Lady Augusta took a deep breath and began to blurt out an inadequate explanation. “It’s not really a tunnel as such. It bends space-time back on itself so that where you are and where you want to be are next to each other. That results in a bit of a multidimensional vacuum that kind of sucks you in and spits you out again. Not entirely unpleasant.”
Boz was ejected onto the Carrara floor, with Phoebles clinging to his knees. They were closely followed by Phoebles’ waders and a strong smell of catnip. Ginsbergbear emerged holding his deer-stalker on with both hands, his Peterson glowing flame red and pouring out more black smoke than a Greek tramp steamer.
“I’m flying!” Ferdy shot out of the tunnel and into the far wall. “Oh.”
Unruffled, Master Dorje and Zelda, old hands at spacetime travel, stepped into the room. Slasher McGoogs was on his hands and knees heaving noisily. He coughed up a huge fur ball. “Oh dear.”
“Is Flo here?” asked Boz.
“I am.” She was squatting, panther-like, where she had landed by the Analytical Engine.
“Welcome to my bubble universe,” said Augusta. The little party gathered their wits whilst the great engine loomed over them, clattering, whirring and clanking as it continued to analyse the data Zelda had fed into it on her previous visit. “Let us see what the miraculous beast has to tell us. Come round to the output terminal.” The countess patted the bronze framework affectionately as she led them to the far side. Five minutes walk down the length of the machine a small boy in a blue velvet suit sat at a vintage school desk. With expressionless face and vacant stare he held a cheap Biro poised above a scroll of printer paper.
“Would you do the honours, please, Master Dorje?”
The monk threw a lever labelled ‘Readout’. With a jerk the child put pen to paper and painstakingly inscribed a copperplate ‘a’. Its hand moved along and wrote another letter, and another, and another. Unseen within the torso of the automaton a programmable wheel, with the alphabet inscribed about its rim, began to rotate. A column of irregular discs stepped up and down to align with steel arms, sprung to follow the contours of each disc as it turned. Each time the scribe reached the end of a line the paper inched up and the process continued.
“Is this as fast as it goes?” Phoebles was looking concerned. “Les Chats will be ruling the world long before we get an answer at this rate.”
“It’s very elegant though, isn’t it,” said Ferdy.
“Aesthetically pleasing,” added Ginsbergbear. “Does it do poetry?”
“Bloody useless,” said Boz.
“Oh…” Lady Augusta was downcast.
“I might have an idea.” Said Zelda cheerily. “Have you got a box of bits?”
“In my workshop.” Master Dorje replied.
“Come along then, Master D. You lot stick with this antediluvian contraption while me and the magus work on an upgrade.”