[If you're trying to read these stories in their intended chronological order, this one occurs after Dots and Dashes of Color 9.]
Every year for the past twenty or so, I've volunteered one day to the local City-Wide High School Science Fair. As a technologist, I enjoy seeing the innovations the students come up with. As an eternal lecher, I enjoy checking out the young ladies, dressed up to make a good impression with the judges.
The event was held in the corner of a huge museum. All of the administrative activities take place on the stage of the museum's auditorium. Like every year, the judges check in and get their assignments. As an added benefit, sometimes the administrative assistants are good-looking women. Not young and barely legal like the high school seniors, those women in their twenties or maybe thirties executed the low-reward but necessary job of distributing and gathering the voting materials: clipboard, student papers, scoring sheet and the all important No. 2 pencil. And at the end of the event, they pass out small tokens of the school district's esteem - a paperweight or clock/thermometer, maybe a vinyl bag with a SCIENCE FAIR sticker slapped on the side not quite straight.
I walked past the row of assistants, examining each face. An attractive young woman stood behind the BIOLOGY sign. We exchanged smiles. I wouldn't have been averse to discussing personal biology topics with her, but the judging would start soon. I had student papers to read, and - oh yes - donuts to consume before hitting the project floor.
My stack of student papers was thicker than most. I had five projects this year, in both MATH and COMPUTER SCIENCE. I swore if I got another Fibonacci Numbers or Rubik's Cube Solver project, I'd punch my fist through the student's cardboard display. Fortunately my five projects were much more creative, and advanced enough to strain my memory of calculus and software algorithms. I was actually pumped at reviewing these projects, but not distracted enough to ignore every young female student I passed, making occasional eye contact when the chest or legs or face was pretty enough for more than a split second of undivided attention.
When I got to the MATH section, one of the projects was a no-show. If they're not there, I have nothing to do, taking zero minutes of my time. In the COMPUTER SCIENCE section, two projects weren't there. One had a handwritten sign saying 'Debugging - be back soon.' As a consequence, I was done much quicker than any of the other judges. I rechecked my scores and turned everything back to one of the assistants, a pimpled young man.
The young female assistant behind the BIOLOGY sign flagged me down. "Excuse me. Are you finished?"
Looking at her pretty face? Never. I straightened my tie and moseyed over. "I had three no shows. Just my luck. Their papers were quite good." I walked closer.
"Could you do me a big favor?" Her hands held out a single student paper, her arms squeezing her breasts together, making cleavage out of two modest molehills. "One of the Biology judges didn't show up either, and this project requires one more review. Could you?"
I'd experimented biologically with many of Annie's friends. "Sure. Why not?"
Her voice was thick. "You're a sweetheart." One hand swept her hair behind an ear.
Would I get some kind of personal reward for my efforts? Best to do the judging and get back as soon as possible. "No problem."
I sat in the front row of the auditorium, munching another donut and looking up at Miss Biology more frequently than necessary. The student's paper reported the successful creation of artificial pheromones, the chemicals that cause attraction between males and females. Her experiments were documented with pictures, charts and graphs. One microscope picture showed two simple critters, too small to be seen with the naked eye. The next one was jam-packed full of the little buggers. This proved accelerated reproduction, but not pheromones. I readied a series of precise questions to expose this fraud.
I made my way through the aisles of projects, fantasizing about the Biology assistant. Maybe she'd have lunch with me. A spurt of white foam came across my path. I jumped to the side as a paper mache volcano threw up a combination of vinegar and baking soda.
"Sorry, sir." The junior high punk dropped at my feet with a handful of paper towels. Anyone coming past would take a nasty fall from the slippery concoction.
In the next row of projects, a plain-looking young lady slouched at her cardboard display. She was extremely skinny, no meat on the bones at all. Her hair was flat and greasy, with one strand draped across her forehead. She smiled. Crooked teeth to match. I turned my attention to the tri-fold cardboard display, adorned with the familiar charts and photos from her paper. She hadn't even bothered with a backing to make the project presentable. More lost points.
