by Walt Staples -
In his idle moments, Pomphee, the department’s head, wondered whether it was prescience on the part of an ancestor that led to picking the name or whether, possessing that name, the man before him felt at some level required to live up to it. Doctor Professor Erschreckendmann or, more simply Doctor E, hulked in the armchair across the desk from him, if a man of 60 kilos can be said to “hulk.” Perhaps it was it was his way of holding his head tilted forward and regarding the subject of his interest from beneath thick, bushy brown eyebrows, a gleam of green glimmering in the shadows. In combination with the ferocious mustache, one was given the uncomfortable impression they were being observed through a sniper’s sights from ambush.
The other spoke, “And that’s your problem? One freshman prankster?”
Pomphee nodded. “Precisely, Doctor.”
Doctor E lowered his right eyebrow. “What makes him special?”
The department head sighed. “The last stroke was the neutron particle spectrum analyzer.”
“Richardson’s new toy?”
“Yes. Well, it seems young Hacket found a way to view questionable artworks on it.”
Doctor E half smiled. “Something neither the League nor the chaplains would approve of, no doubt. So? Take them off.”
“That was the first half. The second became apparent when those, in a moment of weakness…indulged, shall we say. It seems anyone who does comes away with a red face.”
The professor chuckled. “That shocking, are they?”
“No,” Pomphee shook his head, “literally red. Hacket linked a cantrip to the instrument. If one uses it for its proper purpose, there is no problem, but if used to view…” he let the rest hang and reached for the cigar box on his desk.
Doctor E gave a great gust of a laugh. “Ah. That’s why Richardson and half his grad students are nowhere to be seen. And the mice of the department want me to bell this young cat.”
The other nodded. “Just so.” He pushed the cigar box across the desk and raised his eyebrows.
Doctor E put up a hand in negation. “No. A wise alchemist doesn’t smoke. There are far too many things in my laboratory that are much too fond of fire.”
The department head choose a dark Cabyo and touched it into ignition. “Will you handle the matter?”
The smaller man rose, turned, and with his hands clasped behind him, strode to the door. As the guard gnome held the door, he stopped, turned, and with hands still clasped, answered, “I’ll think on it.”
Hacket peeped around the corner of the sub-hallway. Though designated only for maintenance robots and gnomes and other such creatures running errands, the students often used it as a shortcut between their cells and the library. The string was almost invisible and stretched across the hall neck-high on a human. He snickered. The next student though would receive a very wet surprise. He glanced again at the buckets; their color merging them into the walls and ceiling.
Footsteps! He crouched so as to peer around the corner from a lower vantage. The freshman’s freckled face broke into a big toothy grin as he recognized his victim, the sawed-off little runt with the huge mustache from the Materials Department. This was going to be so good!
His quarry approached the string oblivious to its presence. Hacket put a hand over his mouth to stifle a giggle. The little man touched the string—his head flew from his body! Hacket froze in horror and the bottom dropped out of his stomach as the headless body fell forward, hit the floor, and flew into hundreds of fragments.
As he stood transfixed, a hand dropped on his shoulder and a voice rumbled, “You might consider breathing again.”
Hacket slowly turned his head. The hand on his shoulder belonged to the little man and it was attached to the rest of him.
The redhead found his tongue. “How?”
Doctor E twitched his mustache with amusement. A green fire burned behind his eyes. “A simple matter of bi-location and atomization, my boy.”
“How the devil—?”
“No,” the professor cut him off, “in my case, they’re from the other side. An inheritance, one might say.
“Now, if you can control your clownish impulses until the end of the semester, I’ll take you on as a lab assistant. Come along.”
As he followed, Hacket asked, “Inheritance? Is it elven blood then?”
The old man snorted. “Elves? Of course not--Heinzelmännchen.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Look it up, boy,” Doctor E threw over his shoulder, “That’s the way you learn.”