Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present the next story in our Young Authors series, a collection of six pieces of short fiction written by pairs of American eighth-graders as part of a special English class devoted to laboratory literature. You can read all about this interesting project in the accompanying Editorial. Use the ‘Young Authors’ category to catch up with previous stories in this series.
As I walked into my new office, I smelled the fresh paint and doughnuts and saw the grey, boring walls that I would be working in. The first person I noticed was a tall man, about thirty years of age, with brown hair and a relaxed look on his face.
“Hey, new kid,” he greeted me. “I’m Mark, the boss. Welcome to STAR Labs. I’m not who’s assigned to show you around, but Phillip is on break so I can give you a bit of a tour.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it,” I responded.
Mark led me into another room with people working at large tables and discussing things over models of what look to be fans. The room was lined whiteboards scattered with notes.
“This is Lab 1,” Mark said. “It’s where we come up with all our ideas. This is most likely where you’ll start.”
Next, he led me into a room with all sorts of prototypes and parts scattered about.
“This is where the magic happens,” my guide continued. “Ideas turn into blueprints, blueprints turn into prototypes, prototypes turn into solutions.” He said all this with a corny, inspired voice. One of the scientists across the room burst into laughter.
“Feeding the newbie crap again, Mark?” the scientist asked, standing up, walking across the room and sticking out his hand for me to shake. “How’s your first day, kid?”
I shook his hand and replied with a quick, “Just peachy.”
“I’m Phillip, a senior meteorologist here,” he said, more a boast than a statement. “I basically run the show over in the prototype lab. Don’t get in my way, or you’ll regret it.”
As he looked at me with a smirk on his face. I knew I was going to hate this guy. I also knew that I would take this guy down and teach him a lesson.
“Okay, bud, let’s move along,” Mark said.
The next room that we went into was the break room. It had nothing but a toaster, a microwave, and a few chairs. I listened to Mark tell me about the toaster and how to use it, but I just tuned him out and thought about all the things I would do at this lab. I dreamt about the fame I would collect, and the inventions that I would conjure up.
The rest of the day went by in a blur. I got introduced to everyone, ate the horrible pizza in the breakroom, and got assigned a team. I went home excited about the next day.
While I was driving in that day, I had a weird feeling: that I was finally amounting to something. I was doing something with my life and making a name for myself. The thought of actually making a difference made me feel proud.
The minute I stepped through the door, white light hit me at the same time as the odor of crusty doughnuts and freshly printed papers.
“Hey dipstick, get to work,” commanded Philip, who unfortunately was my new team manager.
“I’ll get to that right now, boss,” I replied sarcastically. I didn’t understand why he was the team leader; the guy seemed like the most disagreeable person in the lab.
Now, it was time for me to really get to work. I sat down at my desk and sifted through some of the ideas my other teammates had proposed. I liked some of them, in particular the idea of a fan that converts CO2 to a safer substance. This fan would be placed in areas with high amounts of pollution and would suck the dirty air in one side to blow the altered out the other. The discharged air would be clean of all pollution.
About halfway through the stack, I found a mess of an idea: creating a vortex that would remove part of the atmosphere. What idiot would come up with this garbage? I thought to myself. I checked the header and read the author’s name: Phillip Stonebridge.
Just as I was setting that paper aside, Phillip walked over to his desk.
“Interested in any of these ideas?” he asked, not so subtly gesturing towards his paper.
“Yes, actually, I’d like to further develop the idea of a CO2 fan,” I said. I read his face and everything about it seemed to say, “Wrong answer, kid.”
“Yeah, it’s a decent start, but I’d like your help with creating a vortex to remove the CO2 instead,” he said a neutral tone.
I couldn’t help but laugh. There was no way I was going to touch that mess of a theory.
“What’s so funny, kid?” he said, a tinge of hostility in his voice now. “Something you don’t like about my idea?”
“No, nothing at all,” I said, trying to defuse him before he lost his temper.
“That’s what I thought,” he grunted, then walked away.
