Airscrew

The Disastrous Voyage of the Incredible Flying Squirrel (2006)

This is a story I wrote for a girlfriend at the time for her birthday. I didn’t have a money and she seemed to like my writing, so I thought something written for her would be a decent gift. She seemed to like it. It is definitely cuter than most things I’ve written and possibly funnier too (that is a low bar, of course).

The only other thing of note about it is that I apparently confused myself into thinking that Leonardo da Vinci’s aerial screw design was the same thing as his ornithopter. What an idiot, eh reader.

 

The Disastrous Voyage of the Incredible Flying Squirrel

‘I have it!’ the Mad Scientist exclaimed. ‘The means to secure my victory!’

‘Your victory?’ said his Favoured Henchman, unsure exactly which victory the Mad Scientist was referring to on this occasion.

‘My victory over the laws of gravity!’ the bent old man cackled. ‘To see mammals race the birds for supremacy in the skies!’

The Mad Scientist, you see, had long ago been expelled from civilised society. Ordinary folk found his experiments, not to mention his exposition, somewhat unsettling. As a result of his exile the Mad Scientist was entirely unaware of powered flight.

The Favoured Henchman knew about aeroplanes, having been shuttled in on one after a robotic shark ate his predecessor, but being the Favoured Henchman he was just clever enough to say nothing.

‘For you see,’ said the Mad Scientist, continuing without heed for his audience. ‘I have taken a small land mammal, native to Europe, and gifted it with the power of flight!’

‘Astonishing,’ said the Favoured Henchman, politely.

‘Quite so, my dear… my dear… Favoured Henchman. For you are about to witness the first flight… of the Incredible Flying Squirrel!’

He gestured as grandly as a centenarian man with terrible arthritis can, and pulled a piece of cloth off a table.

The Favoured Henchman was genuinely surprised, for on the table there sat a miniature reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous ornithopter. Peering closely, he could see some of the tiny and intricate mechanisms that presumably powered the thing.

‘But there is no squirrel,’ he observed.

‘Hmm?’ said the Mad Scientist, distracted.

‘The ornithopter is a machine of great genius and agreeable artistry, but there is no squirrel.’

‘No squirrel,’ said the old man. Suddenly looking a little tired, he reached into a pocket. He pulled out a greasy monocle and placed it over his best eye.

‘There is certainly an absence of squirrel,’ he agreed.

There came a tinny banging noise from the innards of the ornithopter, and then a hatch on the side of the flying machine burst open and a tiny furred head peered out. Its face was blackened, throwing into sharp relief its gleaming white teeth and hiding its dark eyes. It blinked a few times, revealing clean red fur on its eyelids. Then it threw a very small wrench out of the ornithopter’s innards and wiped an even smaller piece of cloth across its brow. It mostly succeeded in smearing the muck and filth around some more.

‘How splendid,’ said the Favoured Henchman. ‘The Amazing Squirrel uses tools!’

The squirrel stopped trying to wipe itself down and looked up at the Favoured Henchman, who gave it a grin. The rodent waved the cloth back at him.

‘This,’ it said, in a voice that had a dash of dashing but was mostly a high-pitched squeak, ‘is a handkerchief. Amongst civilised society it is not considered a tool, but rather a vital part of a gentleman’s outfit. Where is your handkerchief?’

Taken aback, the Favoured Henchman was forced to admit he did not have one. He looked askance at his master. The Mad Scientist was jumping up and down in joy, although being so old his feet did not actually leave the ground. His monocle chain bounced and swayed dangerously.

The squirrel decided to ignore the both of them, and climbed out of the ornithopter to continue cleaning himself. The engine muck seemed confined to his face and forepaws although he devoted an inordinate amount of time to fussing over his tail. It was a very fine and bushy tail.

The Favoured Henchman had recovered his composure by this point. The Mad Scientist was still trying to hop in glee, so he knelt down beside the table and poked at the ornithopter. ‘How does it- ow!’

The miniature wrench bounced off the side of his finger. The squirrel was up on its hind legs, trembling with rage.

‘Don’t you touch that!’ it squeaked. ‘That is a fine-tuned and delicate piece of equipment!’

Standing up again, the Favoured Henchman felt his face flush. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled. He was not a man prone to anger or outburst, as such characteristics were considered uncharacteristic of henchmen. Indeed, his application form had stated that he was willing to be walked all over. He felt that this had helped him to beat the competition.

The Mad Scientist shuffled forwards and pushed him aside. The Favoured Henchman obligingly stepped in the direction he was pushed, worried that by not doing so he might break his master’s fingers.

‘This squirrel,’ the old man began, but was immediately interrupted. The squirrel was still shaking with fury.

‘I have a name!’ it yelled.

‘Do you?’ said the Mad Scientist. ‘I don’t recall giving you one. In fact I’m quite positive I did not. You are the Incredible Flying Squirrel.’

The squirrel deflated. ‘I’m Incredible and Flying,’ he whispered.

‘This squirrel,’ the Mad Scientist began again, ‘is the product of many generations of selective breeding. In my tests I have looked for pure intelligence and practical engineering skills. I have done this by having each subject run through a maze. Those which used acorns and twigs to fashion machines to help them escape were carried over.’

He looked down at his protégé at this point.

‘Your grandfather, or your grandmother – one or the other – was an early success. Why, they wove a glider with hairs from their own tail! Most ingenious.’

‘How did you make them talk?’ asked the Favoured Henchman. Thus far he found himself quite impressed by all this nonsense.

