Research and Development: Power to the Masses! (part one)
by Daniel J. Durand
Heavy footsteps could be heard from either end of the long hallway. Rooms to the left and right, each filled with technological delight, awaited inspection by the man with the clipboard, his long white lab coat billowing out behind his tall frame as he patrolled. Face buried in his work, he made notes with each step.
He was disappointed, and a bit impatient. The chief inspector at an energy research laboratory, his job was to go over prospective breakthroughs and decide which ones might land a profit. Unfortunately, the lab was in a creative drought. The inspector had just finished the last room in the Solar Energy department, where technicians were working on the finishing touches for a solar-powered flashlight. It wasn't showing a lot of promise.
Just as the inspector was finishing up his notes, he came to a double-door at the end of the hall. Above the door in large letters, was a sign that read “Experimental Technologies Wing”. The inspector grinned. This was always the best part of his day.
The inspector pushed open one of the heavy doors and stepped through. On the other side was a large room, filled with delicate equipment and expensive tools. Along each wall were smaller rooms, mostly offices and storage closets. It was from one of these offices, the door slightly ajar, that the inspector heard a voice.
“Oh, yeah,” said the voice. “That's what I need!”
Intrigued, the inspector poked his head into the office for a look. He was expecting a new project; what he found was very different. Inside the office was a man in a swivel chair, his feet on the desk and a piece of fold-out paper in his hands.
"Aren't you just beautiful?” the man said to the paper.
The inspector leaned into the door frame a bit further.
“Simmons?” he said.
The man launched out of the swivel chair, nearly knocking it over in the process. He stood straight up, the piece of paper resting on the desk in front of him. An embarrassed look flashed across his face, which was quickly becoming a brilliant shade of red.
“Erm... Yes, Uh... Good morning, Inspector. Here to check out the latest project?” asked Simmons in a high voice.
“I am.” replied the inspector.
“Well then by all means, let's begin the tour!” said Simmons as he rushed out of the office. The inspector started to follow, but froze midstep. Curious, he took a quick look at the piece of paper on Simmons' desk.
On the paper was a complete picture of a head x-ray. It was a detailed shot of the human brain, from an upward perspective that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. The inspector noted that this particular specimen had quite the olfactory bulb. Starting to get a little red-faced himself, the inspector put the piece of paper face-down onto the desk before hurrying after Simmons.
Simmons was standing out in the main room, speaking with a dark-haired woman, Doctor Marion. Both wore lab coats, and beside them was a large object under a sheet. As the inspector neared, they stopped their conversation and turned to face him.
“Hello Inspector,” said Simmons.
“You're going to love this one,” said Marion.
“I always do,” replied the inspector.
Formalities complete, the two scientists turned to a table behind them, working at a furious pace at what looked like a child's chemistry set. The inspector frowned, glancing again at the large, covered object. Apparently, that wasn't today's show after all.
Marion was working with some knobs, while Simmons retrieved a small cube wrapped in what appeared to be aluminum foil from under the table. As he unwrapped the cube, revealing a yellowish substance, Marion quit with the knobs and produced a plastic tube and a beaker. Simmons placed the cube into the beaker and stretched the tube to a large metal canister, which was bolted down to the tabletop. A plastic bag was emptied into the canister, and a metal lid with a valve at the top was bolted over the opening.
Simmons plugged one end of the tube into a clamp at the top of the beaker, and the other end into the valve. He placed the beaker over a small flame, controlled by the knobs at the side of the table. Simmons stood near the inspector as the yellow cube began to melt. Marion joined them a moment later, wearing a pair of welding goggles. She handed each man a pair.
“Ready gentlemen?” she asked, walking across the room to a large electrical switch mounted to the wall.
“Ready!” replied both men at once, making sure their goggles were secure.
Marion pulled the switch, causing the lights to flicker from the sudden draw of electricity. The yellow cube, now completely melted, was instantly vaporized in a dramatic surge of power. Loud pops radiated from the metal canister, the table shaking below it. As the noise subsided, a piston pushed the yellow vapor from the beaker up through the plastic tube, into the canister. The inspector, eyes glued to the display, could only wonder what would come next.
A green light blinked on the canister, followed by a shrill beep. Marion threw the switch back. The lights stopped flickering, and Simmons removed his goggles, flashing the inspector a thumbs-up. The inspector removed his goggles as well, excitement building inside him.
The scientists unbolted the canister lid. Marion, now wearing gloves, reached inside and pulled out a metal bowl. Both grinning from ear to ear, they carried the bowl to the inspector.
“It's...” said the inspector, his mouth hanging open.
“Yes?” said the scientists.
“...popcorn?” asked the inspector.
“Yes.” said the scientists.