Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
Even with Glenn having his hover chair, it was pretty clear to everyone the day had worn the small boy out. His head bobbed a few times as the group finished pizza, and while the others went to play video games, Glenn moved over to a bench and with help from Justin, who he was quickly making good friends with, he stretched out on a bench so he could straighten out his legs.
Several times the offer was made to take him back to the hotel, but he flatly refused, not wanting the others to feel guilty about leaving him alone. Instead, he rolled onto his left side and popped the access panel of the hover chair and looked at the controls. It didn't take him long to see his proto-type and this chair were basically identical. Everything was right where he expected to find things. The only difference was whoever had put this one together had more money and skill. The biggest clues were the way the control wires were neatly bundled and the quality of the servos. The servos in this chair were of a much higher quality than those he had managed to get his mom and dad to spring for. He couldn't help but remember how hard he tried to argue to get the ones he was now looking at.
He guessed, correctly, he would continue to find the same quality difference once he was able to get under it and really look over the motor and the power blowers for the lift operations. The one design improvement he did note was the exhaust on this chair didn't dribble out of the exhaust tubes. Instead the water was collected in a central tube that ran around to the back where a small petcock was installed so the water could be drained somewhere all at once without creating a mess.
As Glenn continued to study the minor design improvements, Craig came over and pulled up a chair. "Do you mind talking me though this thing?"
Glenn's brown eyes seemed to sparkle and a great deal of his weariness dissipated almost instantly, "Sure!"
Fredric sat back at the table where two pizzas sat uneaten and observed the boys. The two who had arrived earlier in the day had clearly bonded, but were not exactly trying to get to know the other four. Justin continued to show concern for Glenn, but as soon as Glenn made it clear he would be OK and just needed a break out of any kind of chair, Justin quickly broke out one of his cameras and started taking a multitude of pictures. This actually helped break Keith and Ricky out of their twosome a bit since both seemed to crave the attention Justin was willing to pay them by photographing them playing skeeball.
Seeing the boys open up more, he nodded to the driver of the van, "Get some more money on all their play cards. This is working far better than I could have hoped."
The driver, a man Fredric had handpicked for the task of being one of the lead chaperones for the boys, quickly nodded and moved over to where the boys were rolling the wooden balls toward the distant circles, while tickets slowly churned out by their feet. The man quickly did as instructed, taking a moment to move over to the other man to make sure the other kids got more money on their play cards as well. At this, Fredric nodded approval. The fact was the ten people who would be responsible for the kids' fun and safety had all been carefully vetted by Fredric. First off, they had passed background checks above and beyond what he required for any employee. All of them also had families with children. Finally, all of them had done some kind of volunteer work with their own kids as coaches, scout masters, and even one gymnastics instructor. To add some security element to his chaperone force, all ten had some military, police, and or self defense training.
When the idea first came to him to sponsor the science contest, he realized he would be setting himself up to deal with boys who were probably a great deal like he had been like as a child. They would be ultra-intelligent, socially challenged, and sheltered from the real world. They would also stand out as different to kids and adults alike. This would also make them vulnerable to those who knew how to exploit and manipulate youngsters who craved one thing more than anything else, to be understood.
Fredric let out a long sigh as he inwardly shuddered at his own childhood and the mistakes that had led him into a nightmare which he had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere. What had started out as a seemingly awesome situation when he had been eleven years of age, changed in the blink of an eye. The problem was, he hadn't seen it until he was trapped. It had taken three years to fully escape and had left deep scars on him, a few physical, the vast majority mental. This was a chance to prevent the same thing from happening to similar kids, all without them realizing it. Truth be told, he was pretty proud of himself for coming up with this scheme which, if played right, would also make his company some serious money.
Already his people had helped Craig patent his water extractor and purifier and had managed to find a company to produce it for one of EEL's offshoot companies. It wasn't being done in any kind of underhanded way, either. Craig and his dad both knew who was mass producing the survival tool and who was behind getting it to market. The boy stood to make a great deal off of it, as would EEL. Fredric hoped to do the same thing for each of the other boys, although the hover chair was going to be hard to find a market for since it was so expensive. At the same time, his company was getting free national press and in the eight cities the boys lived in, his public relations people had a field day and got all sort of free press, all of it good.
