbing vibrating the veins of her arm. Flustered, annoyed beyond redemption but unable to really do anything about it, she turned her back on the young lab assistant and busied herself with her own work.
And then, he came in.
“What’s up, Eddie?”
The man whose senior high school year book photo was accompanied by the legend:
Glee Club, Audiovisual Troop, Jazz Band, Future Geniuses of America, Basketball Team, the Sons of Liberty, Chess Club, Sophomore and Junior Class President, The Latin Kooks, Founder of the Well Rounded Rocketeers Society and Senior Student Body Cha Cha King.
“Nothing that couldn’t be brought down with a blast from a twelve gauge.”
Wezleski smiled. It was a large, boyish grin, a flash of enamel bright enough to signal planes. It made Eddie feel swell, gave Linda the urge to grind her teeth, and produced enough reflective energy to power any number of small motors. Standing in the doorway, hands on hips, teeth gleaming, posed directly beneath the plaque holding the stuffed and lacquered fish brought back from the deepest reaches of the ocean by the calculating but slightly demented Rufus T. Pelgimbly himself, Wezleski seemed ready to tackle anything.
Running his left hand over his head to try and tame the wilder sections of his chestnut blonde hair, he stood beneath the ichthyological nightmare that had proved to be the possible end of the human race as well as divinely tasty, infuriating Linda with his self-assured presence. His fine blue eyes, his strong jaw, his not quite perfect nose, all of it worked in splendid harmony as he threw back his head and laughed;
“You’re a card, Eddie.”
And with that he swung his lanky, muscular body forward into the room, as ready to make history as he ever was. For, it had to be noted, that morning was the morning—specifically, the morning when he and Edward Hoolihan Spitz would take mankind’s first sideways step through the universe. From her own area within the same massive staging chamber, Dr. Linda Ginderhoff did her absolute best to not watch a moment of the sure-to-be historical proceedings. Lighting a Lucky Strike, Wezleski took a long drag, haloed Rufus’s nightmare with a nicotine ring, then said;
“Ready to start loading, Eddie?”
She knew what the results would be, what they simply had to be. This time, she told herself with the casual but chuckling assurance of all the Ginderhoffs, like every other time he had tried to work out the ups and downs of inter-dimensional travel, the great Wezleski would fail. Oh, he might have been able to establish a radio link with a silicon-based intelligence somewhere in the Southwestern tip of the Uppermost Magellanic Cloud, find a way to not only make the recycling of bovine flatulence cost-effective but also entertaining, and even prove the existence of the elusive and long scoffed-at underwear gnomes, but this, this particular project, this was quite assuredly and most emphatically beyond even him.
Of this she was certain.
It was embarrassing enough that he would discover the secrets of time travel before her father, who had worked his entire life to unlock the mysteries of chronological navigation. It was even more mortifying that he had done so accidentally, and that he considered the achievement of science fiction’s most illogical goal of little practical importance.
“Ready as a man can be, Doc.”
But to think he was going to be able to travel from one dimension to another, to slide between the unfathomable layers of the gossamer fabric of existence with the ease of a five year old pedaling his Mattel Big Wheel, this was the ultimate insult, the maximum, elemental foolishness upon which the great Wezleski was finally going to be exposed as the fraud he was.
Sitting at her desk, Linda watched as Eddie and his hero stoked the boiler of Wezleski’s latest contraption. Large, it certainly was, and ungainly as well. She had been there from the beginning, watching its construction since the first day when the steam locomotive Pride of Pittsburgh had been dragged across the tiles and secured in the center of Wezleski’s staging area.
After that equipment and parts had arrived almost hourly. One moment it would be the remote-operations block valve and the condensation pump from a dismantled Western European nuclear reactor, the next it was the overflow pipe and the water level sight glass from a Kenmore water heater or the lubricating valve and the pressure release bleed from a 19th century water clipper’s steam engine.
The bits and bigger bits had come by pick-up truck, Federal Express and helicopter, all of them polished, calibrated, and then screwed, wired, welded, or in some other way made a permanent part of the grand assemblage. Large and larger still the monumental steam engine had grown, sprawling across the landscape of Laboratory Hangar 27 until it had taken on a shape and size one could only describe as not resembling any steam engine ever seen since the trepidacious opening days of river travel.
But, not only had Wezleski’s mountain of parts and thing-a-ma-jigger schools of wiring and pipe fitting driven her to distraction, but then the wood had begun to arrive. Cords of it, mountainsides of it—load after load until janitor Swenson’s singing of the “Lumberjack Song” had grown cosmically irritating.
