Chapter 1: The Gravitation Acceleration 1 The Gravitation Acceleration
“I KNOW I’M NOT THE one who usually says this, Tom,” Noah said. “But are you sure this is a good idea?”
“No problem,” I replied confidently. I strapped the last section onto my forearm. “It worked just fine on the test dummy.”
“But that was only off my back deck,” Noah explained. “This is a whole flight of stairs.”
As I stood on the third-floor landing and looked into the stairwell, I realized my best friend might have a point. You see, I was about to test our latest invention—a full-body airbag—by flinging myself down a flight of stairs. You know how there are airbags in cars? Well, this would be a portable one that cyclists and motorcyclists could wear. It was a whole suit made up of several components that covered my entire body. Straps and wires snaked up my arms and legs, connecting several sections of clear plastic. It kind of looked like a weird, futuristic pants-and-jacket set.
“The Wright brothers didn’t use a dummy,” I told Noah.
“No, but they weren’t risking breaking their necks,” Noah replied. “Wait a minute. I guess they were.”
“Dude, don’t worry,” I said. “I have complete confidence in your software.”
Noah Newton was a programming genius. Using an old smartphone (which already had built-in motion sensors), Noah had written a program that would detect when I was falling. Then it would activate several tiny CO2 canisters spread throughout the special outfit I had designed.
“Wait a minute,” Noah said, digging through his pocket. He pulled out his phone. “We need a video record of this.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” I said, nodding past him.
Several academy students were already gathering behind him with their phones at the ready.
That was the cool thing about our school—you never knew what could happen from one day to the next. Well, I guess that’s just one of the cool things about our school. We’ve had an all-out robot war tournament for our robotics class. Our programming teacher actually encourages us to create apps for phones and tablets for extra credit. And yes, one of the students could perform a crazy experiment in the halls (or stairwells) at any moment. That’s the Swift Academy of Science and Technology for you.
Oh, and yeah, I share a name with the school. My father, Tom Swift Sr., founded the academy with the profits from his next-door company, Swift Enterprises. Most people think it’s cool, but honestly, I usually wished people forgot about my connection to the school. I don’t want any special treatment, positive or negative. I just want to be an ordinary student like everyone else. Okay, I was about to fling myself down a set of stairs for science, but you know what? That is kind of ordinary for our school.
I leaned over the railing and gazed at the second-floor landing. “Sam? Amy? All clear down there?”
Sam poked her head out and adjusted her glasses. “I still think you’re nuts, Swift,” she called back up. “But yeah, it’s all clear.”
Samantha Watson and Amy Hsu were blocking off the stairs on the second floor. Granted, there wasn’t much traffic in the stairwells during lunch hour, but you could never be too careful. I was wearing an airbag suit for my protection. Any unsuspecting student coming up the stairs wouldn’t be.
Sam and Amy were good friends with Noah and me and were the last two members of the “formidable foursome,” as my dad liked to call us. Like all the other academy students, they were both crazy smart. Personally, I thought they were two of the smartest students in the school.
I’m not a genius, or child prodigy by any means. I just enjoy coming up with cool inventions. Of course, as I looked down at the stairs below, and then back at the flimsy plastic covering my body, I was questioning my intelligence a bit.
Our idea wasn’t completely new. Someone had already invented an inflatable airbag helmet for cyclists. Then, of course, there were avalanche airbags, which were special backpacks that skiers wore in avalanche-prone environments. If someone was caught in an avalanche, the backpack would expand to keep them from being crushed beneath several feet of heavy snow. Our idea was a combination of the two. It had the size of the avalanche bag yet the formfitting shape of the airbag helmet. Except our airbags covered the entire body, not just the head.
“Well?” Sam asked from below. “Did you change your mind?” She crossed her arms and looked up with a skeptical expression. “It’s all right if you did, you know.”
I shook my head and eased up to the first step. “Nope,” I replied. “We’re still a go.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely reckless. You see, I was sure the motion sensors and Noah’s program would work. But… just in case they didn’t, I had a backup plan. I reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a small tethered thumb switch. I could always activate the airbags manually if needed.
“Okay,” I said. “Here goes…” I slowly leaned forward.