He couldn't help but smile as he realized having a boy who was busy taking pictures would give him the opportunity to make future years' contests even more well known. While paying for the kids to fly into Austin, keeping them in a resort, paying his people to provide constant supervision and protective duty plus chaperoning was going to cost several thousand, he bet the return in good press alone would more than make up for it. This, coupled with the possibility of making money off the inventions he had not had to pay R&D to come up with, was even better.
Fredric leaned back and watched the six boys while he sipped on a diet soda. So far, the kids were meshing better than he could have dreamed.
Over at the row of skeeball games, Justin snapped a good eighty pictures before the other two boys who had gotten their earlier loosened up and started to talk to him with more than just a few polite words. Ten minutes later, the camera was back in its bag and Justin was between them seeing how many prize tickets he could get.
Keith, a blond haired, blue eyed boy who seemed to have a mischievous glint in his eyes at all times, glanced over as Justin managed to score three five hundred pointers in a row. As the machine Justin was in front of started spitting out tickets with him still having four more balls to go, Keith frowned, "What are you trying to do, catch up to us all in one game?"
Justin grinned, "It really isn't too much different than playing horseshoes with my gramps. Once I got the range down, all I have to do is keep a nice smooth motion." True to his word, his next ball went into the 500 point circle causing the machine to spit out another five tickets. "The nice part is, these skeeballs weigh a whole lot less than horse shoes the distance is shorter, too!"
On the other side of Keith, Ricky, a skinny as a rail boy with light brown eyes and ragged looking very straight sandy colored hair, paused, "Horseshoes? How do you play with horseshoes?"
Justin was totally taken off guard by the question which cased his next ball to fall short, getting him only fifty points, but still enough for the machine to spit out another ticket, since he was past the "winning mark" of 1300 points on a round. He glanced over, his face telling both Ricky and Keith he was expecting some kind of cruel prank. However, all he saw was two kids who didn't have a clue what he was talking about.
"You throw them from behind a line and try to get them around a metal spike sticking up out of the ground on the opposite side of the pit which is usually filled with sand so they don't' bounce. If no one gets a ringer, meaning you get it around the post then the closest one wins the round. I've seen it on a few beer commercials…"
Keith looked skeptical, "I have seen those, too, but I thought it was like a thing for the commercial or something. I didn't think people actually stood out in the sun, tossed horseshoes and drank beer like it was a fun time or something."
"Oh, they do. It is one of the main events at my Gramps' farm whenever he does a cookout. So is skeet shooting, but there is usually more of that when we go to my uncle's farm for the Fourth, every year. He's a big pheasant hunter, so shotgun shooting is his main event."
Ricky eyed Justin as if the boy was from some other planet, "And you think that's, like, fun?"
Justin looked over and gave a sharp nod, "Well, it's better than going to school and getting a massive wedgie almost every day because I'm the school dweeb! There are days where I fight to hold back and not go to the bathroom, so I can dodge the 'let's see what we can do to dweeby Justin' band. At least when I am out on the farms, I can join in and kind of blend in for a while. Thanks to Gramps, I am pretty good with horseshoes and OK with shooting, so the adults like to have me around. It keeps me away from the kids which keeps me from being totally miserable. Besides, a couple of years ago, I fixed the pig roast spit, so all the old timers know I can fix stuff and like to show me how to tinker around with all sorts of stuff from electronics, to cars, to boats and jet skis."
While Ricky's eyes went into a bewildered squint at the mention of a pig roast spit, Keith seemed to open up a great deal more. "I get that part, at least!" Keith sighed, "I wish I had some kind of party I could go to once in a while where I could actually have fun. I hate parties, even my own birthday parties, cause mom and dad both think I should, like invite everyone. The problem is, few show up and fewer still, come because they want to. Most show up because they are forced to by their moms and dads, since their parents want to score points with mine."
Justin shivered at the mention of a birthday party. "It's got to go better than my last birthday party."
"I doubt it." Ricky fired back with some anger.
Justin rolled another ball down and scored a 400 point getting him six more tickets before he let out a long sigh and turned to look at Ricky. Somehow, I bet I have you beat."
"No chance." Ricky shook his head fiercely. "No chance in hell."
Keith glanced back and forth between the two kids, "How about I be the judge and whoever wins gets half my tickets?"
Ricky eyed Keith for a few seconds then looked over to the prize counter. "Well, the chance of getting three hundred and fifty tickets for the cool looking golden eagle necklace is pretty slim. And I'm sure not going to get it playing this unless I get some help, so fine, but only if he goes first." Keith pointed over to Justin.
Justin studied the two boys for a couple of seconds, "Only if you both promise not to tease me about it for the next five and a half days."
"I get enough crap at school." Keith spoke softly. "There's no chance I am going to tease someone else, especially someone who can shoot a gun! You're already cool in my book, cause I have never even seen a real one other than in movies and junk."
"Same here," Ricky sighed, "besides, after I tell mine, you'll have something to hold over me for like all time."
"It stays with me, but I am sure I have you beat anyway."
Ricky shook his head, "No chance, but I'm listening."
Much like Ricky, Justin was worried about what he was about to tell the other two boys, but after kind of getting to know three of the others, he was a bit more willing to take a chance. The other thing he realized was, if for some reason this backfired on him, he only had to deal with them a few extra days and he would never see them again. On the other hand, since he was a bit older than either Ricky or Keith, the two might warm up a bit more if he was open and honest with them. The chance to come out of this with some real friends was worth the risk. "Well, this really sucked, but here it is.
"My dad was out of town for my twelfth birthday because he was on a long haul to somewhere up in Washington State, so my mom decided it would be great to secretly invite a bunch of boys from my school for a sleepover. She then had the wonderful idea to give us the whole house for the night and go out. She ordered pizza, give us access to the pay-per-view movies that were PG-13 or better, and told us she would be back after midnight."
"This sounds really bad already." Keith cringed.
Even though, Ricky was certain he would still have the worst birthday story ever, even he had to nod in agreement.
Justin clenched his fist, then took a moment to roll another ball down range, but his thoughts prevented a good shot. It scored another 50 points and got him one more ticket. Shrugging, he turned back to the two slightly younger boys. "Like an hour after mom left, a few of them decided to see just how bad a wedgie they could give me. They jumped me, tied my hands behind my back and hung the back of my undies on the top of the door and left me there for the entire Chronicle movie. They then pulled down my pants spun me around and took pictures of my butt cheeks with their cell phones. They then each took two swats with different things they found in the house on my butt cheeks and took pictures of how red they were after they finished giving me tweleve hard shots, two from each of them.
"On Monday they snuck in and used the library's color copier and passed the photos around. By the end of the day, half the kids who knew me were trying to smack my butt, and on Wednesday a group of kids grabbed me at the city pool, held me down, stripped me down, put me in a pink Speedo and gave me a another hanging wedgie. This time they hung me from one of the shower heads and brought others in to see a few of the marks that were still on my butt and gave me another spanking with their hands since it was the day I actually turned twelve. A bunch more pictures were taken of me hanging there by the pink Speedos, too, including some by adults who came in and did nothing to help. A few even joined in. I didn't get down until they ripped and I fell. It was the last time I have gone swimming at the city pool."
Ricky openly cringed, "Ok, maybe you will win, but not by much, if you do."
Keith glanced over, "Yeah, yours better be pretty bad, cause I think I would have cut my wrists if someone had done that to me, once, let alone twice! Are there really pictures of you all over?"
"Yeah, hell of a thing for a photographer, huh?"
Ricky made an obvious sign of shivering although it wasn't clear if it was from hearing what had happened to Justin, or what he was about to say. Much like Justin, he rolled a ball down, scored only 25 points and frowned since the meager points weren't even enough to be awarded an extra ticket. When he spoke, his voice was low and soft even though there were no other kids around. "First off, my dad is a deadbeat, so I don't really have one. My mom is a lot like us, super smart, but kind of clueless on people stuff. She is always trying to make friends for me. I have been in cub scouts, bowling leagues, chess clubs, computer clubs, and she even stuck me on a baseball team and a soccer team… a soccer team more than once… but that was because one of the other coaches likes me."