Some had come in the shape of planks, some in the form of split cords. Just as many piles were composed of pristine, virgin timber as were made up of painted, varnished and even moss-covered shapes too plentiful to enumerate. Timber had been brought in from every type of tree and grass the planet had to offer, logically stacked, neatly piled, and faithfully itemized as to serve the purposes of Wezleski, janitor Swenson and the IRS.
Wood had also been gathered in a wealth of manufactured forms as well. The staging area had been filled with everything from children’s blocks and Conestoga wagon wheels to cuckoo clocks and conga drums. Pine clothes pins sat in wicker baskets next to bins of baseball bats and boxes of Burger King Employee of the Month plaques. The grapevine also had reported that George Washington’s teeth and the Vatican’s last piece of the true cross were hidden away somewhere in the mix as well, but most gave such whispers little credence. After all, this was the Pelgimbly Center, where gossip and rumors of the most outlandish nature were as commonplace as thieving Republicans and fascist Democrats.
“Well, let’s do it,” said Wezleski, his confidence as high as the ionosphere and as well-deserved as Galileo’s fame or Bill Clinton’s impeachment. “Let’s go visit the neighbors.”
Eddie gave a quick salute and threw open the hatch door on the great boiler before him. As he did Wezleski took his place before the main monitor board he had constructed over the weeks, checking his settings for the grand moment when he would finally achieve his boyhood dream. The two had worked out their signals in a seemingly endless series of rehearsals. As the pressure grew in the boiler, Wezleski would monitor the area around them for any anomalies. As they grew closer to breaking away from their own dimension into the next one over, the doctor would gauge how much hotter their fire needed to be and inform Eddie accordingly.
What was going to make the experiment work was the variety of timbers they had gathered. It was a proven fact that not only did different woods burn at different speeds, but that the differences in their ages, their dimensions and even their shapes played a great part in exactly how much heat energy would be released and when. Wezleski had discovered, while experimenting with the effects of wooden matches versus Zippos when attempting to activate bong water, that the source of one’s flame corresponded exactly with the size of one’s bubbles. Theorizing a direct correlation between heat and displacement, his resultant epiphany had inspired his latest series of experiments, the results of which would be measured that morning.
As water began to simmer within their boiler, Wezleski noted the approaching steam climb carefully, telling Eddie what to throw into the fire box in what quantities and in what order. Hotter their fire became, the boiler’s internal temperature rising notch by notch, every millimetric advancement noted with glee and recorded for posterity.
From her side of the room, Dr. Linda Ginderhoff sat mesmerized. On the one hand, the rational mind had to admit that the possibilities if the pair succeeded were enormous, mind-boggling—simply, starkly incredible. On the other hand, however, that part of the good doctor not given to orderly thought, what the more foolish risk-taker might categorize as Ms. Ginderhoff’s feminine side, stared straight ahead—riveted—praying for the two men to fail.
And fail they did. No matter how much wood Eddie hurled through the boiler door, no matter what the order was in which he threw it, or what it was he threw, the secrets of the universe were not unraveled that morning, although not for lack of effort. Wezleski tried every combination imaginable, sending Eddie running helter skelter amongst the piles and stacks and barrels, burning up everything from Peruvian pipe thistles to a complete run of the TV Guide, including all the variant covers. They tried running cool fires which barely rattled their nickel-plated pressure valve to thermal holocausts so violent they threatened to melt the boiler’s confining cement work.
All of it to no avail.
With each order shouted to throw in a handful of redwood pine cones or a mahogany ottoman, fifty feet of Japanese cherry or a set of wooden wall ducks, Linda sat enraptured, her smile ever widening and her soul eternally gladdened by Wezleski’s utter failure. And an utter failure it was, for no matter how much wood was burned, reality did not so much as jolt. No doorways opened, the lights did not dim, the air did not shimmer. Even the dust did not move. In short, nothing happened.
“Something wrong, doctor?”
Wezleski turned his head slowly in Dr. Ginderhoff’s direction. He had never spoken to her before, mainly because she had never spoken to him before. Indeed, as far as he knew Linda Ginderhoff held the same hostile opinion of him that her father did.
“No,” he answered finally, wondering what could possibly be causing her concern. “Just catching our breath.”
Wezleski noted the woman’s smile, how much more pleased and delighted and unrestrainedly alive she seemed. The doctor had not actually realized how often she seemed distant, dour and, well… just plain angry until that moment. Now, however, he saw her in an entirely different light.