The rest of the day went by with no more encounters with Philip, though he occasionally glared across the room at me as if he were trying to think of something to get mad at me about, but couldn’t come up with anything.
As I eased into my tiny Honda Fit and made the long commute to STAR Labs, I thought about everything I’d done in my first week and what I wanted to achieve. My mind kept going back my domineering manager. Phillip and I had very different views about how to approach the problem at hand and no one was going to back down. I thought, This is going to change today, I’m not putting up with this type of behavior from my manager!
This time when I stepped through the door and grabbed a cup of coffee, I didn’t know what to feel. Should I be nervous because I was confronting my manager? Or should I feel happy that everything is going to change?
The next time Philip walked over to my desk I stopped him and said “Hey, can I talk to you about something?
“Sure,” he replied. “About what?”
“Well, I wanted to say something about that theory you’ve been pushing on the rest of the team. You need to give up on that miserable mockery of an idea. I’ve looked through it thoroughly. It’s dysfunctional. It’s not worth pushing any further – ”
“Like you have a better solution!” Phillip shouted, veins popping out of his forehead. “I’m the head of this team. You don’t have the right to disrespect me like that. My vortex is going to save the world, and you’re going to take no credit because I’m firing you…” His rage-filled face twisted into a malicious grin. “…Unless you can bring me a solution to my vortex idea in the next two weeks!”
“How are you so sure that your vortex is going to work?”
“One word: magnesite. It is the key component in the holding tank. The vortex will suck in the CO2 to the tank and pump in the magnesite which will store the carbon dioxide. After all of this we can release the used magnesite into the atmosphere and it will fall to the earth with no effect on the planet.”
“You’re full of crap,” I said.
“Woah there, bud!” Mark, who was sitting nearby, said hastily. “Let’s all just get along. You guys are still on the same team.”
I could tell that he was trying to avoid a fight and for good reason – I’d gone too far. I pulled myself through the rest of the day in silence, focused on nothing except for my project.
Yesterday was uneventful but still stressful. There was a feeling of tension and hostility in the air the entire day. Everyone was scared to approach Philip, as he was working furiously at his desk. I wondered all day about what he could be doing. It kind of scared me because he could have been working on anything; he didn’t talk to me all day because he was so submerged.
Today felt the same until around 2 pm when I was getting some afternoon coffee. Philip approached me with a look on his face that kind of said I want to kill you and eat you for lunch.
“So, how’s it going, Tim?” He wore the same evil smile he’d shown me two days ago.
“Just fine, and you, Sir Philip?”
“Well actually, I was recently doing some research about that vortex idea I had.”
“And…did you finally realize how terrible it was?”
“Actually, I have solid proof that it can work. When Mark sees my research conducted on magnesite, he’ll send you right out the door for doubting me.”
“In your dreams,” I thought out loud with a laugh.**********
When I was grinding away at my research a few hours later, Mark came up to me with an I’m not angry but just disappointed look on his face.
“Hey Tim, how’s the research going?”
“Pretty good, just finalizing some background checks. I have a really big idea in the works.”
“Well, that’s great, but Philip already gave me an amazing idea. He submitted a ton of research for his idea, and I hate to tell you this but it completely disproves your theory.”
“What?” I exclaimed. There was no way he had done all of that so quickly. “I have to see this, can you let me look over the research, please?”
“Of course, I understand it’s difficult to be proven wrong, but you will have to move on. Phillip’s invention could change the world,” Mark explained.
The rest of the week, I pored through his research, looking for errors. But I couldn’t find any. It was perfect and I just couldn’t believe that – there had to be a catch. I had done some previous tests and I could not find a mineral that absorbed the CO2 efficiently enough. Also, I have never heard of this so-called “magnesite”.
Phillip was quite popular around the company now, as I imagine anyone would be who had discovered a solution to climate change. I’d reached the end of his paper, and I’d found an irregularity that I’d started to look into.
I recreated his trials of magnesite using a computer simulation and they didn’t line up.
When I went to go bring this up with Philip, he got kind of weird.
