It was unusual, but not unheard of, for a patent registration to be delivered personally. What Dr. Brackett couldn’t know was that it would never be an Investigator who made that kind of delivery.
“I see you’ve left your charming assistant behind,” she said.
“Yes, Violet’s quite busy today. And anyway, this is just routine.”
Ben handed Dr. Brackett the patent. “This one’s pretty remarkable,” he said. “They’ll be able to build a telescope as wide as… as wide as the orbit of Venus. Or, you know, whatever size they want.”
“Oh, there will be limits,” said Dr. Brackett. “There are always limits. That’s how people like me stay in business, isn’t it? Here, please have a seat.”
Ben sat on the couch at the end farthest from Dr. Brackett’s curious floor lamp. He set down his clipboard with its single preliminary patent application while Dr. Brackett wandered over to the lamp and reached for the dial.
A minute or so later Violet, Professor Zappencackler, and Zappencackler’s young assistant broke down the laboratory door. They found Ben seated on the couch, bathed by the eerie blue rays of the floor lamp. Violet was the first to reach the lamp. She turned its dial down, slowly, and the blue rays grew fainter until they had disappeared.
Ben remained unresponsive for a moment, but at last he blinked twice and wiped his forehead. “Did it work?” he asked.
Violet pointed down the hall. “They’re looking for her now,” she said.
Ben got up and the two of them went looking for Professor Zappencackler.
They found him, standing with his assistant, in one of Dr. Brackett’s workrooms. There was a lot of electrical apparatus arranged on two of the tables, with a bank of red lights, a bank of green lights, and three peculiar control panels that seemed, somehow, not to be entirely there.
Dr. Brackett was suspended in the air between the banks of lights. There was something wrong with the texture of her skin (scales) and most of her hair had disappeared (feathers). Her legs had shrunken considerably, and her face….
Ben hoped that someday he’d be able to forget about her face.
“Lew,” said the Professor, one hand on his assistant’s shoulder. “Could you gather her up? We probably won’t need the….”
He pointed down. Ben hoped he’d be able forget what he saw there, too.
Lew started to bundle up what had recently been Dr. Brackett.
The Professor turned to Ben. “Really, quite a remarkable result,” he said. He seemed very pleased. “She’ll furnish us with weeks of study.”
“So…” Ben kept his eyes on Zappencackler. “I guess that’s what you, uh, expected?”
“Oh, hardly! Half the time we don’t know what to expect. That’s what makes this so exciting.”
“So when you filled out that preliminary patent application….”
Violet stepped up next to him. “You mean you didn’t even know what would happen to her when she tried to complete the experiment? That seems… so risky.”
The Professor looked from her to Ben. “You should bring your friends around more often, Ben. No, young lady, I didn’t know exactly what would happen. But I did know that twelve different aspects of this experiment would be very harmful to any carbon-based life form that attempted it. Honestly, she got much farther than I could have dreamed.”
He seemed to disapprove of something in the area of the room that Ben wasn’t looking at. “No, Lew! Use the bucket! Why do you think we brought the bucket?”
He shook his head. “Assistants these days. I don’t know what to tell you. Anyway, no human being could complete that experiment before it, heh heh, completed her. And that, as you can see, is all I needed to know. Don’t you agree?”
Back at the Patent Registry, Ben and Violet sank back into their normal tasks, hoping that somehow their routine would help them forget the penultimate fate of Dr. Brackett. Not her ultimate fate; that would be starting, right about now, in the dim tiled rooms of Zappencackler’s laboratory. What they already knew was more than enough.
The Registrar wasn’t able to receive their report, though. He’d been called to an urgent meeting by thirteen different department heads in City Government.
Ben leaned back with his coffee. Violet was idling, too; her typing chores seemed to be complete.
“This could be it,” he said, and toasted her with his coffee cup. “Could be the last day of Mr. Sleepyhead.”
The Registrar’s door was hanging open.
“Oh, it is,” she told him. When he raised an eyebrow she admitted that there was a lot of informative interchange between secretaries.
“So you’ll be hoping that the new Registrar is more receptive to those aspirations of yours.”
“Well, there’s always hope,” Violet said. “But I’ve found it’s more useful to take an active stance.”
“I’ll put in a word…”
“Oh, that’s very thoughtful of you.”
“…if you need it.”
She looked back calmly – or so he supposed – and glanced at the coffeepot. “More?”
“I’ll make it,” he said quickly. “You just… you just relax.” He got up and opened up the coffeemaker.
“It was very brave, what you did,” she said behind him. “I was a little worried about you.”
And then they just sat and waited for the news that they were getting a new Patent Registrar.
The Files of the Retropolis Registry of Patents continue with Doctor Petaja's Parlor of Peril.