I think it’s easy in the 2016 election to get obsessed with the news, and all the ups and downs, the role that technology and the media play now – and I have for sure. So I guess it’s seeping into my subconscious, because one morning I woke up with this story pretty much fully formed in my head. I don’t know if you’d even call it science fiction, but I’d say it still fits under the term “speculative fiction.” Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.
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Written and narrated by Rob Dircks
2006 • Kindergarten
A boy moved in next door. Last week. A boy like me. Mommy said I’ll have a friend to grow up with now. She knows everything. I saw her out the window talking to the other mommy, and I think they were talking about me, because she was pointing up to my room.
I met the boy yesterday. But I don’t know if we’re friends. He was smaller than me, but he acted big.
“You’re dumb.” He said.
I didn’t say anything. Am I dumb? I go to school. Mrs. Miller says I’m a good student. There are five kids in my class. Mrs. Miller winks at me sometimes. I think that means I’m the best one. Top one out of five.
The boy kicked a rock. “My mom said I have to play with you because you’re on the spekchum.”
“Spekchum?” I never heard that word.
“It means you’re dumb. I’m smart. I’m going to be president. My dad told me.”
Wow. He already knew what he was going to be when he grew up. He was smart.
“Yeah. My dad named me George. Just like the first president. Said I would be president just like him.”
“What’s a president?”
The boy named George pushed me backward. I fell on the ground. It didn’t hurt. He laughed. “President of America, stupid. You really are dumb. What’s your name?”
“Jimmy.” I got up and brushed the dirt off my pants.
“Jimmy. Little Jimmy. That’s what I’m gonna call you. You call me Big George.”
I was confused. I put my hand on top of my head and moved it over his head. “But… I’m taller.”
He pushed me down again. That time it hurt. He kicked my foot. He ran back into his house. “No you’re not! Dumb Little Jimmy! You’re stupid!” He was crying.
I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings. Mommy said he was going to be my friend.
2008 • 2nd grade
Today I learned something new. I couldn’t wait to tell George.
Some days after school he lets me sit under the basketball net in the street and throw the ball back to him. He calls it foul shots. Every fifth or sixth time, he aims at my head instead of the basket. It doesn’t hurt. Today he only did it once every eight or nine times. It was a good day.
“We learned about presidents today, George. I told Mrs. Coburn about you. She said we both had president last names. Washington and Adams. Isn’t that cool?”
“So what?” He threw the ball at my head. I couldn’t catch it in time. Ouch.
I picked up the ball and tossed it back to him. “So, you’re going to be president. Right?”
“No, dummy. That’s stupid. My dad says the president’s for stupid people. Like you.”
George was right. I’m not smart. My class is different than the other kids. The other kids my age are writing and reading. But I’m smart enough to know I’m not smart enough to be president! I laughed. “That’s silly.”
George dropped the ball and walked over to me. “Get up.”
I got up. He pushed me and I fell down. That makes 615 times since we’ve been friends. I’ve been counting.
He pointed his finger down at me. “Don’t you ever call me silly. You hear?”
I nodded. “Yes, Big George.” I liked calling him Big George. It was funny, because he was still shorter than me. He liked hearing it, and I liked saying it. “So what are you going to be instead?”
“Something big. Like an astronaut. Or a football player. Or an army general. Something BIG!” He spread his hands out wide into the air. Then he picked up the ball and ran and jumped as high as he could to dunk the ball, but he couldn’t reach. He fell, and got up, and pushed the basketball net, really hard, until it tipped. “Stupid net!”
It tipped over onto George’s mom’s car, and dented the door.
I didn’t know what to do. George didn’t know what to do. He always knew what to do!
Mrs. Washington came running out, yelling loud. She grabbed George by the t-shirt and shook him. I was scared. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to George. She raised her hand to hit him.
“No!” I shouted. “I did it.”
Mrs. Washington got a weird look on her face. “You did this, Jimmy?”
She dropped her hand. She pulled George toward the door. “Goodbye, Jimmy.”
The next day George gave me half his nilla wafers. I didn’t even ask for any.
We were sitting on the curb. He didn’t look like normal George. There was a little dried blood in his ear and he kept blinking and rubbing his eye.
“Big George, you wanna hear about something?”
“No.” He took a small rock and threw it at his mother’s car. He missed. “Whatever.”