"Hello. My name is Harvey Marcus, and I'm one of your judges. Tell me about your project." Only fair to allow her to convince me that her work was legit.
She stuck out a bony hand. "Lillian Mutzman."
Her grip was loose and her hand was clammy. I wiped my palm off on my pants leg.
She recited her pitch without index cards in a nasal tone. It sounded purely memorized, with no emotion. Did she even care about her work? Didn't sound like it. Deduction for lack of enthusiasm. She looked at her shoes, never at me. No eye contact, another deduction. This girl was going down in flames. Then I noticed the single capped vial in a wooden box on the table.
"Is this it?" I asked.
I had interrupted her high-pitched monaural whine. "Yes." She pointed to one of her microscope photos. "Now, this is a magnified picture of -"
"What? No tests with gerbils? Or bunnies?" As in, fucked like rabbits?
She finally looked up at me as if I'd cursed. "I haven't tried the formula on any mammals. Not even insects." Her expression of confusion, or perhaps anger, showed she wasn't used to being interrupted.
"You haven't taken even a little sniff? What does it smell like?" A reasonable question, I thought, under the circumstances.
"All of my testing was performed in sealed and sterile environments. Like I said, its not ready for human testing, just microbes and simple creatures."
Sterile? Not ready for humans? Sounded like a self-description. I folded my arms across my chest, a traditional skeptic's pose. "Your paper is flawed, or inconclusive at best," I said.
Her eyes flashed daggers. Maybe there was some fire in the belly of this young woman after all. "But I established control groups, used documented procedures, made careful measurements -"
She was citing all of the standard judging criteria. Perhaps she'd designed this project strictly according to judging guidelines, hoping to garner a perfect score. Rather than doing real science, it was like a teacher teaching for the test.
"Yes, yes," I said. "But you haven't answered the simplest of concerns - cause and effect. How do you know that your so-called synthetic pheromones caused the rapid reproduction?"
Her face was red, making her masked pimples stand out. "Because every other variable was held constant, that's why!"
"A plausible answer, but unconvincing. Right now, without more substantial proof, you're getting my lowest score of the day." I wouldn't normally disclose that to a student, but she rubbed me the wrong way.
Her hands flew to her head. I was surprised they didn't slip off. "You don't understand. The only way I can afford college is a Science Fair scholarship. I have to place first!"
"All I'm asking is a provable argument, or-" I snatched the bottle from the wooden box. "-a whiff."
She reached for the bottle, but I held it behind my back. She wouldn't have the courage or dexterity to retrieve it.
"When my project goes to the Nationals, they'll want to see a sample, and that's all I have left."
"Well, if your experiments are repeatable, you can always make more."
"None of the other judges asked to smell it, so why do you have to?" Her hands were fists at her side.
"Well, maybe they haven't been judging for decades, or maybe they aren't as professional as I am." No way was some puny scammer going to get the best of me.
She raised a hand to her chin, like a skinny standing thinker statue. "If you read my paper, you know I haven't done any testing on mammals. Who knows what could happen? There could be serious side effects. Maybe the pheromones are fatal to humans."
For all I knew, the bottle held plain air, and the results were faked. I brought the bottle back to the front.
"Just a whiff." I dangled the bottle from its airtight cap.
"Please don't." Her hand shot out and grabbed the glass portion of the vial. I still had the cap securely between my fingers. She pulled, but I tighten my grip. The cap snapped off, and the vial jumped towards her. She inhaled sharply, leaned forward to grab the cap from my hand and snapped the container shut.
The young lady began to cough uncontrollably in my face. My eyes teared up, my vision got fuzzy, and there was a steady pounding in my temples. She was still coughing, harder now. I needed to throw water on my face to clear my vision, and she needed a drink of water. With all of the electronics in the project area, there was no handy source, so we stumbled towards the bathrooms.
.... There is more of this story ...