Written by Allen Crowely
Welcome to Lux Blox's tenth installment of Mars is for Misfits, the story of Athena Tripi, a tough and talented Sergeant in the Marine Corps who is put in the unlikely position of having to save not one but two worlds. Not caught up? Previous Chapter or Start from the beginning
“To unlock your potential genius, first imagine that you’re an idiot.
(The opposite is also true).”
Emancipating Childhood and Other Essays
Escuela Anna Katherina Vivas
October 31, 2045
With the L-Phage stowed in his backpack, Lincoln took the long way to physics class to catch his friend and confirm the plan.
“Hey, Donatello,” Lincoln whispered as his friend came close.
Standing nearly a head taller than Lincoln, Donatello outstretched his long arm and put his hand on Lincoln’s chest and said in a baritone voice. “That was a cryptic text I got from you late last night. What do you need my friend?”
“Thanks, I need you to get a key to the lab and give it to my sister this period. Can you do that?”
“Yeah, I got campus tech this period. I’ll make it happen. But you’ll owe me for this one.”
Lincoln looked around the hallway. The crowd was thinning out. He and the little creature in the backpack wanted to get out in the open and escape from the jar. The school seemed like a massive cage to Lincoln. “Can’t show you now, but come to the lab for lunch. You’re going to want to be a part of this investigation.”
Donatello nodded, “Only cause it’s you, Lincoln. We both know the risks. I’m expecting this to be something good.” He tapped his hand on Lincoln’s chest again.
Lincoln gave a little hop back and started to walk away. “I’ll see you in E-Ship, I want to see your bio-presentation. You’ll want to see this.” He rapped his knuckle on his backpack, which made a metallic bell-like sound, and the two walked away in opposite directions.
Sheila couldn't concentrate on poetry today. She liked reading the cards and answering the questions. Get eight out of ten right and move on to the next poem. She knew the kinds of answers educators wanted. But her own thoughts on any poem seemed to drift toward biological allegories and symbolism. When the group circled up everyone knew the bent her comments would take. Invariably someone in the outer circle would ask, 'If this wasn't about biology, what would it be saying?' . Probably a fair enough question. Fortunately, Mr Dickenson, the facilitator, put Sheila in the outer circle today. She was free to drift off while kids born on Mars speculated about clouds and flowers in the writings of poets from Earth.
Class finally ended. Sheila was the first to burst into the hall, plowing straight into a boy who was blocking her way.
“Hey, you’re one of Lincoln’s nerdy friends. What do you want, kid?”
“Donatello.” He continued to block her way. Acting amused that she would treat him like your everyday freshman.
“What do you want, Donatello? ”
“I really enjoyed your report on brine shrimp, Shiela. I replicated your experiment and changed some variables. In one I added algae, which increased the biological oxygen demand and I got the solution temp down another 6C.”
Sheila’s mind reeled. Who was this kid? He dropped the solution temp 6 centigrade? How did he even get a copy of her biology report? Uhg! Lincoln.
“Your brother asked me to give you this.” He offered her the key.
‘Oh shit’ came to mind to sum up all of her fears of Lincoln blabbing this thing to the whole school and getting them caught. “Uhm, thanks.” She took the card.
“I’ll see you in the lab at lunch.” He turned and walked down the hall.
She pocketed the key and looked left and right to see if she was noticed. No teachers or administrators in the hall and thankfully none of her friends saw her talking to a frosh. She called to the back of his head, “See ya later, Donatello.”
He didn’t turn around, but kept walking and put up his right hand.
“Dorks”, Sheila sighed, and hurried on to biology.
“You can pack up your things and start moving to the next class." Wally Liebenow said to the class of twenty-six freshman and sophomores in her phenomenological physics class. She paused. "Except you four. You can rochambeau to see who goes first and start setting up your entrepreneurship presentations."
The physics students packed up and began heading for the door without antics. The room’s paneled walls opened up to another larger room with semi-circular elevated seating.
Three from the group who remained all looked at Lincoln and shook their heads. Nobody wanted to follow his presentation. "Awe come on guys,” Lincoln argued from his seat, “ I want to go first."
Ada clamored out of her bean bag to a standing position, folding up her laptop like origami and stuffing it in the pocket of her faded orange haversack. "No way buckeroo! You dig into these stupid e-ship first-prince projects like most of us dig into real apple pie."
He stood and gave her a coy smile, "Hey, It’s physics for me, computers for you. We’re no different. I just want to go first so I can get it out of my head and learn something from your presentation."
Crick stretched out his legs and leaned back folding his hands behind his head. He was the kind of guy who’d do most of the work and not care if he got the credit. "Like you're going to learn something about physics from our presentations."
