Scrumtumbler seized handfuls of the iron filings and rammed them down the open throats of the carcasses of the grubs. Using copper wire he always kept with him in case of emergencies, he tightly tied their rear portions closed and then clipped off more wire to use on their mouths later. One by one, he dropped them, face first, into the sulfuric acid and pulled at their sides to create enough vacuum to draw a sampling of the acid up into their bodies. It was hasty work and he hated being unable to take measurements, but the situation seemed to call for haste over precision.
He repeated this procedure for each carcass, and by the time he sealed off the mouth of the final grub, the first one was already inflating. The sulfuric acid had gone to work on the iron filings, filling their bodies with hydrogen gas. When he drained their bodies of the heavy liquid, the gas proved boyant enough to lift them into the air.
Scrumtumbler was bitten several times more and had to defend himself from three other grubs as he worked to tie his improvised balloons to his lab coat. As their empty body cavities inflated even further, they began to lift him, tugging him up into the air by the lapels and hem of his coat. He stomped furiously to defend himself from the approaching army of crawling creatures, and as he ascended they spilled over the ground where he had stood, covering the bottom of the pit completely.
As he rose, Scrumtumbler momentarily wondered what Jules Verne, his childhood idol, might have thought of so fantastic a device.
He’d probably find it disgusting, Scrumtumbler realized. But science is a messy business.
It was not a comfortable flight, and the fabric of his jacket dug deeply enough into his armpits that his fingers became numb. Yet escape was his: he made it over the lip of the pit and then kicked himself forward, adding just enough momentum to sail out into the large cavern where the molemen carried on their worship of his drilling machine. Their drumming and chanting stopped, and a hundred furry faces peered at him from all around the rocky space.
They watched in stunned silence as he glided clumsily through the air, waving his broken stun-rifle so the pale blue light from its tip lashed shadows in every direction.
Perhaps he had triggered some instinctual fear of aerial predators, or perhaps his stained lab coat supported by bulbous, dripping white worms was too horrendous a thing to be endured. Whatever the case, the molemen, acting in perfect unison, broke from their collective paralysis and fled screaming, a hundred high-pitched wails echoed through the cavern and out into the tunnels as they went. Even the high-priest had run away so fast that he left his ornate headdress behind.
“Yes, that’s it—flee from Scrumtumbler, who rises again like the phoenix of science!” he shouted after them. “And don’t forget: that’s Scrumtumbler with an S!”