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Chapter Five: Story Fourteen

23 Jun

“If you’ll all kindly take your seats,” Oliver Pardekopper announced, “Mr. Higginsworth is nearly prepared to make his demonstration.”

The assorted guests in his parlour, including Eudora and Gideon, made their way to the chairs and sofas that were arranged in a semi-circle, allowing for a staging area for the demonstration.

Eudora took note of the assembly. There was the blunt man she had encountered in the hallway, sitting next to another, who must have been his counterpart in the earlier discussion. Across the semicircle from them sat Finnegan, Aaron, and a third man in a blue waistcoat. She hadn’t have much opportunity to assess their particular interest, but from what she’d heard so far it seemed to primarily consist of a desire for profit.

Just then, she noticed a man glaring at Gideon from her left. She herself was seated to Gideon’s left in this rather informal arrangement of persons, and he seemed to be attempting to bore his eyes directly through her so as to better access him. Gideon, for his part, was staunchly ignoring the man, looking directly ahead or to his right, and avoiding the grey-eyed stare entirely. Eudora noticed the man’s attire was even more formal than that of the other attendees to the demonstration, almost to the point of being out of place, but impeccably tailored and arranged. A very precise sort of man, then, she mused to herself. I wonder what Gideon has done to earn his glare? Unless they’ve met before?

Finally, a tottering old man made his way into the room, wearing clothes a size or two too large, and carrying a box that was clearly a bit much for him. Oliver moved to assist, and while the short, bent man would not yield his precious cargo, he did permit Oliver to grasp it from the bottom, and thereby boost it somewhat. Thus, walking backwards, Oliver dragged the box and the man attached to it up to a side table that had been placed in the center of the room for this purpose.

“Gentlemen, and um, lady,” Oliver said, acknowledging Eudora with another blush, “thank you for joining us tonight. It is my pleasure to introduce to you the distinguished inventor, Basil Higginsworth. He can speak far more knowledgeably on his creation than I ever could, so without further ado, I shall leave that to him.”

The assembly applauded politely.

“Thank you,” Basil said in a loud, abrupt, and nasal voice. “What I have here in this box will change the future. Imagine! A future safe from invisible attacks. Friends and family alike warned far in advance to seek shelter. You don’t have to imagine it. The future is here!”

Basil unbuckled latches at strategic points about the box and flipped back the lid. The sides fell to reveal what looked for all intents and purposes like an oversized table clock attached to two wide leather straps, with an unreasonable array of dials and gears protruding from it at all angles.

“I will now require a volunteer,” Basil announced solemnly. “A brave man of good character. Come now, who will volunteer?”

“I will,” said the surly man from upstairs, coming forward.

“Excellent, most excellent. And your name, good sir?”

“Roland Ives.”

“A pleasure, Mr. Ives. Please hold out your arm, sir, and I shall fit the device upon you.”

Roland held his left arm out and waited. Eudora tried to gauge his interest. He had an almost perpetual angry look on his face. It’s habitual, rather than fueled by passion, Eudora thought.

Basil began fastening the leather straps by means of buckles. “Now as you can see, this device has brought both form and function to new heights.” He fidgeted with a strap as the heavy clockface pulled the device this way and that about Roland’s wrist until finally Roland stuck out a meaty hand and slammed down upon the device to hold it still.

“Careful now, careful…that’s the latest piece of progress you bear upon your arm sir…now tell me, isn’t it quite stylish and yet comfortable?”

Roland stood waiting and arched a brow at Basil, unimpressed.

“As you can clearly see,” Basil began again, undaunted, “this device combines the best of form and function, fashion and usefulness, into one streamlined tool of the future!” He finished fastening the device upon Roland’s arm.

“There you are now. Show everyone how lovely it looks. Would you say, then, that it is a good fit?”

Basil paused, and it became something of a mental showdown. Finally, Roland shrugged his shoulders. “It’s fine.”

“Indubitably it is, my friend, quite fine workmanship,” Basil said, clapping him upon the shoulder. “Now, allow me to illuminate for those assembled the myriad benefits of this device. As you all know, the threat that has plagued our fine country these past years has been an invisible threat—undetectable and unstoppable. It may shock the tender sensibilities of some members of our audience”—and here he paused for too long, looking at Eudora—but there have even been fatalities as a result of this frightening series of events. You may have thought that there was no way to fight back. You may have thought that you and your family could not evade these incidents. But I’m here to tell you that there is a way!” He beat his chest proudly and stomped his foot to emphasize this high point in his speech.

Has he any concept, whatsoever, of how ridiculous he is making himself? Eudora wondered, her face a mask of impassivity while she laughed internally.

“This system, my invention, is one of subtle ingenuity, that will allow you, the user, a distinct advantage over this invisible threat: that of advance warning!” he continued, his voice rising as his presentation became more impassioned. “How can you flee a threat you cannot see? Only with a device that can alert you to the problem, before you encounter it! Simply wear this device at all times, and you will find yourself prepared! Forewarned is forearmed!” He threw his arms out and stomped again, waiting in that pose until the audience belatedly realized he was seeking applause, and complied, albeit with some reserve.

“Now then!” the man said, pleased that he had obtained a response, “Which of you would like me to answer his question first? Or hers?” he added, leaning towards Eudora in a most exaggerated fashion.

“I have a question,” said Aaron from across the room. “What does your device actually do?”

“Why, it warns you, my good man. Whenever an invisible threat is in range, the alarm sounds, providing you with ample time to escape.”

“In range?” said the man who had been glaring at Gideon. “At what range can this device detect a threat?”

“Well, that uh, that hasn’t been precisely determined yet…more tests are needed, you understand,” Basil began. “But I promise you that, given the right funding, such tests could be conducted!”

“How do you propose to do that?” the man asked, pressing on.

“Well, you see, we would have to—” At that moment, a bell within the device chirped out five times.

“Oh heavens,” Basil said. “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm, and take shelter immediately. The device has just detected a threat!”

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