It took a little longer to reach Dr. Brackett’s laboratory the next morning. There was a breakout along Chien-Shiung Way that blocked several of the adjacent streets with packs of small, ravenous creatures who looked like a cross between an armadillo and a snail. They were surprisingly fast, as Ben learned when Violet whipped him out of their way. Anyhow all the neighborhood inventors were out on their porches and stoops, each armed with something that was arguably more dangerous than a snailadillo.
As always, this led to some cross-disciplinary disagreements. The whole affair stopped just short of a riot, and after half an hour Ben and Violet were able to crawl out of the crater where they’d taken shelter. Their way was nearly clear; they were only attacked by one more viscous, armored pack on their way. The sidewalks, unfortunately, were now coated with slime and shell fragments and the remains of every anti-snailadillo countermeasure that had been brought to bear, including one actual bear with something like a colander strapped to its cranium.
“Your first time?” Ben asked.
“Oh, no,” Violet told him. “I’ve been here before.”
Dr. Brackett met them at the door, smiling and friendly. Ben introduced Violet as his assistant and they were led in. The Brackett laboratory was unusually… tidy, Ben thought. All her experiments were divided by discipline on orderly tables; maybe that’s why there seemed to be so few of them. Normally there would be a frantic and dangerous clutter with little regard for the effects of one experiment on the ones to either side. This was a part of the reason Ben had come to think of Dr. Brackett as unusually sane.
“Some problem with the new application?”
They had settled into a kind of nook near a kitchen area – the lab’s only kitchen, probably – and Ben had, as usual, declined the tea and cakes Dr. Brackett offered. He’d warned Violet to avoid the three-weight oil, too.
“Just a few things that weren’t quite clear. About those light rays and the, uh, the telescope.”
Dr. Brackett rose to adjust a standing lamp that was directed at the couch where Ben and Violet were sitting. Her hand lingered on a dial near its shade.
“I’m sure we can clear that up,” she said. “What exactly did you want to –”
On their way down the steps, Ben laughed to himself. “I can’t believe we were so suspicious,” he said. “When there’s nothing…”
“…to worry about?” Violet finished.
He stopped so suddenly that he nearly tripped. “Jeepers.”
They turned back to look at the façade of Dr. Brackett’s reinforced bunker.
“So…” he started, after a moment. “Once we sat down, what do you….”
“We spoke for a moment, she got up, and thirty-two milliseconds later we were walking down the steps.”
They looked around. Whatever had happened, they were still in the middle of the Experimental Research District and in that situation the best plan was to get out, as quickly as possible. They hurried between the squatting rows of laboratories.
“Do you think she knows what you remember?” Ben asked.
“We can’t be sure,” Violet said. “I think it might be extremely dangerous to ask her.”
“I was hoping that you’d be immune to whatever she’s doing.”
“Maybe I am,” Violet said. They rounded a corner and stepped out of the way of the bear, who was still roaming freely. The colander on the bear’s head was sparking now with big, green sparks that seemed to be looking for something. “I don’t have the same false memories that you have. But I can’t remember anything else, either.”
“When we get back to the office I want you to check your internal clock against, I don’t know, all the other clocks? To see if you’re missing any time.”
“I’m not,” she said. “I’ve already checked against the readings of the Time Reference Bureau.”
“So it starts with Time,” Ben decided. “She’s doing something outside of the flow of Time.”
“If she’s outside the normal flow of Time there’s no mystery about how she develops those preliminary reports into full patent applications. Apparently she can have all the time she needs, squeezed into thirty-two milliseconds.”
They could just see the safety of the Street of Wings in the distance.
“Then the other thing is the memories,” Ben said. “And my bet is that she’s developed Professor Fenwick’s dream research into a way to create them.”
Ben glared at her. “Naturally? Really?”
“It’s probably a little harder for you,” Violet said. “You’ve been… intruded on. You’re having an emotional reaction to what she did to you.”
They pressed on. Only one more block to go.
“And I suppose you don’t have emotional reactions?”
“You’ve met the Registrar, haven’t you?”
Ben grunted. Then he came to a stop and grabbed her by one arm.
“Say, wait. What if we build some kind of Farraday cage around your head? You know, so your brain and your eyes are separate from your body. Inside the cage. I could, like, wheel your head around on a dolly. That way you might be protected from whatever she did to us, like, uh, like an electromagnetic field effect, and you can explain it to me after.”
Violet removed his hand from her arm.
“Oh, or even better!” she said brightly. “What if we extract your brain and encant it into a tube? Suspended in solution inside that thick glass, your neural processes might be isolated from Dr. Brackett’s effect. And then you can explain it to me.”
He stared at her.
“They’re doing wonderful things with those tubes, lately. They can even put your brain on a little motorized cart. There’s a choice of sensory apparatus.”
“Okay,” he said. “Point taken. No Farraday cage.”
“Are you sure? Those little brain carts are very sporty.”
“Sorry. Really. Meant no offense.”
“But somehow, we need to get around whatever it was she did to us.”
They started down the street again. Safety was just ahead.
“When we get back to the office I’ll make a pot of coffee, Ben. That seems to keep you on track.”
It was just an idea, Ben thought. The Farraday cage. No need to get all sensitive about it. But, wisely, he said nothing.