“Mrs. Colburn, you know she said we both had president names, she also said I was good with numbers. She told the class there were three hundred million people in America, and sixty percent voted for the president. And she asked how many we thought that was. And I didn’t even have to think. I said one hundred eighty million. She dropped her chalk. She said I have a gift.” I smiled. “I like gifts.”
“That’s a stupid story. How do you spell your name?”
“See? You don’t have a gift. You can’t even spell your name. You’ll never do anything big like me.” He got up and kicked my foot and went inside and left me sitting there on the curb.
I didn’t mind. Because I knew something George didn’t. I had a gift. Maybe I could do something big like him someday.
2009 • 3rd grade
Mom got me a computer!
She saved and saved, and one morning I woke up and there it was. On my desk by the window. A computer!
I ran downstairs and gave her a big hug. “Thank you Mom! You’re the best mom ever!”
“That’s not all, Jimmy. See that man outside on the pole?”
I looked out the window. Sure enough, there was a man climbing up the pole by the street.
“He’s connecting the Internet. Mr. Blackburn gave me a raise, so we can afford it now.”
I hugged her even tighter. It wasn’t going to be just Mom and me anymore. It was going to be Mom, me, and the Internet! It was going to be just like school, but even better. In school, there was never enough time on the computers, and I always wanted more. But now I have all the time I want!
After breakfast, I ran back up to my room and turned on the computer. Mom didn’t have to tell me how to use it, because Mrs. Simmons already showed me. And right there, on my own computer, in my own room, was the Internet! I played some games, Mr. Penguin is my favorite, and Mom came in and sat next to me and kissed me on top of my head.
“Yes, my little computer expert?”
“How does it work? The Internet?”
“Um… I don’t really know. Why don’t we Google it?”
So we searched, and this is what we found. I had Mom read it to me. I’m still not that good at reading. But I can understand pretty good when she reads it to me. Anyway, here’s what we found: the Internet is a whole bunch of computers, all around the world, that are connected by something called networks. It’s a giant network of networks in more than 190 countries. The World Wide Web is a whole bunch of information you can get to on the Internet. Like videos, games, books, and newspapers. And even the White House. There’s information about everything. It’s amazing.
And then Mom showed me something even more amazing.
“Now, watch this. Brian at work showed me this.”
She moved the mouse up to the top of the screen, and clicked on something. And instead of words and pictures and videos, the screen was full of letters and numbers, all mashed together.
“What is it?”
“It’s called code. Brian told me behind the pages you see on the screen is really this code. Computer code.”
I looked and looked at the code, and something strange happened. I started to understand. I could read it!
“Mom! I can read it!”
She looked at me in that way where she’s trying to be nice but I don’t know if she believes me. But that’s okay, because I knew I could read it. “Can I show George?”
She looked out the window, across to the Washington’s house. “Hmm. Why don’t we keep this our little secret for a while? George can be kind of, well, clumsy with things, and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to your brand new computer.”
“Okay, Mom.” She was right. She knew everything. George would probably kick my new computer and break it. Maybe next year when George stops kicking things I’ll show him.
Mom patted me on the head and went downstairs to do laundry. She said later we could go to the park and see the dogs at the little dog park they have there. She said I could play games for another hour.
But I don’t feel like playing games any more.
I’m going to read some more code.
2011 • 5th grade
Last night while I was coding, Mr. Washington smashed his car into Mrs. Washington’s car in the driveway. Again. Poor Mrs. Washington’s car, it never catches a break. There was a lot of yelling, as usual, and I heard George yelling too. He was a good yeller. I wonder what kind of car Mrs. Washington will get now.
I was up late coding because I’m working on something special. I made a website where people can get together and share their stories, science fiction, and fantasy, and horror, and superheroes. I can’t write like all of them, I’m getting a little better but I have a long way to go. But I can code. I can tell I’m better than anyone I know at coding. The website is going up this weekend. My friends are psyched. My friends online, not the kids at school.
The kids at school aren’t really my friends. They call me weird or whatever they want, some of them are nice enough, but it doesn’t matter. Especially now. Because my online friends understand me. They don’t care if I have a hard time being around people, or understanding their facial expressions, or reading or writing. We play League of Legends together, and we make up stories together, and we bet on fantasy football together.
George is still my friend. Or something. He got tired of pushing me down, the last time was number 2,314 and that was over a month ago. I guess I’m getting harder to push down. He’s pushing around smaller kids in third grade now. Between him and his dad and his mom, there’s a lot of pushing going on.
I walked over to see him yesterday.
“Hi, Mrs. Washington. Is George around?”
“Yes, Jimmy. He’s in the basement.”
I walked down and George was playing on his little Gameboy, even though the Xbox was sitting right there.
“Hi Big George.”
He didn’t look up.
“You want to play Xbox?”
He shrugged. “My stupid dad broke it. Threw it against the wall. I don’t like Xbox anyway. Go away.”
I picked up the Xbox. “Maybe we can fix it.”
He looked at me like he was going to throw his Gameboy at my head, but he didn’t. I turned the Xbox around and around and looked inside through the cracked plastic. “Let’s take it apart.”
George got interested, I guess because it meant we could destroy something. But I didn’t want to destroy it. I wanted to rebuild it. We took our time laying out all the pieces using his dad’s tools, then put it all back together, carefully, reconnecting all the wires and stuff.
And it worked! George high-fived me – it was the fourth time ever – and we played Madden Football for a couple of hours, and laughed and ate Doritos. When I got up to leave, he wiped his orange fingers on my jeans. He said, “I can’t believe I did it. I fixed the Xbox. I can do anything! You helped a little, so I guess you’re not totally stupid.”
I wanted to punch him in the face. But I also wanted to pat him on the head and tell him he did a good job. But I didn’t do anything. I just left.
2012 • 6th grade
I told George today that this year we elect a president. We were riding our bikes in tight circles on the little dead end street where we live.
“You only have six more elections to go before you can be president. The first Tuesday in November, in the year 2036.”
“What’s your problem? I told you presidents are losers. My dad said if I became president, I would have to sell my soul to the devil.”
I don’t know what George’s dad was talking about. I’ve read a lot about presidents now, and selling your soul to the devil wasn’t part of the electoral process as far as I knew. I pointed to myself. “Then maybe I’ll be president.”
George laughed. He didn’t say anything, he just laughed. It made me mad. “Okay then, what’s the big thing that Big George is going to do?”
George got mad too. “You’ll see. You think you’re such a big shot now with your computer stuff. I’ll show you. I’ll do something really big.” He let go of his handlebars and spread his hands out wide into the air. “Really big. I don’t care what my dad says.”
“Huh? What did your dad say?”
George stopped short and my bike almost ran into his. “Nothing! Go away! He didn’t say anything!” And he started crying. Really hard. He just put down his bike right in the middle of the street and walked away, crying.
If I was president I wouldn’t sell my soul to the devil. I would make George’s dad apologize to George.
2013 • 7th grade
Tonight I started my project.
Ever since Mom got me my computer I’ve been coding, mostly websites, but some phone apps too. My first one was called Atlas Forge, it’s a game that my online friends wrote the story for, and I sold it for 99 cents on the app store. The kids in school stopped calling me weird, and thought it was cool. I let them think whatever they want, but I guess it’s better than them avoiding me and thinking I’m weird. And Mom has been letting me modify Xbox motherboards too, and sell them to gamers. The money helps at home. They call the modifying thing “hacking.” I don’t like the word hacking, it sounds mean. I like to think about helping people, like gamers, using code. I call it “code helping.”
A month ago I code-helped a group of people that were worried about a big building going up where the park is down in town. They were protesting at the park, but it wasn’t making any difference. So I took down the Titusville Town Council website and replaced it with the neon yellow flyer they were handing out to shut down the building project. It took a week for them to fix the website. The Titusville Herald made a big deal out of it, and people got all angry, and the building people went away. It worked.
No one knew I did it, either. I learned how to reroute my traffic through five different nodes and create a proxy so my IP address was hidden. It’s like throwing a rock into a pond. Everyone looks over at the rock, but they can’t see where it came from. I’m careful.
But Mom found out. She found the flyer in my wastebasket, and asked me about it. And I can never lie to Mom, so I told her the whole thing, but I didn’t think I did anything wrong, but she said I did and that I had to promise never to do anything like that again, and by the end we were both crying and I promised.
But tonight something happened.
