The little gear almost fit.
That couldn't be right. His measurements had been precise - perfect. He adjusted the magnification on his goggles and tried again. Still, it slid only partway into its place in the mechanism. The inventor sat back in his chair, set his goggles up on his forehead, and scratched one of his ample side-burns where it came up to meet his mustache. It made no sense. He took the schematic his friend had made of the device. He had sketched it before the owner had mailed it to be repaired so the inventor could plan the repairs ahead of time, using measurements the owner sent by telegraph.
He laughed aloud when he saw the problem. The device was too small.
The owner had provided a description in which everything was - he saw now - roughly a milimeter larger than was true, and the inventor had made the necessary gear based on those measurements while the device was in the mail to save time. In a mechanism this finely intricate, even that small difference was too much.
"Well, my little fellow," he said down to the gear in his palm, "you would be perfect if the world were just a bit larger."
He found he liked the sentiment. He set about sodering a pin and clasp to the back and, once finished, he fixed the little ornament to his lapel.
He was admiring it in a refractive mirror from the selective light source he was building when his friend came through the door. The inventor turned to watch him artfully dodge the spare parts and unfinished projects on the floor with practiced steps, all the while looking down at a cream-colored card decorated with beautiful gold and black engravings.
Elson Dowring was down to his loose white undershirt, black trousers, and high black boots, meaning he had been practicing. That he wasn't sweating and his short brown hair was still in place meant he hadn't gotten too far into it. He came to a stop and said, "Templeton, why have we been invited to a private audience with the Chancellor of
Templeton Sledmeir cocked an eyebrow, then took a closer look and made out the distinctive seal in the center of the card. Now, both eyebrows were high on his forehead in surprise.
"Well, technically, just you," said Elson, reading it again. "I thought it said, 'bring a friend,' but that's not it ..."
The American spoke German well enough, but he was still learning to read it. Templeton got his hefty frame out of his comfortable work-chair with a grunt and went to look at the card. "No, no - see here, it says, 'freud,' for 'joy,' not 'freund.' They hope to 'share our joy,' not 'share our friend.'"
"Oh. I see it, now."
Templeton took the card and shook his head at the absurdity of using an invitation from Otto von Bismarck himself for a language lesson. Sure enough, his presence had been requested "for a closed-door seminar on the scientific future of the German Empire."
"Well, it's 'closed-door,' rather than 'private,' so there will likely be other scientists there."
"What to you think it means?"
"The Chancellor has just reunited Germany," Templeton said. "It's probably got to do with that - to discuss what kind of advancements the Empire can make, now."
"Will you go?"
"Streudel!" Templeton exclaimed. "This is an opportunity to take part in historic leaps ahead in science! Of course I'm going!"
"It sounds to me like a lot of mad scientists in the same room with Otto von Bismarck."
"Exactly! Think of what we ... could ..." Templeton's excitement slowed as his imagination told him the kinds of things that could occur in such a situation.
"I AM thinking of what you could do. Who else might he invite?"
Templeton put together a quick mental list of the brilliant minds with massive egos that might be in attendance. "I'll bring the Sonnenchen."
"It's a good thing you know me."