This continues a (slightly abridged) excerpt from Mad Science Institute, a novel will be available 12/16/2011. In this chapter we really get to know Soap as she (accidentally) wreaks havoc at a high-school science fair.
“Well, Soap, I talked to your principal,” my Dad said as we spread the cloth to conceal my experiment. “She says there will be college professors here today. There’s even someone from the admissions office at MIT.”
I have to admit, that made this year’s New York All-State Science Fair Invitational into a big deal for me. MIT is the most famous school of engineering in the world. Their graduates go on to build robots, space ships, fighter jets, and everything else that’s cool. It had pretty much been my dream school since the day my Dad first started pestering me about college planning. But before I could worry about getting into MIT, I needed to worry about winning some science-fair trophies. No awards would mean no scholarships, and no scholarships would mean the only higher education I’d be able to afford would be the Burger Emporium’s training video titled “Do You Want Fries With That?”
As usual, most of the science fair was seriously boring. All the students set up their exhibits at little tables that lined the floor of the big gymnasium, and clusters of judges and spectators would move from one competitor to the next, asking for demonstrations and taking notes. Most of the time, there was absolutely nothing to do but sit back and wait for the next group to come by.
I looked over at the kid next to me. He looked South Asian, maybe Indian. He was very good looking, sharply dressed with close-cropped hair and an athletic build you find at these kinds of gatherings more often than you might expect. That made him just about my opposite: I’m short-ish, I wear all black, I keep my dark hair long but tied back in pony-tail, and I’m not really interested in sports. I’m also not really interested in English or history or Spanish, either, which is why my GPA was pretty much garbage. I always thought it was unfair that colleges cared so much about grade averages. I mean, why do they want me to be good at everything when I only want to study one thing? Can’t I just be good at the thing I’m passionate about and forget the rest? You just have to add that to the list of life’s injustices, I guess.
“What’s your project?” I asked. My brain was still screaming at me to shut up before I made a fool of myself.
“I designed blueprints for an antimatter power plant,” the boy said.
“Whoa, great idea,” and I could feel myself getting jealous. Antimatter fuel would be a thousand times more powerful than a nuclear reaction using uranium, and the only real waste product would be gamma-rays, which could be soaked up with thick shielding. If he had invented that, it would mean the end of the energy crisis on this planet.
“So, how do you make the antimatter?” I asked him.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I only designed the plant to burn the stuff in.”
I blinked a few times while I waited for him to finish, but apparently that’s all he had. Apparently, he hadn’t considered that producing antimatter would cost something like 20 billion dollars an ounce—no exaggeration—so it seemed to me like he might as well have been talking about squeezing milk out of dinosaurs.
“Is that seriously all you’ve got?” I said. “That’s pretty lame.”
Tune in on Monday to see how Soap fares at the fair!