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 Newland,” 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 Newland 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 Newland 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 Newland 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.”

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.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

How I became a Mad Scientist --episode 18

“I’m not getting involved in this at all,” Frank said. “I’m going home. Call me when you’ve come to your senses.”

“Fine, go,” I said. “I don’t need a super genius to help me. I’ve got internet access.” 

My first problem was going to be collecting the materials for my project. I could buy uranium ore and a Geiger counter off the internet, but I’d also need Americium, thorium, lithium, and radium. I wouldn’t be able to afford enough for even a small reaction, and I didn’t want to break any laws.

I decided to organize a recycling campaign. I wrote up a few press releases and made some posters.

“Local scout to collect smoke detectors for recycling project,” the article in the paper read. I told them the proceeds from my project would go to support local education. Which they would – a nuclear reactor would be really educational for my teachers and classmates.

The day after my recycling campaign started, Frank showed up at my house. “Oh,” I said as I let him into the living room, “You’re finally going to help me, huh?”

“No, I’m warning you again. Didn’t you ever hear about the “Radioactive Boy Scout?”  The EPA had to come in and bulldoze his house and encase everything in lead. He contaminated a whole neighborhood. Do you want to turn Tell City into a post-nuclear wasteland?”

I shook my head, “Frank,” I said. “I think homeschooling has fried your brain. Everything will be fine. I’m only going for a small reaction. And I won’t even start it before the science fair. That way, it won’t have time to get out of hand before I end it.”

He scowled. “If you don’t give this up before the science fair, I’m telling the FBI,” he said quietly.

“You wouldn’t do that. If you go tattling, they’ll find out that you’ve been breaking your parole.”
“There are worse things than juvenile detention, George. I’m not about to let them happen to you.” 
 He stomped out of the house and slammed the door behind him.

I shrugged and when back to work. I’d borrowed some sulfuric acid from the chemistry lab, and was using it to purify my ore. The problem was that the process released all sorts of fumes, so I had to do it outside. Still, if all went well, I’d have a miniscule bit of actual uranium when I was done. I took careful notes, of course. 50% of our science fair grade was a notebook grade. I’d still fail the class if I didn’t keep good records.

You see, I really was just trying to spice up the science fair a bit and save my grade. Frank had no right to complain. After all, he’s the one who thought the proper response to a scary story was to create a monster. I was perfectly rational compared to him.

By the end of the week, I had plenty of supplies. I’d collected about 50 smoke detectors, so I had plenty of Americium for my project. I ran down to the antique store and bought a lead box. It was pretty heavy, and I figured that I could set up my reaction inside of it to keep the radiation under control. I was being totally safety conscious. Nothing was going to go wrong. 

My plan was simple. I’d start a chain reaction in the uranium, and show how it generated heat. I’d use the heat to boil water and make steam, then use the steam to turn a turbine and generate electricity. It would be safe, too, since I didn’t have enough uranium to trigger a meltdown.

I decided to do a test run of the project on the day before the science fair. I’d make a neutron gun, aim it at the uranium, and record the difference in radiation using a Geiger counter and the difference in heat with a thermometer. I’d have my own miniature nuclear power plant. Nothing could stop me now.

Next Episode.