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Hickory Dickory
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TITLE (EDIT)
Hickory Dickory
DESCRIPTION
Of mice, men and Nuclear Science.
[828 words]
TITLE KEYWORD
Science Fiction
AUTHOR
Tomas B Sancio
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tomas Sancio is an Engineer located in Caracas, Venezuela
[October 2006]
Hickory Dickory
Tomas B Sancio

Luiz Castro is a pretty stout man. His big frame looks like a packed taco when he wears his lab robe. It's a quite unusual sight to anybody who looks at him for the first time. Sometimes he looks like a construction worker that happened to find a robe to wear. He decided to shave his head some years ago because it helped him save time combing his hair while allowing him to look a bit more intimidating. Personal appearance and hygiene were not what would first come to mind when thinking about this scientist. The only indicator that Luiz actually saw his face at all in the morning was a small stub on his chin that he would pet whenever he had some unresolved problem wandering in his bald head.

As a researcher and teacher at the Department of Nuclear Science in the University of Sao Paulo, the first years in his post were filled with excitement. The politicians of the time had decided that nuclear was the way to go for powering the Brazilian electrical grid. Luiz had been assigned to investigate new ways of controlling radioactive waste and had devised a method to use mice to locate leaks in small areas inaccessible and too dangerous for human workers. However, after the next government decided to pull the plug on nuclear energy, Luiz's research funds dried up and left him with an empty lab and a teaching post. The depression from those years brought him closer to the Cachaza liquor that he stashed in flasks around the lab and further from his beloved Rosa who eventually walked off with a healthier man. He was able to keep sober enough to deliver the memorized speech to his students, but not more than that.

Then one day the Dean showed up with a major project for Luiz. A European non-profit who's name he couldn't recall was offering to pay for a Spectrophotometer and other expensive lab equipment in exchange for preparing search mice for expeditions into circular ducts. The mice had to run with a small salvage payload through a system of pipes within a specific time. The problem that was described was very much in line with Luiz's previous work. The only issue that he faced was making the relatively small mice run fast enough with the heavy weight. He was finally able to overcome that hurdle by making timed adrenaline injections into the mice to boost their strength when they most needed it. Luiz was on the top of his game. For the first time ever, his research was going to be used in a salvage operation somewhere in Europe and his mice, not other mice, were to be the heroes. Just imagining a critical operation within a power plant, the tension in the air and the adrenaline flowing through their small bodies as they rushed to save tens or hundreds of lives was making Luiz smile and giggle in a seizure-like form. He was ecstatic and it showed.

On the delivery day, Dr. Castro packed his favorite mice, PelÚ, Robinho and Zico into special cages with detailed instructions on how to position them in the pipes and on how to signal the start of their search run. They were to wear collars with micro-Geiger counters for detecting the source of radiation. These collars were carefully placed in separate plastic Zip-Loc bags bearing the name of each mouse. Not all collars were the same. PelÚ and Zico were more intuitive than Robinho so their Geiger counters would buzz them less frequently. The simulated payload that Luiz used for training the mice was not packed since the acquiring institution was to replace it with the real salvage equipment. Luiz gave them a final pet goodbye and headed to the cafeteria to celebrate a job well done with a nice hot and dark coffee.


CNN reported this morning on the accident at the South Texas Nuclear Power Plant. A state-wide operation had been enacted to establish the extents of the disaster and to determine the radiation levels in the surrounding areas. Firemen and plant officials stated that it was too early to determine the cause of the micro-explosion in the empty maintenance ducts of the main reactor that led to the larger explosions in the rest of the plant. The President appeared shortly on TV to address the nation and deny any possible terrorist attack. The search for bodies within the areas closest to the reactor had not started but estimates were indicating 20-30 people.

And me? Although I enjoyed the PelÚ name, I agree with Luiz that the payload was too heavy for me to carry. Other than that, I have no major regret. Oh! Yes. It wasn't as bad as asphyxiation on sticky paper, but I still would have preferred a more honorable death.

 

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE
© 2006 Tomas B Sancio
STORYMANIA PUBLICATION DATE
October 2006
NUMBER OF TIMES TITLE VIEWED
1173
 

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