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!
“Question,” said the MIT judge. “Can you explain what you mean by ‘wireless electricity’ and why you would equip your robot with this feature?”
“Sure,” I said, twisting the power knob at the control station. Rusty hummed to life, his limbs twisting and clicking through their initiation sequence. “It’s based on an electromagnetic pulse—EMP for short. This electricity broadcasting is based on the work of Nikola Tesla, who invented the alternating current which runs every plug-in appliance in your home. Tesla was this amazing genius who wanted to broadcast wireless power all over the world, but he never could get funding because nobody could see how it would make money. Anyway, I’m doing it on a small scale and I figured it could be an energy savings if Rusty followed you around in your home. You know, so the lights would come on whenever the two of you entered a room and they’d turn off when you left. No more forgetting to flick the switch.”
One of the other judges raised his hand. “You really think people would want that… that thing following them around in their houses?”
I’m not good with sarcasm or rhetorical questions, but I think that question was really meant to say that Rusty was ugly. That kind of hurt. I’d been working on this robot for years. If you noticed, I even call him a “him” instead of an “it,” because to me he was a family pet. Whether you have a cat, a parakeet, or a robotic scorpion-dog, you still love your pet no matter what. You just can’t help it.
I cleared my throat and moved on, hoping to get back to the important parts of my demonstration. “Rusty can navigate just about any terrain on his own, even climb trees and ladders. If you wear this tracking bracelet,” I held up a black plastic strip about the size of a wristwatch. “Rusty will always follow you obediently wherever you go. Just watch.”
For some seriously stupid reason, I picked the little girl for my demonstration. I don’t know what I was thinking, except maybe I thought if that little girl could see Rusty as I saw him—a reliable and helpful companion—then maybe everyone else would see him that way, too.
I don’t think the girl’s mother realized what I was doing when I asked if I could put the bracelet on her daughter’s wrist, but she said it was okay. The little girl didn’t protest when I clicked it into place.
I returned to the controls and inched the power knob up to ten percent. Rusty hissed as his pistons drew his body up to standing, and the spiked turret on his back twitched. One clanking, growling step was all it took and that little girl screamed and ran. Rusty, following his programming, ran after her.