1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 48

Tasha Kubiak blushed. “I lent him some of Amy’s old school science projects. He seemed fascinated by my cigarette lighter and wanted to make some of those funny electric crystals. I threw in a couple of simple electricity experiments, as well. You know. The lemon battery, and bubbling off hydrogen and oxygen. I was wondering if we could get one of those machines that generate electricity. You know what I mean, the ones where someone stands on a wooden stool and puts a hand on the top shiny dome while someone turns a handle, and their hair goes all funny.”

Tracy Kubiak shook her head. “You mean a Van de Graaff generator. I don’t like our chances. It’s not the sort of thing anybody around here would buy. The schools are probably the only places with them, and I doubt they’re going to sell them for any price.”

“Maybe some of the guys can make one. Tracy, you’ve still got a lot of your up-time stock haven’t you?” asked Mary Rose Onofrio.

Tracy sneaked a quick look around. “Well, yes, but don’t talk too loud. I don’t want the wrong people suspecting what I might have stashed away for a rainy day.”

Erin looked around the table. “Speaking of things stashed away . . . how is everybody for aspirin? I was chatting with Mrs. Abruzzo after mass. Did you know aspirin is going for twenty dollars a tablet?” Erin targeted her question at Belle’s sister-in-law, Katie Jackson, a pharmacy clerk at Nobili’s Pharmacy.

“I had heard that there was a black market in aspirin. The boss has been saying he should look into making his own pills. But, he just hasn’t found the time,” Katie replied.

There was a communal “Oh” and “arhhh” as an idea simultaneously dawned around the room. The Kubiak Country Ladies looked at each other, then turned to stare at Tasha Kubiak.

No. Absolutely no. No way. I am not going back and begging the geek to make aspirin. It’s somebody else’s turn. Tracy. He doesn’t scare you. Why don’t you go and ask him?”

Tracy gave a little shiver. “I had Ted riding shotgun last time.”

“Well, there you go. Take Ted with you again. Believe me, you’re going to need all the support you can get. I bet he’s elbows deep in that electricity stuff. He really hates spending time away from his precious experiments.”

Tracy looked at her family. She wasn’t actually related by blood to any of the ladies, but they were more family than anybody but her brother, Terry, had ever been. “Okay, if it’s what everyone wants?” Everyone nodded. “Then Katie, could you ask your boss about a cheat sheet for aspirin? We’ll have to arrange some kind of deal so he gets a royalty payment. Probably something similar to what we have with Christie Penzey for the baking soda and baking powder. Meanwhile, I’d like everyone else to hunt around at home to see what they have on experiments in electricity. Any old children’s science books or home laboratory sets. I’d like to go visit Dr. Phil with something to trade.”

Jena, Dr. Gribbleflotz’s Study

“Now, when I pump away at the foot pedal, the two discs spin. When they spin they collect a static charge. Those bottles, the Leyden Jars, store the charge, and eventually, we have . . .” Crack. A spark leapt across the two terminals set above the Wimshurst generator.

Phillip’s eyes lit up when he saw the spark. His new Lightning Crystals, even the biggest he had been able to grow, had only cast a spark barely a finger’s breadth. This new machine the American was demonstrating had sent a spark more than a foot through the air.

Ted Kubiak carefully discharged the Wimshurst generator and the Leyden Jars before removing the jars. “And, if we could have a willing volunteer to stand on this stool, and touch this wand to the globe. Tracy, would you care to volunteer?”

“Ted, aren’t you forgetting something?” Tracy asked.

“But this is important, dear.” Ted tried to placate his wife. “I’m sure Dr. Gribbleflotz will be really impressed by the hair-raising experiment.”

With a sigh sufficiently loud so that her husband could be in no doubt she was less than impressed, Tracy removed her coat and jewelry, took the wand in her right hand, and stepped onto the stool before shaking out her shoulder-length hair. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get this show on the road.”

With Tracy in place, Ted started his foot pumping at the modified spinning wheel assembly that provided rotational force to the Wimshurst generator. After a few moments, Tracy’s hair started to stand out. After a couple of minutes all of her hair was standing on end.

Fascinated, Phillip reached out towards her hair. “No!” Tracy screamed. But too late. Phillip leapt backward shaking his hand. Quickly, Ted discharged the generator and his wife before going to check on Dr. Gribbleflotz.

“Are you all right, Doctor? I should have warned you. That was a big charge you took there. You should never try to touch the generator or anybody being charged by it.”

