From Slide to Slab
In which Dodger helps implement big plans
The process did require a lot of room.
A lot of room and, as it turned out, a lot of energy.
The professor and Ched readied the equipment while Lelanea and Feng prepared a makeshift infirmary. Dodger’s sole task was to keep a firm and steady hand on the slide. Everyone seemed both excited and worried by the task ahead. Everyone save for Mr. Torque, who lingered in the doorway of the meeting cab behind the rest of the crew, sulking over what he referred to as a ‘personal violation’ by Miss Lelanea.
Dodger, for lack of anything better to do, inquired as to the nature of the machine the pair of men was installing in the long shadows of the setting sun.
“The EPR,” the professor explained, “or Enlarging Projection Ray, works much like the shrinking belts, only in a sort of reverse manner. It makes things bigger as apposed to making them smaller. The only drawback is that enlargement doesn’t last nearly as long as the shrinking effects of the belts or the shrink ray. The typical enlargement only lasts a few minutes, which is why the EPR never found its way onto the common market. It seems that when folks enlarge something, they wish for it to remain so, permanently.”
“What good will a few minutes do?” Dodger asked.
“It will allow us to confirm that this friend of yours is still alive,” Lelanea said.
“And if he is,” the doc said, “I think I can provide a way for him to remain his normal size.” The doc patted the silver belt slung over his shoulder. “Are you done setting up, Ched?”
“Yesh, shir,” Ched said as he stepped back to admire his work. “The thing ish hooked to the Shleipnir’s generatorsh, like you ashked.”
“I shure hope she’ll make enough power for ya.”
“I should hope so too.”
“We might be a bit presshed for water after thish, though.”
“We’ll manage. We always do.”
The EPR looked just like the Reduction Machine from the bank. Similar shape. Similar purpose. The barrel was pointed away from the train, aimed at an X that the professor had dug into the ground with his heel. Rather than employing a manual crank, the driver hooked a series of cables to the couplers, which ran all the way to the engine of the train.
“You think you can really bring thish feller back?” Ched asked.
“I’m positive I can,” the professor said. “That is to say, if he is actually there. Ched, go and stoke the boilers to their highest output. Mr. Dodger, please set the slide on the marked position.”
After cautiously carrying the glass side to the X some fifty feet from the train, Dodger placed it in the crux of the furrows as gently as possible. He stood over the slide, staring down at it in a moment of silent prayer for the safe return of the deputy.
“Come away from there, Mr. Dodger!” the doc shouted. “We’re ready to begin.”
Dodger hightailed it out of the ray’s path, rejoining the group once more.
“Now comes the tricky bit,” the doc said. “Everyone, either grab a pair of SPECS or look away. I’m afraid the beam isn’t kind to the corneas. Oh, and don’t be surprised if this is a complete failure.”
“Sir,” Dodger admonished as he put on a pair of goggles. “You can’t keep blaming yourself for what happened to him.”
“It’s not that. You see, I never really got the enlarging ray to work properly. For all I know, it will set the target on fire.”
Dodger’s skin crawled at the doc’s sincerity. “Why would you think something like that?”
“Because that’s what happened the last ten times I tried to use it. But not to fret, I may have worked out the kinks.” He pulled a pair of SPECS over his eyes and added, “Everyone ready?”
The crew nodded as one. (Even the dour Mr. Torque.) The professor adjusted the dials and switches on the EPR. He adjusted them again. And again. For a moment, Dodger thought that the man was stalling because he feared meeting with failure twice in one day. Lelanea placed her hand on her uncle’s shoulder, which reassured him enough to continue.
“Here we go,” the doc said, and pressed the largest, reddest button in the center of the machine.
The device projected a fine white line of light, which struck its intended mark—the center of the X, where the glass slide rested. At first, nothing appeared to happen. Dodger held his breath in this eternity of nothing, repeating his silent prayer. Without warning, the one-inch slide began to grow. Twice its size. Three times that. A foot long. Two feet. Ten feet. And all the time, it rose in height as well. Within sixty seconds, the glass slide nearly covered the fifty feet between itself and the EPR, almost reached Dodger’s head in height, and was still growing.
But more importantly, at the center of the slide, there came into existence one Deputy Tyler Duncan.
“There he is!” Dodger shouted.
The professor released the button.
The light faded, and the slide ceased growing.
“We must act quickly,” the doc said. “Go and fetch him, Mr. Dodger.”
Dodger sprang into action, clambering up the side of the enlarged glass slide as quick as he could.
“And be careful!” the professor shouted after Dodger. “It’s bound to be dangerous.”
At first Dodger wasn’t sure what the man meant. But once he set foot on the glass, all became apparent. The surface was as slick as ice. This didn’t discourage Dodger in the slightest. He put it to his advantage, pushing off from the edge and sliding clear across fifty feet of slickness until he was face to face with the deputy. Now nearly atop the man, Dodger could see that the deputy was only half his normal size. Dodger didn’t have time to check him for signs of life. The professor had explained before they began the process that the increased size would only last for five minutes at the most. After that, the deputy would shrink again, unless the doc could stop it from happening.
“I’m coming back now,” Dodger said. He grabbed the deputy by a belt loop, dug his heels into the glass, and pushed off again. The pair slid across the surface, and almost off the side. But thanks to a quick and strong pair of metal hands, they stopped just at the edge.
