'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Professor Hemstig

The birds are busy in the garden these days. I could watch them for hours. All of the animals are busy getting ready for winter. I've seen a few squirrels and when I was walking next to a stream last week I saw a weasel. The wife's uncle says that he once had to eat a weasel to prove his manhood, and he did. He was three-years-old at the time.

My cousin Albert and his friends, George and Neil, were students of Professor Hempstig, who was a brilliant inventor. After he resigned from his post at the university, he spent most of his waking hours in the basement of his house, working on his inventions. Albert, George and Neil often called around to see what he was working on. He gladly showed them most of his inventions, like his mechanical spider that could be used to hang pictures from (getting the pictures to stay in one spot was problematic), but there was one invention that he kept hidden behind a partition, and he wouldn't say anything about it until it was finished.

He spent nearly four years working on it. When he took Albert, George and Neil behind the partition to see the finished product, they couldn't tell what it was at first. "It looks like something from the set of a science fiction film," Albert said.

"It's the sort of thing you'd find in sci-fi, but this is real. It's a cloning machine. I can clone any living creature, including humans. And this isn't like Dolly the effing sheep. I could create an exact replica of myself. It would be a perfect copy of me, and there would no longer be any need for my existence."

"But it wouldn't really be you," George said.

"It would be a man who looks exactly like me, and he would have my mental faculties. He could learn everything about me from my notebooks. Within a few years, he would be me. Professor Hemstig, in this incarnation, could disappear from the face of the earth and I'd still go on in another form. I'll prove it. This is a poison I've developed myself. It takes about ten seconds to work. That's all it takes for me to disappear and to allow my copy to fill my shoes, literally."

The professor took the poison.

Albert said, "Shouldn't you have cloned yourself before killing yourself?"

"Oh shit!" The professor collapsed to his knees. With his dying breath he said, "Banjo MacErdle."

"Who's Banjo MacErdle?" Neil said as he looked down at the professor's lifeless body.

"I don't know," Albert said. "I suppose we should put him in the freezer with all of the other things he's been cryogenically freezing. If he invented the poison, there's a chance he invented an antidote. His clone would have been able to figure that out by looking through the notebooks."

They put the body into the freezer and left. They went to the pub, and they asked the other drinkers if they'd ever heard of Banjo MacErdle. A woman said there was a fast-food place called Banjo MacErdle's in a town about twenty miles away.

Albert, George and Neil went there on the following evening. They ordered their food and they sat at a table. There were only two other customers. "We should probably ask the staff if they've ever heard of Professor Hemstig," Neil said.

"I suppose so," Albert said. "But I couldn't imagine the professor coming to a place like this."

"I'm imagining it right now," George said. "Look at the man mopping the floor."

Albert and Neil turned around. The man mopping the floor looked exactly like the professor. "He must be a clone, or an identical twin. My money's on the clone."

They went over to him, and George asked if he'd ever heard of Professor Hemstig. "No," the man said. "Should I have heard of him?"


"Do you guys know who I am?"

"Sort of. Do you know who you are?"

"No. I woke up in a ditch a few miles from here. I have no memory of my past life. The doctors say I have amnesia. All I know is that I feel a need to work in a fast-food restaurant, even though I hate it."

"I think we can shed light on your past," Albert said.

They took him to the professor's basement and they showed him the cloning machine. The man, who they referred to as Hemstig II, had no trouble understanding the operation of the machine. He started reading the notebooks, and it all made perfect sense to him.

Albert, George and Neil left him there. They came back on the following evening, and by then, Hemstig II knew more about his origins. "I'm a clone alright," he said. "He made me to test the machine, but he was afraid I'd take his place, so he brainwashed me to give me an overwhelming need to work in a fast-food restaurant, even though I'd find it mind-numbingly boring. He estimated that I'd work there for five years before killing myself."

Albert said, "If you brought him back to life, you could get him to un-do the brainwashing."

"He wouldn't do it. I know him. I wouldn't do it if I was in his position and I'm him. I have a better plan. I found these plans for a time-machine. He was convinced that it would work. I could go back to before the brain-washing."

"You can't change the past."

"Of course you can. Everyone's trying to change the past these days because the future is so bleak. 'Then' is the new 'now'."

"But it could take years to build the time machine."

"It would take years if I spent all of my time working on it, and it'll take twice as long because I'll have to work in Banjo MacErdle's as well. So I'm going to clone myself, and brainwash my clone into wanting to work on the time machine for my benefit. I'll be frozen while he's working on it. When it's finished, he'll unfreeze me and I can go back in time. It was nice meeting ye, and I'm very grateful for all ye've done for me, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to say goodbye for a few years."

Hemstig II took the poison.

"Ahm, shouldn't you have cloned yourself first?" George said.

"Oh shit!"

They put Hemstig II into the freezer with Hemstig I.

"What are we going to do now?" Neil said.

Albert said, "I suppose we'll have to figure out this antidote for ourselves. We were students of the professor after all. Surely we should be able to understand his notebooks."

First they needed to find all of his notebooks. They looked all around the basement. When Neil looked in a red cupboard he found a red book, and on the first page he read these words: 'I made a clone of myself and brain-washed him into wanting to work in a fast-food restaurant. I also made him unable to perceive this red cupboard. He sees it as a painting of a Jack Russell. I made detailed plans for a time machine, but they're all fake. The machine will never work. Knowing his mind, and I know exactly how his mind works, he'll kill himself and make a clone. I mean, make a clone and kill himself. The clone will start working on the time machine, but he'll realise that it's fake, and he'll laugh. The first clone will remain frozen, where he can't take revenge on me for brain-washing him.'

"So which one do we bring back to life," George said, "The real Hemstig or the clone?"

Albert said, "If we bring back Hemstig II, he'll kill himself when he realises there's no time machine."

"Why don't we bring both back?" Neil said.

"They'd just fight."

"Exactly. Wouldn't it be fascinating to watch a man fight himself? They'd be perfectly matched."

"Fascinating, yes, but would it be ethical?"

Albert, George and Neil never had much time for ethical questions. They found detailed instructions for the antidote in one of the professor's notebooks, and they brought both Hemstig I and Hemstig II back to life. They brought all of their friends around to see the moment when the two would meet.

Someone brought a beer keg and someone else was taking bets on the winner. Hemstig II was made the slight favourite because he'd be motivated by revenge. No one could have predicted just how motivated he'd be. The fight was over in less than a minute. His pent-up anger at having to work in a fast-food place survived the freezing and it was released in the fight. He remembered every time he had to clean up vomit.

Hemstig I surrendered and he agreed to un-do the brainwashing. Hemstig II felt much better without the need to work in Banjo's. He worked with his creator, who told people that Hemstig II was his twin brother.

The moose's head over the fireplace loves this time of year, when the clocks go back and the weather turns wintry. It's the right time of year for lovers of the night. It's the perfect time for Halloween. We dressed the moose's head up like Satan (or like Satan's head) to frighten the wife's niece, but she loved it. She'd have been frightened by ribbons and flowers. Halloween is like Christmas for her.