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Much To Do About Nothing
A short story.
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Much To Do About Nothing
It was Sunday evening at 8 PM- The Press conference was about to commence- Most TV networks had canceled their regular programming to transmit this special event that was anticipated by many viewers - What was all that fuss all about?
Well, it all started a few months back, on a nice spring Sunday afternoon when a tall man, rather wiry, standing on a corner of Time Square, was offering small colorful balloons attached to a string to all kids who wanted them until he ran. What was different about these balloons is that they were small, about four inches in diameter, felt hard to the touch and yet would float like helium balloons. It would not take long for the lucky kids who managed to get them to become fascinated by these new toys. They boasted in front of all their envious friends and the news spread like wild fire to other kids throughout the city. Having these balloons became the pride of the owners. Since nobody knew the source and there was no new supply, the kids started to trade them at an ever increasing price. Kids being kids started to steal or fight over them. They found out, to their chagrin, that bumping them hard by accident, resulted in their being smashed into thousands of pieces somewhat like glass but without the sharp edges. There would go their investments. Quickly they learned to take good care of them.
A few weeks later, the same man appeared out of nowhere, without warning, in the Boston Common, but this time he sold the balloons for a nominal price and then disappeared from sight as soon as his limited supply was gone. This occurred a number of times in different cities without any pre-warning, so that very quickly, all the newspapers of the nation had an amusing byline discussing those mysterious balloons, as well as the elusive man behind them. They even attempted to guess his next appearance. Without any other explanation, a rumor quickly developed that these balloons were pushed up by a new antigravity gas.
Obviously, these balloons became the concern of a number of parents. Not knowing what they were made of and the fact that they could break easily sounded warning bells as to the possible harmful effect to their kids.
Some of these balloons were handed over by parents to scientists who, like everyone else, were intrigued by their characteristics. They were asked many questions by the public such as, were they dangerous to kids, how did they work, and so on...
In order to answer these questions and to satisfy their own curiosity, scientists carried out a large number of tests on the very limited supply they had. They weighted them, measured their upward force and performed the many other tests that could be done without destroying them. Then, they sacrificed one and broke it down to do further tests, such as physical and chemical analysis of the gas inside as well as that of the material of the balloon itself...
They could answer only a very limited number of questions: The gas inside could not be identified, the broken pieces did not have antigravity properties. The material, however, was particularly hard and extremely light but was also unidentifiable.
These answers posed more questions than they answered- many articles in newspapers and scientific magazine allowed themselves to speculate on many aspects of these intriguing balloons. For example, could it be that the antigravity properties could only be exhibited on whole balloons- and as soon as they were broken, that property would disappear; or had the gas inside antigravity property; or was it the combination of the gas and the inside wall of the balloon that would produce this miraculous property?
As time went on, more and more people got into the act- especially venture capitalists who would see many fantastic commercial applications for these balloons, such a floating vehicles, weight reducing device, etc... They could not wait to form new companies in association with the inventor. The big question was still where and who was He? He had not appeared anywhere for the last few months.
A search was undertaken by government agencies, including the FBI and CIA, the military who did not want that such a fantastic invention should fall into the hands of an enemy, venture capitalists, toy makers, journalists and so on; all this to no avail.
Finally a newspaper with more initiative offered a huge reward if the inventor would contact one of their journalists. That last strategy paid off for the journal quickly announced that contact had been made with the elusive inventor and that he had promised to reveal himself and his invention. The journal would obviously have exclusive rights to his story.
After hard negotiations, the eccentric inventor was finally convinced to divulge his secret. He finally agreed, but only under the following conditions:
1)The divulgation would be done in the form of a press conference
2) Only journalists could attend and could ask questions. He would select at random a journalist
for each question.
3) Only five questions could be asked and would be answered.
4) None of the questions should be so specific as to divulge trade secrets that would jeopardize
patent applications or his future business.
5) Finally, he would be given five million dollars for submitting to this press conference.
That last condition was the easiest to satisfy as TV network were ready to pool their resources to provide the money. The first condition was obviously acceptable. The second condition coupled to the third and forth were more problematic. Of course journalist could be helped by scientists to formulate the questions, but in the press room only journalists could readjust the subsequent questions based on the previous answers. Also, if the questions were interpreted by the inventor at his own discretion as too specific, they would lose one question.
In spite of the very stringent limitations imposed by these conditions, the opportunity was there to satisfy the curiosity of so many people not to mention the ratings that would be provided for the media. Those conditions were accepted although reluctantly.
In less than a month the big event was organized. The actual day chosen was on a Sunday evening at eight, obviously to fit prime time TV. The room was filled to capacity with journalists from all over the world.
That evening, after the usual advertisement, a build up from the commentator, a brief introduction and a welcome to the inventor, the floor was opened for questions. Hands were raised and the inventor picked a man for the first question which was:
“Why are the balloons climbing?” The question was too obvious but had to be asked.
“Well they are obviously lighter than air an therefore rise like a cork in water.”
A woman reporter was then chosen, she asked, “Is the material made up of antigravity matter which seems to lose that property when shattered?
He replied, “A definite no. Next question from the man with the curly hair”
“Is there a new type of gas lighter than helium or hydrogen or with anti-gravity properties?”
“No. Question four from the woman over there”
“What makes them go up then?”
“I told you the weight of the displaced volume of air is greater than the total weight of the balloon. The difference in weight is the force that makes it go up; in fact it uses the same principle as an ordinary helium balloon.”
Many hands were raised for the last and final question.
The inventor chose a man way in the back of the room. “Well how come physicists and chemists could not detect any gas in the balloons since you said yourself that they are like helium balloons?”
He replied excitedly, “ That is because there is NO gas inside the balloon. The big difference between an ordinary balloon and this one is that in the former, its inflated shape is provided by the helium under pressure which is pushing against the skin of the balloon and the pressure of the atmosphere. In this case, the material making up the skin of the balloon is extremely strong for its weight and thus can maintain its shape against the pressure of the atmosphere trying to collapse it. No inside gas is required, therefore reducing the total weight of the balloon.” The last journalist, very frustrated, continued without permission.
“You mean to say the secret lies in the strength of the very light material, not on a magic gas and, in fact, there is NOTHING inside the balloon?”
He answered condescendingly, with a smile, “This question makes it more than five, but I will answer it anyway- YES you are right”
At this point the inventor left the press room without further comments, having fulfilled his commitment.
The next day the headlines of a national newspaper could be read as:
“MUCH TO DO ABOUT ....NOTHING!”
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© 2005 Armand Waksberg
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