A dubious selection from the Elgar Ephraim Mackiedockie
Memorial Lecture Series
The smartly-dressed mistress of ceremonies — her tall frame topped by the tightest of brunette buns — crossed the stage to the far left lectern in a few brisk strides. She gave the podium several sharp raps with her gavel. Convinced she had captured the attention of the audience gathered in the lecture hall, she smiled broadly and addressed the crowd.
“Thank you so much for coming tonight, ladies and gentlemen. I am Dr. Hemsworth, and I will be your moderator this evening. Normally I would be at home with my husband at this hour, but since he left me three days ago for a young, large-breasted dancer, I had nothing better to do than come here. Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl. Loooooooo-la. Such a common name, don’t you think? But I’m not bitter. Moving on.
“Tonight’s presentation is a freeform debate between two distinguished scholars on the subject of that most dangerous denizen of the skyways, the air kraken: fearsome in its appearance, savage in its appetites, delicious with angel hair pasta and a nice lemon-garlic sauce. The bizarre nature of these pesky airborne man-eaters has led to much speculation as to their origins. Presenting one possible theory will be naturalist Charles Darwin, author of The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, numerous other books and monographs, and father of far too many children… at least a few of whom his wife actually knows about. Presenting an alternative theory will be alchemist, bookseller, philanthropist and professional odd duck, Nicholas Flamel. Pretend you’re not a herd of ill-bred social cripples and clap for them now.”
Dr. Hemsworth left the stage and joined the clapping audience, taking a seat in the front row.
A frowning, bearded Charles Darwin cautiously emerged from stage left and stepped toward the nearer of the two podiums, closely followed by a tall, well-dressed blond man with a bar bouncer’s build and an intimidating scowl.
Monsieur Flamel came to the stage from the right and immediately launched himself at Darwin with murderous ferocity.
Mr. Darwin likewise attempted to charge at Flamel, bile churning in his gut as memories of a frustrating previous encounter with the alchemist cascaded into his forebrain, but the naturalist was held at his podium by his blond, thick-necked minder — even as Flamel’s handler, a hulking dark-skinned gentleman who was far quicker on his feet than his size would suggest, managed to grab hold of the Frenchman’s frock coat and drag him to his assigned podium. Still seething with rage, the elderly debaters glowered at one another from their lecterns.
Mistressing the ceremonies from her seat, Dr. Hemsworth blew her whistle and announced, “Mr. Darwin, having won the backstage coin toss, will be allowed to babble first. Please start now.”
“Thank you, madam,” said the naturalist. “Upon first learning of these remarkable creatures, I had assumed they were some manner of hybrid emerging from the dark depths of the ocean that, we suspect, are the natural haunt of all manner of outsized invertebrates. Upon close study of the corpse of one of these beasts, however, differences in the nature of the epidermal tissues and certain internal structures have forced me to conclude that air kraken, in spite of outward appearances, are not even in the same taxonomic class as their sea-dwelling counterparts. I have found every reason to believe these mollusk-like monsters are the result of a series of mutations that caused their ancestors to develop along a divergent path very soon after the emergence of known cephalopods (all of which is completely in accordance with my theory of variation) and has given rise to an entirely new species… one that flies around and eats people. Given the abundance of *science* available to apply to the mysterious origins of these flying beasts, obviously there is absolutely no need to resort to fanciful, supernatural frippery to explain their existence.”
Monsieur Flamel scoffed contemptuously. “‘Obviously’? I submit zat ‘obviously’ zeeze creatures are ze product of ze purposeful augmentation and breeding of a number of colossal squid, most certainly involving ze introduction of alchemical transformation agents. Consider ze high concentration of copper in zere blood… it is, of course, one of ze seven alchemical elements and ideal for conducting ze energies required for radical transformations as well as enabling zeeze enormous creatures to more easily defy gravity. Ze found corpses I ‘ave seen suggests zere is nossing accidental about ze existence of zeeze creatures, which *are* close relatives of sea-going cephalopods. Moreover, given ze peculiarities of their adaptations and ze coincidence of their increasing numbers as shipping and travel by air ‘as become more common, I strongly suspect ze manufacture of zeeze creatures is ze work of sinister-minded individuals!”
