141 THE NEW CAR
Once upon a time there was a brilliant scientist, Dr. Werner Steinkraus by name, who worked for one of the largest auto makers in the world. He really should not have been working for a company that made automobiles, since his training at the University of Transylvania had been in biology, and not in engineering or physics. But when he first came to this country his English was very poor. And the computer, or the data entry person, understood German about as well as he understood English.
He had been assigned to the carburetor section in the large plant, where every day he spent the hours from eight until five testing and adjusting the carburetors on the new models. He found the work boring, not because he was not mechanically minded, but because he could not see what it had to do with biology. And he was right; it had nothing to do with biology. Still, he dutifully put in his hours at the plant; and his co-workers, and especially his supervisor, appreciated the seriousness with which he took his job. The quality control in the carburetor section had improved markedly since Dr. Steinkraus had come on the scene.
When he would return home in the evening, taking the bus to the end of the line, reading yesterday's newspaper, he would be met at the door by his pet cat Cunigunda, who would meow loudly and rub against his leg until it was fed. Then he would have something to eat himself, climb into his lead suit, and go out into the garage. There a flinty glint would come into his eyes. And he would smile and rub his hands together, as he looked at "It"—that's what he called it: "It"—his creation. It looked like a car, except that it seemed to be expanding and contracting all the time, as though it were breathing in and breathing out, as though it were alive.
Werner would then carry a couple of buckets of horse manure from a large pile outside the garage, and, raising a lid in the rear of the car, would then pour the contents in. The car would customarily let out what might best be described as a polite burp. Werner would then turn off the X-ray machine that had been focused upon the object, climb out of his lead suit, open the main the door to the garage, and climb into the front seat of his creation. The interior of the car had the unmistakable odor of sweet mushrooms. He would massage what looked like a bulbous horn in the middle of the steering wheel, and the car would surge forward, like an animal freed from its cage, take the sharp corner at the end of the driveway as if the tires had been suction cups. Once a metabolic equilibrium in modalities of expansion and contraction had been attained, the car would cruise down the highway with a speed and smoothness that invariably brought a smile to the face of its inventor.
It had taken Werner years to perfect the car, all those boring days at the factory producing mere machines, and those exciting nights trying to figure out how to cross cancer cells with the fungus culture he had obtained from the local mushroom plant. The car would, theoretically, last forever, because, unlike normal cells, cancer cells keep splitting infinitely. That had been one of the first problems he had to solve: keeping the eternally growing tumor under control, especially when the car was not in use. He accomplished this by irradiating the car when it was in the garage. This caused the cancer cells to go into remission. This was why, when he was working on the car, he had to wear a lead suit, to protect himself from the radiation.
Werner had also designed the car with the Pacific Northwest in mind. The exterior was like feathers, so that when it rained it was like so much water off a duck's back. The car functioned well even in the continuous Pacific Northwest rains. Even when there were floods the car was able to take a couple of deep breaths, and cruise under water for close to five minutes.
But one day while he was feeding the car and brushing down its feathers, he felt something moving against his leg, and he realized that Cunigunda had followed him into the garage; and she was not wearing a lead suit. He was horrified; for he knew that a small cat's toleration to radiation exposure is quite low. He also knew that it would not be long before the cat succumbed to radiation sickness or leukemia or both, that is, unless... unless he, Dr. Steinkraus, could find a cure for the cancer. He put the cat outside, where it immediately began to glow in the dark, and feverishly set to work in the laboratory behind the garage. He called his supervisor, explaining that he would not be to work for the next three days, saying, tearfully, that his beloved Cunigunda was sick. The way he talked the supervisor thought it was the poor man's wife.
He worked feverishly day and night all those three days to find a cure for poor Cunigunda. Then he was sure he had it. He staggered out of the laboratory with a vial of the cure, but accidentally tripped on the brush for smoothing down the car's feathers, and spilled the vial all over the car. He quickly returned to the laboratory to get some more of the medicine, soaked Cunigunda's catnip in the solution, and then collapsed onto his bed, still in his lead suit. A day and a half later, when he went out into the garage, his eyes bulged, his jaw dropped, and he let out a low groan, as he saw what had been his beautiful car was now but a steaming and bubbling puddle of protoplasm, along with a few feathers, sitting in the middle of the garage floor.
He went back into the house, picked up Cunigunda and held her in his arms, tears streaming down his face onto the cat's fur.
"Ah vell," said Werner, "Detroit vas probably not ready for mine new car anyvay."
MORAL: The life of a scientist is not an easy one.