Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ray Guns at Dawn! (Part 1)

This is the tale of how Uncle Roland stopped driving.

The other day, walking in the Moors, Mr. Peter Pettifog encountered Dr. Roland Luminos while the latter was en route to Victoria City. The two were acquainted, and Mr. Pettifog greeted the other with a hearty, “Hello, Luminos! Where have you been hiding, you scalawag?”

Dr. Luminos is an eminent scientist – you may recall some of his experiments, such as the anti-gravity belt (not entirely successful; most believe the test pig is still accelerating away from Earth, though long since dead, of course), or the zombie re-animation elixir (sadly, the newly alive remained psychotic; the Home Guard killed six or seven before the Guv made Dr. Luminos stop experimenting). However, he is also somewhat elderly, and suffers from hearing loss, though he refuses to admit it. He simply does the best he can with what he does hear.

“I say, it’s Pettifog! Good day, old chap. Haven’t seen you in elephants’ years. Been chiding an old hag, have you? Not very sporting, eh?”

His interlocutor looked confused. “Hag? No, I said…never mind. Where are you bound?”

“Victoria City. I’m told I need to seek to retrieve my automobile driver’s license. Had a bit of a smash-up the other day, and the bobby said, ‘What-ho, Luminos? Third time this month. Better have a look-see to the licensing people, check your eyes, give you a little test, that sort of thing.’ I bristled a little because, of course, none of those mishaps were my doing, but no arguing with John Bull, eh? So off to VC for me to explain to the good folk that my driving skills are as good as ever.” That last claim was likely true. Unfortunately, Dr. Luminos was always a terrible driver. He would think of an answer to a problem that had been vexing him and then forget he was driving. His mechanic limited the top speed of the doctor’s vehicle to ten miles per hour in an altruistic gesture to enhance public safety; Dr. L. never noticed the performance drop and, ever since, his accidents have involved less damage.

“Ah, yes. Good luck with that, Luminos. Do well on your test.”

Now it was the scientist’s turn to look confused. “You’re challenging me to a duel? I can’t imagine how I offended you, old bean, but not my call to make, eh? Well, never let it be said a Luminos shrinks from duty. I accept!”

Peter Pettifog sold municipal bonds for a living. He was carrying perhaps thirty extra pounds, much of it in a large belly he had achieved through a sedentary lifestyle and a love of rich food, and he was deathly afraid of guns. He was confident that he had not challenged anyone to a duel, much less the main who invented a miniaturizing ray gun (unfortunately, the gun worked by compressing molecules, so the target became much smaller, much more dense, and, if a living creature, much, much more dead). Yet he had his pride. Dr. Luminos had spoken quite loudly – a hazard among those with hearing loss – and several people had come out of their houses and shops to see what the excitement was about. These people had heard the scientist’s acceptance of a non-existent challenge; to correct Luminos now would be seen as backing out of the affair, and Pettifog could not suffer that loss of face.

“G-g-good,” he stammered. “Dawn tomorrow at the graveyard? Your choice of w-w-weapon, I believe.”

“Good God, man, stop stuttering. Someone might think you hadn’t the spine to follow through with your challenge, eh? Can’t take offense at every little perceived slight and challenge a man to a duel if you don’t have the stomach for it, old blighter.” He chuckled and scratched his white beard. “Never fear, I’ll have the pistols for us. Dawn it is, then!” With that farewell, he continued strolling toward Victoria City, as though he had no greater care than to retrieve his precious license.

(To be continued in Part 2!)

No comments: