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       Frank Einstein and the Space-Time Zipper, p.1
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           Jon Scieszka
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Frank Einstein and the Space-Time Zipper


  UNIVERSES 0/1, 1/1, 2/1, 1/2, 2/2, 1/3, 1/4 . . . 144/1 . . . 145/1 . . .

  Sometimes plans don’t work out.

  Oftentimes inventions fail.

  Who can know how things work out?

  There is a theory that every possibility works out.

  That there are multiple universes.

  An infinite number of universes.

  One for every combination of possibilities.

  For the universe where you didn’t make the bus this morning, you missed the class on stars, you weren’t inspired to become a scientist, and the world didn’t get the invention that you would go on to make, which would change everything . . .

  The sun sets slowly in the western sky of Midville.

  Watson zips down East Oak Street as fast as he can pedal.

  From the other side of town, Janegoodall races along West Oak Street.

  They both hit the corner of Oak and Pine at almost exactly the same moment, skid, slide, turn, and stop.

  Watson holds up his phone. “You got the weird text from Frank, too?”

  Janegoodall nods. “What do you think it means?”

  Watson shakes his head. “I have no idea what’s going on . . . but it sounds like Frank’s in trouble.”

  Janegoodall reads from her phone. “Need help. Come to junkyard. Follow the arrow sign. At sunset. Bring banana.”

  Watson holds up a slightly smushed banana.

  Janegoodall shakes her head. “I have no idea.”

  Watson looks at the setting sun. “Let’s roll!”

  Watson and Janegoodall race their bikes to Grampa Al Einstein’s house/Fix It! repair shop and Frank Einstein’s laboratory.

  They skid to a stop, drop their bikes, race around the back of Grampa Al’s.

  They scan the piles of junk.

  “There,” says Watson.

  Janegoodall and Watson follow the old lightbulb-studded arrow sign.

  But it points to nothing except a pile of broken toasters.

  The red-orange rays of the setting sun light the top of the giant maple tree in the alley.

  Watson jams the banana in his back pocket. “Frank needs help with . . . toasters?”

  Janegoodall looks around. “Maybe this is the wrong sign.” She kicks at a pile of junk. She sees metal.

  Janegoodall and Watson clear away the toasters. But the metal turns out to be nothing but a storm drain.

  A crow caws in the distance.

  Venus, the evening star, glows silver in the gathering dusk.

  “Are we too late?”

  “Maybe we missed sunset.”

  Janegoodall and Watson look up.

  And that’s when they hear a metallic clink. A knocking on the storm sewer cover.

  Watson and Janegoodall kneel down, use two rusted metal rods to pry up the metal disk.

  “Frank . . . ?”

  Space.

  Outer space.

  Hundreds . . . no, thousands . . . no, millions of points of light dot the moonless inky blue-black night sky.

  A kid wearing size-five brown wing-tip shoes swings a giant telescope in a slow arc. He scans the points of starlight.

  “Wow!”

  Standing next to the kid, a chimpanzee in a lab coat, pleasantly surprised for once, agrees.

  The sparkly expanse of the Milky Way, splashed across the sky, is . . . wow.

  “Look at all of those stars. All of those suns. So many planets.”

  Mr. Chimp nods.

  “If we could find a way to travel out there . . . just think . . . we could . . .”

  Mr. Chimp nods again, his mind expanding with thoughts of the sheer immensity of the universe. The sheer immensity of possibilities. He is glad he came back. Glad T. Edison might be of some help in his Big Plan.

  “. . . make so . . . much . . . money!”

  Mr. Chimp covers his face with his hands.

  If it weren’t so dark in the rooftop observatory of ChimpEdison Laboratories, you could see him shaking his head. Now less glad.

  T. Edison shuts down his telescope. He closes up the observatory. He flicks on the lights.

  “But other planets, other solar systems, are so far away.”

  T. Edison paces back and forth. He looks over his planet charts.

  “It takes too many years to get anywhere.”

  Mr. Chimp slides his hands down his face. This is the first smart thing he has heard T. Edison say tonight.

  Mr. Chimp signs:

  “Exactly!” says T. Edison. “The distance that light can travel, speeding nearly 300,000 kilometers per second.” T. Edison starts pacing again. “I’ll bet you didn’t know that!”

  Mr. Chimp sits down and writes out the mathematical formula for the distance of one light-year.

  Mr. Chimp holds up his calculation.

  This annoys T. Edison.

  “Well, maybe you did know. But here is my genius idea—what if I invent a way to travel faster than light? Then we could get to any planet. In seconds. Like taking a train. A very fast train.”

  Mr. Chimp looks up from his calculations. He doesn’t even know where to start.

  He could remind T. Edison that nothing can outrace light.

  He could explain to T. Edison that when a car traveling at the speed of light turns on its lights . . . the light still travels at the speed of light.

  He could explain to T. Edison the vast scale of the universe.

  That if Earth were the size of a tennis ball, the sun would be seven football fields away. The next closest star would be 130,000 miles away. The next galaxy unimaginably far away.

  But Mr. Chimp is tired of explaining things to T. Edison.

  Plus—this time, he’s got a plan of his own.

  Mr. Chimp gathers up his papers, looks at T. Edison, and lies:

  Mr. Chimp waves good-night.

  And heads off to his own room.

  The Midville storm drain cover moves.

  Watson and Janegoodall grab an edge, heave, and slide the heavy metal disc sideways.

  Watson peers down into the shadowed tunnel. In the fading sunlight, he sees a crazy mess of hair, a dirty lab coat, and two hands reaching up.

  Watson and Janegoodall grab Frank’s hands and pull.

  “Frank!”

  It is.

  Frank Einstein.

  Watson and Janegoodall pull Frank up out of the drain. He collapses in a heap next to Grampa Al’s motorcycle and the pile of old toasters.

  Frank sits up. “Amazing!” He weaves back and forth.

  Frank looks up to the stars. His eyes close. He slumps over.

  Watson and Janegoodall load Frank into a red wagon and take him inside to his lab. They lay him on the old couch in the corner. Watson wipes the dirt off his face. Janegoodall gets a cup of water.

  Frank’s eyes slowly open.

  “Watson. Janegoodall. Thank goodness you made it.”

  “Of course we did,” says Janegoodall. “What happened? Why were you down there?”

  Frank lies back on the couch.

  “Oh! And here’s your banana,” says Watson. He pulls the slightly mashed fruit out of his pocket.

  Frank takes the banana. Peels it. And scarfs it down.

  “What’s the banana got to do with anything?” Watson asks.

  “Is it because it contains vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium?” guesses Janegoodall.

  Frank finishes the banana. “No, I was just hungry for a banana.”

  Watson shakes his head and laughs.

  “Much better,” says Frank. “This is so amazing. You are not going to believe where Grampa Al and I have been.”

  “Grampa Al?” asks Janegoodall.
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  “Is he in the other room getting his telescope?”

  “Ummmmm, no.”

  “Then where is he? You were the only one in there.”

  Frank runs his hands through his electrified hair.

  “Ohhhhh nooooooo. I lost Grampa Al.”

  “You lost him? In the sewer?”

  “No,” says Frank. “Worse. He accidentally fell into my space-time rip. Before my invention was ready.”

  “What?!” Watson exclaims.

  “So where is he?” asks Janegoodall.

  Frank looks up. “Come to the roof. I’ll show you.”

  Frank swings the big telescope on the roof of Grampa Al’s to point north in the night sky. “Right near the constellation Cassiopeia. That big W shape . . .”

  He adjusts the viewfinder, zeroing in on a pinpoint of light.

  Watson and Janegoodall look at each other. They wonder if Frank Einstein has lost his mind.

  “There!” says Frank. “Look.”

  Watson looks. “What am I looking at?”

  “Alpha Andromedae. Brightest star in the Andromeda constellation. Ninety-seven light-years away.”

  “And why are we looking there?”

  “Grampa Al. He’s somewhere near there.”

  Now Watson and Janegoodall are sure Frank has lost his mind.

  “Really. Ninety-seven light-years away?”

  “Yes, yes.” Frank brushes them off.

  “But . . . how did you get ninety-seven light-years away? And back again? Even if you were traveling at the speed of light, it would have taken you . . .”

  “About one hundred ninety-four years,” figures Janegoodall.

  “So much work to do . . .” mutters Frank. He scratches his head. He sketches on a blank sheet of graph paper. “Albert Einstein’s happiest thought—gravity is simply the warping of space-time. Small object causes small distortion of space-time. Massive object causes massive distortion. Simple!”

  “Frank!” Janegoodall snaps him out of it. “What are you talking about? You are not making any sense.”

  Frank looks down at the lines he has scribbled on the paper.

  “Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Space, time, gravity . . . all connected. All part of the same thing. That’s how to travel farther and faster than the speed of light. But something went wrong . . .”

  “What?”

  Frank doesn’t answer. He keeps talking to himself out loud. “All connected. Maybe a different way. Maybe. Like this.”

  Frank draws a crazy mess of circles and lines that look mostly like an octopus putting on socks.

  “See? All connected. Just have to maybe re-power the crossover circuits to use space-time bend. Get Grampa Al back!”

  Jane and Watson study the crazy diagram.

  They look at Frank all wild-eyed and wobbly on his feet.

  “Ummmmm, right,” says Jane. “But maybe a bit of sleep first.”

  Frank looks up at the stars. He pats his pockets, looking for something. “Oh no. No time to waste. Time is space. Space is time. Connect time and space.”

  Frank spins around in a slow circle, still patting his pockets. “Must. Save. Grampa Al. Now.”

  Watson takes Frank by the arm and gently steers him away from the edge of the rooftop.

  Frank blinks, closes one eye.

  “Right . . . now . . .”

  Frank falls forward, asleep on his feet, right into Watson’s arms.

  Watson looks at Janegoodall. “Did any of that make any sense?”

  Janegoodall looks down at Frank’s crazy diagram, and up at the stars. “No . . . and yes . . .”

