The belt had the feel of snakeskin, though Dodger had never seen the likes of a bright silver snake before. Knowing the professor, Dodger wouldn’t have been surprised if the leather came from some mythical beast. A dial the width of Dodger’s thumb rested atop the buckle. Assorted marks ran along the rim of the dial, as did colors, but Dodger had no idea what the marks or colors meant, for none was labeled—the unfortunate result of an unfinished project.
Using the tip of his cane to point out the various mechanisms, the professor explained, “The belt employs your skin as a conductor, through which it passes the infinitium rays. Your skin then projects these rays outward in an exact wavelength. Around one hundred and fifty millimeters or, in your colloquialism, six inches. When activated, anything within the confines of this wavelength is shrunk along with you. Including clothing, weapons, other objects, anything at all.”
“Other folks?” Dodger asked.
“No. As the rays move through your body, they adopt your biofeedback rhythm, which in turn allows the infinitium to adjust your size because you become part of the emission process. But other living things will not shrink, because their biorhythms cancel out the effects of the rays.”
“The dial controls the sizing effects. When you’re ready, just turn it to the left—that’s your left, not mine—and the belt will activate. Keep turning until you achieve the size you desire. Take it slow at first. The change can be a bit disorienting.”
“How small can we go?” Dodger asked.
“However small you require. Though I wouldn’t recommend anything smaller than an oxygen molecule. You wouldn’t want to suffocate to death, would you?”
“Now, there are also a few rules you must observe for safety’s sake. Are you two paying attention? Good. First of all, you must keep the belts on at all times. Unlike the larger projection ray over there, the belts have a limited capacity for holding a compression of atoms. Once activated, the mechanism emits a continual pulse of infinitium rays, albeit on a smaller scale, allowing you to maintain your desired size. As long as you are wearing the belt, you will remain the size indicated on the dial. But remove it and you will return to normal, very slowly, over a period of around two minutes. Understood?”
“Yes,” Dodger and Duncan said together.
“Second, and this is very important, anything released from your field of projection will return to normal size after two minutes as well. Understood?”
“Not so much,” Duncan confessed.
“It’s rather simple, young man. Let’s say you shrink your gun but then drop the thing from your six-inch field. Once it breaks that field, it will return to normal within a few minutes, because it is no longer receiving the continuous pulse of rays. And no picking up the item again thinking that will solve the issue. The initial projection of rays is strong enough to shrink things beyond your epidermis, but after that, the booster pulses are only strong enough to reinforce the compression of the atoms, not compress them further. Once an object fails to receive a boost of rays, it will begin to revert to its natural size. Understood?”
“I suppose so. How do we return to normal?”
“Just turn the dial all the way to the right,” the professor said. “It will return you and everything in your projection range to normal proportions. Speaking of which, bear in mind that you cannot enlarge something beyond its normal proportions.”
Duncan looked confused again.
“He means we can’t make a mouse the size of a mule,” Dodger said.
“Correct!” the professor exclaimed, clapping at his employee’s cleverness. “Yes. No enlarging. Only shrinking. I’m afraid making things bigger involves a whole different ray.” The professor rubbed his hands excitedly. “Returning to your normal size shouldn’t be as disorienting as shrinking, but it might make you a little nauseated. So again, take it slow. There you are, men. That’s all there is to it.”
“Are you sure that’s all it takes?” Duncan asked. “It sounds suspiciously easy.”
“Shushpishioush ish about right,” Ched teased.
“Hush you,” the professor said. “Dodger, you’ll need this.” He passed Dodger a thin metal box. It took a moment for Dodger to recognize it as a Sunbox. “It’s a special slim design, so it should fit your six-inch requirement. But you’ll need to wind it more often as a result, because it will not store as much power. It only holds a fifteen-minute charge.”
“Thanks,” Dodger said.
“And lastly, you should both wear these.” The professor handed Dodger a small metal button. And that’s about all it was too. A small, nondescript metal circle with a stickpin affixed to the back. The doc handed a similar button to Duncan.
“What is this?” Dodger asked.
“I call it the S.N.I.F.E.R. or Sub-aural Noise Fixation for Exact Retrieval.”
“What is it?” Dodger repeated.
“A homing device.”
“It’s a sensor that emits a low-frequency tone, indistinguishable to the human ear. Hence the sub-aural part.”
“And?” Dodger asked, knowing there was more.
