“What’s this?” said the Devil, heavy hooves clopping on the boards as he walked around the slab of stone on which sat Sinjon safe within the pentacle of protection.
“Welsh slate,” said the magus, working hard to conceal a grin.
“Why Welsh?” said the Devil, taking time to look around the work room, at the alembics, pestles, scrolls and books that lay heaped on every surface.
“I am Welsh,” said Sinjon, turning to keep the Devil in view. He lifted his robe to ensure each step stayed inside the inner pentagon formed by the lines describing the pentacle. “I am descended from the great wizards of that land, I have a…”
“Yes, yes, yes,” said the Devil. “But why stone? Why not just chalk or paint on the floor boards.” He stamped and left a hoof mark on the wood. “That’s the usual way.”
“I have made great study of summoning rituals,” said Sinjon, “and, in particular, how they failed. Always you find a way through, past the magical protections. But not this time.”
“No?” said the Devil, levering forward a book with a talon to reveal a mouse quivering behind it.
“No. This pentacle is complete. Entire. No gap exists between the boards for you to worm through, the paint has been meticulously applied so there are no breaks. You are mine to command as I sit safe within.”
“Do you have any food in there?” said the Devil, picking up the mouse and dropping it down his throat.
“Food?” The Devil licked his lips. “Why don’t I just wait you out. Watch you starve?”
“No, because I can send you hence, back to the pit from which…”
“Yes, yes, yes. Let’s get to what you want from me.”
“Knowledge,” said Sinjon, swallowing deep. “I crave knowledge.”
“Very well. What do you know of physics?”
“The work by Aristotle? A child’s primer. I read it soon after I was weaned.”
“No,” said the Devil. “Physics. In particular the atom. Coincidentally enough the name comes from the Greek and means…”
“Atomos. That which cannot be cut.”
“Quite so. And yet, as Rutherford discovered, not quite so entire nor impenetrable as was once thought.”
“Rutherford?” said Sinjon. “I know no scholar of that name. Does he study at Louvain?”
“No. Manchester. Or will in a few hundred years’ time.”
“Do not try to trick me, I…”
“This is no trick. But what Rutherford did discover was that, in the main, atoms are made of nothing.”
Sinjon began to weep. “Nothing?”
“Nothing. Empty space. And easy, once you have the trick of it, to slip through.”
“Do you have the trick of it?”
The Devil cocked an eyebrow at Sinjon.
“Then I have failed.”
“You have,” said the Devil, grinning as he stepped across the pentacle and threw an arm around Sinjon’s heaving shoulders. “But you get points for ingenuity.”
“Points! This is no game.”
“No?” said the Devil. “Then why am I having so much fun?”
Mark Ward writes about technology for a living and writes fiction for the love of it. He lives in Surrey, UK with his family.