  CAMEROON, AFRICA, 1956

  Deep in the jungle, a baby chimpanzee is born.

  The world turns. The sun rises and sets.

  Men! With nets.

  They come and scoop up baby into a cage, a metal flying machine, across an expanse of water bigger than anything a chimp could imagine.

  But this chimp is curious. This chimp looks around.

  ALAMOGORDO, NEW MEXICO

  Space camp. Training. Forty chimps.

  Simple humans. They wonder if a chimp can press a lever. For a small banana pellet and sip of water. Wrong answer, shock on the feet.

  G-forces. Funny suit. Spinning upside down. Locked in a cradle.

  Now only eighteen chimps.

  Only female is Minnie.

  More tests.

  Now only six.

  Minnie still here.

  Something big is up. Only two chosen for this mission. Ham and Minnie.

  Now just one.

  Number 65.

  Ham.

  CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, JANUARY 31, 1961

  Night.

  Cradle.

  Capsule on top of giant rocket.

  Something is wrong. Six-hour delay.

  Dawn. Go.

  Blastoff roar. G-forces, just like in training, but even more.

  Lights . . . flip lever.

  Now 155 miles above Earth.

  Capsule separates from rocket.

  Lights . . . flip lever.

  Weightless for five minutes.

  Lights . . . flip lever.

  Directional rockets position capsule for reentry.

  Screaming/heat/bang.

  Lights . . . flip lever.

  At 18 minutes after launch, capsule splashes into ocean.

  But it has shot too far off course. The broken heat shield has poked a hole in the capsule. Water splashing inside, filling up capsule.

  Helicopter comes in the nick of time.

  On the ship. Capsule opened. Cradle opened.

  Apple and half an orange.

  Ham the Astrochimp. Space Hero. The first primate in space. Proving that man should be able to survive going into space.

  MAY 1961

  Four months after Ham’s voyage, astronaut Alan Shepard rides the same kind of rocket, in the same kind of Mercury capsule, to become the first American in space.

  PRESENT DAY

  Back at ChimpEdison Labs, the grandson of Ham and Minnie puts his papers back in the chest. He takes out a yellow safety helmet and puts it on his head. He picks up an old control lever device and tucks it under his arm.

  Mr. Chimp looks up into the night sky and signs to his long-gone hero chimp grandpa.

  At 8:34 am Eastern Standard Time, an alarm clock goes off.

  And because this is inventor Frank Einstein’s alarm clock (A), of course it doesn’t go off by simply ringing.

  It goes off by way of a hammer (B) on top of an old alarm clock smacking a nail (C) . . . that knocks a peg (D) . . . that frees a ten-speed bicycle gear (E) . . . that drops a little barbell on the end of a chain (F) . . . that turns another gear (G) . . . and a wheel (H) . . . and another and another and another in a maze of interlocking gears (I) and wheels (J) covering the entire wall until the last wheel (K) turns a worm gear . . . that spins a metal rod (L) . . . 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.

  Frank slowly gets the distinct feeling that all of this has happened before.

  Then Frank smells pancakes.

  Grampa Al! He must have made it back!

  Frank throws on jeans, a T-shirt, and lab coat. He slides on shoes, no socks, and hustles down to the kitchen behind the Fix It! repair shop.

  Frank zips past the walls covered with 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 the cook, scooping pancakes out of a frying pan.

  Frank answers, “Good morning . . . ohhh . . . Watson?”

  B
ecause it’s not Grandpa Al in the kitchen. It’s Watson. And Janegoodall.

  Watson serves Frank, Janegoodall, 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 sits down and rubs his head with both hands.

  He is sure all of this has happened before.

  “How? . . . Wha? . . .”

  “Eat first,” says Janegoodall. “Then you can explain everything. And then we can get to work.”

  Frank nods. He eats a delicious mouthful of warm pancake, melted butter, and maple syrup. This is a great idea. Frank had no idea he was this hungry.

  The carbon-atom light glows over the kitchen table.

  The three friends eat in happy silence.

  Frank finishes the last of his pancakes. He looks up. And sees the framed photo of Grampa Al winning the Midville Science Prize for his super electromagnet.

  Frank can’t wait any longer.

  “So, Grampa Al didn’t turn up last night?”

  Watson shakes his head.

  “Ohhh man,” says Frank. “It’s all my fault. The transport invention wasn’t ready. I shouldn’t have set it up there. How would Grampa Al know?”

  Frank taps his fork on his plate, thinking out loud. “Transistor . . . resistor . . . reverse the poles . . . maybe crosswire the fantods . . . He might have gotten stranded on that white dwarf. What if he’s getting twisted in another? We have to go now!”

  “Wait!” says Janegoodall. “You’re talking gibberish again. And you’re not going to do Grampa Al any good going off half-cocked like this. Now sit down. Tell us what happened.”

  “Yeah,” says Watson. “We can fix this.”

  Frank runs his fingers through his hair. He takes a deep breath. “Right. I was working on a transport invention, to travel faster than the speed of light and explore deeper in space.”

  Watson nods and wisecracks, “Sure. Like everyone does.”

 
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