The Solid Men: A Rick Rambler/Time Patrol Mystery

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Illustration by Alan F. Beck

by C.J. Henderson

“Those wanting wit affect gravity,
and go by the name of solid men.”
–John Dryden

“Zing, it was one when you knew how to nerk. Binkel. There was no denying it. You could feel it, tan side down—sharp.

“Wait a minute. Fuad.”


“Didn’t realize what time I was set for. I apologize. These things happen when you’re part of the Time Patrol. Of course, you don’t actually know what that means, do you?”

I knew at least one thing I’d said had gotten through to young mister Quentin Peasley of the wilds of New Jersey, 2010 thru 2069, survived at finality date by his not-yet path-crossed wife Jenna, and his still unborn children, Cedric and Marshall. There was not, indeed, in any way, shape or form, any possibility that he knew what I meant. They never know. They can never, ever get their heads around it. I mean it.

You simply can’t noggle a guy and come right out and say, “Yes, that’s right, I’m a time cop. I move through the one-after-another seconds in all directions, across all the lines, watching for unauthorized activity of any nature.” That would be like saying something like, “Hey, I’m here because I know what’s supposed to happen and am duly authorized to make sure it does, using any and all means to make certain absolutely nothing interferes with upper case ‘P,’ upper case ‘T,’ Proven Time.”

No, it’s just more trouble than it’s worth. I mean, the first thing they all want you to do is explain Proven Time, as if anyone could. The accident that set man’s sight on the One True Timeline from which all others spring was no blessing. Up until then people had been a lot happier—a whole lot. Saner, too. A lot of folks—and I’m one of them, let me tell you—feel that ol’ Doc Wezleski ignored time travel when he discovered it because he could see straight away the kind of trouble it meant for all of us.

Anyway, the answer is “No.” In the end it’s always best to just give them some kind of story. Something like the one I fed Quentin after I’d gotten my Local Wordage Formatter crinkled to the right year.

“Forget all that,” I suggested, giving the poor sap ‘Knowing, Sincere Look #6,’ one of my personal favorites. “I need your help for a few hours, if you wouldn’t mind.”


Of course, he was half in the noggle-bag already. I swear if Central could just calibrate one decent LWF, the force wouldn’t have a third of the problems we do with insertion.

“Here’s the story, Quentin.”

My hands checked over the rest of my equipment while I spoke, monitoring to see if any of it was over-heating (always a possibility), smoking (sometimes a possibility), or vibrating at a rate that might indicate an imminent implosion (sadly, a 1 in 95,000 possibility). For once, however, everything seemed to have survived insertion. I had arrived, unwarmed, non-smoking, and able to expect to live through the next eighteen seconds with relative security in the year of someone’s Lord 2028, with two hours to spare before the next series of souls were scheduled to be stolen from somewhere nearby—parties undetermined.

I had those one hundred and twenty minutes to ascertain the means of spatial energy theft, the vehicle of transfer, and the identity of the perpetrators before the Proven Time cosmic alignment was battered downward to a subcategory of semi-known, and mankind once more became, on the whole, a tree-swinging tool of fate rather than an upright, self-determining species.

“My name is Rick Rambler. I’d like, if I might, to tag along behind you for the next several hours.” No time to waste. “In fact, I’ll give you one thousand dollars to be where you are for the next,” quick eye scan of the chronometer, “next one hundred and… counting… eighteen minutes.”

Young mister Peasley did not seem enthused.

“Is one thousand dollars of current currency not worth that much these days? Doesn’t that buy quite a stack of goods?”

“I dunno,” answered Quentin, giving his best shot at getting with the program. “In like Africa, or um, what’s that’s messed-up sink-hole down south…”

“Orlando?” I ventured.

“Mexico,” Quentin corrected me.

“So,” I said, pointing toward the ground, “here—what would be outrageously great pay for me following where you go and what you do for the next, ah, less than two hours?”

“For what?” Quentin looked around, trying to nonchalantly scout for an exit, “I mean, is this a gay thing or a psycho-killer thing?”

“Nothing of either sort,” I assured him. Spreading my hands before him, palms outward, I said, “I just have this hunch that whatever it is you’ve planned for the next two hours is where I want to be.” He couldn’t possibly pick up a bad vibration from me. I was telling him the absolute truth.

“No freaky business?”

“What happens, where we go, et cetera,” I used the Class-A interaction tone, the one designed specifically for believability, “it’s all up to you.”

“Man, the thousand would’ve been good.” Quentin smiled, liked he’d figured something out and was going to be just ever so impressed with himself. “But you want somethin’, so I’ll take five thousand.”

I nodded, peeling twenty-five—what-appeared-to-me, and apparently to Quentin as well—hundred dollar bills from my currency log. Yeah, sharp move, kid.

“Half now, half later,” I told him.

Quentin smiled and pocketed the I-guess-it-was money after all. Actually, the little squarehead hadn’t made such a bad deal. If he lived through the next two hours, he’d get to keep the money. Oh yes, I mean all of it. Hell, I’ll give him the rest. It’s the least the Patrol can do for staking him out.

Not that the Patrol had picked him in particular or arranged whatever was going to happen in one hundred sixteen minutes.

No, Quentin Peasley was fading from the PT stats, the record charts of Proven Time—PT—the one real time line from which all the multitudinous others are spawned. Certainly the idea has to be familiar—a billion, billion yous living a billion, billion different lives, each one just a little further removed from your own, each a single step off to the left or right, each one step closer to riches and love and security as you, but each just as easily one step closer to ruin and pain and sorrow to break the heart as well.

What had been found the day Dr. Wendel Q. Wezleski made the connection between steam-power and inter-dimensional travel was the absolute center of everything. What was found the day after when the Pelgimbly Center for the Advanced Sciences announced he had discovered time travel years earlier as well was the beginning of a nightmare. Humanity found itself existing in the one perfect time at the core of all existence, the one which dreamt all the others. No other dimension had discovered the ability to move sideways through reality. Only us.

As an abstract idea, it was an interesting puzzle. But, as a reality, it became a tangible thing. And all tangible things can be exploited by the human mind.

Including time travel.

Plenty of others had found their way to the time travel door after Wezleski proved the wall wasn’t solid, and accidentally went so far as to point out the doorknob. Sadly, when that happened, it soon became apparent that some of those crowding around this new knowledge were using it for no good end. And, where as it was one thing if they fouled up their own lives, it was another if their skipping across the centuries sent reverberations across the lines that affected all of us—affected, in other words, Proven Time, the one true dimension.

The one which, once found, had to be protected at all costs.

“Okay,” said a cheerful Quentin. “You’re the boss. Where to?”

“Wherever you want, Quent.” I sighed. “Remember?”

Quentin scrunched up his face. Suddenly an unusually bright light came on behind his dull eyes. Its excitement suggested that young master potatohead still did not understand exactly what I was driving to get across.

“Look,” I told him, finger in his face, drawing his vision from my eyes so I could scan the area, “don’t worry about me. Don’t think about me. I’m just another guy who happens to be wherever you are for the next one hundred and fifteen minutes. Whatever you were on your way to do, just go do it.”

Quentin rolled his tongue around his pressed-closed lips for a handful of seconds while his brain tried to struggle past the moment of overload the presence of twenty-five hundred dollars could make in his life. It was an Unguarded Instant—one of the moments all Time Patrollers love, fear, and hate.

Here comes the big concept, okay? The thing newbies have the hardest time wrapping their nut around. We know everything? Understand? Get it—do you dig? We know everything. Or at least, we can know everything.

Wezleski gave us access to Proven Time. With chronal motion we can move up and down the one true timeline with greater ease than geese winging their way home for the winter. We can go anywhere, anytime—see anyone doing anything. We know about the aliens that watched us from 1687 to 2089, waiting to allow us to mature sufficiently to join the universal federation and how wonderful everything became once their technologies were introduced into our lives. We know what really happened to Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, and Yippie the Back-Flipping Dog. We know the last time you masturbated and whose picture you had in your hand.

But, when a TeePee interacts with the past, they end up instituting Unguarded Instants, moments in time that were never—could never have been—previously catalogued, because this was their first appearance. We’re not actually supposed to let them happen, but since they can’t be helped, officially we’re supposed to keep them to a minimum.

I wasn’t, under any circumstances, supposed to offer young Quentin a hundred dollars, or a thousand or any other amount of currency. But I did; after all, I had to do something. What was going to happen to him somewhere in the near future was going to be an unguarded instant, too—a godsdamned insanely cold-blooded one—the one I’d come back to prevent.

The Time Patrol was created to guard Proven Time. Any threat from one time period to events in another are met with the harshest punishments. There was a movie once, back when they made them still, that had a line in it that kind of sums up what we do. A guy holds out a pocket watch and says something like, “it’s just a cheap piece of junk, but bury it in the desert for a thousand years and it becomes priceless.”

If that were the extent of timecrime, I’m not certain anyone would even care. That’s not the kind of stuff the Patrol was formed to stop. No, at the point in time from where the TeePee operates, everyone pretty much lives in that kind of happy spandex wonderful peace, complete with the tall, gleaming buildings. But even with everything they could want, some people aren’t happy.

The ones I was after were using a power source called a Gravity Well to skim through the past and steal the souls of helpless folks living there. Gravity Wells are the bio-mech centers of the big space cruisers, massive theory engines that actually “suppose” their way through space by thinking they’re heavy enough to do what they do. They’re fabulously heady devices, and full of tricks, which is what made this case so impossible.