“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it,” he said, “Just go mind your own business, dweeb.”
“Hey, all I want you to do is show me how you set up the trials. I’m not calling you out on anything,” I assured him.
“You see, here’s the thing about that….” His voice trailed off.
“So, you faked it?” I said.
“Well, yeah, but there’s a reason, okay, I’m not just evil,” he explained.
“What’s your excuse?” I was caught off guard that he was actually confessing at last – why would he do that?
“Just listen, please. As a kid, I always wanted to be a superhero and change the world.” His eyes went distantly nostalgic. “These were pretty big dreams coming from a boy who lived in a trailer park in Cleveland, Ohio with his aunt and her boyfriend. They nev
er believed in me and always told me that I would have to be out of the house at 18. When my birthday came around, I had nowhere to go so I went where any broke, sad, and aspiring superhero would go: MIT.”
“Massachusetts Institute of Technology?” I was impressed.
“No.” He looked down, embarrassed. “The Mongolian Institute of Technology. And long story short, I made my way back to the States with a climate sciences degree to look for a job.”
“All right, so what does your elaborate sob story have to do with your faked research?”
“I just wanted to prove to myself that I was making progress, that I really did know what I was doing. I didn’t intentionally fake it… I just altered test results, corrected things that didn’t look good.” He paused, a rare look of humanity on his face. “It can work though, I’m sure of it: will you at least help me? And not tell anyone about the data faking?”
I was torn, but I was also intrigued by the idea, and Philip did seem to be completely sincere. “Fine, but from now on we work together, no secrets or false accusations.”
“I promise you, I’m a changed man.”
Today marked the second day that Philip and I have been working together and I was actually impressed by how Phillip is working. He wasn’t being the stuck-up, pessimistic, annoying worker that he was before – just a regular colleague.
“Do you have the new trial data?” Philip asked as I walked back into the room.
“Yep, I finished and the results are interesting,” I replied. “We need to have a fan that sucks the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere at exactly 147.3 mph for it to be properly combined with the magnesite. Also, we need to use no more or less than 3.89 kilos of it for every 100 kg/m3 of air. That ratio will create the optimal performance for our vortex.”
“Wow! We’re all done.” He punched the air in triumph. “Now we just need to show this to Mark and we can build this dang thing!”**********
Three hours later, I ran into Mark in the break room and decided to spill the beans.
“I think Philip and I’ve made a real breakthrough,” I said.
“Did you just say ‘Philip and I’? I thought you guys never work together.”
“We worked out our differences and now have something incredible.”
“I’m proud of you two. Now show me the research.”
After he read it over, Mark called me and Philip into his office. His expression had changed from one of suspicion to elation. “This is amazing – I don’t see any holes in this. I’ll assign the rest of the department to your team to help you build this. This is huge, guys!”
When Phillip and I walked out of the room together our spirits were soaring.
“What do you say to going out for a celebratory dinner?” I said.
That night we really clicked, and we both learned a lot about each other. I felt sorry for Phillip, coming from such unfortunate circumstances. His parents had died when he was six, and he’d had to go live with his aunt and her drunk boyfriend. This was horrible compared to my own experience, having grown up in an affluent suburb of San Francisco with incredibly caring parents. I still talk to them once a week.
The next few months went by in a flash. Somehow after all of the meetings, blueprints, test models, and late nights, we finally finished the project. We were invited to speak on many talk shows and news stations. Even though at that point we didn’t know what to call our invention, we publicized the heck out of it. Finally after a month of media hype, the United States government noticed. This led to a personal interview with our 45th President, Ronald S. Chump. He wanted to know the science behind our amazing invention. To my surprise it didn’t take a whole year to explain it to him.
“So, Mr. Nobel and Mr. Stonebridge, what do you call this thing?” Mr. Chump asked.
“We call it the Magnafan,” we replied in unison… maybe not the most creative name in hindsight, I thought to myself.
But whatever – our Magnafan was going to have a huge impact on climate change, and I realized that that weird feeling in the car long ago had been right: I was making a difference.