Sunday, January 10, 2016

How I Became a Mad Scientist- Episode 22

Chapter 5: The Great Escape

My mom came to get me a few hours later. Her eyes were red and her skin was blotchy. She looked as bad as she had those first few weeks after my dad died. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It was my fault, but they took Frank.”

She sighed loudly. “We’ll discuss it at home.” 
Agent Newcomb walked us out to the parking lot. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson, George.” She said solemnly. “Go home. Be a normal boy and forget that the last few months ever happened. You’re better off without your cousin. He’s a bad influence.”

On the drive home, my mom didn’t say much. She drank her coffee, focused on the interstate, and occasionally yelled at the other drivers, especially the ones driving 20 miles below the speed limit. I could tell that she was furious. When she was happy, she chattered. She only got like this when she was too mad to say anything nice to me.

I was nearly asleep when we hit our exit, but then Mom turned the wrong way. “Mom? Where are we going?

“The EPA has to clean our property before we can move back in,” she said. “Plus, everyone in town knows what happened today, and our whole street is crawling with reporters. They’ve even come in from Chicago and St. Louis. We’re going to stay in French Lick for a few days, until things calm down.”

“But how will you work?” I asked.

“WiFi. The hotel’s is decent, and there’s an indoor water park so you won’t get too bored.”

“What about Aunt Mary and Uncle Arthur?”

“They’ve found a lawyer,” my mom said. “They’re going to bring Frank home.”  I drifted off to sleep. Maybe Frank wasn’t doomed after all.
The next two days weren’t awful. Mom worked while I swam or hung out in the arcade. We ordered delivery, went to bed early, and never set foot outside the hotel. It was like we’d moved to another planet. I figured that we’d hear get an update on Frank any day now, but Mom’s phone never rang. The whole world had forgotten that we existed, and that was fine with me,

Then, on the third day at the hotel, I saw a familiar splash of red hair at the water park. It was that strange kid again, the one who’d been there for Bessie, the hover board, and the FBI raid. Why was he here? I scanned the sitting area to make sure my mom wasn’t around, then got behind him in line for one of the slides. 

“What are you doing here? No one’s supposed to know where I am?” I glowered down at him with my arms crossed. “You have a weird knack for showing up just as things start happening.”

He grinned at me, an annoying, condescending, know-it-all grin. “It’s my special talent. I’m just here to help, as usual.”

I scanned the water park again. My mom walked in with her laptop and a big cup of coffee. I pulled the kid out of line and we ducked behind the slide. “What could you possibly do to help?” I hissed. “It’s more like you bring trouble.”

“I saved you from the Kraken-Cow,” the kid said. “And now I want you to help me save Frank from Agent McCawber’s prison.”

“His parents got a really good lawyer,” I said. “My mom says they can get him out, if I testify about how the nuclear thing was really my fault.”  I peeked out from behind the slide. My mom had stood up and was looking frantically around the water park.

“Your family has no idea what’s really going on,” the kid said. “Agent McCawber’s been waiting to get hands on Frank for years. They’ll pick hi brain for anything useful and then leave him a worn out, drugged out husk of a person. They won’t let him go until the Frank you know is totally gone. We need to break him out of there.”

“I can’t trust you,” I said. I stepped out from behind the pillar and back into line. I waved to my mom so she could see me.

“Why not, Frank?” the kid asked in a cold voice. “Your father always did.” Chills ran down my spine and I started to run.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How I Became a Mad Scientist -- Episode 21


They put us in an empty conference room. There was a table, four chairs, and a mirror on the wall.

“It’s so they can watch us,” Frank said. “I’m sure they have cameras and voice recorders, too. These places always do.”

“How many of these places have you been in?” I asked. I sat, then stood, then sat again. I stared at the mirror. Why were they leaving us in here so long? What were they waiting for?

Frank leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the table. “They’re trying to make us nervous,” he said, half-closing his eyes as if he was going to sleep. “Don’t give them the pleasure of seeing you upset. You don’t need to worry, George. I’ll get you out of this.”

“I don’t want you to get me out of this,” I yelled.  “It’s my fault, and I’ll take the blame. You did nothing but run me down and discourage me from day one. And then, when I build something that works, all by myself, you suddenly want to show up and take the glory? This was my project. I’ll take my punishment.”

“I should have stopped you sooner,” Frank said. “I should have taken you seriously. For all I know, you have radiation poisoning now. You may be dying a slow, miserable death because I was too stuck-up to realize that you could do something like this without my help.”

