Wonderful – Encountering Galileo

I promised the Wonderful fans a scene tonight, as it’s all been a bit Who-centric round here lately recently, and is likely to continue to be through next week.

We join the action as Hammersmith, Guardian Demon to the suicidal George Bailey, and Hark, the original Joyful Noise, have been transported back in time by a little angelic jiggery pokery, so as to avoid some demons and to allow Hammersmith to teach Hark the wonder of humanity. Oh, the Boiler that’s mentioned is the gigantic steampunk engine that processes human belief and keeps Hell rooted in the universe of the Real. Is that all you need to know? Probably not – I’m probably doing you all a massive disservice, but there you go. Enjoy. Shrug. Consider the whole wretched thing a waste of precious minutes of your remaining life – all reactions are equally valid at this stage.

***

 

Galileo Galilei, circa 1605

Galileo Galilei, circa 1605

They appeared with a soft popping sound in a bustling, pleasantly pastel-coloured city, no less teeming than the London they had left, but painted in a kinder, warmer, more earthy palette. Bailey blinked. It was incongruously bright and warm, the sky a burning blue expanse of daylight.

Hammersmith smiled so brightly it was as though he was challenging the sun to a duel. He breathed in deeply. ‘Aaaahhh,’ he said, enjoying the business of exhaling. ‘Breathe that air, the pair of you.’

Bailey did as he was told, and immediately doubled up, coughing and choking.

‘No discrimination, some people,’ said Hammersmith, the smile not slackening even a little.

‘Too-’ spluttered Bailey. ‘Too much, more like. What is that stink?’

‘That’s life, that is,’ said Hammersmith, breaking into a chuckle. ‘Life in a city where the sewage system’s medieval, and attitudes to bathing aren’t quite as petrified as you’re used to. But raw, vital, red in tooth and claw and cutpurse life, nonetheless.’ Hammersmith dropped his arms to his sides and spread out his palms. ‘Ohhh, it makes my fingers itch. I can’t believe we’re really here.’

‘Really where, exactly?’ asked Bailey. ‘And come to that, really when?’

Hammersmith chuckled again. ‘I give you the city of Padua, Italy. Or at least, what will be Italy. The year is 1605. Great year. Primo year. Absolutely-’

He stopped abruptly, staring into the crowd of people on the street, fixated. There were a lot of people coming their way, many of whom were staring at them, and crossing themselves as they passed. Hammersmith didn’t notice them, he was watching one man. One man who seemed lost in deep concentration. Every now and again, he would mutter a phrase into his dark brown beard. His clothes were good quality but unobtrusively styled. He seemed to be navigating by memory, while his conscious mind was somewhere else entirely. His memory had done a reasonably good job of navigating him through the crowd, but he didn’t see Hammersmith, Hark or Bailey until he walked into them.

‘Scusi, Senore,’ he said gruffly, moving around them and going on his way. Hammersmith turned to watch him go.

‘I love that man,’ he breathed. ‘You see that man?’ he asked. ‘I love that man.’

‘Who was he?’ asked Bailey.

‘Who was he?’ Hammersmith laughed. ‘Who was he? Only the man who worked out pendulums, that’s all. Only the man who took the idea of telescopes and made them sing! The second best friend the sun ever had-’

‘A name would be good.’

‘You just met Galileo Galilei,’ said Hammersmith with the kind of reverence usually reserved for people who claim to be born of virgins, or the kind of emperor with high opinions of themselves and itchy trigger-fingers.

‘Galileo Figaro,’ sang Bailey. ‘Sorry – couldn’t resist.’

‘This man is important?’ asked Hark. ‘He is “wonderful”?’

‘The father of modern science? Maybe just a little bit wonderful, yeah,’ chuckled Hammersmith. ‘And d’ya know what else?’

‘You love him?’ asked Bailey.

‘I do,’ said Hammersmith, ‘yes. C’mon, let’s get after him, I know where he’s going today.’ He moved forward, and accidentally trod on the heel of an old Paduan woman.

She whirled around, looking like an extremely angry sultana in a dress. She had clearly been trained from her cradle in the fine art of Paduan invective and obscenity, and had apparently been waiting for the opportunity to make use of her education. She unleashed a torrent of North Italian filth in Hammersmith’s direction, but he just stood there, smiling placidly, as though this was a treat that had been laid on for them. He let her continue for a few moments, then he stuck out his hand and turned an invisible dial. Nothing happened. Hammersmith frowned.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked. ‘Why can’t I understand her?’

‘Do you speak seventeenth century Italian?’ asked Bailey lightly.

‘Well, no,’ said Hammersmith. ‘Not as such, but…’ He extended his hand, and deliberately turned his invisible dial again. Still, nothing happened. The old woman slapped his hand, and waggled her finger at him accusingly.

‘Ow!’ he said. ‘Wait a minute, can this prune-faced old bag actually see me?’

‘But of course,’ said Hark, sounding perplexed at the question.

‘But – but I made us invisible!’ said the demon.

‘Demons cannot travel in time,’ said Hark in her best explaining-to-a-three-year-old voice. ‘Obviously they do not retain their powers when transposed backwards in time.’

‘So… so you’re saying that the monastery-educated man who revolutionised our understanding of the scientific universe… just saw an angel in the street?’

‘Well,’ said Hark, frowning, ‘yes.’

Bailey joined in with the frowning game.

‘Well that’s just great!’ said Hammersmith. ‘Just thank your deities of choice he didn’t seem to really see us, or we could have changed all sorts of history.’

‘So,’ said Bailey to Hark, jerking a thumb at Hammersmith, ‘he has no powers here?’

‘No,’ agreed Hark.

‘But I’m here somewhere,’ said Hammersmith. ‘Well, I mean, technically in 1605, I’m in London, but I’m in this timezone, all demoned up and ready to go.’

‘That is you at the appropriate point in your timestream,’ said Hark, raising her voice slightly to be heard above the continuing rant of the aged Paduan. ‘This is not,’ she finished, shrugging as if that settled that.

‘What?’ Hamersmith rubbed his brow. ‘Hold on, so, the me from the first time around is the one with the connection to the Boiler, so he has all the powers? I don’t get ’em back till I, I mean me, I mean this me goes back to when I’m supposed to be?’

Hark rolled her eyes, nodding slowly.

‘Seriously, no powers?’ said Bailey. Hark kept nodding.

‘Now wait a minute-’

The punch came with 83 years of frustration and resentment behind it. Normally, Hammersmith’s demonic reflexes would have allowed him to see it coming and dodge the blow with ease. Here and now, he went down like a sack of squirrels.

The old Paduan woman screwed up her face into a satisfied scowl, gave a humph, and went about her day, unburdened of a significant portion of her life’s irritations.

 

***

 

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