“Oh, is that what you call it?”
Her tone was positively awash with humor. Wezleski’s ears tingled with the recognition of it. His eyes drank in the luscious curves of her smile, the joy infusing her body language. Smell, taste and touch all started to bark within the back of his brain, demanding their own chances to assess the good Dr. Ginderhoff, but he restrained them.
“Well, a man has to start somewhere,” he told her, parts of his brain still not certain why they were suddenly chattering away like old chums. “We didn’t get it today. All right, fair enough. So we’ll get it tomorrow.”
And at that point, Linda laughed once more. The sound of it was alluring, captivating. Wezleski could taste the beauty in her all too-feminine giggle, found himself getting lost in its delicious passageways, when suddenly, the part of his mind experienced with pain realized that the good doctor was not laughing with him.
“So,” she managed to say through her escaping humor, her hand to her mouth, eyes filled with delight, “you plan to put on another little show tomorrow, do you?”
She was laughing at him.
Wezleski stood stock still, shocked and hurt and decidedly confused. He had always known Maxim Ginderhoff was somewhat jealous of his various successes, had always felt sorry for the old fellow because of it. He had also assumed the hostility that Linda had always seemed to show him to be merely that of a loyal daughter siding with her father. But the depths of scorn he felt in her throaty chuckle, that was something all together different. She more than disliked him, he could plainly tell.
She really disliked him.
“Yes,” he answered her, stiffly, coldly. Staring at her in much the manner one supposes great and noble Caesar stared at Brutus at the moment of his pincushioning, “that was the plan. It’s called scientific investigation. You should try it sometime.”
Linda snapped back an equally dry and catty remark, her temper boiling at the notion that Wezleski could possibly be so ill-mannered and boorish to actually take offense at her playfulness. After all, she deserved to get a little of her own back. So he didn’t know why she was upset with him, so he didn’t actually know she was upset, so what, she thought. If he was so damned smart he should have had it all figured out.
Within his own mind, Wezleski found himself as shocked as Dr. Ginderhoff. Who was she to gloat over his failure? How could she? Weren’t they both Pelgimblians? Weren’t they all brothers of science together, slogging forward through the trenches, taking each…?
Wezleski let the word repeat in his mind. Well, all right, he told himself, obviously he knew she was a woman. How could he not? Did people think him blind? Did anyone believe he hadn’t noticed her unparalleled legs, her perfect form, those raven locks cascading down her fabulously formed shoulders?
Ha—he could tell them. Ha, again. He’d noticed. All that and more. The devastating length of her lashes, the delightful shade of her cheeks when she blushed, the way her waist tapered to a circumference equal within twenty millimeters to the ovoid created when he touched his hands together—fingers to fingers, thumb to thumb—perfect for lifting…
Wezleski blinked, then stared into Linda’s eyes. Somehow he saw in them a perfect reflection of what he had been thinking, could see that the curvaceous Dr. Ginderhoff had the same image in her mind, of him picking her up and twirling her around and…
He had made some kind of comment about her dedication to science, but she did not answer him. Instead she turned suddenly and went back to her work. He watched her for a moment, shoulders tight, head down, then tore himself away. Whatever had been washing its way through his mind was, he told himself, merely a reaction to the day’s failure.
Galileo’s predicament, he thought, you’ve punished yourself before for not getting something right, but you’ve never dreamed up anything as loony as that.
“Hey, Doc,” said Eddie, spirits depressed, but not deflated, “you want to go out and have a little drink?”
“Yeah, Eddie, let’s go get a little drink.”
You think you need some punishment, a voice whispered within the scientist’s head…
“Let’s get a lot of little drinks.”
I’ll show you some punishment.
* *** *
The next day things did not go much better. Both the good doctor and his erstwhile sidekick had bent their elbows far into the evening. Their trail of bar hopping had begun with fruit wine fizzles at the Cold Crab Café, a mere block and a half from the Center, and had ended with a round of Confucius Coolers at Mama Leung’s Noodle Nook in a somewhat scandalous part of a Chinatown three states away.
But, both the good doctor and Eddie survived the evening and, thanks to Abdul Ben Thorner’s All Nite Car Service and Computer Repair, even made it to the front steps of the Pelgimbly Center at 9:18 the next morning wearing the same clothes they had left in the night before as well as each other’s shoes. That they were not well rested was evident from both the color of their eyes and the fact that neither realized they had strands of garlic noodles stuck in their hair. Still, they were red-blooded men of science and as such they knew the experiment had to go on. Undaunted, and oblivious to consequence, they emptied their pockets of bar nuts, tiny umbrellas and the occasional shot glass and got down to work.