"Maybe, computer science from her and … well yours is about genetics. I’ll learn some business, right?”
Lincoln felt bad he couldn’t share with them the real reason he wanted to go first. Mostly it was because he wanted to get it over with so he could get to the lab and study the creature in his backpack.
Feynman stood. He shook out his arms like a wrestler before a match, “Let’s Rochambeau. If he gets it, he deserves it. At the quantum level we all get the same chance."
"Yeah OK. Let’s do it. For the record Feynman, I don't like your logic of leaving this to chance." Linclon held out his hands, one flat, the other a fist above it. "Let’s do this!"
Nine slaps and three shoots later, Lincoln set up his project.
Ms. Liebenow made a quick visual scan of her entrepreneurship class. The class attracted an unusual mix of students. Liebenow had created the class to encourage a fusion of first principles scientific thinking, creativity, and business. In the two years since the class’s inception, it had grown in popularity. The administration was not as happy with the class because they knew its popularity had to do with the peculiar teacher who ran it. As Mr Oliver, the school principal, was apt to say, “What good is a class that only one teacher can teach?”
She now held three entrepreneurship classes per semester, along with her normal load of phenomenological physics, the history of science, and four dimensional studies.
Today's class would be an assembly of all three of her classes, so the room was crowded with over sixty students. All present.
“Good morning. We have our first four presenters lined up already.
At the appropriate time, Lincoln began. “I’d like to start by saying that everything here was built with Martian materials. And thanks to Ms. Liebenow, who put up with me during the independent study class for physics where I designed much of this prototype.”
“Allow me to introduce MR. WAR, the Multifilament, Rotary Worm Action Rifle”.
He removed the cover and held the bulky prototype at port arms. He took aim at the small target on the presentation board and fired. A strange high pitch sound like fabric tearing was followed by the ting of a projectile hitting the target.
“This, my friends, is a working prototype of what will become Mars’s first home-made rifle.”
A hushed murmur of appreciative expletives, spread throughout the room; ‘cool,’ ‘awesome,’ and ‘wow,’ slowly grew to full bloom conversations and exclamations of wonder and approval.
Ms. Liebenow stood. The room became silent. “Lincoln, you told me that you had a product that you could patent, that could demonstrate several principles of physics, and you said there could possibly be a large market on Mars. What you did not say, is that your product was a gun. Have you considered this? That guns are prohibited on Mars?”
“Rifle, to be exact, ma’am. And yes, I had considered this. But I also considered that the laws might change if the circumstances warranted it.”
Ms. Liebenow waved a single finger to dismiss the statement. “I’ll allow your demonstration, but you will leave that here at the end of class and there will be a discussion with your parents and the leadership here at school.”
“Yes ma’am, of course.”
“I appreciate your love of science and physics specifically, but building and bringing a gun to school is not appropriate.” She sat back down. “ I’m starting the presentation timer now. You may proceed.”
‘She was going to regret this’, she thought to herself. The administration has been nuts with all the separatist politics. The issue of gun rights is front and center, especially since the uptick in crime and the remote colonies and outposts have been self- policing. All she needs now is her smartest student inventing a gun in her class.
With a loud “Uhm. Yes ma’am.” He fired the rifle again and pointed at the second cylinder. “Here we have the heart of the device, the multifilament rotary worm action. I've filed what's called a provisional patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. So this is actually patent-pending. I’ll show you more about that in a moment.”
Lincoln paused his presentation. A timid boy at the door held up a small piece of paper.
“Excuse me Ms. Liebenow, I have a note for Lincoln Tenderly.”
Lincoln tried to keep a poker face, but happiness and fear coursed through him at the same time. Remaining neutral seemed impossible. After what seemed an eternity of waiting for Ms. Liebenow to speak, she finally said, “That’s Lincoln right there, you may give it to him.”
Lincoln gave a quick thanks and read the note. “Got the keys. See you at lunch.” He crumpled the note and popped it into his mouth, eliciting a laugh from the class and a head shake from Ms Liebenow. Amelia had come through, as he knew she would. The keys to the lab and the lockers inside were secured. Sheila could open the door; Amelia could open the lockers. They could set things up. He and Donatello would arrive with their unusual friend. They would solve the riddle of this creature that could live on Mars. They’d be heroes. He fought the urge to shoot a smile to Donatello in the back row. His mind continued to race ahead to the next event but he worked to funnel his joy into the presentation at hand. He continued.
Lincoln put the rifle in the case and began explaining his patent pending process on worming the two inert filaments together into a helix that would combine into an explosive gel. Behind him an animation was projected of the interior of the action of his rifle and how it pulled ingredients from three spools to make a virtually unlimited rate of fire.
