In The Lab At Midnight

There was an foolish man and an hairy man and they were in the lab at midnight. They were mucking about with magnets and retorts and galvanometers and Coddington lenses. Neither the foolish man nor the hairy man was authorised to be in the lab. They had broken in using a jemmy. “No Unauthorised Personnel” read a sign on the door they snapped the bolts of. The foolish man could not read standard lettering, and the hairy man was a rebellious curmudgeon who spat in the face of the law, even when it was a by-law. They were in the lab to build a robot.

Their robot was to be large and pneumatic and lumbering and foolish and hairy. Its brain would be an exact replica of the brain of the foolish man, made from bakelite and rubber, and its hairiness would match that of the hairy man, for he had plucked out half his hairs and used gum to stick them to sheets of corrugated cardboard which would form the outer shell of the robot. They had already prepared both the brain and the shell and hidden them, days ago, in a bag under a sink in the lab. Only the lab janitor could stop them now! But if he came rattling his keys and flashing his torch into the lab at midnight, the foolish man and the hairy man had a plan. They would pelt him with caraway seeds, making him drop his keys and his torch, and then they would muffle him with a blanket. The foolish man had brought the blanket, and the hairy man had brought a big bag of caraway seeds.

The purpose of the robot was manifold. Neither the foolish man nor the hairy man clearly understood what this meant, but they were acting on the orders of the Grunty Man, in whom they had absolute trust and whom they durst not question, ever. They had seen what happened to the pernickety man. He ended up tethered to a post in an abandoned quarry, pecked by scavenger birds.

There was a haplessness about their mucking about with the magnets and retorts and galvanometers and Coddington lenses which did the foolish man and the hairy man no credit. Both of them had butterfingers. At one o’ clock in the morning they were no nearer to completing the robot’s innards than they had been an hour before. And then one of them, either the foolish man or the hairy man, discovered that the piping connected to the sink under which they had stowed the bag with the brain and the shell was cracked and leaking. It was a paper bag, and it was soaked through, and the rubber and bakelite and corrugated cardboard and hair were all ruined. There was some sort of corrosive chemical compound in the water. It was that kind of lab.

So terrified were the foolish man and the hairy man at the prospect of having to confess their ineptitude to the Grunty Man that they ran away into the night, leaving the makings of their robot scattered in the lab. When the janitor came along at dawn, rattling his keys, he took one glance and saw what only a janitor with a well-trained eye could see. He pushed a knob on his walkie-talkie and made his report.

“There has been an incursion into the lab by one of the Grunty Man’s manifold robots,” he said, “Fortunately, it appears to have been as unstable as all his other robots, and has destroyed itself. The mopping up will begin now.”

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