The police came by the Washington’s – again – but this time they didn’t drag Mr. Washington out like they usually do. This time they dragged George out, and Mr. Washington stumbled outside behind them. They were frisking George, and I couldn’t hear, but I think they were looking for drugs. Taylor in school said George was a druggie and he was dealing. I didn’t believe her, but now I don’t know what to think. They didn’t take George away, they just left. But on their way back into the house, I could see George’s dad already hitting him in the back of the head. It was going to be a rough night, with more yelling than usual. I was afraid for George.
So I sat down and typed out a plan.
I know I promised, but it was time to do something big.
2016 • 10th grade
It was an important day. Election day. The day we elected the President of the United States. Neither candidate may have been what the country really wanted, but we would, as always, elect a new president and there would be a peaceful transfer of power and a continuation of democracy.
It was also the day for my big plan to happen.
It took three years to put the pieces together, but I was ready. I got smarter. Much smarter. I read as much as I could. And I learned a lot about elections. For example: did you know that all five voting methods at some point are tabulated by computer? Even the pen-marked ballots and punch cards are scanned and then digitized. And did you know that the voting machines, the machines that add them all up, and the machines that audit the results, are all made by private companies? And their results are all stored on servers connected to the Internet?
Two years ago, when I was in eighth grade, one of those companies, OGM, was sold to an international corporation. During the transition, they left a little hole open on one of their servers. They call it a back door. I let myself in and closed it. No one noticed.
Six months ago, I quietly filed the digital affidavits and sent money orders for the fees to allow a new write-in candidate in forty-three states. No one noticed.
I wanted to tell George what I was up to, but I don’t even see him much anymore. He’s been back and forth to the youth detention center, and even when he is home his parents don’t let me talk to him. I think the police talk to him more than his parents or I do. But I saw him out in the street this morning. He was shooting foul shots by himself. He looked smaller than I remembered. Shrunken. I thought about going down to be his ball boy, like I used to when we were little, but he was gone by the time I put my jacket on.
Anyway, today was election day. November eighth, 2016. The big day.
Americans by the millions cast their votes. On their way out of their voting location, some of them were handed a clipboard and asked who they voted for. These exit polls were tabulated, and projections supplied by Arcom Research to ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, and the Associated Press. Arcom Research is also a private company with many servers connected to the Internet. I had made a little home on one of their servers about a year ago.
So, in a surprise to everyone – except me – the race was too close to call based on exit poll data. The newscasters said the night would get much longer, requiring a review of the actual vote totals as they came in.
By ten o’clock, the networks knew something was wrong.
By ten thirty, they announced the bizarre voting results. There was apparently a record turnout.
The next President of the United States would be… George Washington.
The next morning, I watched thirty-five black Chevy Suburbans pull into our little dead end street. Men in dark suits and sunglasses marched right into the Washington’s house – it wasn’t even locked – and escorted the Washington family outside. National news cameras had somehow found out, and were swarming the area. The men in dark suits tried to keep them away as best they could.
I knew that this would happen, of course. I had left a tidy little trail of information leading directly back to Mr. Washington’s home office in their extra bedroom upstairs. I knew that it would all work out though, because I hadn’t destroyed any of the real votes or exit polls, so the actual, fairly-elected president would take office, as they always had, on Inauguration Day. And I even knew Mr. Washington would be returned home eventually, once they realized that he was just another victim of some “anonymous hacking entity” out there somewhere. And of course I knew my mother would figure this whole thing out, and would take away my computer and my Internet forever, as she should, because a 10th grade kid has no business altering a presidential election.
But for today at least, it was going to be all about George.
Big George. President George Washington.
As the men in dark suits led George by the arm to their truck, he hid his face from the CNN cameras.
But then he stopped.
I think he realized the world was watching him. And he remembered something from a long time ago. Something he had lost. Something he had forgotten.
He turned and looked up at my window. I smiled at him.
And the corners of his lips curled up into a little smile too, and he slowly spread his hands out wide into the air.
He finally did something big.
As the men in dark suits led George by the arm to their truck, he waved to the CNN cameras.
Then he turned and looked up at my window. I smiled at him.
And he smiled a bigger smile than I’ve ever seen, and he spread his hands out wide into the air.
He finally did something big.
©2016 Rob Dircks. All rights reserved.