Frank einstein and the a.., p.1
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor, p.1Jon Scieszka
MATTER FRAGMENT: PARTICLE 166–67
MATTER,” SAYS FRANK EINSTEIN, KID GENIUS AND INVENTOR. “The stuff that every living and nonliving thing is made of. That’s what this is all about.”
“Great,” says Frank’s longtime pal Watson, crouching behind him. “So how does that help us get out of this?”
Frank Einstein applies, as he always does, the scientific method he learned from his Grampa Al.
Red lights flashing twice a second.
Incredibly loud whoop-whoop sound echoing over factory floor.
Cage bars: metallic-white color, lightweight, high-strength.
Two mechanical shapes against far brick wall.
Two shadowy figures, both wearing ties, on platform above.
A beam of concentrated white light, sparking and melting a line across near brick wall, presently moving on a path to intersect position of Einstein and Watson in twenty-eight seconds.
“Lights and siren probably an alarm.
“Bars most likely titanium and unbreakable.
“Those two over there might help us.
“Those two up there will not.
“We now have thirteen seconds before every atom, element, molecule, and bit of matter we are made of violently explodes into ashes, heat, and smoke.”
“Why do I ever listen to you?” asks Watson, moving as far away as he can from the advancing beam of brick-sizzling light.
Frank Einstein cracks a smile. “Begin EXPERIMENT . . .”
EXACTLY 48 HOURS/2 ROTATIONS OF THE EARTH EARLIER . . .
A bright bolt of lightning splits the dark and flickers over the skylight.
Frank Einstein looks up from his work. He counts out loud, “One thousand one. One thousand two. One thousand three. One thousand four. One thousand five—”
Craack boom! The sound-wave vibration of the thunder rattles the old iron-framed windows of Frank’s workshop and science laboratory.
“Five seconds between light and sound for every mile . . . One mile away,” Frank calculates, using the difference between the almost-instant speed of light and the much slower speed of sound. “Right on time.”
“Are you sure this will work?” asks Watson, pulling on long yellow rubber dishwashing gloves to protect himself. “Because, man, this seems pure crazy.”
“It’s perfect,” Frank answers. “Perfect my mom and dad are gone again on one of their travel-hot-spot trips. Perfect Grampa Al let me set up my lab in his garage and use all his great repair-shop junk. And perfect we can use this lightning to supercharge my SmartBot to life and win the Midville Science Prize.”
“That hundred-thousand cash prize will pay off all Grampa Al’s bills. And the SmartBot will help us invent anything else we want.” Frank secures the final copper wire in his SmartBot’s brain. “What could go wrong?”
“Well, remember that time we were making race cars—”
Frank holds out his hand like a doctor in an operating room. “Vacuum switch!”
“—and you bolted the jet engine onto the baby stroller—”
“—and you decided it would be more ‘fuel efficient’ without the brakes?”
“I can show you the scar.”
Watson looks around the workbench covered with the bits and parts of twenty years’ worth of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing repairs. He picks up a shiny metal piece with two slots. “You mean this toaster thing?”
Frank looks up at the skylight and counts, “One thousand one. One thousand—”
“Less than half a mile. Yes! Skull piece. Now!”
Watson tosses the toaster-skull to Frank.
Frank screws the piece into place. He lays the SmartBot in a rusty red wagon bed roped into a harness, looped over a pulley, and wired into the motor of the garage-door opener.
He stands back and gives his work one last look. “A robot that will be able to think, learn, and become smarter and smarter. It just needs this lightning power to come alive.”
Frank punches the garage-door-opener button.
Hmmmmmmmm. The motor hums. The rope tightens. The SmartBot rises up to the garage roof on Frank’s old wagon/operating table as the skylight opens.
“Yes!” says Frank Einstein with a crazy laugh. His hair and lab coat whip around in the sudden gust of wind blowing into the lab. He grabs his barbecue-fork switch to transfer power to the SmartBot just as the lightning strikes. “Ready, Watson?” yells Frank.
Watson tightens the strap on his safety goggles and unconsciously shakes his head no. But he gives Frank a floppy yellow thumbs-up yes anyway.
A wild wind swirls through the lab.
The operating table rises up toward the lightning-charged sky.
Frank counts, “One! Two—”
Then, suddenly, bzzzzzt!
The garage lights blink . . . flicker. The lab goes black.
Frank hears Watson yell, “Oh no!”
The powerless garage-door motor releases the wagon rope. And the wagon falls, hitting the concrete floor with a terrible metal clang crash!
Flash! Boom! The lightning and thunder explode at exactly the same time directly overhead. A blue-white charge of electrical energy that was supposed to bring the SmartBot to life crackles down the lightning rod and harmlessly through the ground wire and into the earth.
In the storm’s strobing light, Frank and Watson see a series of snapshot images:
—the SmartBot flying out of the wagon
—the SmartBot’s toaster-head spinning one direction
—the SmartBot’s vacuum-cleaner body spinning the other.