Phillip looked from his stinging hand to the American and his woman. The spark that had flown as he reached to touch the woman’s hair had bitten him, but there appeared to be no real injury. Waving off the American’s attentions, he approached the “Wimshurst generator.”

“This is for me?” he asked. “Why?” Phillip was getting used to the way these Americans operated. They wouldn’t have come bearing gifts unless they wanted something.

“We would like you to make some of these.” Tracy passed over a sheet of paper and a small glass bottle.

Sparing a glance from his new lightning generator, Phillip spent a moment reading the paper. Even at a quick glance he realized he had already made this . . . he did a quick re-reading of the title of the sheet . . . ASPIRIN. Except he’d called his willow bark extract pills Sal Vin Betula, and they’d been a proper cooling blue, not white like the pills in the bottle. He knew how much effort went into making Sal Vin Betula. He would have to spend time away from his latest line of research. And a very promising line of research it was. Electricity was simply fascinating. That Lightning Generator. In his mind’s eye, he could already see people coming to his private salon to see it demonstrated. And there were the other electricity experiments. People in Jena had heard about the Americans’ electricity. His salon would be the first place those people would be able to see it. Phillip looked back to his still stinging hand. And feel it. Better to discourage these Americans before they got too enthusiastic. “The price will be ten dollars per dose.”

The American woman smiled. Smiled. She should have been outraged. Ten of those American dollars for a pill that cost less than a few Pfennigs to make, and she was smiling.

“When can you start making them, Dr. Gribbleflotz? I don’t think we should try for more than five thousand a week, to start with. At least until we can properly judge the demand.”

Phillip was horrified. Thousands a week. The time away from his precious experiments. He would need to buy more cauldrons, more alembics, more retorts, and he would have to find and train more peasant children to do the work. And he would have to shop for the materials. Phillip sank into his chair and watched the American man and woman leave his study. Idly, he reattached the Leyden Jars to his new Lightning Generator and started pumping the foot pedal. He sat in contemplation, absently watching the sparks of lightning leap through the air between the terminals.

Phillip didn’t hear the knock on his study door, or the sound of it opening. It was the stifled cry of amazement from Frau Mittelhausen that brought him out of his thoughts. Looking up he saw the look of wonder on his housekeeper’s face. “Frau Mittelhausen? Frau Mittelhausen? Is there a problem?”

“What? No. No problem, Herr Doctor Gribbleflotz. The Americans said that you would require me to make some purchases.” Frau Mittelhausen looked back at the still sparking Lightning Generator. “What is this wondrous machine? How does it produce lightning from thin air?”

“A better question might have been ‘what do the Americans expect in exchange for this wondrous Lightning generator?'” Phillip picked up the small glass bottle. Inside it were a few white tablets. Up-time aspirin, the woman had said. Phillip shook his head and moved to his desk to start doing some calculations. It took only moments to write a list of what he would need. He handed it to her. “Frau Mittelhausen, I need you to go out and purchase these items. Also, I will need more workers. Can you handle more apprentices?”

She glanced at the list and nodded. “I will need to employ an assistant. Do you wish for me to find the additional workers? I’m sure your current group of laborants have family and friends who would be interested in employment in your new manufactory.”

“Frau Mittelhausen, I am not a manufacturer. I am an alchemist. Just because I train street refuse to make the products the Americans want does not make me a manufacturer. Do you understand me, Frau Mittelhausen?”

“Yes, Herr Doctor.” Frau Mittelhausen gazed longingly at the lightning generator. Gently, she reached out a hand towards it.

No! Do not touch it.”

Frau Mittelhausen leapt backward, her hands wrapping themselves around her body, the sheet of requirements crushed in her hand. She looked at Dr. Gribbleflotz, shock showing on her face. Dr. Gribbleflotz had never used that tone before.

“The machine bites if you are not careful, Frau Mittelhausen.” He waved his hand so she could see the red mark on his fingers. “I have already been bitten. Nobody is to touch the lightning generator. Please ensure that the rest of the staff know. Meanwhile . . .” He ran a hand over the books the Americans had delivered with the Lightning Generator. “I need to do a little reading to understand what is happening.”

“I will get onto the purchases and recruitment of new workers immediately Herr Doctor.” Her eyes alternating between Doctor Gribbleflotz and the wondrous lightning machine, Frau Mittelhausen backed out of the study. She closed the door after one last look at the wondrous Lightning Generator.