First off, they’re infinitely expensive. Not that many of them exist. Most are in the hands of the planetary government. Industry controls some, but they’re heavily regulated. Back home, when the first person died in the past from having their soul removed to whom this was not supposed to happen, alarm bells rang from the end of time back to the Mesozoic.

This was big.

And, for those who don’t know what I mean exactly by the word “soul,” I’m talking about that weight allotment of energy and human static that exits the body at the time of death. It contains all the memories, emotional ticks and everything else that makes one bag of flesh, skin, blood and flatulence different and unique from the next one. They’re part of a delicate mix in this universe, and when they don’t get to where they’re supposed to go, well… I mean, gink me, that’s just asking for trouble.

So, the Patrol took it pretty serious when someone started fishing for souls. It didn’t take long to determine that a) it was being done by someone in our own time, that b) they were using a Gravity Well to do it, and that c) they didn’t look as if they had any intention of stopping. In fact, if psychiatry is anything like an exact science, it was pretty definite they were going to be spreading murder up and down the time stream like liver snacks at a kennel.

Oh yeah, murder. These souls weren’t just disappearing before they were meant to move on—these people were dying years, decades, before they were supposed to. People living perfectly normal lives in the next dimension over— people like confused little Quentin Peasley—were being slaughtered by someone for reasons unknown in our own dimension. Our dimension.

Perfect Time.

It simply could not be allowed.

If it was, chaos was just around the corner.

Anyway, in not much more time, the Patrol would have its answer. With the first murder the pattern had been established. If the death had been an accidental tearing of the timewall, it would have been reported. Reporting such things immediately clears those responsible of almost all liability. As long as it was an accident, of course. After twenty-nine hours (don’t ask me who picked that time span), if nothing has been reported, then the Patrol takes over.

With the second soul theft, murder was established and the weapon was identified. Knowing we were looking for something, we were able to be on site fast enough to capture the Gravity Well signature. We knew what was causing the deaths. That made it simple to triangulate who the next victim would be. I realize it doesn’t sound simple to you, but then you’re not TeePee.

Thus, with Quentin spotted, marked, identified and confirmed, we had our murderer staked. We knew where every Gravity Well in operation was in the entire galaxy. Agents were ready for insertion at every one of them when crimetime came. I was on hand merely to make certain Quentin was where I could shield him from death. It was a simple plan, and someone was going to go down for it in little over an hour.

It’s good to enjoy your work.

For the next one hundred and ten minutes, my work was fairly okay. I tagged along while Quentin got himself a pizza, and then went “bowling.” It was some sort of sporting event. I once had been told it was “a kind of Zen thing,” a competition organized around the idea of combining running with swinging and hurling the heaviest ball ever created for sports, all without breaking a sweat.

I’ve seen weirder.

The pizza was a thing manufactured far from the bowling stadium (well, whatever you call them). Made in incredible quantities all at one time, they were then frozen, stored, transported thousands of miles still frozen, stored again, and then finally reheated upon request with mind-singeingly powerful microwaves. The beauty of it made me wonder what my wife would have for dinner that night. The bowling was an interesting ballet, but not many of the participants that day seemed to be actual Zen masters. Perhaps I had been misinformed.

Whatever, as the time of Quentin’s murder drew nearer, I readied my equipment. I had the shield projector which would protect him ready to go—had actually had it ready since the first moments we’d met, although I knew exactly when I would need it. The reflector could hold a beam for up to five minutes. Far more time than would be needed. All in all, I was fairly relaxed. I knew as certainly as I knew the moon revolved around the Earth (at least until 2136) that one of our agents would have things under control in ten seconds or less.

And then it happened.

A curious white blur began to affect the reality there in the bowling stadium. To anyone uninformed, it would appear as a simple reflection. But I knew what it was, could smell the faint hint of ozone and boiled tar which meant gravity in play. I switched on my reflector and bathed Quentin in it.

“Hey,” he shouted, feeling the light wrap around him protectively, clinging to his back, his neck and legs—everything. “What the… hey!”

“Don’t worry,” I told him, watching the seconds tick off on my PTChronometer—four… five… six…—“it’ll all be over in a couple of seconds.”

“It, it,” he groped for a moment, touching himself, touching the shielding, marveling without understanding, “…feels cool.”

Yeah, I thought, just put up with it for a few more seconds, and then you can bowl your night away while I get home to see what’s on the dinner table. I watched the PTC climb steadily—ten… eleven… twelve…

“This is crazy, man.”

I nodded, not taking my eyes off my chronometer, but having to agree with him nonetheless.

Nineteen… twenty… twenty-one…

The light around Quentin was beginning to do more than simply reflect white.

Twenty-eight… twenty-nine… thirty…

People were beginning to notice. Games were stopping. All about me, rented shoes were turning in our direction.

Forty-five… forty-six… forty-seven…

“Hey, I feel, I, I dunno… weird. Sick, kinda—”

He wasn’t the only one. I had no instructions past keeping him alive with the reflector. I had been assured that absolutely nothing could go wrong.

Eighty-eight… eighty-nine… ninety…

Not with a ten-second job.

One hundred-five… one hundred-six…

Ten stinking seconds.

Quentin’s face began to shrivel, sink in, its color dropping to ashen as if he were dying. As if the energy of his soul was beginning to be leached from his body.

One hundred-fifty-seven… one hundred-fifty-eight…

Tears began to form in his helpless eyes. He offered me my money back, clawing it from his pockets, bills spilling out across the polished wood of the stadium.

Two hundred nineteen… two hundred twenty…

By this time people had gathered around to see what was happening. Their presence did not interrupt my beam’s ability to defend Quentin, but they made it harder to concentrate, harder to keep the focus from beginning to dissipate.

Two hundred thirty-two… Two hundred thirty-three…

Instructions and questions rang in my earpiece. I did my best to both listen and answer. Watching Quentin’s life slip away helplessly as the PTC continued to tick—

Three hundred fifteen… Three hundred sixteen…

“Gink-a-dink!” I cursed, not caring who heard. “You can’t let this happen!”

My curse was wasted, because happen it did. Quentin shook, his arms trembling, teeth chattering. His life force was being torn away from him across decades, maybe centuries, there was no way to tell. His tears combined with the snot dripping from his nose to make his last words unintelligible. He fell across the gutter, his hands crumpling beneath his body. I stared at my useless equipment, burned out, searing the flesh of my hands. Then, I disappeared, recalled to TeePee Central.

* * * * *

Of course, no one had any answers. Every single Gravity Well in existence had been monitored. Active or inactive, down to the ones that had been placed on courthouse lawns in little towns too new to have Civil War cannons, or Beverly Hills Holocaust souvenir kiosks, if they still had an outer shell and even half the parts necessary for operation, we had someone there. Just in case.

Just in case—

And it still hadn’t been good enough.

Quentin Peasley, average, unformed, uncomprehending Quentin Peasley was dead. He would now never cross paths with Jenna. Their unborn Cedric and Marshall would remain that way. That meant pain and destruction smashing its way through Proven Time for decades forward from his death— coupled with the other murders—perhaps centuries.

It had to be stopped. But, how did you stop something from happening that was impossible? That the murders were being committed with a Gravity Well was undeniable. It was proven fact. It had to be. But, as best anyone could tell, it was also a proven fact that every single Gravity Well ever built had been cleared of involvement.

And then a thought hit me. Perhaps my logic was faulty. Yes, unless there was a basic building block of science missing from our knowledge, Peasley and the others were murdered through the use of a Gravity Well. But…

I radioed my thoughts to Central while on my way to the garage. My request for extra rangers was met—ten TeePees were hauling weapons to vehicles when I arrived. Obviously my notion had been found to possess some merit. No one said anything about it to me and I didn’t ask. I didn’t care. All I wanted was to make certain no other Quentin Peasley’s had to pay the price for our smugness.

On the way to our destination, I received Jehovah confirmation and my calibrator was unlocked all the way to ten. For the duration of the coming raid, I had been awarded Supreme authority. I was acknowledged final judge, jury, and executioner and no one could argue with me. I also couldn’t be reprimanded later or penalized in any way for actions during the raid.

Of course, that didn’t mean I could stop along the way and pay a hostile visit to the bully who made my life hellish in the seventh grade. But, those granting me my temporary powers knew that wasn’t in the equation. I had been motivationally scanned before any decisions had been made. They knew my mental make-up of the moment. Those in power knew the only thing I cared about and gave me the means to obtain what I wanted.

When we reached the front gates of zVz, the guards denied us entry. I flashed my Jehovah badge. I did not bother to say anything. There was no need. Suddenly pale, their joints turning to the softest of putty, they waved us in as if welcoming the parents of the bride to her wedding. One of our people stayed behind to make certain our arrival was not communicated to anyone inside.

Within two minutes we had reached the central meeting room of the board of directors for zVz. They were, arguably, among the most powerful human beings who had ever walked the face of the planet. Their fortunes were unthinkably large, their futures as vast and magnificently laid out before them as the stars of the heavens stretched out before any of the travelers using one of their Gravity Well-propelled ships to move through the universe.

“And who are you people?”

Thomas Gadius Thorn, the single most powerful man who ever lived, stared at us from his perch arranged at the far end of a table so massive it struck one that there shouldn’t be trees large enough for it to have been built. It would have to be a big and thick and powerful table, however, for in the center of it was the thing overlooked, the device not predicted.

“Rick Rambler, Time Patrol,” I said automatically. With hand gestures I moved my people around the room. Each of them moved behind a collection of board members and started to take readings. Letting my badge hang from around my neck, I kept my hands free as I told Thorn:

“You’re under arrest.”