Bruuuuum, brrrummmmm . . . The thunder from the storm rumbles away.
“Frank?” calls a voice from the kitchen doorway. “You guys OK in there?”
Grampa Al’s face, lit by the candle he holds, pokes into Frank’s laboratory.
“What happened?” asks Watson.
“Nice gloves,” says Grampa Al. “Must be a power outage. Though it’s somehow just in this building.”
Grampa Al’s candle casts a yellow circle of light that falls on the broken parts of what was Frank’s SmartBot.
“What’s all this?”
“Oh, just something I was goofing around with for the Science Prize this weekend,” says Frank.
“It didn’t get messed up, did it?”
“Just a little,” says Frank, not wanting to worry his grampa.
Frank gathers up the lifeless SmartBot head and body parts and places them gently on the workbench. “I’ll fix it in the morning.”
Watson peels off his rubber gloves, pats the bodyless toaster-head, then slings his backpack over his shoulder. “A robot that can teach itself stuff is still a great idea.”
Frank picks up the sheet of paper he has covered with robot-brain plans and sketches of atoms. He wads the pape
Frank nods. “Thanks, Watson. See you tomorrow.”
Frank Einstein turns to leave his lab.
Bbbbrrrrrmmmm grumbles the last of the thunder, as he closes the kitchen door behind him and Grampa Al.
ALL IS QUIET IN FRANK EINSTEIN’S LABORATORY.
The lightning storm has passed. Frank is asleep. The town of Midville is silent.
The night is now clear. A beam of silver light from the almost-full moon shines down through the rusted windows and skylight.
The moonlight glints off the SmartBot’s toaster-head and the exposed SmartBot circuit brain lying on top of the pile of video-game controller, stopped watch, electric keyboard, hamburger grill, blender, model-airplane engine, stomach exercisers, aluminum flex duct hose, TV remote, magnets, batteries, locks, old steel file, stereo speakers, Shop-Vac, lamps, computer monitor, bicycle horn, webcam, glass dome, baby-buggy wheels, thermometers, fans, car GPS, collection of rock samples, big silver trash can, and broken talking HugMeMonkey! doll.
Every bit of stone, metal, wood, and plastic matter remains still, as the faintest night breeze through the drafty garage door stirs the crumpled paper ball on Frank’s workbench. The ball rolls one and a half revolutions and hits a coil of copper wire. The copper wire uncoils and brushes against the steel file. The file falls across the flint-rock sample.
The steel striking flint creates a spark.
The spark jumps to the center of the Frank-made SmartBot brain.
The spark races along the thin computer-circuit-memory-chip pathways.
It doubles, triples, quadruples, and forms a network of interconnected sparks, looking an awful lot like a network of interconnected human brain cells.
The interconnected web of sparks becomes . . . an idea.
The interconnected web becomes . . . a plan.
The webcam eye opens. It shutter-blinks and fires a wireless command to the headless robot body. The charge powers on the small LED lights, then speeds into the vacuum-cleaner body core. The charge multiplies, splits, and spreads through the robot body.
One mechanical clamp-hand lies still on the workbench.
The clamp opens.
The clamp closes.
The entire clamp-hand moves.
Intricate waves of power now surge and fill electrified pathways. The mechanical clamp-hand unscrews the back of a video-game power pack. The hand gathers the hard plastic Shop-Vac, the webcam, the glass dome.
The moon disappears behind a passing cloud.
In the pitch-dark laboratory, two mechanical hands gather and sort through the pile of junk parts and tools on the workbench. The hands turn screws, wind springs, adjust gears, bolt, hammer, and build. The hands rewire circuits, shape scrap, attach pieces, secure hoses, and finally pull a whole new robot head toward a newly rebuilt robot body.
The cloud passes.
The beam of moonlight shines down into the laboratory again.
And now there is something new on Frank Einstein’s workbench.
Something that wasn’t there earlier.
Something that thinks.
Something that learns.
Something that is . . . alive.
AT 8:34 A.M. EASTERN STANDARD TIME, FRANK’S ALARM CLOCK goes off.
And because this is inventor Frank Einstein’s alarm clock, of course it doesn’t go off by simply ringing.
It goes off by way of a hammer on top of an old alarm clock smacking a nail . . . that knocks a peg . . . that frees a ten-speed bicycle gear . . . that drops a little barbell on the end of a chain . . . that turns another gear . . . and a wheel . . . and another and another and another in a maze of interlocking gears and wheels covering the entire wall until the last wheel turns a worm gear . . . that spins a metal rod . . . that opens the vertical floor-to-ceiling blinds . . . filling the room with bright morning sun.
Frank sits up and scratches his head with both hands. He loves staying with Grampa Al in this cool old factory he has turned into his house, Fix It! repair shop, and now also a laboratory of Frank’s very own.
The Fix It! shop might not be the most successful business in Midville. People seem to throw stuff away instead of fixing it. And Grampa Al is always more interested in the fixing than the moneymaking. But Grampa Al’s shop is the greatest place in the world to make and test any invention you might dream of.