“You’re just about out of time Mr. Tenderly.” Ms. Liebenow advised him.
“Right. Let me sum up by saying, I looked at the historical problem of firearms from a first principles perspective. Instead of regular bullets, I thought, of making the action of the rifle manufacture the bullets instead. So the rifle actually processes the three filaments in the worm gear chambers. In Mr. War, nothing is ejected. Nothing is wasted. Everything goes out the end of the barrel. Mr. War uses raw materials available on Mars. I’m looking for investors for my patent pending process and product that will revolutionize life on Mars and other remote regions around the solar system.’” He followed the statement with a mock bow.
Just then the door burst open and two coaches rushed in and tackled Lincoln as the class applauded. Confused, the students erupted into a cacophony of surprise, laughter, screams, shock, and protest.
Mr. Rassumussen, who everyone called Coach Raz, was the first one in the door. He rushed Lincoln with the intensity of his college sporting days back on earth. Mr. Otis, called Coach O, was right behind him adding his substantial mass to the newtons that pinned Lincoln Tenderly to the floor. There was really no struggle. Lincoln didn’t even see them coming. But now, pressed against the floor, he wondered how they found out about the contraband organism in his backpack and he dreaded how much trouble his sister would be in. She’d never let him live down his stupid plan.
Principal Oliver came in like a public relations representative, moving at a quick pace and tugging on the lapels of his suit. “It’s alright class, you’re safe. No one is going to get hurt.”
Lincoln was perplexed. How could they possibly have known about the phage. No way Donatello said something? Did his parents figure out that he had swapped it for a meal worm? Seemed unlikely.
“What is the meaning of this!” Ms. Liebenow demanded.
The coaches held Lincoln to the floor and the principal addressed her. “Ms. Liebenow, we received a report from an office aid that a boy was holding your class at gunpoint and firing projectiles at,” he paused and pointed, “that target over there. We arrived to hear him talking about revolution on Mars. We took immediate action.”
“You’re an idiot” someone shouted in a very low voice under their breath like a cough, and the kids in the room snickered.
“I think there has been a bit of a misunderstanding.” Ms. Liebenow stated in her ever calm and clarifying tone. This is a presentation for a physics-based product to be made and sold on Mars. No hostage taking, no revolution. No one is in danger. Though I suppose I can see how it could be misinterpreted.``
The coaches pulled Lincoln to his feet. Coach Raz had him in a full nelson effectively immobilizing him. ”
Coach Otis grabbed the gun case from the floor. “What were you thinking, Tenderly, putting the entire school at risk? He looked at the gun inside. “Your little revolution stops here.”
“What?” Lincoln was doubly confused now.
The uproar of the students began to subside as Ms. Liebenow brought some reasoning to the room. Coach Raz dragged him out before he could articulate a cogent question, but he did manage to lock eyes with Donatello and glance at his backpack that was slung on the chair next to him. Donatello nodded and quickly put it into his own backpack
Less than twenty minutes into class Sheila’s worst fear came true. She was escorted to the principal’s by Coach Raz. He only told her that it was concerning Lincoln's activities. This didn’t bode well. Oh shit raced through her mind for the second time today. The phrase summed up all her fears of having listened to Lincoln’s crazy plan. Who else besides the Donatello kid had he told, even worse, shown the larva to? But why this much drama over bringing a bug to school?
“Come in, Ms. Tenderly. Your brother has made quite a stir this morning. He has put students' lives in danger. As principal, I simply cannot allow that on my watch.“
Sheila suspected he was being overly dramatic. Of course, Lincoln had put students in a dangerous situation. That little critter they brought to school could probably breach a seal with those mandibles. But how did Mr. Oliver know about that? He was no biologist. So who would have told him enough about the phage larvae to show this much concern?
“We know quite a bit about your brother’s illicit activities Ms. Tenderly. What can you tell us about them?” Mr. Oliver would have turned a light on her if he’d had one.
Best to play dumb, she thought., “I mean he’s been getting into trouble as long as I’ve known him. One more year of separation and I would have been out of high school before he got a chance to ruin my reputation.” She gave a long sigh.
“So, you consider him a troublemaker?”
Mr. Oliver was trying to get her to say something incriminating . “No, no more than any big sister considers her little brother a troublemaker. In that sense, I guess, I do.”?”
”So you didn't know anything about Lincoln bringing something dangerous to school and holding a physics class hostage with “Mr. War?”
Mr. Oliver paused as if this should mean something to her. Now she was truly baffled . Had Lincoln named the larva ‘Mr. War?’ What the hell? She just stood there, staring at Mr. Oliver, not knowing what to say. Not fathoming what néw depth of idiocy her brother has plumbed.