I stared at the table. “You need to tell the truth. I don’t want you to go to jail. Probation would be no big deal.” 

The door opened.  A young, blond woman walked in carrying two cups of cocoa and some packets of peanut butter crackers. “Here,” she said, “Eat. I know you must be scared and hungry, but everything is going to be fine as long as you two tell the truth.”  I stared at the cocoa, almost afraid to drink it, but Frank tore into his crackers with a grin. 

“Thanks, Agent Newcomb,” he said. “Are you and Agent McCawber going to do ‘good cop, bad cop’ again?”

She chuckled. “I don’t think that’s really necessary, Frank. I just want you to tell me your whole story from the start.”

I spluttered. “What about me? I’m the one who made the nuclear stuff, not him!”

Agent Newcomb looked at me sadly. “This is your first offense. I’m sure you’ll get probation, at most. Frank is the one in serious trouble.”

“But Frank didn’t do anything, “I complained. “He hasn’t touch technology since he moved to town, or done any experiments or anything.”

Agent Newcomb pulled a couple of photos out of her jacket pocket. “So, where did this herd of cow-octopi things come from?” she asked.  In the photos, a triumphant Bessie presided over a group of miniature kraken-cows. 

“She’s breeding?” Frank asked, “But how? She’s the only one?”

“Apparently a lot of farmers pasture their bulls down the river,” Agent Newcomb said. “And she reproduces in numbers that would make a squid blush.  This is a major ecological catastrophe, and I have a witness who says you boys are behind it.”

“Frank didn’t make her, I did!” I shouted. 

“But who told you how to make her?” Agent Newcomb asked. I stared at the table in silence as she whipped a newspaper out of her sleeve.

“Next up. Your electric company suddenly developed a hover park from upcycled materials.”

“That was me and a bunch of neighborhood guys,” I said. “You can ask them. They’ll tell you! We’re all proud of our work.”

“Again, we have a witness who says Frank was the mastermind,” Agent Newcomb said. “In fact, it appears the only bit of mischief Frank wasn’t involved with was your little nuclear attempt. Which makes sense, since Frank has always been safety conscious, even when he’s ignoring critical environmental regulations.”

“But Frank didn’t do anything,” I argued. “You can’t arrest someone for thinking!”

“No,” Agent Newcomb said. “But I can refer him for inpatient psychiatric treatment. The last thing our country needs right now is yet another deranged super villain.”

Frank looked up at her with flashing eyes. “That’s the problem with you idiots,” he snapped. “You assume that anyone who’s intelligent is on the path to villainy. You refuse to even consider the possibility of a brilliant, science-minded, superhero.”

Agent Newcomb laughed sourly. “A superhero who creates genetically-engineered monsters and infests our rivers with them? Who builds devices to drain the local electric grid? Who corrupts his normal, innocent cousin and turns him into a warped and twisted lab assistant?  I don’t think so, Frank.”  

She snapped a pair of handcuffs onto his wrists and snapped her fingers. Two large men picked him up and carried him out of the room.  “He’ll be staying with us until he reforms,” she said quietly. “It’s for the best, George.”

Next Episode.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How I Became a Mad Scientist - Episode 20

“I wasn’t doing anything wrong!” I protested. “I was just working on my science project!”

“Actually, son,” the agent said, “you’re in violation of Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 39, Section 831 of the US Code of Criminal Justice.  I hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the local penitentiary.”

“I know my rights!” I shouted as he marched me around to the street. “I demand a lawyer.”

“You’ll get a lawyer when I say you get a lawyer,” the FBI agent replied as he shoved me in the back of his car and locked the door.   I screamed. I kicked against the door.  I tried to break the windows. I broke down crying. None of it did any good.  I was trapped.

The car slowly pulled away from the house. I saw my mother, pale-faced and shaking, standing on our front porch. A bunch of neighbors stood in their front yards, watching everything that happened. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t stand to see anymore.

Suddenly, the car stopped. Something was pounding on the windows.  I opened my eyes in time to see the FBI agent rolling down his window. Frank leaned in.  

“Agent McCawber, this is an awful mistake,” Frank said. “George was just helping me. I’m the one who collected the nuclear material and made the reactor.”

“You were.” Agent McCawber frowned.

 “Yes. I was. I mean, obviously. Who else would it be? George is just my lackey. I’m the one you want.”

