Amelia did not sleep that night. A pit in the middle of her stomach would not dislodge. At first light, she dressed herself and hurried to Jeremiah’s workshop. When she arrived, Jeremiah’s section of the workshop felt hollow and empty though it still contained a jumble of tools, materials, books, and half-finished inventions. In the midst of the chaos sat a wide drafting desk. On the desk, Amelia found a letter:
You are right. I must take responsibility for my inventions, both their triumphs and their failures. And my greatest failure was that I couldn’t convince you; that you never believed in me.
I will never forget your eyes.
On the other side of town, Mayor Brewins had just sat down to a hearty breakfast at Mrs. Fairchild’s house. Mr. Fairchild had been away on business for the week. Mayor Brewins made sure to check on the housewife often during her husband’s absence.
Suddenly a sharp knock sounded at the door. Mrs. Fairchild peeked out through pulled curtains. “It’s Jeremiah Brown,” Mrs. Fairchild said in a harsh whisper.
Mayor Brewins slathered butter on his pancakes. “Tell him to go away,” he said, not bothering to whisper.
Mrs. Fairchild rolled her eyes and stepped to the door. “We don’t need any inventin’ this mornin’,” Mrs. Fairchild said pleasantly through the door.
“I’m here to see the mayor,” Jeremiah said.
“Why would you come over here?” Mrs. Fairchild said, still in her sweet-as-syrup voice.
“Petunia, come off it. The whole town knows. It’s not like the mayor can keep a secret, even his own.”
Mrs. Fairchild looked hard at Mayor Brewins, who smiled back at her through a biscuit. “Just let him in,” Mayor Brewins said. “He’s harmless.”
As Mrs. Fairchild unlatched the door, Jeremiah shoved it open, knocking her to the floor. He strode into the house with a black and red device raised in one hand. “Hands up!”
Mayor Brewins held up his hands, dropping his knife and fork.
“You twitch and he’s dead,” Jeremiah said to Mrs. Fairchild as she recovered. He turned to the mayor. “Stand up. You’re coming with me.” Jeremiah fingered the device, reasserting his grip.
The mayor gulped; he’d never seen that crazed look in Jeremiah’s eyes before. “What’s that?” the mayor asked, pointing tremulously at the device in Jeremiah’s hand. It was a black rectangle just wider than Jeremiah’s palm with a dark sheen and an ominous look. On the top near Jeremiah’s thumb was a red ball.
“What do you think I did when I placed the automatic conscience?” Jeremiah shouted almost into the mayor’s ear. “You think that’s the only thing I put there?” He brandished the device at Mayor Brewins’ head. “One touch of this ball and your life is over. Over!”
Mayor Brewins whimpered.
“Turns out you were right—I had other plans. Now, get up!” Jeremiah grabbed the mayor by the collar and hoisted him to his feet. He shoved him toward the door. “You and the town council should have seen it my way.”
Mrs. Fairchild cowered in the hall. As Jeremiah passed, he turned to her. “Gather the town. We’ll be at the wheel,” he said.
She nodded but wouldn’t look up.
He grabbed the neck of her dress and shouted, “You understand? Bring the whole town.”
Mrs. Fairchild shivered and shook as she shoved out the words, “Y—y—yes, I’ll bring them.”
To Be Continued…