If determination were success, they would have transversed the entire multi-verse without having to light so much as a twig. But, wishful thinking never won a government contract, and neither did anything done within Laboratory Hangar 27 that dreadful day. If anything, the weakened state of the two men made their efforts even more pitiful than the day before.
When the afternoon whistle sounded, alerting the Pelgimblians from one end of the Center to the other that another day’s wages had again been well-earned, Wezleski and Eddie sat amidst their stacks and cords and heaps utterly discouraged. They had somehow done the impossible. They had failed. Twice. And neither could think of a single reason for such to be the case.
Not that the great Wezleski was a stranger to failure—no, not at all. On more than one occasion he had left his home wearing mis-matched socks. He had even once left the fire on too high beneath a pot of eggs he wished to hardboil, returning to find a blackened piece of melted cookware and a kitchen filled with reeking smoke and covered with exploded bits of shell and yoke. But this, this was bigger. This time he had data, data he had checked twice.
But even after an unheard of third checking of his data, still Wezleski could find no error in his calculations, and so on he worked. Day after day he directed Eddie, telling him what to burn, relentlessly scanning his monitors for the slightest sign of dimensional rifting. But, no matter if they were burning maple logs garlanded with fig branches or floorboards from a Kabuki theater sprinkled with sawdust from Professor Ludwig’s termite cage, the results remained the same. The wood burned, the water boiled, the crosshead slid the crankshaft and the flywheel turned, but nothing happened.
By the tenth day, even Eddie was discouraged.
As young Spitz got his hat, Wezleski threw him a handful of encouragement, a sorry bit of “we’ll get ’em tomorrow.” The sentence rang bitterly false to the young research assistant. Indeed, the words could not have sounded more like a lie if they had been spoken in French. Still, the two shook hands, punched each other on the arm, and swore that they would somehow make things work the next day no matter what.
Dr. Linda Ginderhoff sat in her stadium seat for the Great Grand Failure of Wezleski and turned her head, unable to look at the two men. For a while it had been delicious fun, to watch them trying, struggling, day after day, hoping for some kind of reaction—any kind of reaction—beseeching the cosmos for the tiniest of ripples, anything that might let them know they were on the right track, and receiving nothing in return. But, after a while, like burning ants with a magnifying glass, the fun of Wezleski’s daily humiliation began to lose its allure. In fact, for Linda, it had become painful to endure.
For the past two days she had found herself watching the goings on across the floor of Laboratory Hangar 27 with growing concern, sometimes for hours on end. She had not really been noticed, of course, since much of the staff had taken to coming in to spectate in their off moments. Indeed, her father, Dr. Maxim Ginderhoff, had practically made the hangar his second home, proposing bleachers be brought in and passing out bags of popcorn to one and all.
But Linda had somehow been unable to join in with her father’s undisguised glee. She felt sorry for Wezleski, pitied him in his failure. To fail was, of course, something of a novelty to Wezleski, a painfully nasty and unwanted novelty to say the least, a new and unknown quantity which he was having increasing difficulty understanding. As he sat pouring over his calculations, eight score pages of them spread across his monitor board, Linda came up behind him and asked;
“Having some trouble?”
“Any idea where the problem might be?”
Wezleski turned around in his chair and looked into Linda’s eyes. As much as he wanted to find something there he could take his frustrations out upon, he found nothing but unexpected sympathy and kindness. Within minutes, the two of them were pouring over his calculations, all eight score pages, together—searching for the one tiny instance where the inventor of the anti-grav toilet, Cancer-B-Gone and everyone’s Kwanza favorite, pepperoni waffles, had gone wrong.
Four hours later they stopped looking.
“OOOuuuaagghhh, I give up.”
Linda’s eyes bulged involuntarily. The great Wezleski had actually thrown in the towel and the skies had not fallen nor had the mountains tumbled. As much as she disliked the man, she could not allow him to fold inward upon himself. If such was to happen the cause of runaway science might be set back decades. She owed it to her vocation, she owed it to Pelgimbly, she told herself, to snap him out of whatever kind of funk he was putting himself into.
“Have you considered,” she asked cautiously, “that your data is sound, but that your implementation is faulty?”
Loving the sound of hope he sensed in her words, Wezleski inquired, “What were you thinking?”
