Lisa Tang stared forlornly at the small Plexiglas aquarium as A.M. Leander strode into the lab.
“Why so pensive, Lisa?” A.M. queried, as she exchanged her elaborately embroidered Kuspuk for her pale blue lab coat.
“I think my experiment died,” Lisa said, weakly, pondering a large, motionless garden spider lying awkwardly on a hammock-like web.
A.M. peered into the aquarium and clucked sympathetically. “It happens to best of us. Jus’ start new ‘speriment.”
Lisa sighed. “I know. But I was just sort of getting fond of Leonard...and I don’t even like spiders.”
A.M. raised her eyebrows. “Leonard?”
Lisa clamped her head in her hands repentantly.
“I know, I know. Dr. Wu has told us a thousand times never to name our subjects. I’m a terrible person. I couldn’t help it!”
A.M. gave Lisa a gentle hug. “I think Dr. Wu will forgive. Did I ever tell you about Franklin?”
“No. Was he that grad student last year?”
A.M. shook her head and headed to the lab refrigerator. She retrieved an ancient-looking jar containing a giant squid’s eyeball floating in a vile-looking fluid from the door’s condiment shelf and brought it back to Lisa.
“Here is Franklin.”
Lisa squinted suspiciously at the jar. “Uh, you mean Franklin’s eyeball...whatever Franklin was.”
A.M. shook her head again. “No. Is Franklin.”
Lisa backed away from A.M. a step. “...You named an...eyeball …Franklin...”
“Lisa was already taken,” A.M. said, flatly.
“I love you too, A.M.” Lisa said, rolling her eyes.
A.M. returned the eyeball to the refrigerator and returned to Lisa’s side. “Do we need to perform funeral service? I am good Lu’teran. I can do this for Leonard.” She peered into the aquarium again. “But maybe it would be more proper to wait until he is truly dead. I do not think truly dead spiders walk like that.”
Lisa glanced as the spider and gasped. “Leonard! You’re alive! Why didn’t you say something when I called you?!”
“I think spiders are kind of deaf maybe,” A.M. suggested. “Well, anyway, this is better way to start morning than with spider funeral, no?”
Lisa shook her finger toward the spider. “Don’t ever do that again!”
A.M. gazed curiously toward the resurrected arachnid. “So, Lisa. What is es’periment supposed to be, anyway?”
Lisa opened her notebook and pointed to some scribbling. “It’s a pattern memory experiment. Dr. Wu thinks if we can figure out how a spider recognizes things we can build better computers. Spiders are supposed to have very simple brains, so they’re easier to study. I’m not really convinced of that.”
“Of course not, Lisa. Spiders have been ‘round longer than us. They have had lots of time to figure things out. I think they will still be here when we are gone.”
Lisa squinted at Leonard. “But they have such tiny little heads! Where do they fit all that stuff in there?”
“They do not waste so many brain cells watchin’ infomercial shows I think.”
Lisa nodded. “Yeah, that’s a good point. I wonder what they do for fun.”
A.M. shrugged. “I think maybe they play dead.”
“Hmm,” Lisa said, carefully pondering A.M.’s analysis. She glared at Leonard. “Just for the record, young man, that was not funny.”
A.M. returned to the refrigerator, opened it, and placed her lunch bag on the middle shelf. “Do not go anywhere!” she commanded, as she closed the door.
“Your lunch is sharing living quarters with a pickled alien eyeball,” Lisa noted. “Doesn’t that bother you just a little bit? No, I guess not; you eat raw walruses.”
“I do not, Lisa. I only eat raw seals. Walruses are eaten cooked. I have es’plained this before.”
Lisa slapped her forehead in self-condemnation. “But of course! How silly of me for forgetting!”
A.M. laughed. “Lisa, you are very favorite nerdy Chinese lady. Some day you will come to Greenland. There are almost no nerdy Chinese ladies there.”
“Imagine that,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes again. “Well, just so you know, you’re my favorite cooked walrus-eating Greenland lady. There aren’t many of them at UCLA either. So what are you doing today?”
A.M. made her way to her desk and nudged a mouse, bringing a sleeping monitor to life. “Need to calibrate GCMS for Bucky Balls. You know what are Bucky Balls?”