“Uh, Tom,” Noah said. “Maybe we should run some more tests first.…”
But it was too late. There was no stopping now. I bent my knees and elbows as I saw the stairs flying up toward my face. My heart beat faster, my body tensed, and I almost panicked and pressed the button. My thumb hovered over the switch.
The airbags inflated all over my body before I could press the button. A grin stretched across my face as I felt my limbs stiffen, the airbags keeping me completely immobile from head to toe. And when my body hit the first step, I barely felt the impact.
“Yes!” Noah shouted from above.
“It worked?” came Sam’s voice from below.
“Oh yeah,” replied Noah.
I was too busy laughing to add to Noah’s reply as I bounced harmlessly down the stairs. I was too immobile to steer, so I just went with it and tried to enjoy the bouncy roller-coaster ride. But when I hit the back wall and was supposed to stop, I ended up rebounding and began bouncing down the second set of stairs.
“Coming to you, Sam!” Noah shouted.
Have you ever worn one of those inflatable sumo-wrestler suits? The kind you and a friend wear and then bounce into each other? Well, I hadn’t, but I imagine that’s what this felt like. You take up way more space than you’re used to, and all the while looking kind of silly.
My world was spinning as I tumbled down the next flight of stairs. I only caught blurry glimpses of Sam’s wide eyes and the crowd of students behind her holding up their phones. I must’ve looked something like a clear beach ball with a boy suspended inside.
Sam turned to the crowd behind her and spread her arms wide. “Okay, everyone, get back!”
She ushered the students away from the second-floor landing as I approached. I held my breath. It felt like I was gathering enough momentum to bounce off the landing and into the hallway itself. The last thing I wanted was to knock down a bunch of students as if they were bowling pins.
Noah and I didn’t really have a plan to stop my descent. That was kind of my thing: Act first and figure the rest out later. I had assumed I would stop when I hit the first wall at the bottom of the first flight.
As I bounced off the last step, I felt a hard jerk to one side. I must’ve hit the corner of the step at just the wrong angle, because I didn’t slide down the second-floor hallway as I thought I would. As embarrassing as that would’ve been, at least I would’ve stopped. No, I flew toward the stairwell wall, bounced off it, and began tumbling down the next flight of steps.
“What are you doing?” Sam asked.
“Can’t… steer,” I said as I bounded down the stairs.
Okay, this wasn’t so fun anymore. My stomach was spinning almost as much as I was. I would be lucky to hold down breakfast when this was all over.
“Look… out…!” I said as I bounced down toward the next floor.
None of us had anticipated going this far, so we didn’t have anyone holding back foot traffic coming up from the first floor. Terry Stephenson and Jamal Watts both hugged the wall as I tumbled past them. I would’ve felt embarrassed if my nausea wasn’t overshadowing everything else.
I kept my hands in fists most of the time to keep from breaking one of my fingers. But whenever I thought it was safe, I reached out with my hand, trying to grab anything to slow me down—the handrail, the wall, anything.
Luckily, I didn’t bounce off the landing between the first and second floor. I hit the angle just right and was almost standing straight up when I finally came to a stop against the wall. However, not being able to move, I couldn’t catch my balance and I fell onto my back. It didn’t hurt, though. In fact, nothing on my body hurt. I had just fallen almost three flights of stairs and I would’ve bet that I didn’t have a single bruise.
My stomach was a different matter. It continued to turn as I lay there looking at an upside-down world. I hoped someone had the decency to turn me over if I started to hurl.
I spotted two people running up to me. I don’t know if it was my nausea or the fact that everything was upside down, but I didn’t recognize them at first. A girl with long black hair ran up the stairs, followed by a woman with her long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.
“Tom! Are you all right?” the girl asked. My vision cleared and I realized that it was my friend Amy. Sam and Noah ran down the stairs followed by what seemed like the rest of the academy students.
“Just a little… nauseated,” I replied.
The woman reached down and squeezed the airbag surrounding my left arm. “How do you deflate this thing?” the woman asked. I realized that it was the school nurse, Ms. Ramos.
“It was supposed to deflate after the first step,” I said.
Ms. Ramos rolled her eyes and nodded to Noah and Sam. “All right, you two. Help us get him to my office.”
I was too nauseated to argue.