“Maybe Eddie and you don’t make the best team. I’m not trying to criticize poor Spitz, but these calculations of yours call for split-second timing. If the simmer isn’t manipulated just so, just when… well, you know…”
Indeed, Wezleski did know. Before Linda could finish her sentence he had hurried her down to the boiler, tossed her a pair of Makitosh Work Gloves, and then scampered back to his monitor. By the time she had tightened the wrist cinches on her new asbestos-lined accessories, he had the system on line and was calling for steam. Flame poured out of the fire-throw nozzles, slathering over the starter fuel she began heaping inside the boiler oven. In a matter of minutes the water above began to steam.
“Teak—pound and a half.”
Linda grabbed up each ingredient ordered and flung it home with ruthless efficiency. No longer did she gleefully desire Wendel’s failure. This was bigger than her family pride, beyond the petty jealousy that had driven her earlier. This was important, this was essential, this was…
“Oak, knotty pine, two pepper mills and a copy of The New York Times.”
The two monitored and stoked, working at a fast and furious pace, one which seemed to notch upward in intensity every few minutes. Before their first half hour had passed, the two had fallen into a kind of rhythm where Linda was beginning to anticipate Wendel’s commands. Unnoticed to either of them, she would be halfway to this or that fuel when the order would come directing her toward it. Before their second half hour had passed, her hands were already grabbing up the this and that about to be asked for. Then, roughly one hour, thirteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds after they had begun, just as Linda tossed a handful of birch chopsticks into the licking flames, it happened.
Working feverishly, finishing each others sentences, communicating at a level where they understood each other so well they could practically read one another’s minds, neither Linda nor Wendel saw the encroaching signs. But they were there. The first was the changing of the height of the ceiling. The second was a switch in the color of Wendel’s shirt from ivory to chalk. The third was a massive burp tasting of pickles, oiled fish and curried rice, none of which Linda had even seen in weeks.
“Excuse me, Dr. Ginderhoff,” said Wezleski with a chuckle. “Lunch talking back to us, eh?”
“I don’t understand. That tasted like… I mean, I haven’t… I didn’t…” And then, they knew!
Looking about them, they watched the changes coming and going. Wendel with a moustache, a pinkie ring, a wooden leg, Linda as a blonde, in a wheelchair, with a moustache, wall color changing, flooring changing from cement to concrete, everything changing, changing a degree at a time, one degree after another, but changing—unstopping, unstoppable.
“We did it,” shouted Wezleski. “We’re moving through probability!”
Wordlessly the two raced toward each other. Meeting exactly halfway between where they were and where they were going, the two threw themselves together. His hands came in smoothly to encircle her waist, a space of only twenty millimeters remaining free as his large hands lifted her from the floor—fingers to fingers, thumb to thumb.
She squealed with delight as he twirled her. Then suddenly, she was on the floor once more, and they were wrapping themselves one around the other, chests and heads and lips meeting at the same moment. They kissed with the tenderness of childhood sweethearts and the passion of adulterers, with the ardor of newlyweds and the hunger of the starving. Moment after moment they kissed, every handful of seconds enhancing the experience by sliding them into yet another dimension, changing the texture and flavor and intensity of their bonding ever so slightly.
Throughout the great expanse of Laboratory Hangar 27, dozens, then scores, then hundreds of multiples of the pair appeared, holding each other dearly, kissing with a passion unknown anywhere or anywhen else, each of them a shade of the central couple holding each other at the universal ground zero of all possibilities.
And, as he held the woman he now had to admit he loved with a desire stronger than a child’s for Christmas or a dog’s for bacon, the back of his mind chuckled and slapped him roundly for missing the obvious. Of course his data had been correct; he was, after all, Wezleski. But he had tried to make it work with an improper equation.
“Does this mean we’re in love,” asked Linda teasingly, biting his ear, licking at the wounds she inflicted.
“I believe so,” he murmured in response.
And believe it he did. For men and women alone can accomplish much, but as the sages have known since the beginning of time, men and women in love can do anything they want, become anything they choose.
Through a smile as bright as the sun and as wide as generosity, Wezleski pulled a deep breath into himself. He had done it. He had shattered the laws of probability. He could now reach for any possible future and do anything he desired. In a handful of seconds the boiler would cease to bubble at the same intensity and the elasticity of the moment would be over. But, until then, he could seize for himself anything he desired.
Staring into Linda Ginderhoff’s eyes, the most beautiful eyes any man had ever beheld on any plane of existence, Dr. Wendel Q. Wezleski knew exactly what he wanted.
The Pelgimbly Center for the Advanced Sciences first appeared in “Wezleski to the Rescue“.