Chapter 1: The Ejection Expectation 1 The Ejection Expectation
“OKAY, HERE WE GO,” I said. “In three, two, one…” I pressed the button, and… nothing happened. My thumb depressed the remote again, and I definitely felt the connection engage, but that was all.
“What’s the deal, Tom?” Noah Newton asked. My best friend’s brow furrowed as his eyes darted from me to the device.
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
I gave the rest of the students in my class a nervous glance before I traced the cord leading from the remote switch to our invention. The connections were still in place, so that wasn’t the issue.
“You mentioned that you installed a fail-safe switch,” Mr. Edge said. “Do you think that’s the problem?”
“I’ll check,” I said as I knelt beside our invention and reached up under its housing.
Our engineering teacher had made a valid point. When Noah and I first introduced our newest invention to the class, we explained that the firing mechanism had a special switch that wouldn’t work unless it was submerged in water. The engineering classroom at the Swift Academy of Science and Technology may have been cutting edge, but it wasn’t underwater, so we’d needed to bypass the switch for our invention to work.
I felt around beneath the housing until my hand landed on the hard foam ball at the end of a short rod. Water would make the ball float and activate the fail-safe switch. Next I shifted my hand until my fingers brushed the small strip of tape Noah and I had used to hold the ball in place, as if it were underwater. That wasn’t the problem either.
I stood up and backed away from our invention. “It’s not the fail-safe.”
My mind raced as I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. My gaze settled on the large yellow box sitting atop the worktable. It was about half a meter long and half as wide, with one open end. Strapped to the table, the box kind of looked like a miniature garage for a large toy car.
Noah and I were trying to demonstrate (in front of the entire engineering class, embarrassingly enough) how our special housing would eject our underwater drone out of its chute and into the foam pads we’d set up on the other side of the classroom. Why would we create something like that? Well, in theory, the housing would be bolted to the underside of our very own submarine!
Now, building a sub might seem like an ambitious project for a school full of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, but for students at a school like the Swift Academy, not so much. At our school, it was no big deal to see robots roaming the halls, drones flying overhead, or even students coming up with bigger inventions like ours—just ask Jim Mills about his awesome hovercraft.
“Exciting so far, Swift,” Jim said, smirking. Laughter rippled through the rest of the class.
I ignored the comment and continued studying the device. Noah seemed just as nervous as I was as he moved in and double-checked the connections I’d just gone over.
By the way, you might have noticed that I share the same name as our school. The academy wasn’t named after me and my innovative inventions, which was quite evident given the failure I was experiencing at the moment. No, the school was named for my father, Tom Swift Sr. Using the proceeds from his next-door tech company, Swift Enterprises, he’d founded a school where brilliant young inventors could excel in science and technology.
I’ll tell you one thing, though. At the moment, I wasn’t feeling so brilliant.
Noah inspected the back of the launcher while I moved toward the front of the device. Reaching into the launch port, I felt past our underwater drone. The drone was essentially a small, oblong submarine with four covered propellers. Its nose had a clear dome that housed its lights and camera. My fingertips finally brushed over the coiled spring and the release mechanism. Everything was where it was supposed to be—at least, it felt that way.
“Do you two want to figure this out later?” Mr. Edge asked.
“No need,” Noah replied. “I see the problem.” He bent behind the worktable, then stood back up holding the end of an extension cord. “Nonconductive air gap,” he announced as he dangled the cord in one hand. That was our inside joke for when we forgot to plug something in.
The class erupted into laughter. Guess it was an outside joke now.
I pulled my hand from the housing and stepped back just in time.
As soon as Noah plugged in the launcher, the drone shot out of the launch port. I fell back onto the floor as the thing shot across the room and bounced harmlessly into the foam pieces we’d set up. Even though it was only forty-five centimeters long, it sure would’ve stung if it had hit me.
A loud gasp cut through the quiet before our classmates erupted into laughter again.
“Are you all right, Tom?” Mr. Edge asked as he ran over to my side.
“I’m fine,” I replied, rising to my feet. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been any foam pieces to protect my backside.
“Dude!” Noah said, coming over. “I guess the trigger was still activated. Sorry about that.”
I waved away his concern. “At least we know the launcher works.”
Mr. Edge turned to face the other students. “This is a perfect example of why safety should always be our number one priority.”
The bell sounded, and everyone gathered their backpacks and shuffled toward the door.
“All right, people,” Mr. Edge called over the commotion. “For those of you not attending next week’s service project, have a great spring break. I expect all kinds of new ideas when you get back.”
Since Noah and I were among those going on the service project trip, we would see Mr. Edge next week. My dad’s company had organized a volunteer event to help clean up parts of nearby Lake Carlopa. Now, you may wonder why some academy students would choose a service project over, say, going on a family trip to Disney World. Well, for Swift Academy students, it was a chance to come up with all kinds of sweet new eco-inventions to help with the cleanup. As for Noah and me, it was a chance for us to test out our new submarine. How cool was that?
But for now, Noah and I were definitely going to be the last ones out of the classroom, since we still had to break down our launcher so we could carry it out. Noah crawled under the worktable and began unstrapping the housing while I grabbed the drone and rolled up the foam padding.
After most of the students had filed out, Mr. Edge joined us by the worktable. “That drone nearly took your head off, Tom.”
I chuckled nervously. “Yeah, I guess so.” Truth be told, I hadn’t really thought about the incident that way. I’d been so focused on why the launcher wasn’t working that when it finally went off, I was so happy that Noah had solved the problem, that I hadn’t really dwelled on the fact that I was almost beaned by the thing.
“Today has me rethinking the safety of your submarine project,” Mr. Edge continued.
Noah shot to his feet. “You’re not shutting us down, are you?”
Our teacher raised both hands. “I’m not suggesting that. But remember what I said about safety being the number one priority? I think that goes double for an ambitious project like this one.”
“For sure,” Noah agreed confidently. “We have tons of fail-safes and backups for our backups.”
I nodded. “It’s true.”
“All right,” Mr. Edge said with a sigh. “But you need to go over those backups as you test it. Maybe even make a predive checklist.”
“Of course,” I replied.
Noah held up a thumb. “Everything is going to work perfectly.”
Until five minutes ago, I’d shared my best friend’s confidence 100 percent. Now I wasn’t so sure.