‘Why, all squirrels can talk,’ said the Mad Scientist. He turned his lazy eye on the Henchman and it wandered over his face. ‘It’s a well-known fact that only rodents have the same vocal apparatus as we hominids. Well-known amongst scientists.’

‘We choose not to talk,’ the squirrel added, still looking a little sorry for itself.

‘Which is why it made such sense to breed for intelligence!’ said the Mad Scientist, once more looking most pleased with himself. ‘Why, to be able to hold an intelligent conversation with a specimen that grasped advanced concepts of aeronautics!’

He cackled at this point. ‘Truly, I am a genius!’

‘An evil genius, sir?’

The eye turned back on the Favoured Henchman. ‘Certainly not. My inventions are for the benefit of all mankind. When I one day rule it will be a great and glorious world. Perhaps you could call me a genius of necessary evil.’

‘A Necessary Evil Genius, sir,’ said the Favoured Henchman, and looked at the floor. His master ignored him.

‘It is time for the test flight!’

The squirrel bounced from foot to foot. ‘It’s time for the Incredible Flying Squirrel!’

The rodent aeronaut hopped and skipped around the table, collecting up his various tiny tools. He also made a brief visit to a stack of acorns heaped near the ornithopter, dropping several of them into the machine’s innards. Then he bounced his way into the pilot’s seat at the centre of the device.

‘Ready!’ he squeaked.

‘Then it is time!’ cried the Mad Scientist. He flung one arm into the air. ‘Open the gates!’

The Favoured Henchman pressed a button on the wall he’d positioned himself next to, and pulled down a neighbouring handle.

‘Gates open, sir!’ he cried, rather enjoying getting into the swing of things.

The Mad Scientist stared at the ceiling for a minute. Then he dropped his hand onto his forehead.

‘Close the gates!’ he said.

‘Gates closed, sir!’ cried the Favoured Henchman.

‘Now open the roof gates.’

‘Roof gates opened, sir!’

‘Excellent,’ said the Mad Scientist. He watched the heavy overhead doors slide open, revealing the clear blue sky above his lair. ‘Now shut up.’

‘Shutting up, sir!’

Cursing the inherent stupidity of those who chose to serve him, the Mad Scientist eased himself to his knees beside the table. He fumbled in a lab coat pocket.

‘I have a gift for you,’ he confided.

The squirrel looked up at him, blinking. Its paws rested on the ornithopter’s control levers.

‘A gift?’ it squeaked. ‘Is it a name?’

‘What?’ said the Mad Scientist. ‘No, no. Whatever would you want with a name? No, no, this is much better. Here we are. Here you go.’

He handed a very small gift-wrapped package to the squirrel. It had been bound up in a very tiny bow.

‘I had the other test subjects make this before I had them put to death,’ said the Mad Scientist. ‘I hope you appreciate the effort.’

The squirrel gulped. ‘I surely do,’ it managed to say. Then its deft little nails went to work tearing the package open. Inside was a tiny set of old-fashioned aviator goggles and a very small woollen scarf.

‘They wear those goggles when they go up in balloons,’ said the Mad Scientist. ‘They’re the latest thing. And my studies lead me to believe that it is very cold that high up.’

‘Wonderful,’ said the squirrel. ‘Thank you.’ It looked at the miniature items in its paws for a moment and squeezed its eyes shut for a few seconds. Then it put on the goggles and wrapped the scarf around its neck.

‘Ready for the test,’ it said in a small voice. Admittedly its voice was small to begin with, so perhaps this might be described as a microscopic voice.

‘Help me up!’ said the Mad Scientist, waving a feeble arm at the Favoured Henchman, who hurried over and carefully hauled the old man to his feet.

‘Start her up,’ said the Mad Scientist. ‘You know what to do.’

‘Isn’t there a countdown, sir?’

‘A countdown?’ snapped the Mad Scientist, turning on his assistant once again. ‘Why on Earth would there be a countdown? There are only two of us here!’

‘Right, sir. Sorry, sir.’ The Favoured Henchman stared at his feet again. He began to wonder if he was in the wrong line of work.

The squirrel pulled hard on a large lever in its control panel, and a little engine began to whir. The ornithopter vibrated a little. With a tug of another lever its blades began to spin, whirling around in an eye-catching spiral. Finally, the squirrel took hold of four levers – one with each foot – and the ornithopter hovered slightly into the air.

‘Marvellous!’ cried the Mad Scientist. The squirrel, eyes stern behind its little goggles, moved the levers. The ornithopter moved a metre higher.

‘Fantastic!’ cried its creator. Once again the squirrel’s feet moved, and the ornithopter moved up another few metres. Its scarf began to flap about in the breeze coming in through the roof gates.

‘Stupendous!’ cried the Mad Scientist, but this time the Incredible Flying Squirrel was still moving its feet and the ornithopter kept flying higher and higher. Within a few seconds it was out of the lair and into the open skies. The squirrel waved down at the two of them, and seconds later an acorn hurtled down and bounced off the Mad Scientist’s forehead. Then feet were working levers once more, and the ornithopter moved higher still.
The Mad Scientist and the Favoured Henchman watched hopelessly as the little flying machine and its squirrel captain soared higher and higher, wobbling from side to side until it caught a thermal and turned into a pinprick.

A buzzard flew over the entrance to the lair, circled a few times, and then perched on the rim. It glared down at the two men with an imperious air.
The Mad Scientist sighed, removed his monocle, and turned to the Favoured Henchman.

‘How much do you like sharks?’ he asked.

['The Disastrous Voyage of the Incredible Flying Squirrel', Shaun Green, 2006. Cover image taken from Google Image Search.]

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