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Professor Haversham's latest invention will cure the evil of prostitution and stop the spread of social disease all at one go. A story of steampunk horror from the award-winning and best-selling team of Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald. Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
About 5,000 words.
It was on the eighth of September in the year 1893 that I received an unexpected communication from my learned friend, Professor William Haversham.
My dear Archy, the letter read, if you would be so kind as to call upon me post-haste, I have something extraordinary to show you.
I responded to the summons with alacrity. Haversham’s keen intellect was well known to me from our years at Oxford. When I first went up, I was a student of physical science, while he, being some years older, already held a chair in natural philosophy. A profound commitment to bettering the general condition of humanity drew us together, and we remained in correspondence during the succeeding years. Now I was eager to see what discovery or accomplishment could so excite him.
The summons had come in late afternoon, and the shadows of night were falling over London by the time I stood on Haversham’s front steps and plied the knocker. The door was opened by a maid in cap and apron, who showed me into the parlor.
“The professor is expecting you, sir,” she said.
“Archy, my friend!” came a loud voice a moment later from the inner doorway. “How delightful that you could join me.”
Professor Haversham swept into the room, a bottle of champagne in one hand, two flutes in the other. Placing the glasses on an end-table, he popped the cork and poured. “Success!” he said, and tilted back his glass.
Bemused, I echoed his toast. “I must confess,” I added, “that I am quite at a loss. Your request induced me to board the first train to town, and your greeting implies some celebration, but so far I have not a clue as to the cause.”
“I want you to witness something that the world has never before seen,” he said, pouring himself another glass. “A machine like no other.”
“You’ve invented the chess-playing automaton?” I asked—for such, indeed, was the challenge of the age. Modern scientific engineering stood poised on the verge of turning Von Kempelen’s Mechanical Turk from hoax to reality, and competition was fierce among the savants of the city.
“No, no, dear boy. Better. Come, let me show you.” The professor led the way, up two flights of stairs, to a combination workshop and laboratory under the garret. Boxes, jars, and tools filled shelves along three walls, while the fourth held a chalkboard covered with mathematical formulae and schematic diagrams. Benches and tables were piled with papers, electrical apparatus, and chemical flasks. Notebooks, opened, lay scattered on the floor. A sheeted object stood on a pedestal against the far wall.
“Archy,” Haversham said to me, “have you any pocket change?”
“Yes, but what has that to do...?”
Jimmy Rogers on Amazing Stories wrote:
"An accomplished piece of work. Written in a style that self-consciously hearkens back to the likes of Conan Doyle and Wells, this quasi-steampunk story begins with the unveiling of a great invention (don’t they all?). [...] A wry, unsentimental critique of the kind of scientific naivety that seeks technological remedies to social and cultural problems."
"This clever tale follows two upper class gentlemen as they try to eradicate prostitution with steam-age technology. The narrative style will fool you into thinking that this tale was written at the turn of the century, but it was actually published this year. As you might expect, things don’t go quite as planned for the two industrious gentlemen, but it makes for an interesting tale."