“So you had no knowledge that your brother had built this thing in your hab?” He said, looking at something behind his desk.
‘Oh my God ‘ she thought. ‘Had the principal confiscated the phage from Lincoln?’ But why did he say “build”?’
“Built what thing?” She blurted out.
With a grand flourish principal Oliver reached behind his desk and hoisted her brother's kit bag onto his desk. “Recognize this bag?”
“Yes.” She was cooked. He had the phage.
“Were you aware of what Lincoln was carrying in this kit bag?”
“I thought it was his fall project he’d been working on.”
The principal unzipped the bag while staring into Sheila’s eyes. He then reached in and with two hands pulled from it a contraption she partially recognized. On the one end were three of her father’s mig welders. In the middle was something she had seen Lincoln discussing with her uncle the night before. Something about worm gears. And on the other end was something that must have been made in the sintering foundry. It resembled the barrel of a gun of some sort. And there plainly written in stenciled lettering was “M.R. W.A.R.”
“And you'd never seen this before?”
“What is it?”
“The gun. The gun. What do you think I’ve been talking about?”
“We don’t have any guns. Nobody has guns on Mars. Who would waste cargo space to bring one?”
“Don’t play dumb. I just told you he built it. Brought it to school today and presented it in his Entrepreneurship class’s fall projects.”
She mulled it over. "Well that makes sense.”
“For a smart kid, Lincoln just forgets to think sometimes. He likes to build things. Especially if he can demonstrate some principle of physics. That's kind of what he does all the time. He builds tons of things in our tool shop at the farm. We can’t keep up with all of the things he creates."
"You don't think building a gun is rather serious?"
"I'm sure Lincoln doesn't. He probably wants to explain how expanding gas can create kinetic energy or something like that. Probably doesn't even think of it as a weapon."
“I think the name “Mr. WAR `` would beg to differ with you.”
“It’s plainly an acronym. Probably for the technology.”
"So, you know nothing of this gun or holding his class hostage?"
“Nope. And I don’t believe Lincoln held the class hostage or would ever point this thing at a person.”
She still couldn’t fathom that she was being questioned about Lincoln’s physics project instead of about a lifeform that could easily destroy the school and potentially even the planet.
"Oh brother, I knew he'd foul this up."
“Foul what up exactly, Ms. Tenderly?”
, “The Halloween Party tonight? If I don’t get to go because that little jughead brought his toys to school, he’s getting a beating from me. That’s all I’m saying.”
"You don't seem to be taking this very seriously."
"Oh, I'm sure it's serious to you, sir. A kid brings a gun to school. Yeah, serious. To Lincoln it's just another physics experiment.” She concentrated to suppress her eye roll. “I understand. You have to do what you have to do Mr. Oliver. Me, I'm just seriously ready for lunch. I have blood sugar. Can I go now?'
The principal studied her for a long moment. The authorities will want to ask you and your family more questions when they arrive.
“You called the ‘authorities’?”
He then smiled and opened the door.
Once she was out of eye shot of Mr. Oliver Sheila raced to the lab. One quick stop to grab her lunch from her locker, she really was hungry. Then she cut through the corridors as fast as she could until she reached the lab.
She froze. The door was open. She touched the key in her pocket. This smelled like a trap. Was the gun thing just a ruse to see if she’d come here? Ruse or not, there was too much at stake and she was committed. She walked in.
The worktable was configured with a microscope, a sonogram, multiple resonance imager and a variety of test kits. Donatello and a frosh girl stood on opposite sides of the table. Both were geared up in lab coats, gloves, and respirators with face shields. She was taken aback. Donatello slid a box of gloves along the table to her. The girl approached her holding open a lab coat for Sheila to step into. Donatello slid a filter mask with a face shield to her along the work bench.. On the table Sheila could see the jar with the phage inside. One look among the three and they knew why they were there.
Maybe her brother was a genius after all, the administration would be tied up all day with his ‘bring a gun to school prank’. The lab was theirs. She looked at the girl, "Lock the door."
"What about Lincoln?"
"He's keeping the administration out of our hair so we can get to work." She turned to the girl, "I'm Sheila."
"Duh, Queen of the Brine Shrimp. I'm Amelia. Biologist. Drone Pilot. At your service."
"Oh, you're Amelia." a flash of Lincoln saying something stupid about being a drone so she could fly him to the moon. Sheila registered Amelia’s look of curiosity about the comment. “Your reputation precedes you.”
“Really, as a biologist?”
“Actually no, as a drone pilot.” Sheila started donning the protective gear to change the topic. “Let’s get to work.”
Donatello looked at her and gestured with an open hand to the phage in the jar on the table, "We waited for you."