The television reporter asked a series of boring and obvious questions to Dr. H.P. Negron-Omikon. Yes, the good doctor was happy that he received the Teller Prize for inventing the Spirit Disengagement Field. Of course, he was thrilled that he was no longer a wanted man in the USA. It’s true that he and the current president are on the best of terms. And, yes, yes, the President himself will be in attendance at tonight’s public demonstration of the Commodity Reclamation and Augmentation Processor (CRAP), Dr. Negron-Omikon’s latest masterwork.
Using the latest in zeptotechnology, Dr. Negron-Omikon had managed to create quite the device. The processes involved were devilishly clever. Very little overall power was required to get the thing to do its business, so it ran off of solar cells – and could operate at full capacity when hooked up to a standard AAA battery for an entire 30 days. For raw materials, the doctor was proud to boast that it made its own from the non-baryonic soup surrounding and permeating all physical matter in the universe.
“With our zeptotech breakthroughs, we can press mesons together in stable superconfigurations in ways that will revolutionize our approaches to life,” was a typical hyperbolic statement Dr. Negron-Omikon offered about his invention. The scientific press was wary of such huckstering, having only recently been burned on the supposedly revolutionary impact of Dr. Wong Wei’s life’s achievement. Poor Dr. Wong Wei! He was so ecstatic when he revealed his top secret invention to a waiting, eager world! He was so certain of his triumph when he pulled down the curtain to show to one and all what he had devoted his very existence to!
But, ah! The mocking cries of derision! The embarrassment! The uncomfortable, anticlimactic, awkward silence! For Dr. Wong Wei had produced no earth-changing innovation. It was clear to one and all when they saw the piece of wood shoved through the center of a circular stone that the poor man had merely re-invented the wheel. Worse, it was clear that he had duplicated the work of a German team whose public excoriation hadn’t gone much further than their hometown of Düsseldorf.
Dr. Negron-Omikon was aware of such hesitation to embrace his miracle of the ages and responded laconically: “I have read the literature, and I assure one and all that I have not re-invented the wheel. Nor have I duplicated the work an unnamed Homo Erectus team invested in their crowning achievement, fire.”
To which, invariably, some dissident paleontologist sitting in the back rows would rail against: “Homo Ergaster! Homo Ergaster! ‘Twas Homo Ergaster what invented fire!” Such an outburst would leave Dr. Negron-Omikon with no other choice but to request that security remove the man and then follow up with the joke, “Say, how many members of the species Homo Ergaster does it take to change a light bulb? None! They didn’t have fire, let alone light bulbs!” For some reason, physical chemists always found that joke to be the funniest.
Today was the day that Dr. Negron-Omikon would silence all his critics, one and all. Today was the day he would show the world his truly magnificent creation. And where would he show it? In the USA’s largest ghost city, Detroit National Monument. Here, in the site of the ruins of the days when the USA actually made things, Dr. Negron-Omikon would show the way to a manufacturing renaissance for his beloved homeland that had recently re-instated his citizenship.
Dr. Negron-Omikon chose an open-air venue for his demonstration, for, “There is no hall in existence that will contain what I will show you!” Some people mistakenly took that as a reference for a new breed of redwood tree or a massive fireworks show, and Dr. Negron-Omikon had had just about enough of dispelling those myths.
There, in the beautiful, crisp spring air of Michigan, Dr. Negron-Omikon took the stage and waved meaningfully at the gizmo underneath a heavy drape. He then explained the science behind it, thusly…
“How does it work? I’ll be brief. There is matter that we are made of and there is matter we are not made of. That stuff that we’re not made of is everywhere, all the time. All we have to do is convert it to a form that interacts with us, and we can create something out of what used to be nothing to us. I assure all my colleagues that this obeys all the laws of thermodynamics, and they will be welcome to check my mathematics following this presentation.”
Noticing that the very usage of words like “colleagues,” “thermodynamics,” and “mathematics” was sending a high percentage of his audience into a torpor, Dr. Negron-Omikon livened things up by tugging away the heavy drape to reveal his Commodity Reclamation and Augmentation Processor (CRAP).
The audience applauded politely, but couldn’t muster up anything more intense on account of the fact that they had no clue what it did. Dr. Negron-Omikon then set about edifying the dignitaries in attendance.
“I have attached to this machine an artificial intelligence array that will take whatever I speak to it and, in a matter of mere moments, produce that thing. Allow me to show you what I mean.” The good doctor then picked up a voice-trumpet and said, clearly and carefully, “peach ice cream.”
POOF! a bowl of peach ice cream appeared in the cornucopia-shaped delivery vessel. “You will note that the artificial intelligence is considerate and learned enough to know that we take our ice cream in bowls. This sort of logic is consistent across the range of possibilities of this machine. Ask, and ye shall receive – and without an ironic twist!”
It was that last phrase that produced the greatest elation in the crowd. Too long they had been victims or descendants of victims of grand inventions with ironic twists: airplanes that delivered both passengers and bombs with speed and accuracy; automobiles that brought happy vacationers and hapless motorists to their ultimate destinations, be they beaches or graveyards; computer networks that gave everyone access to all the information they would need to become the most intelligent and wise of persons – or the most distracted and self-centered of persons; and so on. If Dr. Negron-Omikon was correct in assessing his invention’s utter lack of irony, that would be a true blessing to humanity which, to be honest, still had trouble keeping that invention of Homo Erectus’ under full control.
As Dr. Negron-Omikon produced food for all, gold bars, exact copies of the Lacoön, and George Washington’s wooden teeth, the audience became progressively more elated. Sections were already offering the good doctor a standing ovation. But, wait! In all the applause and jubilation, there were dire frowns of violent disapproval. Finally, one of the frowners jumped on top of his seat and berated the audience.