“And Mr. Torque—who is waiting at the Rhino for my command, if Ched did as asked—can track it using his sonar receptors. Rather like a dog sniffing out his master, though I wouldn’t let him in on that metaphor if I were you. Point being, he can home in on wherever you are. I thought we might track the pair of you as you move through the tunnel. That is if you approve, of course.”
“Approve? Of course I approve.” Why wouldn’t he? The idea was brilliant! Brilliant and clever and revolutionary and one of any number of useful things just sitting around the professor’s lab, collecting dust rather than being put to good use. “Sir, when we get done here, I wanna talk to you about equipping everyone aboard the Sleipnir with one of these. Is that possible?”
“Yes, but …” The doc paused as he eyed Dodger cautiously. “Why would I do that?”
“Because if your niece had been wearing one of these, we could have gone straight to her rather than relying on the Pack’s messenger.”
“Ah, I see. Yes, that makes sense. Why didn’t I think of it? Better still, why didn’t Boon? You continue to prove your worth by the hour, young man.”
“Not at all, sir. I’m just having a good day. I’m sure Boon had his good days.”
“He certainly did.” The professor smiled at the pleasant memory of just such days.
“Sheriff,” Dodger said as he pinned the S.N.I.F.E.R. onto his shirt. “After we get gone, I recommend you send someone to William’s place and search it, top to bottom. If we can’t find him, then maybe you’ll find something to explain his sudden disappearance.”
“I’m on it,” the sheriff said.
“Why are you taking orders from him?” the banker asked.
“It wasn’t an order. You heard the man; it was a recommendation. And if you must know, it was something I planned on doing anyway.”
“You planned on ransacking my assistant’s home?”
“Since you put it that way, yes, sir.”
Biddlesworth reclined on the couch, turning his face to the ceiling with an overly dramatic sigh. “Am I the only one still in touch with reality here?”
“I don’t think anyone is,” Dodger said. “Not when it comes down to it.”
“Are you gentlemen ready?” the professor asked.
“As I’ll ever be,” Duncan said.
“Ched,” Dodger said. “Can I have a word?”
The driver stepped aside with Dodger, while the men pretended to ignore them. The professor in particular struggled to pretend he wasn’t paying attention.
“Will you do me a favor?” Dodger asked in a whisper.
“Dependsh,” Ched said.
“It’s easy. I promise.”
The driver shrugged, still unwilling to commit.
“If something should happen,” Dodger said, “would you tell Boon I’m sorry? I didn’t mean to come off as a tyrant. I’m just not used to working so closely with others. Or making friends.” Dodger smiled, hoping it would encourage the driver to pass along the message out of sympathy. But the driver was, as always, unmoved by such things.
“Tell him yourshelf,” Ched said with a snort. “Hesh been shulking around you all morning.”
Dodger was surprised. Usually he could feel the presence of the ghost lingering around him. “Where is he?”
As casually as he could manage, which was not very casually at all, the driver raised his bony arm and thrust a thin finger at the far corner of the bank. Dodger peered hard into the corner, straining his eyes. With the drapes pulled and the door closed, the room was just dark enough to allow the spirit some shape. And yes, Dodger could just make out the form of the ghost lingering in the shadows of the darkened corner. Dodger thought about going to him or calling out, but the moment Boon realized Dodger could see him, he slipped away through the wall and was gone.
“He shure ish shore at you,” Ched said.
“Yeah,” Dodger said. “I guess I deserve it. And worse.”
Ched merely laughed at that.
Dodger left the chuckling driver behind as he stepped into the vault and ducked inside the cubby, leaving enough room for Duncan to join him. There was a pause, in which Dodger assumed Duncan was saying his goodbyes in case something went horribly wrong. After this slight delay, Duncan joined Dodger in the tight space of the cubbyhole.
“Are you certain you want to come with me?” Dodger asked. “This might not be safe.”
“I have to,” Duncan said. “That man out there has been riding me like a pony for months. It would do my heart glad to prove him wrong for once.”
Dodger couldn’t agree more. He had only known the banker a few hours and felt very much the same resentment. “And what if I’m wrong?”
“Either way, it will still be worth the adventure to find out.”
And that was the kind of enthusiasm for which Dodger was hoping. “On the count of three, turn your dial by increments to the left until I say stop. Got it?”
Dodger saw the worry and trepidation in the deputy’s tired eye, but there was little to be done about it now.
“Two,” Dodger said as the deputy mouthed the word with him.
He drew a deep breath and readied himself for the impossible, once again.
“Three,” Dodger said, then turned his dial one click to the left.
And with the action, the world exploded around him.