Jemmy Harrison’s unnamed music shop wasn’t the best place for a scientific conference, but it would have to do. Jemmy had quite an impressive array of computers, albeit mostly obsolete ones. The Babbage-engine brain of the dead steampunk ornithopter was also there, with Nalda translating. And Axel was there, and he was a genius after all, as was Mildred Po, perhaps the world’s most talented amateur rocket scientist. And of course there was Fanaka, who seemed to be in charge of everything, after retrieving the mysterious Crystal Skull from its hiding place in Emile Fortunado’s cellar.
That had proven more difficult than he’d hoped. Emile’s shop had been closed, so Fanaka had gone to see Emile’s colleague in the liquor business, Harry Montressor. But Harry’s shop was also closed, and building noises were coming from inside, so no one could hear Fanaka knocking. In the end, Fanaka had to bribe a dodgy looking yellow cat in a straw boater to pick the lock on Emile’s door, and retrieve the Skull from under a pile of receipts for fortified wine.
Now the Skull sat on a piano stool in the middle of Jemmy’s floor, while the assorted geniuses and AIs stared at it, glowing softly in the dark.
“Creepy, isn’t it?” Jemmy offered.
“Maybe ve need Gwen?” Nalda said. “After all, she vas able to manipulate der power of der skull before to create a pocket dimension under der Handy Pavilion. Perhaps she can help us channel der power of der Skull into stabilising Axel’s timeline.”
“No,” Fanaka said. “She stumbled into the pocket dimension. Had no idea how she made it, or even if she made it.”
“Well you then, Fanaka,” Axel said. “You managed to challenge the power of the Skull before in that doomsday machine you built.” After his initial shock at Fanaka being ordered to kill him if he couldn’t be stabilised, he’d settled down and come to view his suspended death sentence quite pragmatically, which annoyed Fanaka no end. If he had to murder a friend, the very least the friend could do was give him personality hassles about it.
“The weapon did utilise the power of the Skull, but not in the way I hoped,” Fanaka said. “If I can’t use it as a gun, what chance do I have to use it as a scalpel? And it wasn’t a doomsday machine, it was a superweapon, okay?”
Nalda laid a hand on Fanaka’s shoulder, and he calmed himself.
“It seems to me that Axel here knows more about the Skull than he’s letting on,” Mildred said.
All eyes were suddenly on Axel, who grimaced. “I thought I recognised it… It’s one of the Skulls of the Glorious Ones. They were the ones who laid down the basic precepts of the Eternalists who dwell in the Eighth Dimension of Power. During the Epoch of Awe…”
“Right now, it’s a magic Skull,” Fanaka snapped. “Does this story end with it being anything other than a magic skull?”
Axel pursed his lips. “Long story short, these Skulls create a gateways into the realm of power and if…”
“Magic skull?” Jemmy said. “Are you sure?”
“Shut up, Jemmy,” Fanaka muttered.
“Not cool, man. You used to be pretty chill, last I saw you.”
“I’m twenty-five years older than when last I saw you, Jemmy. If I’m cranky now, I earned it.”
The Babbage engine clattered into life, clicking and whirring as its spindles spun, its cams cammed and its differential gears did whatever it is that differential gears do.
“It has been calculating,” Nalda said. “It beliefs that it had vorked out how to safely channel some of der power of der Skull. If we had some sort of light-focussing apparatus…”
“Got it!” Jemmy said.
“…und some vay to trail a vire into der ionosphere.”
“Got it!” Mildred said.
“Den ve are gut to go!” Nalda said. “Und mein leibchen Fanaka vill be spared der terrible cost of having to murder his friend, Axel.”
Axel cleared his throat. “Not to mention…”
“Ja, ja, dat too.”
Jemmy began setting up the holographic array of his computer bank, while Mildred retrieved a rocket. A long line of cable was connected from the rocket to the computer bank. Fanaka attached the Skull to Jemmy’s computers with 1980sy electrodes. He and Axel examined the Babbage engine’s solution. Yes, they decided. It just might work.
“Now, Liebchen,” Nalda said. “I must connect der Babbage engine to Jemmy’s computers.”
“How,” Fanaka said.
“By myself,” Nalda said. “I am der only computer system compatible with both.”
“But Nalda… my love… the risk,” Fanaka said. “The power of the Skull and the uh…”
“Dimension of Power,” Axel said.
“Yeah, that. With that much power in the system, you could…”
Nalda reached up a black gloved hand and caressed Fanaka’s grey temple. “Mein love, I know what I am doing. If I take a risk, I do it only because I love you.”
Unhappily, Fanaka backed away. “Mildred,” he said. “The Babbage-engine has detected a dimensional weakness at these coordinates. If you hit it, it should relay some interdimensional energy back down, jumpstarting the Skull. On my mark, fire your rocket in that dimension.”
Mildred began the countdown. Somewhere in the depths of Fanaka’s memory, some piece of trivia bubbled to the surface. Mildred’s rocket…
“Didn’t you need that rocket to rescue your husband from the Moon Men?” he said.
“I need to test this prototype if I am to build a full-sized rocket,” Mildred said.
“Didn’t… didn’t this rocket get fired at the Pyramid?”
“No. The AA battery you set up was destroyed, but the rocket wasn’t fired,” Mildred said. “I recovered the rocket from where Karl abandoned it.”
Fanaka bit his lip. There was something else… The mysterious woman in the Laplander hat… What had she said? “You will fail to stop the rocket launch.” He laughed out loud. She had been right! He would fail to stop the rocket launch, by the simple fact that he would not want to stop it!
“Fanaka?” Nalda said.
He turned, still laughing. “Oh, I was just thinking of something funny,” he said. “You see…”
“Fanaka, I love you.”
Something was wrong. It was clear from the way she said it. Something terribly wrong. He turned to try to get between Mildred and the launch button.
But he failed to stop the rocket launch.