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A Normal Boy’s Abnormal Grandfather

Fyodor Confucius Goodspeed had always been rather unusual. Even as a child, he had been a ridiculously lanky lad with pale skin, like tissue paper. His head had produced a wild tuft of hair that sprouted from his scalp like a weed. Otherwise, he was completely bald from the moment he was born, all through his life. It was like his cranium generated so much heat it singed the hair from his head. Fyodor had always dressed entirely in white, claiming he had neither the time nor the patience to match what he wore any other way.

Fyodor’s most notable difference though was his genius, a word that literally means “unusual intelligence.” He used his overwhelming mental capacity to build machines from a young age. Sources of energy were his specialty and, around age seven, he built his first nuclear reactor. Over his parents’ gasps at the glowing monstrosity on his bedspread, he commented, “Well, that was easy.”

So, as his parents scoured the phonebook for a company specializing in residential atomic reactor removal, Fyodor took out a blank piece of paper and started fresh. He had entirely new ideas how to power things.

Fyodor unveiled his new thinking at the Fourth Grade Science Fair. While other young scientists in the school’s gymnasium displayed erupting volcanoes, model rockets, and gyroscopes, Fyodor unveiled a five-inch-wide, by five-inch-tall, by five-inch-long cube. The cube was dark and featureless. It looked like a perfectly cut square of black onyx. Black onyx is a type of stone so dark staring into it is like staring into a void. That was how Fyodor’s cube looked: it was a small, perfectly square, infinite void.

Mr. Burton, the school’s fourth grade science teacher, stretched his plump cheeks to smile at Fyodor’s project.

“Well Fy,” said Mr. Burton, using Fyodor’s nickname. “It seems that you have entered a rock into the Science Fair. Are you presenting geology?”

“It’s not a rock. It’s an energy source,” Fyodor said plainly.

Mr. Burton laughed, “An energy source! How could that be? It’s clearly a rock — a very interesting rock — but a rock regardless. Did you shape it yourself? Do you have a rock chisel around here?”

“No, I don’t. Rock cutting is for bozos. This is an energy source. It provides unlimited power.”

“Fy,” said Mr. Burton, his fat cheeks flattening, “This is a Science Fair, not an Imagination Fair. I’ll enter your submission as ‘The Onyx Rock: a Rock Cutting Example by Fy Goodspeed.’ I’m sure you will do quite well in the fair, although rock cutting certainly won’t win first place.” He wrote something on the tablet he carried.

“It’s not a rock,” Fyodor insisted. “It is the single smallest, but most powerful, source of energy on Earth. It can power a jet by itself, no fuel needed. It can provide renewable power to a large city. It can even run in a vacuum, like space, without any oxygen. It never runs out of energy yet it produces no pollution! I call it the Onyx Sun.” A small smile of pride crossed Fyodor’s lips.

Mr. Burton squinted down at Fyodor through fleshy eye slits. His eyes flashed with frustration. “Fy, keep this up and I’ll have to give you a zero,” he said. “Now, is it a rock or is it a source of unlimited power?”

Fyodor held his teacher’s gaze. After a long moment, he plucked the cube from the table and strode down the aisles of exhibits. He approached Tim Cleatus, who was demonstrating to a large crowd how a gas-powered go-kart works.

“This is the fuel tank,” Tim was saying, using a metal pointer to identify the object. “It’s currently empty since they wouldn’t let me bring gasoline to school.”

Fyodor pushed Tim aside, cut through the crowd, and ripped a wire from the go-kart’s engine.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Tim cried, trying futilely to push people aside.

Fyodor turned to face Mr. Burton at the far end of the gymnasium. Everyone watched. Fyodor held the wire up in the air in one hand and the Onyx Sun in the other. As he brought his hands together, a blue bolt of electricity arced from the cube to the wire. The wire leapt toward the cube like it was a magnet and stuck to its side. Fyodor reached down and pressed the ignition button.

The go-kart engine roared to life. People stepped back. Tim Cleatus stopped in his tracks. Mr. Burton let the tablet fall to his side, his mouth wide open.

“It is a source of unlimited power,” Fyodor said. He stared at the crowd staring back at him. Then, he shrugged. Fyodor hopped into the go-kart, revved the engine, and raced toward the back of the gymnasium. Students and teachers leapt out of the way. He burst through the emergency exit doors leaving behind a sea of open mouths under a fog of blue tire smoke.

That was the last day Fyodor Confucius Goodspeed attended normal school.

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