The thing in the center of the table, of course, was a Gravity Well. It had never dawned on anyone that a well would ever be built and then not registered. The only person capable of doing such a thing would be the head of zVz, and what could the reason be? To make illegal profits? Why would someone who would need to spend 18 trillion credital units a day for the next two centuries, just to go through what he had already stacked up in various vaults around the solar system need to steal any more?

“On what charges?”

But such thinking had been painfully short sighted. And Quentin Peasley was just the most recent poor bastard who had paid the price of its limitations.

“Tampering with Proven Time.”

“Not murder?” Thorn’s voice was rasping, but giddy. The only emotion he seemed capable of showing at the moment of his judgment was amusement.

“Murder was the means of your tampering. Perpetrated through means of an illegal device, an unregistered Gravity Well. Built, it can only be concluded, for the purpose of murder—”

“Oh no,” answered Thorn, his voice snickeringly self-assured. “Not built for murder. No profit in murder.”

All around the room, the men and women of the zVz board joined in with their lord and master, their sniggering noises making the great hall sound as if it were filled with rats. Rising from his place, Thorn made to walk the great length from his spot to mine. I motioned those agents under me to allow him passage.

“Solid Men do not need to stoop to such dull pastimes.”

“Solid men?” I asked.

“Indeed,” responded Thorn cheerfully. “My companions and I, we are The Solid Men of Society. We are the doers, the builders, the obtainers of fortunes, the makers of dreams. We are the backbone of progress. We are humanity’s most righteous citizens.”

Pointing to the Gravity Well in the center of the table, he paused to stare at it as he said;

“I know even a lesser individual such as yourself can recognize the breakthrough this device represents. The model G-9, 149 times lighter, more compact, than the smallest Well in production. That much smaller, and yet capable of doing at least half as much work as a full-size model. Think of it, Mr. ahhh… Mister…”

“Rambler,” I reinformed him, adding, “so you admit that this is a functioning, unregistered Gravity Well?”

“Of course, and so much more. When Cardinelli reported what he hoped for it, that it could power vehicles beyond space, further than time, but sideways as well—we were, obviously, excited here.”

“Why was that, Mr. Thorn?”

“Please, Ranger Rambler. To no longer be dependent on Wezleski’s infernal love boats. No more need for undying romance between pilot and navigator… to simply be able to hoist one’s anchor and power to whatever, wherever, whenever, however… even you can grasp the enormity of that.”

He was right, of course. I could. As easily as anyone alive. It would have meant an unbelievable surge in the fortunes of zVz. So…

“So,” he answered my unthought question, “why didn’t we? Register it? Release it? Turn it over to the profiteers of the world? Because, first we had to test it. And that was when we discovered its enormous side benefit.”

I simply stared, waiting for an explanation. Thorn shrugged, smiled at me, and then returned to explaining.

“Normal Gravity Wells are heavily shielded, of course, because of the mind-bogglingly dangerous amounts of lethal things going on within them. That shielding had been reasonably, we thought, reduced for this newer model. But, what no one realized is that those extra layers of shielding, as well as keeping so much from escaping the wells, was keeping something else from entering them.”

Thorn danced in a circle for a moment, laughing as he did so. Then suddenly he skidded to a halt, his face aimed in my direction, and saluted me. I waited a few seconds, after which he began laughing again, talking as he did so.

“The new wells are soul-collectors. They reach out and simply suck them free from people. Cardinelli turned it on, and instantly his life essence was drained from his body. The well was shut down by remote backup, but the damage had been done. And then, the most wonderful thing was discovered. Those of us present, we became the beneficiaries of this tragedy.”

As he drew nearer, Thorn stared at me, something in his eyes letting me know he really cared if I understood.

“His soul, removed from his body before its time, not ready for rebirth, fled to the nearest flesh for safety. Our flesh. Can you imagine it, Mister… Rambler, is it? Can you?”

Thorn had almost reached me at that point. I rested my hand on my sidearm. He did not seem to notice. Perhaps he no longer understood the gesture. Feeling safe for one reason or another, the CEO continued on toward me, still jabbering.

“Human energy, Mr. Rambler, is but the building material of the soul. Not all people grow them. Children, animals, they do not possess them—they can’t. For you see, the soul is created at that incredible, powerful moment which is the awakening of the thinking mind. Not the instinctive mind, the knee-jerk response levers which keep the knuckle-draggers moving forward, but the moment where the lizard brain actually stops worrying so much about what it will be chewing next, and finally, for a moment, begins to ponder.”

All around the table, the others were nodding, their eyes as filled with stars as Thorn’s.

“The sharper the brain, the more incisive the thoughts, of course. Cardinelli’s vast gray matter had charged his soul with a texture and taste beyond compare. He was… delicious.”

I rocked a touch, my body staggered by what I had just heard. Yes, it had been an accident. They had been flooded with their companion’s life force before they could react, but after the deed had been done, it had not been long, Thorn delighted in telling me, before they had decided to relive the moment.

“Have you ever had a creative thought, Mr. Rambler,” the CEO challenged me. “Have you? A truly creative thought? If you have, you know the thrill of that moment, the power you feel coursing through your every fiber. Think on that for a moment, and then, try if you can to comprehend what it feels like, to suddenly have every ounce of a person’s creative life flash through your system. Even a pimple like Peasley learned to tie his shoes, count to ten, tell green from yellow—it’s all creativity—”

The horror in the room finally hit me. The board of directors of zVz, the richest, most powerful group of people in the known universe, were drug addicts, and the drugs they craved were human souls. Techno-vampires, they had thrown away all of society to perch above it.

I looked at the indicators on my Jehovah. If Thorn wanted me to have a creative thought, he was getting his wish. I suddenly pieced together that he had to know we were coming, or at least that we would come. He and his fellow ghouls had been waiting for us, determined to have it out with us then and there. Take us down while we were still blind to what was happening.

The CEO had already been intelligent. Now he was flooded with the best energies of five other people. Abruptly, I knew the power of the Jehovah calibrator would not be enough to contain that which was surging through Thorn’s body. He had crippled my resolve with knowledge, sneaking ever closer in through the defensive wall of distance to where he could nearly lay hands on me. Knowing I had only seconds, I kicked outward, catching the CEO off guard, sending him crashing into the table as well as two of his fellows. As they spilled out of their chairs and went down in a tangle with their leader, I shouted;

“Slaughter! Keep them busy—I’ll be right back!”

As my people unlimbered their sidearms and blasted away at the surprisingly resilient directors, I thought orders for an emergency transfer and, thanks to my temporary calibration, was instantly granted my travel request. In the same instant I finished saying the word “back,” I reappeared within the wilds of New Jersey, specifically within the walls of the bowling stadium in which I had watched Peasley die.

Throwing a wall of cancellation over my former self and the crowd, I approached Peasley and screamed at him;

“You know you’re dying—right?” When he nodded, I shouted, “I can’t stop it, it’s already happened, but I can tell you why. If you don’t want anyone else to die this way—listen to me!”

And, as Peasley began to crumple, I gave him what I hoped would be an awakening moment. As quickly as I could, I revealed to him the secrets of time travel—that it existed, that it was real, and what it meant for all humanity.

As I disappeared once more, I watch the dying face of Quentin Peasley experience epiphany.

Then, just as fast as I had left, in the instant I disappeared, I reappeared as well. I actually felt myself leaving the spot in which I arrived, almost knocking myself over. My people were just pulling their blasters, were just pulling on the triggers I had watched them pull a moment earlier when I signalled them again to stand down. There was no longer any need. Thomas Thorn had told me how to stop them.

I had extrapolated, it’s true, but I’d been correct. After the rich taste of their scientist’s soul, they had turned their machine on hungering for more wonderful rushes like him. I don’t think they had found any. Thorn’s begrudging admission that even Peasley had had something to offer made me think—

What if his mind had held wonder?

What if he had been experiencing that rarest of human moments, an explosive instant of epiphany when they gobbled down his soul? I had hoped for something like the reaction any other kind of drug addict experiences when after many highly cut doses they were suddenly gifted with the pure stuff. Sure enough, Thorn and his fellows were all helpless with fascination, overwhelmed with their stolen moment of self-satisfaction.

Knowing it would not do to waste my hard-won advantage, I stepped to where Thorn still lie tangled with the others. Placing my foot upon his neck, I looked into his eyes, and said;

“I sentence you, Thomas Gadius Thorn, to death by disbursement. Your atoms will be scattered. Your fortunes will be forfeit. You are ended.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he mumbled. His drool-leaking mouth smiled at me, his eyes promising he was still filled with surprises too ample for me to overcome. Gesturing for me to come closer, his weak voice croaked past my heel to tell me:

“Oh, Mr. Rambler, you weren’t paying attention. I told you the G-9 worked across dimensions. When it gathered unto us Mr. Peasley, don’t you know, it gathered unto us, all the Mr. Peasleys there are. Just as it gave us all the Cardinellis, and all of all the others, plucked from every dimension, across all the expanses…”


“Meaning, Mr. Rambler, that you’re too late. So you eliminate me. What does it matter? Across every dimension, a billion, billion other Thomas Thorns know what I know now. They all understand time travel now. They all want to taste what I have tasted. They shall flood here to stop you. You and your Proven Time are doomed! We win, Mr. Rambler—”

His laughter became a thing unbearable to hear. Shifting my foot just a bit, I brought my calibrator to bear on his forehead. As I did so, the rest of my force picked a target and did the same. Looking into his eyes one last time, I said:

“Same thing, Thorn,” I told him. “When I said you were ended, I meant it. Say ‘goodbye,’ Tommy.”

