Thursday, November 12, 2015


So, I had thought today was going to be a nice, relaxing day working on my fantasy novel. It started out that way. I was going to have the humans, the elves, and the dwarfs team up to fight this big evil dude in the East. I decided that I would have three main characters, one from each species. I was writing up character traits and everything. It occupied my brain, and was interesting enough that only occasionally did complex chemical equations pass through my brain.
Eventually, I went downstairs. And, for the first time, it really hit me that I was living with Mad Scientists.
Gabe and Joanne were upgrading a veritable air force of remote control planes. "What are you doing," I asked.
"Fitting them with temperature and pressure sensors," was my little brother's nonchalant reply.
"Meteorology project?"We
"Yeah. We're drying to detect updrafts created by the heat island affect. You know, cities have pavement, that gets hot, which-"
"I know what the heat island effect is. So, what sort of battery life do those have? It seems like you would need them to fly all across Boston pretty easily."
"Yeah. We needed to buy some really high-end batteries."
I snorted "You know what compound is really light and makes for good energy storage?"
"Oh," he said. "You think we should be going hydrogen?"
"I do."
"I'll go order them online."
"Okay, but there are some pretty key modifications you should be making." I started scribbling down all the standard ways to increase the efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell. All stuff I had worked out sixteen months ago after overhearing two orderlies talking about a hydrogen economy.
I was working out the kinks in some new ideas when Daniel came in. "The car still can't parallel park."
"What car?"
"Before I was committed, I was writing code for a self-driving car. Today, I bought a new one, Gabriel and I installed some hardware, and I tried to see if I could work out some of the old kinks."
"You just bought a car? I know you have a program that can earn six hundred dollars in a minute of trading, but isn't that still rather... impulsive."
"It's so awesome," Gabe said. "We needed a manual override, of course. So we decided to just make it so you could remote control the car." He pulled out his phone, swiped back and forth, and I heard an engine revving outside. "I'll send you the program."
I tried not to join in. I didn't want to be a MAD. I wanted to walk away.
No. I didn't want to walk away. If had wanted to, I would have. It was my choice to stay, and teach Gabe the physics of convection. It was my choice to help Daniel debug his self-driving car. My choice, an hour later, to start modifying the recently delivered fuel cells. And my choice to take apart my phone for parts.
"So, I'm thinking that we could use the microphone to detect extremely short-term changes in pressure. Not directly relevant to studying convection, but it might give us a better idea of how much turbulence there is," I said, gesturing at the equations Daniel had written on a sheet.
"The turbulence would no doubt be affected by the plane itself."
"We can compensate for that," I said. "Either mathematically, or by hanging the microphone a few meters below the remote control plane."
"Could we compensate for it mathematically," Daniel asked.
"Yes." I showed him how. First time I solved a math problem before Daniel. Not that I'm proud.
It was Joanne who stopped me. "Allegra," she said. "I thought you didn't want to do this." Have you ever put yourself on a strict diet, only to have someone you know walk in on yo while you're stuffing half a pint of ice cream in your mouth at once? Neither have I. But I imagine if I did, I would sputter the same bullshit about how that was my old diet, how I didn't actually think I need to lose weight, and how awesome it was that I could make the ice cream fly and monitor the weather.
"You're right," I admitted. "I shouldn't be doing this. I... need to go." Where to go? Where to go? "We still need food, right?"
"I was thinking we'd order Chinese," Gabe said.
"I, I suppose I might as well go get groceries."
"That seems a little unnecessary."
"Gabe," Daniel said. "She is not getting groceries because she thinks it's important that we have groceries. She is getting groceries as an excuse to remove herself from this environment until she can clear her head."

I walked back, burdened by a huge amount of food that we probably wouldn't end up eating. I thought back on what was likely happening at the house: three brilliant people with access to unlimited funds were indulging in their interests. With luck, nobody would get hurt.
My phone vibrated. I sighed. Probably Gabe remembering something he wanted me to pick up. I read the text. It was indeed from Gabe.
"Hey, this is Gabriel. Just checking in, when are you planning on being back?"
I quickly consulted my mental map. "Fourteen minutes."
Interesting that he would want to know that? Was he extremely hungry? Did he need my help on some sort of problem? Had something gone wrong? I quickened my step.
If something had gone wrong, why hadn't he been more specific? Unless he had typed that message under duress. And he had referred to himself as Gabriel. That seemed uncharacteristic. He and I both thought of him as Gabe. Was that some sort of subtle message?
Of course not. I was being paranoid. Okay. How to prove that everything is fine?
Text him back. If he doesn't respond, suspicious. If he gives another uncharacteristic response, suspicious. If he responds flippantly, possibly with a joke at my expense, nothing suspicious is going on.
"Hey Gabriel. This is Allegra. I got you your favorite ice cream flavor: Mint Chocolate chip. Love you so so much!"
Hoo boy. Gabe was going to have a field day with that. How would he respond. First, he'd mock the very idea that anyone could prefer Mint Chocolate Chip to Cookie Dough. Then, he'd rag on me for the 'Love you so much' line.
I hit 'send,' already feeling the sting of the ridicule I was about to receive.
I heard back from him after four minutes and forty-two seconds. "Love you too"
That was a very long wait for a very short message. Probably nothing. Probably, he was just too engrossed in some project, even to make fun of me. That was possible, right?
 There had to be some way for me to check in. Maybe, given time, it would have been possible for me to sneak a view through the cameras on their phones...
No. I opened the app that let me drive their enhanced car. I peered through the camera: they had left  the car three blocks away from the house. Neither confirmed nor denied any suspicions.
The microphones I had connected to the planes... could I access them over the internet? I spent eleven minutes trying and failing. A panhandler came up to me and asked me for money. I told him I was busy. Finally, I managed to patch myself through.
I listened to the crappy audio of an even crappier situation.
I don't understand why... doing this. It sounded like Gabe.
...acquire more agents... my cause The voice was strange. Could it be Oberon, the gas mask wearing MAD?
What... when Allegra comes back Was that Joanne?
... transported... a facility I control
I needed to get the work. "Hey," I yelled at the panhandler. "Have a hundred dollar's worth of groceries."

I didn't know what to do. I had said I was fourteen minutes away fifteen minutes ago. If I didn't show up in the next hour or so, whoever was threatening my friends would contact me, saying he would harm them unless I arrived. That meant I had a very slim window of opportunity.
I couldn't rush in and beat some unknown but likely very formidable set of individuals with such little preparation. But I didn't want this person to be after me. Perhaps I could take a page out of Oberon's book and fake my own death? I was working out how to do that, when I got a better idea.

I watched the door open, seeing it through one of the car's auxiliary cameras. It seems that in order to get parallel parking to work, Daniel needed a panoramic experience.
Out the door walked Joanne, then Gabe, then Daniel, then a guy wearing a pitch-black suit of mechanical armor. I recognized him, of course. Jackson Romero, a.k.a. Spectrum, a.k.a. Less-Cool-Version-Of-Oberon.
He gestured towards another car across the street. My three friends, and my one enemy, began to cross. Spectrum opened on of the car doors, and his three captives filed inside. He then opened the front door. I made my move.
Two tons of remote-controlled machinery crashed into the MAD terrorist at twenty-five miles per hour.
Spectrum's armor must have been made of some pretty stern stuff. He had been knocked up the street, but he seemed to be getting up. I could fix that. I rammed him again. I backed up, then moved forward. One of the tires rested firmly on his chest.
I could see the metal chest beginning to strain under the pressure. A screw popped out, fired off at what I later estimated was three hundred meters per second. Spectrum tried to get up again. I prayed he wasn't strong enough to lift a car.
I could see my friends fleeing in my peripheral vision. Good. I just needed to stall Spectrum. I could do that.
I diverted my attention back to the black-armored madman. There was a searing light in one of the cameras. The car's sensors began reporting insane numbers. I realized he was using his trademark lasers to saw the car apart.
I went into reverse, and slammed on the gas. Well, it was a spacebar, but you understand. I drove forward again, pushing Spectrum further up the street, further away from my friends. Then, I collided with a parked car.
My last glimpse through a camera showed Spectrum sandwiched between two flaming wrecks.

I texted my friends to meet up in yet another cheap motel. "The car was you," Daniel asked.
"Clever. Do you know if Spectrum survived?"
"I suspect he did."
There was a knock on the door. I looked through the peephole. Standing there, in a cowboy hat and jeans (and a shirt), looking for all the world like your average nice country boy, was Samuel R. Barton, MAD kidnapper extraordinaire. "You'd better let me in," he said.
Honestly, diary, today was tiring and harrowing enough. I don't want to write about what happened next.

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