“What would you do without me?” Mr. Torque asked as he helped the pair of men to the ground.
“Thank you, Mr. Torque,” the doc said. “Bring him here.”
With a gentleness that surprised Dodger, the clockwork man cradled the half-pint deputy to his metal chest as he carried the man to the professor’s makeshift infirmary.
“Is he still alive?” Dodger asked.
“He appears to be,” the doc said.
“How bad is he?”
“We need to stabilize his size before we can deal with his health.” In one quick motion, the professor snapped the belt into place around Duncan’s waist, then gave the knob a turn to the left. With the action, the deputy swelled in size, just a bit. “That’s promising.” The doc turned the knob farther, and with each click, the man grew larger and larger. “Tell me when to stop.”
Dodger signaled for the professor to cease at what he hoped was correct. “I think that’s his normal size.”
“We can work out such trivial details later,” the doc said. “For now, let’s mend his broken body.” The doc knelt beside the cot to inspect the fallen man. “Bilateral contusion of the chest wall with evidence of broken ribs. Contusion runs the length of his abdominal cavity, not good. Bloody discharge from his mouth, indicative of internal bleeding, though presence of froth also suggests a punctured lung. Pupils equal and reactive to light, thank Athena for small favors. Lelanea, I think an eight will do here.”
“Will it be enough?” she asked, drawing up a measure of the compound.
“It will have to be. What I wouldn’t give for a number thirteen right now.”
Lelanea passed off the injection to the doc, who administered the dose as close to the heart as he could.
“Now we wait,” the doc said.
Dodger watched with some amazement as the deputy underwent the various phases that accompanied a number eight. From this side of things, it looked as though the man were undergoing some kind of seizure, the kind that got you a quick trip to the loony bin in days of old. He shook and shimmied, flopping like a shore-stranded fish on a sweltering day. Yet no sooner had the shaking started than the deputy settled down, and all was still.
The doc moved in again, inspecting the deputy once more. “Breathing even and unlabored. Pupils still equal and reactive. And my, my, yes, the bruising is fading. As are some years, it would seem.”
Dodger glanced up at Duncan’s face, and my, my, yes, the years seemed to melt away, leaving the man looking thirty years younger. Maybe more.
The professor motioned for Dodger to join him at the bedside. “Try to rouse him. It’s best he is met with someone he recognizes, after all that has happened to him.”
“Duncan?” Dodger asked. “Are you still with us?”
“I’m afraid you’ll need to be firmer than that,” the doc said. “This man has had quite a shock.”
Dodger laid a heavy hand on Duncan’s shoulder and gave him a shake. “Deputy Duncan! Wake up!”
Duncan gave a groan as his eyelids fluttered.
“Wake up, Tyler,” Dodger said.
Duncan mumbled something.
“What was that?” Dodger asked. “Speak up. And wake up!”
“My friends call me Duncan,” the man said. This said, Duncan’s eyes flew wide as he sat straight up with a loud gasp. Throwing a fear-filled glance about, he asked in a tumble of questions, “Where am I? What’s going on? Who are you people?” His hands fidgeted around the empty holsters of his gun belt.
“Deputy Duncan,” Dodger said as calmly as he could manage. Though in truth, he wanted to holler and scream and whoop with joy. “Do you remember me?”
Duncan stared at Dodger for a few blank seconds. Slowly, ever so slowly, a smile crept across the man’s face. “Dodger? Good God in Heaven. Is that really you?”
“Yes, sir. It’s me.”
“How did we get here? What’s going on?” Duncan looked about at the crew, the train, and finally the enormous slab of glass only a few yards away. “What in the hell is that?”
“That,” the professor said, “will be back to its normal size in approximately twenty seconds. And it is my firmest wish that you do not join it. Though I can’t make any guarantees to the contrary.”
“If that be the cashe,” Ched said. “It wash nish meetin’ ya, shir.”
“What are you talking about?” Duncan asked.
“I’ll explain in a moment,” the doc said, while putting his index fingers into his ears. “I also recommend you place your fingers in your ears right about now.”
“Put my what in my what?”
Dodger shoved his fingers in his own ears and shouted, “Just do what he says!”
A very confused Duncan followed suit.
The muffled voice of the professor counted down, “Five, four, three, and there she goes!”
All at once, the fifty-foot-wide, six-foot-tall glass slab shrank. With a soft pop, the glass slab returned to a glass slide, and just when Dodger was about to ask why they were all standing around with their fingers shoved in their ears, the soft pop was followed by a thunderous clap.
Was the doc ever wrong?
“What was that?” Duncan asked with a surprised yelp.
“Air rushing in to fill the vacuum left by a large amount of displaced matter,” the professor said. “And much to my delight, you appear to still be here. It’s safe to remove your digits now.”
Duncan dropped his fingers from his ears, looking more confused than ever.
“May I be the first to welcome you back to this size of things?” the doc said, extending a hand of welcome to the deputy.
“I don’t understand anything this man is saying,” Duncan said.
“You get ushed to it,” Ched said.
Dodger chuckled. “Let’s get you inside, where we can explain things properly while you grab a bite to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” Duncan started, but winced as his guts growled, betraying his own words. “Well, I guess I am a little, after all.”
“I knew you would be,” Dodger said, with the authority of one who had been there.