And then, I acknowledged calibration and thought Thomas Gadius Thorn out of existence. All the Thomas Gadius Thorns. All billion billion of them. Every one of them. The Jehovah badge glowed a deeper purple second after second as around the room the directors of zVz were winked out of existence everywhere and when they existed.

The next day, across all the dimensions where there had been a Thomas Thorn, where the Gravity Well had been invented and a corporation to administer its existence had come into being, those who were not in charge of the company would discover they had no idea who was. They would have a product no one would have ever claimed to have invented. Hopefully they would use it to better ends.

Stumbling to the nearest chair, I fell into it, too numb to feel. My second-in-command came to me, holding open a containment box. I nodded, giving her the go-ahead to remove my Jehovah circuits. She understood, I was simply too tired to do it myself. As I sank into the cushioning of the chair, I suddenly wondered it the Luddites weren’t right after all. Maybe we’d all have been a lot better off not knowing half of what we know.

Wezleski thought so. No one ever knew why. I think maybe I understand what he was thinking when he would just smile at certain questions, making his joking apologies to humanity for all the harm he had caused by inventing time travel.

Whatever the case, we do know what we know, and it’s too damn late to go home again. We’re human beings. As a race we’ve always been on one edge or another. I guess this is just the latest one. Well, that’s what comes from getting the race to where it was—too damn smart for its own good.

Working at keeping my body from spilling onto the floor, I pulled myself erect in my chair as best I could. I had, of course, absorbed Thorn’s soul the way he had Peasley’s. The CEO had been right; it was a rush, all right. One my people and I have all been through in the past when eliminating other would-be conquerors.

Even through my rage, I almost chuckled at Thorn’s questions to me—if I had ever had a truly creative thought, if I had ever known the thrill of having every ounce of a person’s creative life flash through my system?

Yes, Mr. Thorn, I have. But like any truly mature person, I learned long ago that pleasure always comes with an ever-escalating price tag.

“You know, chief,” my second said, taking a brief look down into Thorn’s uncomprehending eyes, “whichever ‘they’ said it first, ‘they’ were right. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

I just groaned and threw a mock punch at her head. She laughed. Hoping that somewhere Quentin Peasley was having his own richly deserved last laugh, I dragged myself out of zVz’s chair and headed for the door and back to work.

I was sure there was something to do somewhen.

A Light That Shamed the Sun

by C.J. Henderson


“I mean it, goddamnit… where in hell’s my flying car, anyway?”

It was that particular moment in the outburst that got through to the heavy-set individual with the curly hair and sweetly vacant disposition. A round-faced man, he was, one as large of frame as he was of heart. He had, at the moment of disturbance, been pondering the problem of cross-wiring fate with exactitude, as a cure for menopause, no less, when the shouting gentleman at the other end of the counter there in the Cold Crab Cafe interrupted his mental gymnastics.

Of course, jumping back just a moment before said eruption, merely for a chance to analyze his mental project, one might decide that such a presumptuous experiment would not only be beyond the grasp of mankind’s current collective of thinkers, but also that the very imagining of its possibility should be considered grounds for involuntary commitment to the nearest competent couch jockey or licensed state institution.

Such would be perfectly reasonable, and anyone would be excused for thinking that it would constitute a proper course of action—anyone that is, who was not familiar with that singularly remarkable cooperative…

“I mean, I’m sixty years old, and I’m tellin’ ya…”

That most charmingly whimsical of scholarly business concerns…

“I remember…”

That most unbelievably fantastic hotbed of intellectual mayhem and scientific hooliganism…

“Back in the day…”

The Pelgimbly Center for the Advanced Sciences, complete with the wonderfully unique brand of inquiring minds which staffed its halls so completely. They were, as its brochures promised, titans of research, giftedly tremendous brains, the kind of venerable cranium-stuffing that routinely conquered multiverses, rolled consistent D20s and made uniquely damn fine cups of amaretto cocoa. Minds like that of Dr. Aristotle T. Jones.

“Every time you turned around…”

Holder of 25,603 personal patents, devisor of the bundled dimensions theorem, and universally applauded creator of the thirty-second flavor…

“Someone was sayin’ it was just a matter of time before we were all gonna be hikin’ it around in flyin’ cars like the freakin’ Jetsons.”

And the perfect rung on the evolutionary ladder if ever there was one to bring mankind such a boon, if indeed, there was any hairless ape capable enough to do such a thing in all the known stretches of research and development. For this discussion, it is important to remember that Aristotle Jones was not an inventor’s inventor, not in his heart. No, the soul of his tinkerer’s happiness was enriched by the cobbling together of things that, in the classic sense of the phrase;

Benefitted Mankind.

The thing-a-ma-bobs and wozzling-do-giggies that he created were universally loved by all peoples. The grand majority of the world, of course, had no idea that every day when they gave silent gratitude to this or that convenience, conveyance or cocktail, that it could be counted on that the designs, theories and random cosmic hiccups of Dr. Aristotle T. Jones could be found frolicking there somewhere in the background. Dr. Jones simply adored creating things which made people go “ahhhhhhh,” and he spent as much time as he possibly could out in the real world, searching for ways to hear that sound, accompanied by the indescribable joy of seeing their faces light up in a smile that shamed the sun.

Which is why, at 11:30 in the A.M., on a perfectly reasonable and altogether ordinary Wednesday, he was situated on a stool at the counter in a perfectly reasonable and ordinary Baltimore-style crab diner several blocks from the fabled Pelgimbly facilities, rather than hard at work in his lab.

Impossible as it was for many of his colleagues to comprehend, Dr. Jones found the vast majority of his inspirations, not surrounded by test tubes, refractors and pestles, but from within the drama, torment and comedy of the realities created by ordinary people. It was the needs and fears of the common man which drove his intellectual curiosity, and now that he had heard this phrase, this practically tortured wondering over why our physical world was not the one predicted in the 1950s, suddenly his own intellectual curiosity over the
matter was reborn anew.

And so, having been snagged from his own churning cauldron of thought by this random query, having fallen far enough into at least a slice of the world’s actual reality to be able to interface with a fellow human being, if only for a moment, his mind caught by a sudden gust of white-hot curiosity, Dr. Jones solicited a proposal.

“Tell me, my good man,” he asked politely, if somewhat absently, “what exactly would you do with a flying car if indeed it were possible for you to have one?”

The man snapped back the standard nugget one might expect from someone whom, on a daily basis, could be counted on to slap their fists against crumb and crab juice-spattered counters, spewing their words over perfectly decent people as if those poor souls did not have enough morons yammering at them throughout their day already without the addition of yet another slack-jaw into their lives who was neither their employer or a minion of the legal professions.

“Hey, whatd’ya expect?” The man fixed the doctor with a belligerent stare, then dropped the other shoe, “I’d freakin’ fly it.”

And, for some reason which flickered in the subconscious of Aristotle T. Jones at that particular alignment of the planets, the doctor joined with the man at the counter in feeling the over-riding need for that question to finally be answered. For, once he had calculated the number of times a particular age-group had made that same impassioned query, he realized Destiny was practically screaming out for some research to be done. And also, suddenly remembering that his All-Round-Researcher’s license would soon require him to log some additional flight time anyway, he nodded his head in the grumbling man’s direction and answered;

“Well then, Mister…?”

“Terill, Harry Terill…”

“Well then, Mr. Terill, let’s go get you one, shall we?”

* * * * *

“So, okay Doc,” the growling man said to Jones, “explain again why we’re powering up a blimp?”

“Zeppelin, actually,” the doctor absently corrected. “It’s quite simple, really. You see, travel between dimensions is possible only in lighter-than-air ships.”

The man stared at Jones as if he had announced he was about to pull an African elephant from his back pocket. Having spent most of his life being stared at in such a manner, the good doctor, of course, failed to take note of his travelling companion’s confusion. Unfettered by such mundane embarrassments, in a moment he related how Dr. Wendel Q. Wezleski had discovered the way to move sideways through reality. The good doctor had, of course, learned how to move forward and backward through commonly shared reality earlier on—“time travel,” he had called it. But, the vastly more tricky, and extremely delicate operation which Wezleski had been attempting to learn while constantly, albeit accidentally, inventing new ways to shatter the chronos barrier was the movement through parallel dimensions.

“You see,” Dr. Jones told the excitable counter-slammer sitting next to him in the airship, “to effect a journey through dimensions takes steam power. It’s the only sufficient energy source we have that doesn’t depend on any sort of delicate electronics. Electronics in operation keep the sideways gates from opening, don’t you see? So, once our steam-powered generators have gotten a doorway opened, then we still have to depend on lighter-than-air travel for the same reason—only such vessels can be navigated without the aid of electronic devices. Once safely through a gate, of course, additional power sources can be brought on line, but until then…”

“Yeah, yeah, I dig it,” Terill interrupted. “But how does this get me a flyin’ car?”

“Well, simply put,” answered Jones, his attention split between his easily distracted charge and maintaining his white-knuckled grip on his seat—maintained so because the good professor had an absolute and overwhelming dread of air travel, “we have targeted the nearest possible dimensions which show as likely for having based their major modes of transportation on something other than automobiles.”