“You fools! This will end scarcity as we know it! There will be no way to be rich! How will we make money in the market, if this thing is constantly producing? Prices will collapse!”
Dr. Negron-Omikon smiled condescendingly. “You think I haven’t realized that? Fear not, though, as this is already set to not create money itself – that would be a crime – nor will it create illegal or controlled substances.”
The nay-sayer turned on Dr. Negron-Omikon. “But not all of us are lucky enough to be in the liquor or tobacco industries! What, then, of our businesses?”
“Simple. I advocate that you take up a massive short position on all commodities. Put all your money into that venture, and you’ll be able to buy up every cigarette factory and brewery on the planet.”
“But how can we make money that way if everyone knows that this thing will be pumping out pork bellies and orange juice concentrate like nobody’s business?”
Dr. Negron-Omikon played his trump card. “Bear in mind the massive secrecy surrounding this event. We’re the only ones that know what this will do. You can use this asymmetric information to create an arbitrage opportunity.”
At the mention of the word “arbitrage,” the frowns turned upside down. At once, they telephoned their brokers and financial men to bet the farm on every commodity crashing good and hard in the next 30 days. They took out loans and used the loaned money as collateral for yet more loans, all eventually going towards the biggest known stock market bet in the history of humanity, market activities of Homo Erectus and Homo Ergaster notwithstanding.
Once all the trades were in, the jubilant crowd surged on to the stage and carried the great inventor, Dr. Negron-Omikon, around his great invention, the CRAP.
Sadly, one of the paraders stepped upon a banana the CRAP had created. Bananas, of course, are always encased in notoriously slippery banana peels. Given the non-stick nature of the parader’s dress shoes, he stumbled.
To catch himself, he grabbed hold of a portion of the CRAP.
Somewhere inside the CRAP, an ominous THUD sounded.
The parade froze and a pit opened up inside Dr. Negron-Omikon’s stomach. “Everyone, clear the stage!” he shouted.
“I need everyone to back up roughly half a mile before I do repair work on this machine. The subatomic particles it harvests can become highly unstable and dangerous in the event of a malfunction.”
The crowd obediently followed the advice of Dr. Negron-Omikon, assisted by the burly bodyguards of the President, who were taking no chances.
With the audience safely stationed a half-mile away, Dr. Negron-Omikon began to assess the damage to his machine.
Well, that’s what it looked like to the now-distant observers. The good doctor was actually assessing the potential damage to his person. He had a vested interest in not dying, as anyone who knew anything about the man knew to be true.
“Hmmm… they all took out 30-day contracts, so if I can get this running inside of 20 days, I should be all right. Even between 20 and 30 days, and I should be able to avoid having them hunt me down like a dog.”
Dr. Negron-Omikon shuddered deeply at the thought of what his fate would be if it would take 31 days or more to fix the CRAP – and they knew about it!
He opened a maintenance door and walked into the belly of the beast. Horrified, he saw on the floor the most expensive and intricate part of the CRAP, a left-threaded veeblefetzer.
Dr. Negron-Omikon placed a call to the warehouse department of North American Veeblefetzer. “Hello. I need to know if you have any left-threaded veeblefetzers in stock.”
“Left-handed veeblefetzers? Sure, we got loads.”
“No, my good man, not left-handed. Left-threaded. There is a vital difference. Please check for me.”
“All right, buddy. Hold your horses.” Dr. Negron-Omikon endured an eternal agony as the warehouse man checked his inventory. “Sorry, chief. Just shipped the last one in stock to a Pratt-Fall drilling operation in Bechuanaland.”
“Oh no! You see, I need one urgently! Urgently! When can you have another ready? How fast can you make one and ship it out to me?”
“Well, as you may or may not know, we have a shortage of liverpoolium, which is vital to the manufacture of all threaded veeblefetzers, right and left, due to the surge of unrest in Himynamistan. That will push back our manufacturing line quite some way.”
“Yes, I understand all that. How soon? I need an estimate.”
“Well, this is not binding, you understand.”
“We’re working with the Department of Defense to use a melvinium bomb on the Himynamistani insurgents, which would clear them out of the liverpoolium mines without any damage to the mines themselves. Of course, the red tape is unimaginable…”
Dr. Negron-Omikon ended the call. Even if North American Veeblefetzer could get the US Air Force to drop that melvinium bomb today, the mine would be highly irradiated for four weeks. Even then, the poorly paid Himynamistani laborers would only be able to work for an hour a day in those mines for the next five years…
… and it was highly unlikely that the crowd a half-mile away would accept going long on threaded veeblefetzers as a hedge on their soon-to-be disastrously bad market positions.
Which was why Dr. Negron-Omikon asked the crowd to move back a half mile. There was no danger at all from the CRAP malfunctioning. The redundant systems and low power usage made it as harmless as the fluff on a baby duck’s tail. Dr. Negron-Omikon opened a panel and removed a pair of size 10 running shoes, which fit his feet perfectly.
He then made a mad dash for the speedboat he had docked nearby for just such an emergency. With a little luck, he’d be halfway to the boat before someone decided to check to see what was going on, and he’d be safely inside the People’s Republic of Canada before the President could scramble the ground attack helicopters to take down the man directly responsible for what was about to be the biggest financial crash in the history of humanity, market activities of Homo Erectus and Homo Ergaster notwithstanding.
A month and a half later, as the financial structure of the capitalist world descended into a flaming desolation of greed-fueled commodity speculation gone horribly wrong, the People’s Republic of Canada bestowed the Order of Jack MacDonald, Second Class with Maple Leaves to Dr. H.P. Negron-Omikon for his hand in the global financial crisis.