“No I don’t,” Lisa confessed.
“They are new form of carbon. Well, not brand new; just sort of new. They probably are not in nature, so need to be made artificial…I mean artificial made. Dr. Wu says they look like igloos. Well, maybe microscopic igloos. Except they are probably black. I think. Because carbon is black. Except for diamonds, which are not black; they are diamond colored. So maybe these Bucky Balls will look like igloo shape diamonds. I have never seen them though, which is why we need GCMS. Dr. Wu has never seen igloo either, I think.”
Lisa stared at A.M. with her jaw hanging. “I’d really love to take a walk around inside that brain of yours!”
“Sorry for blabbering around like that,” A.M. said, apologetically. “You must remember that Inupiat has no parts of speech, so we always must speak the whole thing; never just parts!”
“Ah,” Lisa said, nodding with understanding. “So, what are Bucky Balls supposed to do for us?”
A.M. scratched her head. “Dr. Wu did not say, but I have some ideas. I think it will be related to spider brains. I do not understand much, but Dr. Wu ‘splained that these Bucky Balls are kind of organic and kind of not. So maybe they can be little bit like life and little bit like machine. This is just my own interpret.”
Lisa shuddered slightly. “If your ‘interpret’ is right, I think we both work for a mad scientist.”
A.M. shrugged. “Dr. Wu does not seem mad. He seems very happy to do this.”
“I hope you’re joking, A.M.”
“I never joke, Lisa. You know,” A.M. said, sounding quite serious. “Oh, by the way, you should see what Franklin can do already!”
“W-w-what?!” Lisa quietly stuttered. “Exactly what do you mean by…uh…do? I trust that’s one of those Eskimo non-parts of speech.”
A.M. shook her head. “No, this time is official English do. Please get Franklin for me.”
Lisa squinted suspiciously at A.M. as she crept gingerly toward the refrigerator. She opened the door and removed the suspicious jar of formaldehyde from the shelf. It was empty.
She held the jar up. “Uh…A.M., this is the right jar, isn’t it?”
A.M. rolled her chair back a couple of feet and gazed in Lisa’s direction. “Are there any other jars in there? I might have forgotten.”
Lisa scanned the interior of the refrigerator, and jumped back with a horrified shriek as she discovered “Franklin,” minus his jar, staring back at her from the shelf beside A.M.’s lunch sack.
“What is wrong?” A.M. inquired, calmly.
“That eye-eye-eyeball is out of his...its…his…its…jar!!”
“Already I told you, Lisa. Franklin can do things. Puttin’ lid back on was hardest job for him to learn, though. I had to scold him many times.”
“A-a-a-aY E-m-m-m-m!” Lisa half screamed, half blubbered, before passing out cold, only spared from smashing her head on the floor by A.M.’s ready arms.
A couple of minutes later, Lisa came to from her supine position on the floor, to find A.M. holding the jar containing Leonard, still laughing hysterically.
As Lisa’s mind cleared, she realized she had been had. “I’m going to kill you, A.M.!” she blurted, tearfully.
“That is no problem,” A.M. said, calmly. “Dr. Wu will be able to fix me.”
Lisa rose to her feet, unsteadily. “Is everyone in Greenland that sick?”
“No, Lisa. We just have lots of spare time.”
“Yeah, I figured that,” Lisa said, with a sigh.
A.M. handed the jar containing Franklin to Lisa. “I think he likes you!”
“Uh. Gee thanks, A.M.,” Lisa said. “If…uh…he doesn’t mind, I’m going to stick…uh… him back in the fridge.”
Lisa returned Franklin to the refrigerator and returned to her lab bench. “Now, A.M., if you will kindly excuse me, I have some actual work to do!”
Lisa turned into the latest entries in her lab notebook, and scribbled a few more observations in the margin, taking an occasional wary glance toward her lab partner, who “never told jokes.”
As she scrutinized the large spider, an idea for the ultimate revenge began to formulate in her mind. But that would have to wait.
For now, there was some actual work to do.
Causes Eric Nichols Supports
Free Burma Rangers, Partners Ministries (Thailand), Literacy council of Alaska, Access Alaska.