As soon as Dr. Wezleski had opened the passageways to inter-dimensional exploration, every government in the world had, as one might expect, expressed their typical, extreme disapproval. The Americans, with characteristic disdain for their own interests when faced with stern frowns from their current friends, such as France and China, or their traditional friends, such as Japan and Germany, responded by clamping firmly down upon Pelgimbly, installing their own military people to monitor even the most minute movements
within the Institute being made outside of agreed-upon-reality.

Now to be fair, in the favor of the current regime, they had not been so utterly disapproving at first. But, after the mighty thinkers in Hollywood quickly rallied public sentiment along the same lines as the rest of the world with such blathering drivel as 10 Million Dimensions to Earth, I Was a Teenage Zep Jockey and The Next Dimension Needs Women, the government became far more nervous about allowing research to continue unfettered by their “expert” supervision. The scientific community, as one might imagine, rallied behind Pelgimbly
for the obvious reasons, but the films had been released within months of a major election, and that was all there was to say about that.

On the other hand, of course, a chore as simple as sliding 598 feet of helium-filled, steam-driven steel and plasti-canvas past the keen and watchful eyes of military intelligence is not all that great a problem for the typical Pelgimblian. Within minutes of Dr. Jones’ assistant, the twenty-two year old ginger-haired Adora Feldstein, wandering “accidentally” into the Prime Security Chamber with a plate of fresh brownies, and a carafe of ice cooled milk, all monitor screens covering the launch bays became temporarily unmanned and the mighty air- ship, the Thomas Alva was able to slide gracefully through the electro-flux barrier between unreality and possibility off to the first target dimension, some one thousand, eight hundred and forty-seven realms over.

“What do you mean, ‘nearest possible dimensions?’”

“Ah, you see,” explained Jones, stuffing the bowl of his pipe, “there are an infinite number of dimensions parallel to our own. If we were to simply travel to the nearest one, we would find things to be, well… almost exactly the same as in our own. No flying cars to be found there. Oh, my—no. But…”

Jones paused to set the flame of his lighter to his pipe. Torching the mix within its bowl, he continued, spitting his words out in small bunches in between puffs.

“If we hop outward into the sideways void… then our chances of finding an Earth… where the average motorist has left the ground behind… well then… there we might indeed discover what you’re looking for.”

Terill nodded, actually comprehending what he had been told. He made a few further inquiries, several even bordering on the intelligent. Jones puffed on his pipe, watching the screen in front of him, answering Terill’s questions and advising the pilot on likely short-cuts until finally, an announcement from the navigator’s chair told them they had arrived at candidate dimension number one.

“We’re here!”

“Well,” corrected Jones, knowing which “here” Terill meant and how likely he was to be accurate in his assessment, “we’re ‘somewhere’ at any rate.”

Racing to an observation port, Terill began to scan the airways, his eyes craning in all possible directions, searching for the winged, four-on-the-floor of his dreams. His search went on, sadly, unrewarded. Whether high or low, East or West, back, forth, or any other direction available for scrutiny, Harry Terill spotted many a plane, several helicopters, and a few points of light which he thought might have been UFOs, but he could lay his eyes on nothing that appeared to be a flying car in any reasonable way, shape or form.

“I don’t get it,” he said finally. “I thought this dimension was guaranteed far enough away to be different from ours.”

“Indeed it is,” Jones told him honestly. “Perhaps an excursion to the surface will tell us something further.”

It only took a matter of a few moments for the professor to calibrate the proper charge to resonate his body and his guest’s so they could wander about on the surface of the world below them. Leaving the Thomas Alva uncharged, of course, so that it might remain invisible to the locals, they then descended to the ground outside the nearest town and hiked into the suburbs.

“You know, I don’t think I remember seein’ any roads from up above,” Terill announced as they accomplished their first quarter mile.

“I wouldn’t think we would find any anywhere in this world,” responded Jones. Releasing a great billow from his pipe, he mused, “That was the whole reason for sliding this far over, dimensionally speaking.”

“But,” asked Terill, “if they don’t have flyin’ cars, or roads for regular cars, then how do they get around?”

Eighteen more steps gave them the answer. Coming to a break in the wooded area into which they had descended, they suddenly came to a row of suburban-style apartment buildings. Rounding the corner of the closest, they emerged into the open to find something the good doctor had not anticipated.

“My, my, would you look at that now.”

“The goddamned sidewalk is movin’.”

As the two explorers watched in rapt fascination, people mounted and dismounted the conveyors stretched out before them. Many merely stood while they were propelled along, reading newspapers or listening to this or that being piped through headphones, but far more seemed quite comfortably at rest atop small, one-legged chairs upon which they remained stably poised by using both of their legs for counterbalance. Two belts moving in opposite directions were needed to keep things flowing, and people had to step across several moving belts to continue onward when one set of belts crossed another, but they seemed to do so with relative ease.

“Jeez’it, Doc, how do they do that?”

“How do they do what?”

“Get across the lanes so quick?” Terill stared in awe-struck wonder at the sight of a woman in her early sixties along with her dachshund as they skipped nimbly across the five feet of a belt headed west, then an identical set of feet found on the one next to it headed east, finally catching up to their own belt, still headed south, which had traveled underneath the other two.

“I would surmise it was simply a matter of growing up with it,” Jones conjectured. “After all, think about it for a moment. If we were to take them home and show them people weaving five-ton automobiles through traffic, bicycles and pedestrians, I’m certain they’d be just as impressed with any of us as you seem to be with them.”

“Makes sense, I guess,” Terill admitted. “Makes me wonder how they move packages, groceries, you know—furniture, bigger loads. Is this all they have—these movin’ sidewalks? How does really big stuff get around? And what do they do when it rains? Or in the winter time? Or…”

Deciding he would like to know such things himself, Professor Jones moved them forward until they intercepted the older woman and her dog at the front door of her building. Claiming to be doing a survey, they asked their questions and discovered that everything they wanted to know had the most mundane of answers. People simply took carts and wheeled baskets and all manner of dollies, et cetera, with them when they shopped. Delivery trucks in Dimension Starboard/1847 were merely platforms on wheels, most of them a type of remarkable automated platform that delivered packages to destinations then returned to their point of origin as programmed. Bad weather was apparently compensated for with protective clothing. And so on and so forth.

The Travolator, which the woman announced as the name of not only the beltway in front of her apartment building, but the entire world-wide system, worked quite nicely at all times and in all manner of weather, and she would not dream of supporting a measure to introduce some other form of transportation. Smiling broadly, Jones thanked the woman for her time. Terill kicked a rock in angry frustration. Both returned to the Thomas Alva.

“That was sure a bust,” announced Terill, still kicking things as they re-entered the zeppelin.

“Well, think nothing of it,” answered Jones, settling into his chair for another stomach-turning launching forward. “We’ve got an infinite number of possibilities before us.”

“Yeah,” grumbled Terill, “an infinite number more of possible disappointments.”

Dr. Jones allowed the remark to pass, thinking he would soon be able to snicker kindly in his guest’s direction as they sailed into the proper reality. But, it soon became apparent he had been wise to allow the remark to pass for a dimension where they actually had flying cars was rapidly looking to be as rare as garlic wedding cakes or ethical standards in the music business. Not that the pair of explorers did not find alternative modes of transportation.

Oh, no indeed.

The Thomas Alva sailed into a plethora of alternate realities where men had found a wide variety of innovative means of locomotion. Their very next stop brought them to an Earth where the pogo stick, of all things, had become the major means of personal transport. When they ventured into the nearest city, they witnessed not only a rush hour madness of literally thousands of pogoing white collar workers springing their way home, but styles and varieties of pogo apparatti never dreamed of back home. They saw two-person models, ornate chauffeured versions, high-roaring, souped up models moving in packs which clearly seemed to be piloted by spring-powered gangs, and even massive, multi-pronged mass transportation based on pogo technology.

It was, to say the least, a disheartening stop, but the pair slogged on, plowing through the ether and moving on to one dimension after the next, hurrying to one more additional, equally disheartening stop after another. Future visits brought a gaggle of Earths which had made strange variations to the automobile, but which had not abandoned it completely. Others dealt with technology familiar to the travelers, but which they had never seen used to such all-encompassing ends.

They discovered worlds where cars ran on nuclear fuel, massive heavily shielded roadsters with the looks of tanks, but with unlimited mileage and the added side ability to glow in the dark. They also discovered the amphicar, a kind of three-masted convertible which navigated equally well on roads or that Earth’s extensive canal system, as well as the three-wheeled Dymaxion, a marvel of grace and imagination which embodied for transportation the same principles of economic form and functionality that the geodesic dome brought to architecture or the Rob Roy brought to hangovers.

They found worlds where the pneumatic train had conquered all, exotic, yet Victorian-styled lands where the gravitational pendulum was master, rushing rounded train cars from California to New York at speeds of five hundred miles an hour. It was an inspiring sight for Jones, who found the air-driven, environmentally friendly trains a wonder, and who would have made more notes to see if such a system could be implemented back home if not for the fact the trains filled the air with the sound of booming mechanical flatulence with grinding monotony.

Worlds which depended on the hydrofoil and the hovercraft also seemed around every corner, as did ones where people rolled along sitting in the center of giant wheels, ran along within over-sized plastic bubbles and even a few where the use of animals for moving from place to place had not fallen from popularity. And, this was not just the familiar horse and oxen, but everything from the camel and dog sled to the kangaroo and the giant sea turtle.