“There is just one flaw in your theory, M’sieur Flamel: It’s asinine!! It’s claptrap!! It’s dirty great piles of filthy, stinky rooster droppings!! As I said, I — a *real* scientist — have also examined the remains of air kraken and, from what I’ve seen, none of your mystical argle-bargle is even up to the task of creating such systematic mutations. And not one of you flimflamming chemical con artists could ever even begin to bring about the myriad adaptations nature and evolution are capable of concocting over time to produce such a perfectly adapted predator.”
“‘E-vo-lu-tion’! Didn’t we all know *zat* was coming! Given all ze remains we ‘ave found so far, tell me zis: Where is ze evidence of transition, eh, pigeon puss? Why ‘ave we found no sky squid remains pointing to ze existence of an intermediate state between ze swimmers and ze flyers? Clearly air kraken were brought into ze world exactly as zey are, an aggregate of deliberately cultivated traits, entirely equipped to menace airships and provide delightfully entertaining stories of gory death and horror. A fact zat is plain to anyone oose mind ‘asn’t been addled by frequent marathon sessions of onanistic stupefaction!”
“Imbecile!! Could you possibly be a bigger imbecile?! So what if there are no transitional remains? The evidence just hasn’t been found yet. But at least there is the potential for finding some evidence… which is better than relying on the pseudo-scientific prattle of crazy confidence tricksters who think gold-making fairy dust comes out of their poxy bottoms!!”
“Idiot!! Zis is what ‘appens when you spend too much time studying earthworms: you end up thinking like one! You simply can’t stand ze idea zat some of us have mastered ze forbidden secrets of ze ancients (and could possibly make squid fly) while some of us ‘aven’t even mastered simple birth control! Remind us: what was zat ridiculously large number of children you ‘ave spawned?”
“Don’t change the subject, froggy! The only thing you’ve mastered is working the last nerves of your social betters! If you would try doing some *real* science instead of holding séances and freebasing mercury and waiting for the Hoary Hosts of Humperdink to call on you from the great beyond, you might be in danger of actually learning something, you syphilitic simpleton!!”
“Incroyable!! Ze man spends years watching birds and lizards copulate and playing ‘plant pimp’ to breed better bloody orchids and he thinks zat gives ‘im license to mock ze arts arcane! Does your puny head hurt being so very, very far out of your depth? Go back to your potted posies and leave ze study of ze air kraken to us grownups, little BOY!”
“‘Boy’? BOY?!? I’m 70 years old, you fraud!!!”
“AND I AM 549!!! SUCK IT, JUNIOR!!!!”
Dr. Hemsworth blew her whistle before Darwin and Flamel could lunge at one another again and resume their attempts to mercilessly mash each other’s internal organs. Tentacles sprang out from the left and right, wrapped around the two debaters and yanked them out of sight. Momentarily confused to find themselves on stage alone in front of an audience, the two security brutes bowed curtly to each other and began to perform an awkward sort of box step, treading on one another repeatedly as they were both trying to lead.
Dr. Hemsworth once again stood before the audience smiling broadly. “Wasn’t that delightful?! Thank you all so much for wasting a perfectly good evening with us here at the lecture hall. I was going to prepare post-debate cake and refreshments last night, but opted instead for an evening of light opiates and heavy drinking.
“So there’s no cake.
“So just get out.”
((The story I would have submitted for the Air Kraken Festival if I hadn’t been too busy to finish it before last night.))
And now… A flaming mechanical squid.
*dies with laughter and applauds madly* A treat, as always!
I might bother you soon about having this excellent story presented inworld with the other entries if you are the least bit interested, Mr. Arkright. *grins*
Ha! This is what the new Aether Salon needs–insult-filled debates and belittling hostesses! *grin*
*mutters something about Doc O’s mind-control rays and mind-altering substances in the water supply and walks away*
This is a riot, Mr. Arkright! I will be repeating insults from this tale well into the foreseeable future.
I do hope you’ll submit it for AE’s “Tales of New Babbage” book project.
Elsewhere, a noodley appendage takes to the skies….
Also, does anyone else picture this story as anything like the Alex Trebek/ Sean Connery rivalry, ala SNL Celebrity Jeopardy? Once again, a wonderful story Mr. Arkwright!
I think the only thing to follow that up with is Aaron Diaz’s pastiche of Kate Beaton.