“Odd,” Agent McCawber said. “I never had you pegged as the type too stupid to take proper safety precautions.”

 Frank’s face turned bright red. “Look, just let him go. Take me down to the station, and I’ll give you a full confession.”

“Get in the back. I’ll take you both down, and we can work out the blame when we get there.”
Frank slid in next to me. 

“What are you doing?” I hissed. “I didn’t ask you to save me.”

“It’s not fair to your mom to lose you like this,” he whispered. “What were you thinking? You could have killed yourself!”

“You’re not my boss,” I grumbled. “And I would have won the science fair.  Are you the one who ratted me out?”

“No. I was going to, but I didn’t get the chance.”  He frowned. “Agent McCawber,” Frank spoke loudly and clearly. “Who called you about the reactor?”

“I have my sources,” he said. “I know everything you boys have been up to. But this was the first time there was a law broken.”

I swallowed.  He knew everything?  “Please, sir,” I choked. “I’ll tell you everything you want to know, without a lawyer. Just don’t tell my mom what I’ve been up to.”

“I’m pretty sure it will all come out at the hearing,” McCawber replied grimly. My stomach suddenly felt queasy.

“Stop the car. I think I’m going to be sick!”

“Sorry, kid. That only works in the movies. There’s a bucket on the floor. Feel free to use it.”

I looked out the window. The police station was only a few minutes away, and we were still driving.

“Where are you taking us?” I asked, suddenly panicked.  “We’re going towards the highway!”

“FBI regional headquarters in Louisville,” he said. “You had nuclear materials. This is a terrorism issue. Your local cops are happy to see you go.”

I couldn’t handle it anymore. I felt like I was going to pass out. Frank handed me the bucket, and I used it.

Next Episode.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

How I Became a Mad Scientist - Episode 19

Previous EpisodeFirst Episode.

The neutron gun was a surprisingly easy gadget. I found some videos online and got to work. The Americium from the smoke detectors constantly emitted Helium nuclei called Alpha particles. I’d heard these were pretty dangerous, but that they could be stopped by plastic, so I wore gloves and dropped the Americium into a plastic water bottle. I put aluminum foil across the top. Whenever an alpha particle hit the aluminum, the aluminum would get excited and spit out a neutron.

I set up the whole contraption on the picnic table in the back yard. I wasn’t going to start a nuclear reaction inside the house. That would have been crazy. Besides, I was less likely to get caught out here.

When I aimed the neutrons at my uranium, they should start a chain reaction. I got my Geiger counter ready and stuck my neutron generator into the side of the lead-lined box I was using as a reactor.
I got a spike in radiation. I pulled the neutron gun out, and it kept going at the same rate. I wasn’t worried. I knew I didn’t have enough Uranium to let things get out of control, and if I started running out I had backup supplies to feed my mini-reactor. This was going to be the best science project ever. 

I laughed to myself, and then frowned. It stunk that Frank was being such a brat about the whole thing. He should have been happy that I was figuring these things out on my own. Instead, he was too scared or jealous to share in my moment of triumph. But that was fine. I’d show him, I’d show my science teacher, and I’d show the whole school: George Ramondi was not a lackey or a science dunce.

I looked up. That weird little kid was riding down the alley on his bike. He slowed down as he passed my house, waved, and gave me a thumb’s up. I got a funny feeling that he knew exactly what I was doing, and it worried me.

I sat there, taking measurements with my Geiger counter and making notes. I still had to make a poster and type up my reports, but I’d do that the night before the project was due, like I always did. The important thing was the project, and it was awesome.

Three minutes later, I heard the sound of helicopters in the distance. There were too many for a medivac. I figured it was one of those training flights out of Fort Knox that flew over every now and then.

Five minutes later, it seemed like every police and fire siren in town started up. Probably an industrial accident at one of the factories. I hoped no one I knew was hurt. I shrugged, and went back to my notes. 

Six minutes later, I heard something scurrying on the roof. I looked up, expecting to see a squirrel. The roof was covered in men in black armor holding guns. Every gun was pointed at me. All at once, 8 or nine helicopters filled the sky above my house and blotted out the sun. Firetrucks and HAZMAT vehicles blocked the alley. I dropped my pen in shock.  

Handcuffs clicked over my wrists. “Mr. Ramondi,” Frank’s FBI agent said, “I’m afraid I have to place you under arrest.”

Next Episode.