This continues an excerpt from Mad Science Institute, a novel of calamities, creatures, and college matriculation. (type “J” to skip back one post; type “K” to skip ahead one post)
The novel will be available 12/16/2011, but you can read the beginning here first!
The judges seemed really interested in the antimatter reactor blueprints. Even the guy from MIT asked a lot of questions, and they all took tons of notes, which meant that they were going to give it lots of points.
Then it was my turn. My palms got really sweaty and I started to feel a bit dizzy. The things I hate the most in the world are germs, followed by bugs and rodents, which carry a lot of germs. But public speaking is a close third. I have a hard enough time talking to people one-on-one, but when there’s a crowd I end up doing really stupid things. I think my IQ is inversely proportional to the number of strangers who are listening to me. The bigger the group, the dumber I feel. And this was a big group.
“So, what have you got for us?” said the judge from MIT, and now every eye in the crowd was on me.
“A robot,” I answered. I could see that this statement didn’t make much of an impact. Half of everyone in the building had come equipped with some little gizmo that could walk or roll or change directions when it bumped into a wall.
“What makes my robot special is two things,” I went on. “The first is that Rusty—that’s my robot’s name—can recognize its master and follow him or her around a room. The second thing is that Rusty can broadcast wireless electricity. That means when Rusty is around, you can run small appliances without having to plug them in.”
That got a few of the judges to scribble some notes on their clipboards, but they weren’t writing a lot. They needed a demonstration.
“Ladies and gentleman,” I said as I gripped the corners of the cloth. “I give you… Rusty!”
The crowd gasped when I pulled back the cover to reveal my Rottweiler-sized metallic monstrosity. I had modeled the robot after a crab, but it came out looking more like a clockwork scorpion, with its eight piston-driven spider legs tensed at its side and its pincer-arms poised in front. Rusty’s back was flat and segmented, mounted at the rear by a turret that terminated in a curved radar dish with a long spike protruding from the center. I had tried to make Rusty’s head more friendly-looking by making it long and somewhat dog-like in appearance. I had even given him big, round, friendly eyes, but I think it may have turned out more menacing and predatory than I wanted, especially because those big eyes flickered red as they received LIDAR range-finding feedback from their surroundings.
Now I had everyone’s rapt attention, but maybe not in a good way. Several of the judges shook their heads, perhaps thinking I had been too theatrical in my presentation. The little girl with pig-tails hid behind her mother’s legs, her Raggedy Ann doll forgotten on the floor as she stared at the mechanical monster only a dozen steps away from her.