“Something’s gotten loose in the lab. I need two volunteers to help me contain and capture it. Who here is a bad enough dude to rescue my research project?”
The doors to the laboratory were heavily scarred with dents and scuffs from the kicks that preceded each one of Marie’s panic-causing pronouncements. Her heavy leather boots showed no mercy to any equipment, furniture, infrastructure, or person that stood in her way, literally and metaphorically alike.
However, where her ears would usually be filled with desperate sobs and cries not to be chosen, she was surprised to hear only a heavy sigh.
“If I didn’t know you better, I’d have to accuse you of some strange variety of Münchausen by Proxy, by now.”
Henry was even perturbed enough to put down his tools. A big step, since usually nothing short of nuclear fire could keep him from working on his robots. And he had a suit for that now.
“How is it,” he continued, “that you can be considered a biological genius—possibly one of the smartest people in the world—and you still don’t know how to lock a cage properly?”
“Locks aren’t biological.”
“Maybe you should make one.”
“Maybe you should… should shut up.”
The two eyed each other cautiously.
Collegial antagonism was a tradition in their lab, but everyone knew where their shortcomings were. No one person could be an expert at everything, and asking for help was not seen as a sign of weakness. Some appeared to be abusing the privilege, however.
“Marie, how often do you think you lose your abominations?”
She considered the question carefully.
“Not particularly often. And thank you for calling them abominations,” she added. “Most people don’t understand.”
“Now, how often do you lose your abominations?”
“I just said that.”
“No,” Henry said, holding up a single finger. “You answered the question I asked—which I actually thought was on purpose, at first—of how often you think you lose them. I can think of six times in the last two years, counting this one. Not to mention the hyperpuppy.”
“The hyperpuppy was cute.”
“The hyperpuppy was pyrogenic!”
Marie pouted. “It was still cute.”
“Fine. Don’t count the hyperpuppy. That’s still six. You need a minion to check up on you.”
“I’d never let a minion into my personal lab,” Marie said, with a disdainful toss of her red hair.
“Oh, and how would you stop one? Locking the door?”
“If I’ve actually had six escapees in the last two years, that’s perfectly fine. There were, on average, three-point-five lab animal escapes per-year nationwide in that same time period. I’m not even at twice the national average. And since I have more than twice the national average IQ, I think my rate is pretty all right.”
“Look, my point is just that it’s far more often than you think.”
“I don’t think so. I think it’s exactly what I think. At least, I think that’s what I think. And I think you think incorrectly!”
Henry clutched the sides of his head and groaned in agony.
“Oh, the illogic! It hurts! My neural pathways are degrading from your horrible, ill-thought words! Black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue—”
“That’s not how neural pathways work.”
“—violet, gray, white, gold, silver!”
“Are you done?”
“None! Phew. OK, now I’m done.”
Marie crossed her arms.
“I think you just volunteered yourself with that disgusting display, Henny-honey.”
“I’d point out that that’s not how volunteering works, but I suspect it would be futile. You need two volunteers.”
“Yes, of course. You and someone else. Going in with just one volunteer would be suicidal.”
“And where will you be getting this someone else from?”
“From here! From the lab! From… from all these…”
For the first time, Marie because aware of her surroundings. And aware of just why the lab had seemed so unusually quiet.
It was so unusually empty.
In one corner, beakers and flasks bubbled and gyrated softly, filled with some sort of anti-coffee. On a low table in the middle of the room, a six-foot-long circuit board gleamed in the way that only gallium arsenide can. Silver rods of various lengths leaned against one wall, with a de-powered electron gun hanging casually from the longest one.
These projects, and many more, all lay inactive. Un–worked on. Dormant.
“Where the hell is everybody?!”
Henry waved vaguely. “They’re in bed. It’s one o’clock.”
“I cannot believe that my colleagues, my friends, are so lazy and undermotivated that they would still be in bed at one o’clock!”
“They’re not ‘still’ in bed, they’re just in bed. It’s one o’clock in the morning.”
Marie shoved up a sleeve of her lab coat and looked at her empty wrist.
“Man, the time really gets away from me,” she said.
“You and me both, sister. I’ve been working for hours, trying to get the wiring right on this two-kilowatt Laser of Love.”
“Why is it a Laser of Love? Does it make people fall in love with you?”
“No, I just… love lasers.”
“That’s kind of bizarre.”
“No more bizarre than giving your love to things that are wet, furry, or squishy! And once the world knows of my laser, they’ll give their love to me! Along with their money, government, and free will! Mwa, ha, ha, ha!”
Henry’s maniacal laughter echoed around the hard-floored room.
“Ooh, that’s better than caffeine,” he added with a pleasureable shudder.
“I think it’ll be tough for you to intimidate all of my subjects with your silly little laser. Fear will keep the countries in line, and loyalty to their queen will keep them obedient.”
“Yeah, well,” Henry said, much calmer, “race you to the top.”
“Us and everyone else.”
They both paused reflectively.
“OK, come on,” Marie said.
“Come on for what?”
“Come on to help me capture my abomination. The thing I came in here for? You have the memory of a proverbial goldfish, I swear.”
“Two objections. First: Why a ‘proverbial’ goldfish?”
“Goldfish don’t have the terrible memories that most people think they do. It’s just something that caught on with popular consciousness. A meme, I think it’s called. Their memories are no worse than any other fish. I even trained a team of goldfish to defuse bombs, once. Couldn’t ever get them to arm bombs, though…”
“Second: You said that going in with one volunteer would be suicide!”
“Yeah, for the volunteer. With my plan, I’d be perfectly safe.”
Henry gestured for her to go on. “And the volunteer would be…?”
“Irretrievably dead. I mean, I can resurrect a lot, don’t get me wrong. But this would be beyond me, for sure.”
“In your plan, does the volunteer have a two-kilowatt laser?”
“Ha, ha!” Henry laughed triumphantly. “Then I have improved the plan already.”
“You said you couldn’t get the wiring right, though.”
“Unless your abomination is covered with mirrors, I’ll only need one shot.”
“I won’t kill it. Promise. Here, hold this.”
Henry started to hand Marie the ignition switch, then stopped suddenly.
“Hey, what is it, anyway?”
“What is what?”
“The abomination. What is it?”
“Oh,” Marie said. “I haven’t named it yet. It’s a derivative of a velociraptor. Does that… help?”
“As long as it’s not pyrogenic, we could call it George, and it wouldn’t matter to me.”
“Ooh, yes! Let’s call it George!”
“George it is. You take the radar module, I’ll hold the ignition switch.”
Marie stepped back and looked at Henry carefully.
“You look… kind of badass with that thing mounted on your shoulder.”
“I feel badass. It’s a good feeling.”
“When we’re done, can I try it on?” she asked.
“One thing at a time.”
And Marie’s boots once again kicked open the lab doors. This time, outward. Into danger, and adventure, and two-kilowatt lasers.
“Maybe I could clone Henny-honey and use him as a minion,” she mused softly.
“Did you say something?” Henry asked.
“Not a thing. Let’s go!”