This was not to say that other Earths with flying citizens were nowhere to be found at all. The intrepid explorers discovered dimensions where the skies were filled with manned platforms which flew on giant fans, amazing discs steered by the simple action of the pilot leaning to one side or the other. They also stumbled across such often dreamed of wonders as rocket belts, jet packs and one interesting dimension where, instead of wearing their engines, its aeronauts stepped onto a platform that housed a vertically oriented turbojet and then launched themselves off to work, the movies or the nearest McDonald’s at mach seven.

There were also plenty of sites where mankind had decided personal transportation could be accomplished en masse with helicopters, tilt-o-rotors and gyroplanes. The doctor and his guest even, eventually, found one odd society where those with the itch to leave home and go further than the nearest corner did indeed do so in Aerocars. These were intrepid Studebaker-like devices which cruised the roads quite nicely, but which could be driven into a set of wings that came with its own extension, tail and rudder. These attachment pieces locked into place in moments, allowing the driver to then fly off quite easily into the wild, blue turnpike. Most people did not seem to possess their own extensions, but merely picked one up at a kind of U-Haul service located at the nearest airport.

Still, as close as this was to their desired goal, the Aerocar was as much what they were looking for as a pumpkin was a pumpkin pie. Disheartened, as blue and lost and as thoroughly depressed as he ever had been in all his cynical, noisy life, a tired and woefully worn Harry Terill said;

“Maybe we should just pack it in, Doc.”

Jones looked up from his speculation charts, his eyes taking in all of his guest’s horribly forlorned expression. The abject defeat on the man’s face stung the doctor. This was not a person about to say “ahhhhhhhhhh.” His were not eyes destined to shine with a light that could shame the sun any time soon. No, this was a man defeated—one suffering from a let-down as severe as the eight-track tape and as devastating as the two-party system.

Indeed, his discouragement seemed as complete as possible. Far more than just Terill’s eyes were woeful, his entire posture was cheerless, his stance that of a banana on a hot day. His teeth appeared melancholy; his fingers dismal and somber. It was not a pleasant picture. Aristotle Jones pursed his lips, trying to think of something encouraging to say, but he could find nothing.

How could he?

After all, they had uncovered civilizations which had tried to gift their citizens with the flying car, but they had all come to ruin. Ordinary folks, it seemed, were simply incapable of handling the extraordinary demands of the fighter jet, which essentially was what the flying car would be, especially when coupled with the notion of travelling in proximity with their fellow excursionists. Most people, as could be attested to by the ever-increasing accident statistics to be found anywhere human beings could also be found, were simply not team players. They did not like to give way to their fellow drivers. They did not particularly enjoy even having to consider that there was anyone else on the road other than themselves.

Worlds which had adopted the flying car sat in burning ruin, millions of sleek, aerodynamic carcasses littering their landscapes, the trapped and broken remains of the socially just-not-good-enough moldering behind their ruptured steering mechanisms. Taking a long drag from his pipe, Dr. Jones rolled an orange-wood scented waffle of smoke around in his mouth, then let it out slowly, saying;

“I have one more thing I’d like to try, if you don’t mind, Mr. Terill. Why don’t you lie down and take another nap. If this next trip doesn’t fix things, we’ll give it up. What do you say?”

Tired, but still stubborn enough to remain hopeful, Terill headed for the cot he and the doctor had alternated using throughout their long and frustrating journey. Jones waited for the older man to fall asleep, then signalled the pilot to head for home. It seemed at that point that there was only one way remaining to grant Mr. Terill his wish.

Luckily for him Dr. Aristotle Jones was humanitarian enough to employ it.

* * * * *

When Terill first felt the gentle tugging at his shoulder, his mind had brought him to the conclusion that his entire time with Jones aboard the Thomas Alva had been but a nightmare of sorts, a bad stretch of REM sleep brought about by some rarebit he could not quite recall. When he opened his eyes, however, he found the good doctor there before him, but with something oddly different about him. Jones was smiling.

No—not smiling.

No, not smiling at all. Jones was ebullient, positively beaming, as happy a man as Terill had ever seen in his six decades on the planet. Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes, questioning what seemed to be the obvious mainly out of self-preservation, like an orphan refusing to believe in Santa Claus, or a New York voter, suspicious of a voting booth.

“You tryin’ to tell me somethin’, Doc?”

“Step outside, Mr. Terill, just this one last time,” answered Jones. “And see for yourself.”

Excitement raced the older man’s blood and he headed for the ladder to the disembarking platform, each step coming faster than the one before it. Once to the ladder, he practically leaped from rung to rung, taking them two, three at a time. He hit the ground running, but came to a sudden, joyous stop as he saw where he was.

The Thomas Alva had stationed itself on a cliff overlooking a vast metropolis, one whose massive skyscrapers were a’buzz with clouds of vehicles flying between them.


“Hey, doc—doc!” he shouted. “You did it, man; you did it!”

And, indeed, it seemed that Dr. Aristotle T. Jones had done just that, for before and above and all around them, the world was awash in flying cars. The landscape below them was clean and bright and nifty enough to have been clipped from the front cover of a 1954 edition of Popular Mechanics. Terill staggered wildly, twisting and turning with excitement youthful enough to make him appear drunk as his body tried to show him everything possible within the same moment.

Everywhere was a glory of sky-splitting craft. Brightly colored, practically noiseless, emitting no soot or clouds, they were graceful as hawks in flight, the traffic patterns achieved things of art to behold.

“Oh, my god, Doc,” whispered Terill, “we did it; we did it.”

”Well,” corrected Jones, “We found it, anyway.”

“No,” answered a still completely fascinated Terill, “We did it. ‘We,’ ‘us,’ mankind. We got ’em up there. When we saw all those other worlds, man, where everything just kept crashin’ and burnin’, where men just couldn’t get it together enough for us to work together, to fly and soar and zoom, together—I mean, it was killin’ me.” Turning to face Jones, the older man told him;

“Back in the fifties, everyone thought the future was gonna be filled with wonders, and in a way, I guess it is, but they never turn out. They’re always bitin’ us on the ass. Nuclear power, and clonin’, steroids, air conditioning’, even diet soda… nothin’ ever does what it was supposed to. Nothin’ ever comes through. There’s always some hidden price tag…”

Jones watched as Terill turned once more to staring into the sky. The man seemed renewed, freshly born, filled with a wonder and joy the doctor could scarcely measure. Then, shifting his view through his bifocals, Jones checked his virtual view of Terill against the actual person stretched out on the padded slab before him. Terill appeared basically comfortable, all his bodily signs stable. Reaching out, Jones made a minor adjustment to the older man’s headset, making certain it was securely intact.

The doctor removed his glasses at that point, needing to rub his eyes. As he did, his field of vision grew to take in the thousands of other padded slabs, with their thousands of other occupants living lives dictated for them by their thousands of headsets. Dr. Jones had taken pity on many volumes of humanity in his time, and when solutions to their problems could not be met, he had done for them what he had now done for Harry Terill, brought them to sub-basement D of the Pelgimbly Institute for the Advanced Sciences and hooked them up to his most humane masterpiece, the virtual reality generator.

Testing of the machine was still proceeding, but each additional “volunteer” was only proving that it was, indeed, the greatest gift Jones was ever likely to create. The machine not only manufactured separate, creative fantasies for each of its wards, but it also monitored their vital signs, keeping them as healthy as inert bodies could be kept. Jones did not usher in anyone off the street, kidnapping every wandering dreamer to further test his remarkable boon, but only those so demanding, so cynical, so caught up in their need to escape that finding their dream at the expense of their freedom was considered a fair trade.

The rows of softly pulsating tables in sub-basement D contained a wide range of humanity, with as many mullet-headed dreamers like Terill, as there were Conservative Christians, feminists, grass roots Democrats, Luddites, and other starry-eyed fanatics desperately awaiting the arrival of their personal, impossible social contract.

Knowing it was time he returned to his lab, Jones allowed himself one more moment with the enraptured Terill. Replacing his glasses on his face, he again touched his hand to the corner of the older man’s slab which allowed a visitor to share the dreamer’s experience. Suddenly, the doctor found himself at Terill’s side as the man stepped into a newly purchased Ford Rainbow. Within his brave new world, Terill had already passed his driver’s test and made the purchase of his dreams. Turning to Jones, he stopped for a moment to avoid having his voice crack, then said;

“Thank you, Doc—ohh, god bless; thank you so much.”

“Think nothing of it,” Jones offered kindly. Then, as Terill began to engage his controls, the doctor stepped away from the imaginary craft, then disappeared entirely as he removed his hand from the connection pad.

Jones lingered a moment longer, unconsciously tarrying a few extra seconds in the hopes of catching his favorite tune.

“Aaaaahhhhhhhhhhh,” the sound whispered from Terill’s smiling lips. “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…”

Jones smiled in response. Then, knowing one could never allow themselves too much of a good thing, he turned and began making his way through the rows of padded slabs, already thinking on how next he could benefit mankind, while all about him thousands of sets of eyes shone with a light that shamed the sun.


Wezleski in Love


Illustration by Erica Henderson

by C.J. Henderson


“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.

“Burn it.”

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.

“For steam.”

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.

Absolutely nothing.

“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?”

“A touch.”

“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“.

Wezleski to the Rescue


Illustration by Bob Snare

by C.J. Henderson


“Philip, t-that can’t be what I think it is…”

The shape stirred at the sound of voices. Its watermelon-sized head swaying back and forth, it sucked down great lungsful of air, snorting away its confusion.

“Can it?”

Remarkably, considering what had just transpired—its forced trip from home, blink-of-an-eye, wham, bye-bye semi-tropical forest/welcome to America—the leathery, gray thing had adapted to the science-shattering moment in which it had just participated quite quickly. Actually, far more quickly than the two presumably more-intelligent men staring at it were managing.

