Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Doctor Franklin may have been ferrying colonists to the moon since the later part of the nineteenth century, but humans do not control much of it. He has one ship. Commodious as it is, The Poor Richard is, really, rather small. You know those yachts you see docked at Monaco? Well, it's like that. Maybe six state rooms. Crew quarters for a like amount. A hold. A galley. An observation 'deck.' A propulsion room. Yadda yadda. Badda bing. Some heads. That's it. And those early colonists wanted to bring farm animals. You know the old reprobate wouldn't go for that. But he did let them bring embryos. Most didn't know what he meant. Got the necessary technology from the same place he got his ship. One dark, winter night, deep in the bowels of an early incarnation of The Anti-Enchantment Bureau...(in a sub-basement of The Walnut Street Theater back then) he tried something new with his 'armonica.' This was by no means as huge or technologically advanced as later models, but still apparently capable of great things. He was experimenting with frequencies... adjusting the crystal discs... moistening them... spinning them... zapping them with tiny, jittery boltlets of electricity. Wintry drafts of frigid air snaked down the narrow, creaking steps. Hurricane lamps flickered. And 'Highwayman,' a semi-domesticated raccoon, covered his eyes and jabbered away behind a stack of old scripts and playbills.Some animals are quite adverse to scientific exploration. Horses positively run from it. But Franklin gave him a plump smoked oyster from Kelly's On Mole Street and that made it all right.

On a whim he added another chord (via manipulation of the discs) based on an old cantorial heard at the Spanish Rite synagogue nearby.... Six part harmonics.... Da Vinci wrote about six part harmonics, but 'died,' or in some fashion 'vaporized' out of this world to God knows where before acting upon it. The sound is intricate and (even at low volume) quite powerful. The air positively vibrates. 

There was a large, heavy, bell jar, maybe two feet high and eighteen inches across, formerly used to keep dust off a stuffed marmoset. Franklin fixed taunt copper wires to its exterior surface with daubs of horse glue carefully applied on the end of a bamboo chopstick given him by a sea captain big in the China trade. Then he pumped the floor pedal, adding a bit more energy, and set it all in motion, infusing the low ceiling chamber with a symphonic cacophony unheard in our solar system since Creation.

A golden mist began to condense on its inner surface and a strange, little, metallic automaton materialized right where the marmoset used to be, resembling nothing so much as a miniature Wizard of Oz tin man, by way of 3CPO. Franklin gasped. Then the creature turned, leaned forward and peered through the cloudy glass, looking right at him . Franklin froze. After a bit the intelligent machine, deciding the old scientist was of no importance, returned to whatever it was doing before being rudely transported.

Franklin watched, transfixed by the magic of it, as the little metal man uttered words through lips that were almost biologic in their movements. With each pronouncement small, complex components popped out of the ether, settled to the floor of the tiny, glass domed, chamber, patiently waiting til their number was sufficient. Then, via magnetic, or electric attraction, they quickly snapped into place, forming a minute version of what became his space craft, The Poor Richard. The hybrid tin-man said something else and the little craft rose from the 'floor' (in this case, an old, maple table) and effortlessly crashed through the thick glass dome, shattering it into five hundred and sixty four pieces. The raccoon peed on the cold, stone floor, as the obviously incredibly advanced contraption buzzed 'round the room like a wasp, before punching through the ceiling and the four ceilings above that, to disappear in the darkness. The metal automaton crumpled down upon the table and moved no more. I believe he rests in a toy museum to this day.

Within two months Franklin had the first of his chambers under the Old Philadelphia Navy Yard, a huge armonica and an almost hangar sized space to accommodate whatever the 'winds' blew in. He meticulously reproduced the harmonies in every way and one night, just before the dawn of a late March day, the metal man came back, only this time much taller (seventy nine inches to be exact) and the ungodly flying machine he pulled from the air was proportionately bigger too.

Thus, via the unwitting pilferage of alien 'magic' The Poor Richard was born. Lincoln wanted to use it against the Confederates, but his generals said such a huge advantage would be most ungentlemanly and quite improper, though I'm sure the wives and mothers of Union dead disagreed.

In that way it began.

Next time we return to the moon.


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