Much later, license denied – somehow the employees at Caledon’s Division of Motorized Vehicles turned out to take a dim and, to Luminos’ mind, a rather unenlightened view of the scientist’s recent driving record. He was also surprised that they came to this conclusion only after having him wait in several different long lines. – he remembered the impending appointment. Giving the matter of a second some thought, and reviewing the number of people in Caledon who (a) had forgiven him for the cross-breeding experiment (cockroaches and snakes – producing venomous bugs that reproduced seemingly at will) and (b) were willing to serve as a second, he called upon me.
“Uncle Roland! What a…surprise,” I said, greeting him in the doorway of my house in the Downs. I was wearing a tattered housecoat and fuzzy slippers in the form of vorpal bunnies and sipping a cup of tea while I decided what to wear to the Big Brass Ball that evening in Steam Sky City. Dr. Luminos was not my uncle, of course, but I jokingly called him that ever since I had once said he was so much nicer than my actual Uncle Eamon. I will write about Uncle Eamon when my therapist gives me the green light to do so.
“I seem to have found myself agreeing to a duel with Pettifog tomorrow morning, what ho, and I am in need of a second. Care to do the honors?”
“You certainly get right down to it, Uncle Roland. No small talk with you.”
“That seemed to be what got me in trouble in the first place, my dear. I’m exchanging pleasantries with old Pettifog, and the next thing I know I’m defending my honor tomorrow at dawn.” He eventually got out a version of the story. I assumed there was an innocent explanation for everything, but I knew I would never find it. I sighed and agreed to be there for him.
“Have you given any thought to weapons?” I asked. My hope was to direct him toward something non-lethal, as unlikely as that sounded.
“Oh yes indeed! Been giving it my undivided attention. Well, most of my attention, at any rate. I spend exactly fifteen seconds every minute thinking about a better combination of animals to cross-breed, and six seconds thinking about ways to torture the DMV employees until they return my license. Other than that, I’m focused on the weapons, eh what?”
I made a gesture that he correctly interpreted as my being desirous of knowing his choice. “There’s the pistol, of course. Miss Malaprop has a fine selection. Classic, really. I thought about my latest project: a pellet gun with two barrels.”
“What’s so special about that?”
“Well, dear thing, the left barrel shoots a pellet of ordinary matter, and the right shoots a similar pellet of a substance I call ‘anti-matter.’ The barrels are not perfectly parallel to one another – user-adjustable, of course. Set the distance of the target. Both pellets eject simultaneously, and meet at the target. If my calculations are correct, the resulting explosion will be quite satisfactory. Fiendish, eh what?”
I worry about Uncle Roland’s sanity sometimes.
“Of course, still a few problems to be worked out. Can’t quite figure out how to hold the anti-matter pellet in the gun. Can’t quite figure out how to create anti-matter in the first place. Problem, problems. But I’ll solve them eventually. Always have.”
“So, ah, perhaps this particular project is not ready for a formal unveiling tomorrow, and you might go to something a little more proven, Uncle?”
“P’r’aps, p’r’aps. In the end, I think I shall choose my miniaturizing gun.”
This seemed a particularly poor choice, and I said so. His mind was made up, however, so he retreated back to his laboratory in the Moors to construct a second gun along with the prototype. I promised to meet him at the graveyard the next morning.
Needless to say, there was no Ball in my future that evening, as I mulled over how to prevent a tragedy. Or at least to reduce the degree of farce. Half a bottle of absinthe later, I was no closer to a solution, though I was far closer to the floor.
(Next: The Thrilling Conclusion!)