Transmat World: Chapter 1, Episode 1
Vince’s index finger and thumb closed on a sheet of smart paper containing his calculus book. A slot on his backpack slurped it up as Bert approached, splayed sandals slapping industrial linoleum with lazy aggression. Locker doors slammed as other students pretended to be in a hurry to get somewhere.
“Vince, you can’t spell worth a dried up piece of frog shit. Use Spel-Rite when you’re doing my homework. I pay you good money, and I get a letter grade off for spelling because you have that stupid dysplasia, and now it’s made me look stupid, and now I’m thinking maybe you’re stupid.”
If just twenty-five percent of Bert Millsap’s body was muscle instead of the normal forty-two, he might have the edge on Vince in sheer strength. His T-shirt expanded into a bell-shaped curve above his waistline where it formed a significant bulge; a 360° nipple-free third breast sitting on top of a belt screaming “IMMINENT FAILURE!” Maori-style shapes, brightly colored instead of the traditional black, covered the backs of Bert’s hands. It was all the rage for omni controls to be tattooed directly on the body. Bert was half a head taller than Vince, the swimmer’s body with wide shoulders and narrow hips standing poised in front of the open locker.
Vince did not have to be psychic to suspect trouble. Bert was a known bully but had never taken aim at Vince until now. Vince knew he had faster reactions. He could win a scuffle if Bert didn’t fall on him. More importantly to Vince, Bert hadn’t paid for the last homework deal and was always whining when he wasn’t blustering. Here Vince was, a freshman, doing homework for a senior. He felt Bert must go through the hired help pretty quick for that to happen. Rumor was Bert had been doing this since grade school. Vince was tired of putting up with the distraction.
“You’re right,” Vince said. “I must be stupid because I thought you had enough sense to run a spell check on your own after I took care of the hard stuff but never mind that. It’s dyslexia, not dysplasia, Bert. A very mild case. And just what the hell’s wrong with you? You’d have failed that paper without my help. Do you call Andy a cripple to his face because he’s got one leg?”
“Yes, I do. What of it?” replied Bert.
Vince had created the dyslexia rumor so that if he ever made a mistake on anyone’s homework, they would cut him some slack and pay anyway. Some people just had no empathy. Vince suspected a mutual un-empathetic relationship between him and Bert. Vince got steamed as he spoke, letting emotion spit bullets out of his mouth, the empty hot cartridges settling down around those parts of his brain responsible for anger and aggression, warming them for a fight. All of that was internal. He appeared to speak calmly to his open locker as if still looking for something.
“You got family problems, Bert? They still want you to be a proctologist? You can’t find your own asshole, Bert. Your old man beating your mom again after getting wasted?”
Vince ducked the sucker punch coming out of the corner of his eye. Bert’s hand met the locker door with a metallic clamor. Vince spun on one foot to place an elbow in Bert’s gut but the door bouncing off the wall caught him across the eye socket mid-spin.
“Damn you, Vince. I’ll get you for this,” Bert muttered, walking away with his right hand cradling his left like a stricken baby bird.
“Bozo Hair,” Vince managed, tenderly checking the eye for blood. Holding his omni up to his face he zoomed in and allowed it to project a hologram. He could see the fine blood vessels crossing the ridge of his eye socket above and below his eye were damaged. There was no hiding it. The doc app recommended ice. Heading for the double glass doors, the bike rack, Crescenta Valley sunshine, and home; Vince felt vaguely unsatisfied and anxious about the exchange. It helped a little to know that Bert would hurt every time he used the omni controls tattooed on his hand for the next few days. Ultimately, it resolved nothing, and now his folks would find out.
Vince wrapped a nanotube cable around the bike frame and the last pole of the carport twice before putting a thumb on the tiny print scanner. His dad’s Harley electric and his mom’s three-seat methane hybrid took up the rest of the neocrete pad. Vince walked through a hole in the roof. On each side of the hole, the roof met the tip of a grass-covered berm serving as the outside wall of a 360° moat surrounding the house. Wiping down solar panels and water heater coils was much easier when you could just walk up the roof. Past the berm, he stopped in the shade of the overhang to spy on tilapia gliding through copper coils at the bottom of the pond. The moat around the house started out as a swimming pool but now served as a heat sink for heating and cooling the house. It doubled as a fishpond. Everybody took advantage of yearly Kornbluth grants by raising fish or mushrooms or both. Vince goes swimming occasionally but doesn’t let on.
Realizing he was scoping out dinner made him turn toward the front of the house. Like all exposed outer walls, it looked like abstract cast-iron sculpture. It was just old Styrofoam packing glued together and coated with neocrete/iron powder rusted to a nice patina. Waterproof and fire-resistant, it would last a thousand years and insulate the house better than fiberglass. Dad always came up with stuff like this. Dad was a genius. Sometimes Vince felt dumb in comparison.
The house outlived several owners before the Millers came along. Millions of vacant houses were left from bankruptcies during the Greater Depression of 2035. Many of the empty houses represented those that did not make it through the Hit years. With half the houses still empty a hundred years later, anyone willing to work had a house. A little sweat equity made the house livable, and a lot of work made it quite comfortable. A housing shortage did not exist. Pay the taxes and you were the school district’s friend for life unless you quit paying taxes.