Well, I always said I wanted to be famous.
A lump slid down my throat. Angry shouts, the furious blaze of torches, and the shine of pitchforks have a way of doing that. I don’t know where they even got pitchforks. I’ve never known anyone who owned a pitchfork, let alone though to grab it when they were mad enough to take to the streets about something. The worst part of it all isn’t that I’m about to be ripped to shreds. Sure, that’s bad or whatever, but I’m not scared. If anything, I’m proud. Even when they’re rejecting everything I did, I see marks of my work in the crowd.
And that’s what scares me.
I always told myself I didn’t want to waste my life. People always say that “life’s too short.” I have gifts. Talents. I didn’t want to see them squandered. I wanted my name in the history books, even if I had to put it there myself. It all felt so right when I was doing it. Now I have to face the consequences. Staring down the barrel of a loaded angry mob has a way of making you retrospective.
Maybe I should start at the start.
When you’re a mad scientist, you have a lot of personal crises. Some of them are the everyday kind like “I’m out of fresh mummy juice, and Mr. Norbert’s brain is about to expire” or “The nosy downstairs neighbor can hear the centrifuge spinning”. Those aren’t too hard to deal with. You can solve most of them with a little rope and something that coaxes molecules out of phase. Unfortunately, the easy problems tend to disappear while the hard ones pile up. I guess that’s what makes them hard. You can’t just treat your fear of being forgotten with a well-timed trip into the neighbor’s apartment and giving their (much louder than the centrifuge, by the way) stereo a once-over with a crowbar. You have to do something big. You have to carve your name into the stone of eternity before you get involved in a death ray accident or end up lobotomizing yourself with a poorly-timed surge of manic energy.
I try to get out of the apartment at least once a week. The smell of burnt hair gets to you if you don’t let the place air out every now and again. A friend insisted on spending time with me. I suspect it’s because the local council was “worried about me”.
“Trish popped last week. She’s been drooling all over herself ever since.”
“It’s good to see you, too.” I scoffed. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you to start with ‘hi’ or something?”
“You weren’t saying anything. I figured you wanted me to cut to the chase.”
“I thought you wanted to go to lunch.”
“I’m allowed to want more than one thing. Can you imagine being a one-trick pony?”
“How’s he doing, by the way?”
“It took a week to get the hooves off. Fingers will be another month. Really did a number on himself.”
“Is that why you wanted to meet? To make sure I didn’t decide to grow hooves?”
He pushed his thin, wire-rimmed glasses up his nose. The lenses sprayed information from all over the world into his eyes constantly. The low-level headache was worth it, he insisted. His bald head glistened brightly in the sun. “You wouldn’t grow hooves. With you, I’m more worried about a haywire pair of pants or a hyperintelligent cat.”
“Gosh, that’s so much better.”
“I dunno, at least One-Trick was out of commission until we can fix him. Who knows what you’d come up with trying to undo an uplift gone wrong. There’s a reason people start with dogs or chimps.”
“Just for that, you’re paying.”
“I haven’t paid for lunch in over a decade. I don’t plan on starting now.”
“You’re calling me weird, but you’re the one with the solar panel head.” I’d always rub it for good luck when I was going somewhere. Maybe I should have rubbed it this morning.
“This thing changed my life. I wake up in the morning and I don’t have to eat breakfast. I don’t waste money on lunch. The only remaining drain is luddites like you.”
“Am I a luddite or a lunatic? Make up your mind.”
I forget which one he decided on. I think he called me behind the times for not wanting to shave my head. I figured I’d wait for some kind of ironic Gift of the Magi scenario for that to happen. Hair grows back unless you do something weird to your scalp. Really weird, too. Not just implanting dye glands in your scalp. I only got about halfway on that project before I realized you have to do every follicle. I’m not afraid of needles or anything. I’m just not a huge fan of having a few hundred thousand pokes in my head. Heaven forbid you break the software on one of them and have to dig the thing out so you can unbrick it. On the plus side, I get some cool streaks out of this. I find a little blue makes the red stand out a little better. Really makes the mad science pop out. If I’d known that was going to be a liability, I’d…
Honestly, I’d probably still have done it. The bright lights. The cheering crowds. The electricity in the air. The kind that’d still be there if I didn’t have hulking metal towers spelling my name on the sky with thousands of volts. There’s a certain experience that you just can’t get anywhere else. Throwing an event that puts every eye on you. Knowing you have something that everyone there will tell their kids about and everyone that wasn’t will say they were. It’s the kind of thing people fill buses to make pilgrimages to. If you say you can’t make it, people look hurt and confused and ask “Why?” like you just said there was a death in the family. That’s the impact you want to have on the community.
They’ll tell people that were at the very first Elizabeth Steele Foundry. We would later call it “Hydrogen”, because if you name something “the first” or “I”, it dramatically decreases the chance you’ll have a second one. They’ll remember being surrounded by the brightest minds in the world. They’ll remember watching the gorgeous presenter strut across the stage. Her ivory lab coat billowing with every purposeful, powered step. The way her boots crackled against the hard metal floor in the dingy warehouse. Being stuffed in there way tighter than the fire marshal would allow- if they weren’t there, too.
Every year, the venue got bigger and more tickets were sold. If there weren’t enough people to really pack the place, I’d try to bring the walls in a little just for that classic sardine-can charm. You hear people say stuff like “I spent Foundry Boron tucked inside Mary Évariste’s armpit. We still exchange Christmas cards.”
Call it selfish, but I kinda like being the only one who’s comfortable in a room. And, honestly, I get that feeling looking at this angry mob. Being in a mob feels good. I should know- I used to lead them back in high school. You know, before I turned into the kind of person you lead mobs against. I’m sure there’s something poetic about the hunter becoming the hunted here. Being hunted kind of implies being afraid, though. I’m not afraid. I’m proud at what I created. Not only did I do something great enough that a modern-day lynch mob is bearing down on me, it’s only the end of everything I’ve been building up for. They’ll make TV documentaries about what happened today. They’ll show the ready-made obituary they have on me on the news. The only downside is that I won’t be alive to enjoy it. The mob’s getting kind of close.