Two large glass panels silently opened on approach. Marley looked at Dimble. He roughly grabbed the wig and properly arranged it on Gaston’s head, giving it two firm pats. They walked through a lobby. They passed beneath an arch flanked by two sliding doors, finding themselves in a massive hall. Looking up at the distant roof gave Gaston vertigo. His toupee almost fell off again.
They entered a bigger lobby that also served as an exhibition hall, displaying the many and varied accomplishments of humanity. Portraits of high achievers hung above niches displaying the fruits of their labours. Beneath the portrait of Isaac Newton an apple tree cast its shade over a manuscript of the Principia Mathematica (which only eight beings in the universe understood at any one moment, one of them always a Jovian jellyfish).
Underneath Heisenberg a single quantum bounced inside a vacuum tube. Whether the quantum was bouncing, rolling, spinning or flickering in and out of existence could never be precisely determined.
Towards the end of the chamber Marley noticed a picture of Helios Substratum, whose parents had given him a scientific-sounding name hoping he would become a scientist, which he did. Next to him sparkled Ninkin Spheel Galabos, addressing the viewer as a soft-light hologram.
To the left of Galabos shimmered a photo of the glamorous Leyla De Brule, who had foregone a modelling career to work on micro-computer systems.
After De Brule, a heavy inscription dominated the far wall. Gold lettering highlighted the achievements of the formidable Grulos Jandy, who was 10 feet tall. Jandy spent his entire life trying to alter the human physique so he could get through doorways. Many gruesome and unethical experiments were performed in his name, some of them on himself.
Opposite Jandy, the brilliant Linda Janix smiled down at her contribution to science, the perfect android. She had inspired Fillies Contaminate, who secretly loved her. He later became an alcoholic, which was why he had crafted a liver that could withstand the strongest Cretan spirit and most potent Epicurean cocktail.
After the unfortunate Fillies came Loric the Dook, framed holding the AI-powered alarm clock. Lord Humbrous of Burgundy sponsored this invention and later improved on it.
In the centre of the vast room, a towering statue held a scientific calculator. A giant finger pointed down at the calculator and the viewers below. According to some digitised lettering, the finger was punching in another solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem (which had been solved fifteen hundred times in fifteen hundred ways since first being submitted to the human brain in 1678).
Beneath the statue a diminutive and intense looking man gazed up at the giant calculator. He was looking at a statue of himself. His name was Rothball Hazard.
He was so engrossed studying the curves of his statue, the folds of the large lab coat and the poise of the giant finger, that he did not notice the approach of the Health Protectors. Marley and the Professor stood beside him and glanced at each other.
Without turning around, Hazard breathed in deeply, temporarily creating a vacuum.
“Isn’t it beautiful. The fine face, magnificent brow (large enough for an IQ of 250), the bushy brows, the jutting chin of authority, the firm finger ready to strike the calculator with surefire aim, legs firmly apart, knowing I will not budge, not even under the weight of a neutron star.”
He turned with a flourish of his lab coat, and a short man who bore no resemblance to the statue (except for the bushy eyebrows and jutting chin) confronted his onlookers. The bushy brows almost covered his eyes, which peered out with all the more force in an attempt to struggle through the dense scrub.
Marley and Dimble jumped back. Marley was certain the man would need a daily trim in order to see at all. He addressed Marley with supreme confidence, even though he had to crane his neck to look at Marley’s chin.
Rothball Hazard noticed the Health Protector badges and gave a snorty snicker, or snickering snort, depending on whether you were on his right or left side.
“Ah. You must be the two Health Protectors, what a pleasure,” he said. “Welcome, I’d love show you around the exhibition centre, and I’m sure you admire my stature, er, statue, but I know you have business interrogating Thuris Thranganis, chemist and studier of useless things.” He lingered over the name Thuris Thranganis.
“What does Thuris Thranganis do?” asked Marley.
“Head of Biochemical Engineering. Who would have thought there could be such a thing as a biochemical engineer? He has sold himself for science. He claims he is working on exciting drugs designed to bolster intelligence and willpower. But really? He experiments with pastes and sauces and flavourings for the conglomerate corporations who sponsor him.”
Gaston saw an opportunity. “He must know much about what he does, but we are here to ensure he does not mix drugs into his sauces.”
Marley nudged Gaston in the ribs.
Rothball Hazard pretended not to notice. “Ah, of course. His laboratory practices leave much to be desired. He is uncertain, unwise and unscrupulous. A most uninspiring man. But he works in an uninspiring field. Imagine what he feels when he thinks of real engineers, Roboto-Genetic Engineers at the forefront of modern science, making breakthroughs every week, applying complex mathematics and biophysical models to the real world.
“Last week we put the finishing touches to the Nucleon Battledroid. Our prototype can detonate a sub-atomic warhead – anywhere – and emerge with its underwear unscathed.”
“Humanity needs protect itself from the emergence of aggressive alien species,” said Marley.
Hazard was briefly silent. “We have survived and dominated so far. But for how long? I digress, and warn you to walk with care when you enter Thranganis’s labs. Spills and gas leaks are common down there.”
He flourished his lab coat as if it was the cape of a white mage. He directed Marley and the Professor to one of four other doors exiting the exhibition hall, and beckoned them down a corridor.