“Around here, Maxie, I think it could be.”

“You don’t mean…”

Already adjusted to its new surroundings, unaware of the uniqueness of its situation, the thing shook itself, casting away the momentary hesitation the newness of sixty-five million years of progress should inspire in a being from the zero end of the equation. No longer concerned with the electric lights, tiled floors, and plastered walls which had replaced the soggy field in which it had been feasting, its head split along a sharp line, displaying several rows of ivory spikes, many still festooned with strips of fatty muscle.

“I think I do mean it, Max. I think I mean that very thing.”

Having cut through the overpowering pungents assailing its nostrils, the shape filtered through the smells of ammonia and paint, ozone and perfume, dust, coffee, and the other uninteresting aromas on the air, zeroing in on the essential odor of the men before it. Bellowing its delight at finally identifying smells in its new world as coming from the tasty column, the thing rose to its full height and began striding forward, the very picture of joyful determination. The pair of men acted with suitable consternation.

“It’s a goddamned dinosaur, Phil!”

“Jesus Christ! Wezleski’s done it again.”

The gentleman was correct. Oh, a complete and hungry saurian was a variation on the usual tune of chaos heard in the halls of the Pelgimbly Center for Advanced Sciences, to be sure, but the melody was far too recognizable. For sadly, the postulate would have to be immediately agreed upon by all in the know, from janitor Swenson to director Aikana, herself, if there was a dinosaur loose, anywhere, anywhere at all in the entire world which, as everyone knows, has not seen claw nor scale of any living dinosaurs for a long, long time, at the bottom of it all had to be Dr. Wendel Q. Wezleski, Ph.D.

“Run, Philip!”

Actually, Professor Philip Morvently was already around the far corner, urging his colleague, the more excitable Dr. Maxim Ginderhoff, to try and keep pace with him. Behind them both, but closing the gap with little difficulty, came the great gray beast which, some thirteen minutes into the future, would come to be know as Fluffkins, but not before a great deal of blood and slaughter and the violent breaking of things which had not been seen outside the venerable halls of the Pelgimbly Center for Advanced Sciences since the last great foreign war, or inside those halls since Thursday previous.

“It’s catching up to us,” announced Phil.

“Quite aware, professor. In fact,” Max ran the figures in his head, glancing over his shoulder one last time to give his equation a final check before presenting it as a hypothesis, “the way it’s managing to out-pace us, I’m thinking it’s line of trajectory is going to intersect ours in less than eleven seconds.”

Agreeing whole-heartedly, Phil shouted back to his colleague;

“Remsley, pages 72 through 75.”

Puzzled, Max almost slowed his pace. Certainly the professor was referring to Otto Remsley, or more specifically, his seminal 1984 text, Living With Fear. But, pages 72 through 75—what that reference could mean he had no idea. Sensing the doctor’s confusion, Phil clarified;

“The paperback, not the hardback.”

Suddenly everything was made clear. But, of course, “Chapter Seven, Agreements Made in Fear.” The point in the book where Remsley quipped so eloquently on the humor in danger when it caught groups by surprise, and the pacts that could be made under such pressures. Max started to chuckle at such wit from his esteemed colleague. Then, his split-second of jolly reverie past, he flashed-back to their current shared reality, remembering exactly what they had been agreeing to, reminded by a snort of white-meat scented moisture on the back of his neck. Grabbing his companion’s sleeve, the doctor tugged with urgency, shouting;

“In here!”

Max and Phil managed to execute a quite dramatic left turn into the second level biology lab just as the brute thing snapped at one or the other of them. Skidding helplessly on janitor Swenson’s immaculate tiles, the great beast slid past the doorway, one massive leg raised upward, swooshing onward to the end of the hall where it collided rather firmly with the far wall, knocking loose two fire extinguishers and the Center’s cherished picture of L.D. Goodhue holding up two fingers behind Johannes Croning’s head at the dinner held the day after the latter had announced his new shell molding process.

“Bar the door.”

Max needed no encouragement from his erstwhile colleague. Indeed, he had already started to slide forward several lab stools and a half full box of Blakely & Son’s Bunsen burners.

“Something heavier, old boy,” Phil chided his partner in amateur survival. “Equal mass. Distribution of force, that sort of thing—yes?”

Max nearly blushed. Even mind-numbing panic of a sort never actually experienced by any living human being was still no excuse for a scientist forgetting his fundamental principles of dynamics.

But, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, he thought, grabbing for something that might stiffen the barrier the pair of researchers were hoping to build between themselves and the slavering thing in the hall, that Wezleski!

There simply wouldn’t be a need for such enthusiasms at all if it weren’t for that darned Wezleski.

Oh, how the name made Max flush with a rage not compatible with his elevated blood pressure. Come to work and find eighty-seven of the eighty-nine windows of the western wing not only shattered, but the resultant shards pincushioning a low flying plane brought to ruin by the shattering, and only one name could be attached as the cause—Wezleski. Break for lunch and hear the arrival of scores of firefighting volunteers along with their hooks, ladders and hoses, all eager to have away at the volcanic eruption transforming the formerly immaculate south lawn into something from a Ray Harryhausen film, and there would be only a single Center member whose reputation might come to mind—Wezleski. Reach for the last jelly doughnut, and find that not only is it missing, but replaced by a spiny creature the length of a standard spatula, the width of a generous dinner plate, with the eyes of a collie and the disposition of an Orthodox Jew at an all-you-can-munch bacon-breakfast and certainly, but one signature could you see on the dotted line…


“Less muttering, more stacking,” encouraged Phil. Oh, to be certain, the professor was not trying to change his companion’s disposition toward their absent brethren, merely his immediate fixation upon him for, outside in the hall, the gray thing had made its way back to the biology laboratory. Already it had begun to pit its tiny, fairly one-dimensional intellect against the awesomely complex three-dimensional concept of the swinging door. And, since it had already shown itself to be somewhat of a Paleozoic genius, it was doubtful Max and Phil had much time left.

The thing stared and stared at the spot where its prey had effectively vanished. It had followed them to the exact spot where it now stood. It knew it was correct in this, for their odor still hung in the air. Indeed, it was strong and juicy and growing stronger, filled with the delicious drippings of desperate fright in which the horror’s growling belly simply delighted. In fact, it could smell them, could hear their squeaking noises, it could practically taste them in the air. It just could not see them. Still, it had not lived to the ripe old age of many passings of the sun by not learning a thing or one thing and another thing. The beast knew that if it could smell something, it was there. So, trusting its nose, it began moving forward toward the wall.

Its snout touching the door, the thing was taken with the fact that this flat gray nothing seemed somehow different than the flat gray nothing into which it had slammed several minutes earlier. Whereas its forceful encounter with that flat gray nothing had been rather painful, it losing the lop-sided battle quite completely, this flat grayness was different. It was not stationary. It moved.

“It’s pushing the door!”

“Well then do join me in pushing it back.”

The scientists resisted with the strength they would use to oppose the theory of a flat earth, or the rights of cinema stars to proselytize for scientific causes. The memory of Susan Sarandon and Wynona Ryder lecturing the General Assembly on the dangers of conservative Christians being allowed to clone mad armies for Jesus still burned into his mind, Max strove valiantly to hold the breach by himself as he shouted;

“Phil, release all the animals.”


“Just do it!”

No Wezleski, of course, Dr. Maxim Ginderhoff was still an intellect with which to be reckoned. All throughout the biology room, cages adorned the walls and floor filled with all manner of experimental fish, fowl, and furbearer. As Phil threw open latch after latch, allowing escape for the various chickens, cats, white mice and so on, Max began kicking away bits and pieces of their barrier, even as the thing in the hall started increasing its efforts to reach the delicious sounds it heard multiplying inside the lab. Reaching the monkey cages, Phil asked;

“Even Brodsky’s chimps?”


“He’ll be awfully cross, he’s very keen on how close he is with his cancer research.”

“Open the cages.”

“Max, he’s got them up to two packs a day.”

“Philip! Unfasten the bolts or I shall stroll over there, unfasten the deltoids of your left shoulder from the area of the trapezius, grasp the resultant dislocated appendage firmly at the intersection of ulna and carpals and beat you to death with it!”

Sensing the seriousness in Max’s tone, Phil complied, releasing Dr. Brodsky’s prize chimps into the melee, all eight of which immediately began an insane search for cigarettes, seven for the cool, fresh taste of Marlboros, only one determined to uncover the coveted pack of Winterfresh Menthol Lites the doctor saved for those of their octet who performed exceptionally well, ringing the right bell in response to the proper colored light series or managing to get at least an act or two of Hamlet typed up from memory before coughing up a nicotine-flavored lu’gee into their IBM Selectric.

Finally, with hamsters, ducks, rabbits and everything else filling the air with fur, feathers and consternation, Phil rejoined Max at the door. Adding his delicate but willing shoulder to the barricade, he both informed Max that all the test subjects had been released and inquired as to just why the hell such a thing had been done. The doctor explained.

“I’m willing to wager that our friend out there, eager as it is to acquaint itself with the best scientific minds of our day, is not all that erudite itself.”

“Points conceded,” Phil granted as the door continued to push inward. “Go on.”

“I’m thinking,” answered Max, just catching his balance as the beast pulled away for a moment, causing the door to rush back toward the hallway once more, “that if one side of a swinging door confused our new best friend, that similar results might be achieved by the opposite side as well.”