Frank throws on jeans, a T-shirt, and his rumpled, soft, washed-a-thousand-times lab coat. He slides on shoes. No socks. Because that’s how he does his best thinking. In comfort.
Frank scientifically observes the model-train tracks at his feet. He concludes that he’s glad he disconnected his Model-Train Shoe Delivery System last night. That invention isn’t quite working yet. Too many early-morning shoe-train wrecks.
Frank grabs the book on his oversized wooden cable-spool bedside table.
The smell of pancakes and coffee from the kitchen downstairs hurries him along the wide-wooden-plank-floor hallway, under the old MIDVILLE ZIPPER CO. sign stamped in concrete letters over the doorway arch.
Frank hustles past the walls covered with his Grampa Al’s charts and diagrams of The Phases of the Moon and The Constellations. He takes a left down the hall of Tectonic Plates and The Geological Timescale. He takes a right past The Human Skeletal System and The Circulatory System.
He hops onto the Double Helix DNA slide, spirals down two floors, and pops through the Plant-Cell/Animal-Cell swinging doors right into the kitchen.
“Good morning, Einstein,” says Grampa Al, scooping pancakes out of a frying pan.
“Good morning, Einstein,” answers Frank, repeating their classic joke that’s not really a joke.
Grampa Al serves Frank and himself each a steaming stack of pancakes. He turns on the carbon-atom light fixture above the table. It glows with a funny mix of six blue proton and six red neutron lights in the center nucleus, surrounded by six occasionally blinking white electron lights.
Frank swallows a delicious mouthful of warm pancake, melted butter, and maple syrup. “Mmmmm. So, power’s back on?”
Grampa Al nods. “Yeah, sorry about that. I guess it was my fault. I found the overdue-bill notice in the refrigerator this morning. Not sure how it got there, but I paid them some of the money, so we can keep the lights on . . . at least till you finish your project.”
“Don’t worry about that,” says Frank, feeling bad about his Grampa Al’s forgetfulness. “I’ve got some more ideas to win that prize, just like you did when you were a kid with your super electromagnet.”
Grampa Al nods and smiles and looks up at the photo of himself with the Midville Science Prize trophy cup and his magnet, above the kitchen-mural diagram of an electromagnetic wave. “I think that really did start me thinking like a scientist.”
Frank takes another bite of pancake. “Yeah, because you knew so much.”
Grampa Al leans back and gives one of his big, easy laughs. “Nope. Just the opposite, in fact. I started to know how much I didn’t know. Science is about asking questions, not memorizing answers. Failure is just as valuable as success, if you figure out what caused the failure.”
“Well, then my experiment last night was pretty valuable,” says Frank. “When we lost power, everything got smashed.”
“Sorry,” says Grampa Al. “So, what’s with the Asimov book? You working on robots?”
Frank downs the rest of his pancake. “I’m working on a robot that can learn on its own. Cells connected in networks, not in lines of programming rules. I figure if robot brains can be built to work like human brains, then robots might be able to learn like humans and get smarter and smarter.”
“Interesting,” says Grampa Al. “You’re using a biophysical model from human neuroscience.”
“Exactly! Because human brain cells are arranged in a network, like this . . .”
“But computers make yes or no decisions following rules. More in a long, straight line, like this.
“So that kind of robot brain can’t learn the way we do. It can only do what it’s programmed to do.”
“Mmm-hmmm.” Grampa Al nods.
Frank continues excitedly. “But what if I made the robot brain like this—”
“I see,” says Grampa Al. “Then one brain cell connects with lots of other brain cells at the same time. Making patterns. Making thoughts.”
Frank connects an intricate pattern of cells on his robot-brain diagram. “Yes! And then the robot can remember those patterns. And those patterns become thoughts. Like a human brain. And then—”
Suddenly the life-size Dimetrodon model in the corner of the kitchen gives a lizardy roar.
Grampa Al gives Frank a surprised look. “Who could be calling at this hour?”
Raaaaaaaaahhhr. Grampa Al’s DimetrodonPhone rings again.
Grampa Al pushes the Dimetrodon’s eye. The big, sail-shaped back fin lights up like a video screen and displays: BOB AND MARY.
“Oh,” says Grampa Al. “It’s your mom and dad.”
Frank answers the prehistoric reptile call.
“Hello? Frank? Is that you, sweetie?”
A fuzzy picture of two faces circled by furred orange parka hoods appears on the Dimetrodon screen.
“Hi, Mom. Yep, it’s me.”
“Is everything OK? You and Grampa taking care of each other? What are you doing?”
“Oh yeah,” says Frank. “I was just telling Grampa about my neural-net model for artificial intelligence. I’m trying to get it up and running to win the Midville Science Prize.”
“That’s nice. And don’t forget to take your vitamins, OK? Here’s your father.”
“This is the greatest spot yet for Travelallovertheplace.com. Bottom of the world. You know what they call it?”
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka / Science Fiction / Humor / Young Adult have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes