March 21, 2008

The Mad Scientist's Evil Twin

by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

His brother started it. Fame and fortune weren't enough for Stephan. He had to rub it in Eldon's face every day by being gracious, magnanimous, and successful. Curing cancer, solving world hunger, inventing a practical matter transmitter, discovery after sickening discovery. Whatever Stephan did just added to his wealth and reputation. He got more girls. He even had a better name!

Eldon was not going to be a copycat. Being the second most famous scientist in a family just didn't cut it. He chose a darker path.

* * * * *

Eldon specialized in biochemistry and genetics. He started small, a new viral disease here, a rust that ruined the taste of sweet corn there. He wore black, cultivated a mustache and goatee, and found that this persona drew women to him like vultures to a sheep carcass. He smiled a lot, and stroked his beard. He married frequently, if not well, and spent a lot of time in the lab. His brother was never far from his mind.

* * * * *

Carol buzzed around him, angry reminder of another almost-successful experiment. Maybe next time he should try something more substantial, something with a bigger brain. Not a mantis or spider; something benign, harmless. Perhaps a grasshopper, or a katydid. That was it! He'd always liked that Steely Dan album.

Carol came to rest on one of the windowsill plants. As the green jaws closed she realized she'd chosen poorly. Her tiny struggles grew louder, then were muffled, silenced. To his first wife, a housefly was nothing more than a snack. The Venus fly trap rattled its leaves suggestively.

Eldon pressed a button on his desk.

"Ms. Collins? Would you assist me in an experiment?"

* * * * *

Eldon picked up on the second ring. "Stephan! So good to hear from you. I'm in the midst of a groundbreaking experiment, Stephan, so you'll just have to wait. Perhaps lunchtime on Friday, my treat. Yes, let's meet in my lab."

Eldon turned back toward the examination table, where Miss Collins rolled her eyes frantically above the duct tape. Eldon adjusted the controls on the somatic gene-therapy transformer.

"This won't hurt a bit."

* * * * *

Eldon slammed the cup down over the oddly deformed grasshopper. "Got you!" The grasshopper hopped weakly, bumping into the glass. He dumped it into the terrarium. The machine had performed perfectly on this last run. Friday he would use a cicada.

the end

October 11, 2007

Egg Salad Surgery

by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Ever since being struck by lightning the Mad Scientist had been plagued by the scent of egg salad. “Which wouldn't be so bad,” he muttered to himself, “if I didn't loathe egg salad.” To top it all off, after risking his life in the storm he hadn't been able to revive Igor after all. The hunchback made a really terrible zombie. (He had been kind of clumsy and slow of mind in life, and those things were not improved after death. In fact, it was said that only the sense of smell became more acute for zombies.) All of this made the stench of egg salad that much harder to take.

Do it yourself brain surgery on others was one thing, but the Mad Scientist had never tried it on himself before. His aim was to manipulate the nerves in the olfactory center so that egg salad smelled like, say, an avocado sushi roll. Or pepperoni and sausage pizza. It didn't really matter as long as it was a pleasant aroma. Using a waldo was too crude; he had to culture and then guide the evolution of surgical nanobots that would navigate the fluid surrounding and cushioning the nerves in his brain, snipping some connections and encouraging the growth of others. Fortunately, this was not difficult.

The nano-surgery complete, he unwrapped his nose. All that remained of his tiny army was a drop of milky fluid on a glass dish. He took a hesitant sniff – fried liver. He shuddered and stifled his gag reflex. What were the odds? The food he hated nearly as much as egg salad, and he was stuck with it day and night. Unless he wanted to launch another expedition into his brain.

"Oh man, this stinks!"

"Tell me about it, Master."

The end

June 5, 2007

The Mad Scientist Builds a Substitute

by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Success! The Mad Scientist had to admit she looked good. All available images of the original had been input to a sophisticated CGI program written for the purpose in the waiting rooms of congressional offices. (He'd already begun lobbying for android rights.) Her metal skin captured the hues of the original; he had even reproduced the dear blemishes he remembered so well. As for proportions, and the distribution of synthetic hair, few nude photographs existed. Newly crafted methods of psychiatric self-interrogation had brought forth all available memories. (A paper describing the technique would net him a Ph.D. in psychiatry.) He had striven, in the main successfully, to refrain from changing physical features he'd thought less than ideal in the original. He had consulted with those who knew her well, pretending to be creating a sculpture. Alas, responses were not to the point.

"She's dead," her mother said. "We all appreciate your efforts, but you must move on."

Her brother. "It's a little obsessive. She was my sister, but find somebody new, for your own sake."

His best friend. Mad scientists do not have best friends. Laboratory assistants do not speak freely. Ultimately, he had to go with his instincts, so he made the left breast just a little bit smaller and perhaps infinitesimally more symmetrical.

Too much of the relevant literature and his own bitter experience with cloning warned him that any attempt to reconstruct her personality would lead to disaster. He was quite prepared to "go with the flow" here. He instilled some basic ethical principles and personality traits, as well as a familiarity with recent history, the arts, and historical trends. Personal integrity and high sex drive. Every imagined contingency had been prepared for, yet the unforeseen could still happen. She could leave him. Even worse, she could stay, but be unattractive to him. He booted up her system.

At first things went really well. Of course there were problems. The new version just did not like scrambled eggs. Her "digestion" produced some unexpected odors. They adjusted. She was, perhaps, a little too strong and had to exercise restraint in the kitchen ("Crockery's cheap, Dear."), and of course in bed. Fortunately, this was not difficult. She was witty, attentive, even-tempered, eager to help out in the lab. In short, the perfect mate for a mad scientist. But things came to a head at Thanksgiving.

He squeezed her shoulder. "It's time."

She sighed and laid down her magazine. "Can't we wait till next year?"

"You have to meet our family sometime."

The end