“Acceptable premise,” agreed Phil as the beast came at the door again, expending much more force than it had previously. Digging in his J.C. Penny loafers, he asked, “have you given much thought to testing it?”

“Indeed. If you note, our friend has fallen into a pattern of pressing against the door, pulling back, and then coming forward with more force. Delightfully predictable. I propose when next it relents, we back away, and then, when it comes forward again, we allow it to enter the laboratory while we exit. Once inside…”

“With all the animals on the menu…”

“He will forget about us…”

“And we can trap him in the lab!”


The great beast stopped for a moment, vibrations it had never felt before stunning its external radar.

“He’s slowing…”

“Now or never…”

The thing was shocked. The spark that raw human consciousness could generate had actually touched it through the door, not harmed it, no—not a physical touching…

“He’s still there—you can feel him.”

But, pressed against the moving gray nothing, the mindless thing almost awakened, almost noticed something beyond the few senses it knew and trusted so well. But then, the first of the new aromas caught hold—

Inside, Max rapidly waved the notes he was carrying, a rather insightful symposium lecture he was to deliver at 2:30 on the social significance of the fact that Monty’s Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” was the most requested song at funerals around the world, blowing the rising smell of the lab animals under the door.

“Come on, big fella, we do chicken right.”

Suddenly the air was alive with a thousand new pure fats and bloods that were so overpowering as to intoxicate. The beast wavered on its feet, giddy with wonder at what treasure might be inside the vast gray nothing.

“He’s going to move soon, yes…?”

“I’d say in three…”

His foot on the side of his body which was not the other side of his body dug into the treacherous floor. His eyes hooded, shoulders flattened—

“And two…”

Deep breath, rush of blood, brain exploding with oxygen, order given—forward!


Max and Phil fell to the floor with the grace quickly learned by all those whose permanent place of employment was the Pelgimbly Center for Advanced Sciences, falling back with the perfect rhythm all truly rational souls gain in times of stress. Two-stepping as the door swung open, violently propelled as it was by the blood-fever rush of the only dinosaur to know the sweet dream of feasting on domesticated lives, the esteemed doctor of thermodynamic physics bounced back toward the hall with the much-valued professor of non-linear philosophy sliding out quietly behind him.

Allowing the door to swing shut, they locked it quickly with Morvently’s official key as a dean of sciences, and then slid down the wall opposite, laughing and cursing, ignoring the hideous screaming, screaming, screaming coming from the other side of the door as they tried to answer the questions of the many flocking to find out what all the previous commotion had been about. There were, of course, a goodly faction who were also quite curious about the screaming, screaming, screaming as well.

In only a few minutes Dr. Ginderhoff and Professor Morvently were able to give a fairly detailed account of what had happened to them, specifying their suspicions of grievous blame and to which of Dr. Wezleski’s addresses to forward them to in their footnotes, despite the constant questions from those in the crowd, especially janitor Swenson, although it was apparent he was mostly concerned with how his tiles had gotten so streaked, and who was going to have to clean up “…der stinkin’ piles of dinosaur crap,” and of course, the screaming, screaming, screaming, when suddenly, the constant din of the country dinner being served tartar in the main dining room of the biology laboratory… stopped.

No more screams.

None at all.

For a very long moment…

And then…

“Who in hell took my Luckies?”

“Wezleski?” asked Phil.

“Wezleski,” snarled Max, diabolical loathing closing one of his eyes, curling his delicately sensitive instrument-like hands into fists. “Wezleski!” snapped Max, envy and humiliation raging against the indifference he knew the crazed Wezleski would feel toward everything that had happened in his wake.

As the crowd moved toward the swinging door of the biology lab, they all gasped involuntarily as the door suddenly open.

“Hey, some kind of mess in there, huh?”

Dr. Ginderhoff moved forward, moustache twitching, open eye bulging, face crimsoning over like Russian wheat at sunset, his hands clutching and opening, clutching and squeezing, only to find himself blocked by the venerable Director Aikana. Knowing her staff all too well, the good Director thwarted the promised blood-letting with a bit of tact, deflecting the doctor’s misplaced rage into a weapon for truth.

“Dr. Wezleski,” she snapped with authority. “What was that thing? Why did you bring it to the Center? Explain yourself before those horrid people from UPN force their way in here again.”

“Oh, you must mean Fluffkins,” answered the somewhat dazed looking scientist. “I noticed him leaving through the field as I returned.”

“What?” The innocent single word was actually voiced by a number of the crowd. Indeed, there were a great many exclamations, but this one is quite representative and thus should suffice.

“I thought I’d finally cracked the problem with inter-dimensional travel. Trouble is, I only back-doored my way into time travel again.”

“Groan…” Once more, not a complete tally of reactions.

Wezleski opened the door behind him and invited everyone to move into biology lab 5A, or as it would be affectionately remembered for years after, ye olde slaughterhouse, as if ushering them into Fluffkins dining hall would somehow endear them to his tale. But, unbelievably, after but a few fairly incomprehensible moments of explanation, the eye-popping reaction to which can only be compared to the first ever audience to experience Willis O’Brien’s King Kong; the sensation of seeing the Earth as only the astronauts have—floating in space, back in the womb, snaggled to a life-giving umbilical, viewing a motherfigure the size of everything and the width of it squared; or that wonderful moment in 1905 when a brave new world was created at the moment when elastic rubber replaced the traditional whalebone and lacing used in women’s foundation garments, the Director said;

“You’re telling us, that when you went through the time stream you displaced an equal mass to yourself and what you took inside with you. It could have been two hundred and fifty three pounds of sea water, or coal, or riverbottom that came to us, but no, precisely, it was a dinosaur of a vary nasty, snapping, unbehaved type we had to contend with while you dallied elsewhere.”

“Yeah, I think so,” admitted Wezleski, puzzling to remember if he had meant anything else.

“And before I assess the damage you have done to our esteemed Center, yet again, Dr. Wezleski, I want to know something… Why did you call that beast ‘Fluffkins,’ as if you knew it?”

“Because I did know it.”

Now, remarkably, at this point, having lived through so many purely wezleskian moments as that shard of time they were all sharing with the only M.I.T./Yale/Cambridge alumni to have ever taken The Most Dangerous Man in Science Nomination twenty-six times in only eleven years (the duplications caused by his common, multiple category nominations within the same year, usually creating a split vote that would allow some other knucklehead to walk away with the trophy), you would have thought at least someone would have begun edging toward the door.

“You see,” he explained, with that unknowing way he had of luring the foolish to their doom, “geared as I was for intra-dimensional travel through inter-dimensional means, when I hit the damn time stream again, my ratial-mass threw an anchor out to pull me back—Fluffkins. But, since I was on an extended trip, I was actually there before, during and after his…”


“Excuse me, Dr. Ginderhoff?” asked Wezleski.

“It’s not a ‘him,’ it’s an ‘it.’”

“Hey, I was with him long enough to assign enough anthropomorphic characteristics to allow the pattern to establish itself. Comprende?”

Ginderhoff hated Wezleski’s embracing of popular culture means to explain his sloppier descriptive characteristics. Then again, he hated Wezleski’s favorite lunch, any tune he might chance to whistle, and even the tie given him by the Women’s Alliance for Runaway Decency. Honestly, he just plain hated Wezleski. But, with his vision blurring and the pain in his arm turning to numbness, he decided he had more important things to think about at that moment.

“Anyway,” Wezleski continued, “I disappeared from where I was twice, Fluffkins, three times. That means I was able to study him after he ate all the bio critters.”

“Hold on sixty seconds,” snapped Professor Morvently. “How could you have been around this creature any length of time? It obviously considers the human smell the dinner bell…”

“You have to rub yourself with fruit juice and not give off any signs of fear. All right?”

Morvently rolled his eyes. The crowd stared. Aikana wondered about this research Wezleski had mentioned. Her need to find dollars in any situation, the Director steered the conversation back to the doctor’s studies.

“Oh, yeah… anyway, I ran tests on ol’ Fluffkins when he got back. It’s a complete study of the effects of modern life on prehistoric cultures. Fluffkins chowed down on mega overdoses of nicotine and perfume extracts and carcinogens—everything that was in biology. I’ve got it all stretched—the numbers ring. Someone out there should be happy.”

Aikana smiled. Her mad bomber of scientific research had done it again. No matter which outcome the research favored, she already knew to whom she could sell it. Her soul lifted as the tally she could see for damages and lost loveable furry things was far outstripped by the minimum bids she could already hear jangling in the Center’s deepening pockets. Pleased beyond reason, she spoke without thinking.

“Well done, doctor,” she cooed, meaning it. Loving him once more. “Do give me you notes.”

“Sure,” answered Wezleski without hesitation, always happy to follow the dictates of the Director, “One minute. I left them on the other side.”

Turning on his heel, he reached out and grabbed an arm.

“C’mon Swenson, help me look for those notes.”

And the two men stepped through the time portal to retrieve the asked-for papers. Sending not two hundred and fifty three pounds over to the other side, but some five hundred and eighteen pounds instead. Of course, it might have displaced some five hundred and eighteen pounds of sea water, or coal, or even of riverbottom. But no, none of those were precisely what was returned.

What anchored their trip was something smaller than the last time. Tiny in comparison—but still remained the rows of ivory spikes and unruly disposition. Smaller, indeed, just more of them. Two hundred and fifty-three more of them, to be exact. All of whom, upon arrival in ye olde slaughterhouse, heard one massive sound voiced from some thirty-two various throats: