Illustration by Idiots’Books
Lester ran the ride basically on his own that week, missing his workshop and his tinkering, thinking of Suzanne, wishing that Perry was back already. He wasn’t exactly a people person, and there were a lot of people.
“I brought some stuff,” the goth kid said as he paid for his ticket, hefting two huge duffel bags. “That’s still OK, right?”
Was it? Damned if Lester knew. The kid had a huge bruise covering half of his face, and Lester thought he recognized him from the showdown—Death Waits, that’s what Perry had said.
“Sure, it’s fine.”
“You’re Lester, right?”
Christ, another one.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Honest Fred is full of shit. I’ve been reading your posts since forever. That guy is just jealous because your girlfriend outed him for being such a lying asshole.”
“Yeah.” Death Waits wasn’t the first one to say words to this effect—Suzanne had had that honor—and he wouldn’t be the last. But Lester wanted to forget it. He’d liked the moments of fame he’d gained from Suzanne’s writing, from his work on the message boards. He’d even had a couple of fanboys show up to do a little interview for their podcast about his mechanical computer. That had been nice. But “blokes that Suzanne Church is willing to play hide the sausage with”—ugh.
Suzanne was holding it together as far as he could tell. But she didn’t seem as willing to stick her neck out to broker little peaces between Tjan and Kettlewell anymore, and those two were going at it hammer and tongs now, each convinced that he was in charge. Tjan reasoned that since he actually ran one of the most-developed rides in the network that he should be the executive, with Kettlewell as a trusted adviser. Kettlewell clearly felt that he deserved the crown because he’d actually run global businesses, as opposed to Tjan, who was little more than a middle manager.
Neither had said exactly that, but that was only because whenever they headed down that path, Suzanne interposed herself and distracted them.
No one asked Lester or Perry, even though they were the ones who’d invented it all. It was all so fucked up. Why couldn’t he just make stuff and do stuff? Why did it always have to turn into a plan for world domination? In Lester’s experience, most world-domination plans went sour, while a hefty proportion of modest plans to Make Something Cool actually worked out pretty well, paid the bills, and put food on the table.
The goth kid looked expectantly at him. “I’m a huge fan, you know. I used to work for Disney, and I was always watching what you did to get ideas for new stuff we should do. That’s why it’s so totally suckballs that they’re accusing you of ripping them off—we rip you off all the time.”
Lester felt like he was expected to do something with that information—maybe deliver it to some lawyer or whatever. But would it make a difference? He couldn’t get any spit in his mouth over legal fights. Christ—legal fights!
“Thanks. You’re Death Waits, right? Perry told me about you.”
The kid visibly swelled. “Yeah. I could help around here if you wanted, you know. I know a lot about ride-operating. I used to train the ride-runners at Disney, and I could work any position. If you wanted.”
“We’re not really hiring—” Lester began.
“I’m not looking for a job. I could just, you know, help. I don’t have a job or anything right now.”
Lester needed to pee. And he was sick of sitting here taking people’s money. And he wanted to go play with his mechanical computer, anyway.
“Lester? Who’s the kid taking ticket money?” Suzanne’s hug was sweaty and smelled good.
“Look at this,” Lester said. He flipped up his magnifying goggles and handed her the soda can. He’d cut away a panel covering the whole front of the can, and inside he’d painstakingly assembled sixty-four flip-flops. He turned the crank on the back of the can slowly, and the correct combination of rods extended from the back of the can, indicating the values represented on the flip-flops within. “It’s a sixty-four bit register. We could build a shitkicking Pentium out of a couple million of these.”
He turned the crank again. The can smelled of solder and it had a pleasant weight in his hand. The mill beside him hummed, and on his screen, the parts he’d CADded up rotated in wireframe. Suzanne was at his side and he’d just built something completely teh awesome. He’d taken his shirt off somewhere along the afternoon’s lazy, warm way and his skin prickled with a breeze.
He turned to take Suzanne in his arms. God he loved her. He’d been in love with her for years now and she was his.
“Look at how cool this thing is, just look.” He used a tweezer to change the registers again and gave it a little crank. “I got the idea from the old Princeton Institute Electronic Computer Project. All these comp sci geniuses, von Neumann and Dyson and Godel, they brought in their kids for the summer to wind all the cores they’d need for their RAM. Millions of these things, wound by the kids of the smartest people in the universe. What a cool way to spend your summer.
“So I thought I’d prototype the next generation of these, a 64-bit version that you could build out of garbage. Get a couple hundred of the local kids in for the summer and get them working. Get them to understand just how these things work—that’s the problem with integrated circuits, you can’t take them apart and see how they work. How are we going to get another generation of tinkerers unless we get kids interested in how stuff works?”
“Who’s the kid taking ticket money?”
“He’s a fan, that kid that Perry met in jail. Death Waits. The one who brought in the Disney stuff.”
He gradually became aware that Suzanne was rigid and shaking in his arms.
Her face was purple now, her hands clenched into fists. “What’s wrong? Lester, what’s wrong? You’ve left a total stranger, who, by his own admission, is a recently employee of a company that is trying to bankrupt you and put you in jail. You’ve left him in charge of an expensive, important capital investment, and given him the authority to collect money on your behalf. Do you really need to ask me what’s wrong?”
He tried to smile. “It’s OK, it’s OK, he’s only—”
“Only what? Only your possible doom? Christ, Perry, you don’t even have fucking insurance on that business.”
Did she just call him Perry? He carefully set down the Coke can and looked at her.
“I’m down here busting my ass for you two, fighting cops, letting that shit Freddy smear my name all over the net, and what the hell are you doing to save yourself? You’re in here playing with Coke cans!” She picked it up and shook it. He heard the works inside rattling and flinched towards it. She jerked it out of his reach and threw it, threw it hard at the wall. Hundreds of little gears and ratchets and rods spilled out of it.
“Fine, Lester, fine. You go on being an emotional ten-year-old. But stop roping other people into this. You’ve got people all over the country depending on you and you are just abdicating your responsibility to them. I won’t be a part of it.” She was crying now. Lester had no idea what to say now.
“It’s not enough that Perry’s off chasing pussy, you’ve got to pick this moment to take French leave to play with your toys. Christ, the whole bunch of you deserve each other.”
Lester knew that he was on the verge of shouting at her, really tearing into her, saying unforgivable things. He’d been there before with other friends, and no good ever came of it. He wanted to tell her that he’d never asked for the responsibility, that he’d lived up to it anyway, that no one had asked her to put her neck on the line and it wasn’t fair to blame him for the shit that Freddy was putting her through. He wanted to tell her that if she was in love with Perry, she should be sleeping with Perry, and not him. He wanted to tell her that she had no business reaming him out for doing what he’d always done: sit in his workshop.
He wanted to tell her that she had never once seen him as a sexual being when he was big and fat, but that he had no trouble seeing her as one now that she was getting old and a little saggy, and so where did she get off criticizing his emotional maturity?
He wanted to say all of this, and he wanted to take back his 64-bit register and nurse it back to health. He’d been in a luminous creative fog when he’d built that can, and who knew if he’d be able to reconstruct it?
He wanted to cry, to blubber at her for the monumental unfairness of it all. He stood stiffly up from his workbench and turned on his heel and walked out. He expected Suzanne to call out to him, but she didn’t. He didn’t care, or at least he didn’t want to.
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