Chapter Six: The Scientific Application of Popcorn
A/N My heartfelt thanks to Deserthaze for her assistance with this chapter!
"Dex? You okay? Dex? Oh, man! Don't be busted! Your dad's going to kill me even more now!"
Ben hastily rolled off his landing pad, worry filling his green eyes as he tried to will himself to weigh a lot less than he did to spare the geek in glasses. Not that he was heavy by any stretch of the imagination – he was short and skinny for his age – but Dexter was so scrawny by comparison that he was practically two-dimensional when he turned sideways.
"I didn't see the field. I mean, look! There's nothing to see."
He helped his friend to sit up. Blackened corn kernels rained down from Dexter's lab coat and hair and he blinked wide and slow, trying to clear his vision. Several kernels found their way down his turtleneck sweater, making him twitch.
"You okay? I'm sorry."
He blinked again and made a sound like 'Ya-yey-a' as he tried to orient himself, rubbing his sore head. Ben looked just past him.
"I think you dented the floor."
"Not to mention my skull."
Ben almost dropped his friend in shock. "What?"
"I said, 'Not to ment-"
"No, Dex! You're you again!" In his excitement he shook the younger boy, too thrilled to notice he was rattling Dexter's teeth. "You're talking like you're supposed to! Your accent is-" He almost said back, but knowing how Dexter felt about the matter, he hastily amended that to, "Gone!"
"What?" Dexter frowned, trying to hear it.
"Say something. Say turtles."
"Lah-boor-uh-torry." Dexter slowly smiled, able to hear what he thought was a lack of an accent.
"Illudium Pu-36 explosive space modulator!" gushed Ben.
The redhead stared. "What?"
"It was worth a try." Ben broke into a wide grin, delighted at the return of one of his favorite entertainments. Really, if Dexter ever recorded a book, Ben would buy it regardless of the topic just to listen to that accent. "Cool!"
"Kew-wel," Dexter obediently echoed, not realizing Ben was merely expressing his satisfaction. "I'm impressed. I thought this kind of thing only worked in cartoons. I suppose your plan succeeded in a roundabout way. My thanks, Benjamin."
Ben laughed. "So get us out of here! I drank half a pitcher of iced tea before."
"I can't." Dexter gestured when his friend's face fell. "What? Only the Professor can lift the protocol now and he has to be here to do it." He made a face and muttered darkly, "Along with Security."
"Oh, great! Your dad already wants to kill me for starting this and now for denting your skull and Morton wants to help him do it."
"That's what you think, Mr. Tennyson. What time is it?"
Ben checked his watch. "Five-thirty."
"Perfect. His parent/teacher conference was at six. Thanks to you, he'll have to miss it. He's the first person Computress would call and he'll come right back here to save us. We just have to wait until he gets back. You're now his favorite kid, I guarantee it. This will be equated to saving his life, if not mine as well, and he'll rise up and call you blesséd."
"Oh." Ben was mollified somewhat by this news. "So I'm not going to wake up some weird mutated thing with my DNA all mashed up with a Venus fly trap's or something?"
"Don't you do that anyway?"
"Well, yeah, but when I do it, it's on purpose. And I just do it to myself, not for revenge."
"Don't worry. Just don't pass by his genetics lab for a few weeks." He looked at his friend with interest. "You know, you could turn into Big Chill and phase out of here. Computress is only holding me right now. You're just a bonus prisoner."
Ben scooped up a handful of burned popcorn kernels and proceeded to bounce them off the force field one at a time. They made a sound like a bug being zapped even though the kernels remained intact, adding to the din of Computress' alarm system. "Naa. I won't leave you to face the music alone. I'm the one who talked you into this."
"Your support is appreciated." Dexter scooped up a handful of kernels and imitated his friend.
"It was worth a try."
"Hey, at least you know your security system works."
They sat side-by-side in their small cage made of force fields, listening to the alarms and waiting for Security to come barreling down the elevators with their big guns and radios and find them trapped in the middle of the laboratory. Their corn-bouncing gradually turned from a means of whiling away the time to a game as they tried to deflect the un-aerodynamic projectiles off multiple walls of their cage. Points were awarded if they managed to hit one another in the process or landed a kernel back in the container.
"So whatcha gonna do with all these strides forward in popcorn popping technology?" asked Ben, reloading his arsenal.
Dexter took advantage of his friend leaning forward and beaned him atop the head. "Destroy that device so I never have to be reminded of this incident again. Why?"
"Oh, c'mon, Dex, that gizmo is too cool to chuck in the compactor. Do something with it!"
"I dunno! You're the smart one. There's got to be an application for mass popcorn detonation. Make crash gear, only instead of airbags, you have popcorn bags. That way you survive a crash or a fall and then you get a snack after."
Dexter stared at him, torn between horror and hysterics. "Auto-pop airbags. That's so ridiculous, it could work."
"Ha! See, Boy Genius?"
"The KND would love that!"
"In that case, Ben, I'll give you the remote. You can play with it or give it to the KND scientists to develop into a safety feature on their vehicles."
"Really? Cool! Oh, wait, they'll probably crash on purpose when they get hungry, then."
"My thoughts exactly. Make it Number 2's problem."
"You want updates if he makes any progress?"
Ben laughed and renewed his assault on the force fields. He steeply angled the kernel of burnt corn he was throwing. "Hey, ever wonder what would happen if we took all the burnt corn and-"
A little hiss escaped the younger teen as the piece of corn went down the high collar of his lab coat, and he silenced Ben Tennyson with a stern glare worthy of Patrick Utonium. "No. I haven't. So don't go there."
Cowed by the little spitfire beside him, Ben wisely shut up. For a few long minutes they were quiet. Dexter's stomach grumbled. Ben racked up three more points to Dexter's one. Time dragged on as they waited for the Professor to come rescue them. Dexter rubbed the sore spot on the back of his head, grateful for a return to normalcy even if the price for normal was painful. Finally Ben broke the silence.
"Zombie movie later?" he asked. "Number 4 let me borrow Zombies of the Outback and Living Dead Walkabout."
"Just so long as there's no popcorn involved."
"Naa. We're celebrating. We'll upgrade to cheezy poofs."
"Cheezy poofs?" Dexter eyed him askance, never having heard of such a delicacy and curious if anything so named could be fit for human consumption. "A strangely fitting snack for a zombie film festival. Are they edible?"
"Very, but there's no nutrition involved whatsoever."
"That would be an extremely unhealthy, fattening, pointless, and mind-numbing evening."
"Yeah." Ben nodded in satisfaction. "Sure would."
"It sounds wonderful. Count me in."