Ricky paused, rolled another ball and glanced back to the two boys not even looking to see what he scored, "Anyway, I was on this baseball team and as usual with sports, I sucked at it. I can't catch, I can't throw, and I darn sure can't hit. The day of my eleventh birthday was a Tuesday and it was also the last day of school for us. Mom was busy with something at work, as normal, so she decided it would be fun for me to get picked up from school by parents of one of the kids on the baseball team, go to the game and go bowling after the game as a birthday party. The guy picked me up, took me to his house, where he had my uniform, and I hung out and played the X-Box with his kid, Davy.
"It was pretty cool and Davy wasn't like the other kids. He didn't' say anything about how bad I sucked at baseball and he let me pick out the games we played. His mom didn't seem very nice and she kept looking at me while shaking her head, but Davy's dad seemed real nice. When we got dressed for the game, I didn't have my cup in the bag my mom packed so I ended up naked while I thought Davy's dad was digging around and found another one Davy had in his football bag."
Ricky took a deep breath, "I'll come back to that, but to get this I need to go in order. " He turned away and rolled another ball. This one went way too far and ended up in the net above the game. "Look I'm sorry, I can't do this."
Justin's shoulder's dropped, "Fine…"
"No, you told us horrible stuff. Way worse than I have ever been though, and now…"
Justin held up his hand, "Let it go. No one should have to relive something unless they are willing."
"But you told…" Keith tried to argue only to get stopped by Justin.
"And I am shaking like a leaf. On the other hand, for the first time I was able to admit I'm a weakling dork and pretty much feel safe. Even better, I saw something I never have before."
Ricky looked up while wiping some traces of tears out of the corners of his eyes, "Wh… What did you see?"
"Understanding." Justin gave a half smile while gripping his shaking hands together to try to hide them. "You know, it was nice to finally tell some who gets it and I saw you both did. If you change your mind and want t talk I'll be around."
As Justin turned to head back to the table and grab some more pizza, Ricky's head dropped, "Hold up… Please?"
"Hey if it's that bad, give it a couple of days." Justin spoke with a great deal of sympathy. "I don't know where it was gong but it sounded bad."
"IT was, and I hadn't even said anything yet."
"But you had the look of fear. It's a looke I know well because every time I lok in the mirror I see some of it in myself. But I can tell you this much, I am still scared out of my mind but I also feel like a huge… hell I don't even know what… but something is gone and it's nice."
Ricky chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds then nodded, "OK, but I need to know this stays here, all of it and no one is going to say go to the cops or anything."
"Cops?" Keith asked with wide eyes, "Was it really that bad?"
Justin glanced over to Keith, "Having a bunch of kids and a few adults smack my butt in the pool locker room and take pictures and junk is more than enough to call cops, but I didn't and I never would. There was more, too, but I know you got the idea. Still, no matter what happened, there is no way I am going to let the world know what happened in the shower room!"
Ricky kicked at the small streamer of tickets then over to the prize counter. "OK, hold up, let me just do this and get it over with."
Justin nodded and slipped his card in the game getting another group of balls to appear in the receptical. "Whenever you're ready."
Ricky did the same to the skeeball game he was in front of, "OK, so here it goes… So I got Davy's extra cup and we went to the game. The whole ride there Davy's dad kept asking me about my home, mom, and all sorts of stuff. I thought he cared.
Well, anyway, the dumb league I was part of has this stupid rule about making sure every kid plays, so I had two innings out in the field, and one at bat, the minimum, but way too much in my opinion.
"The coach put me in for the fourth inning of a six inning game. I was put in left field where the ball promptly got hit… twice…" Ricky hung his head, "I dropped the first and the second missed my glove and hit me in the left eye. I tried to use it as an excuse not to play, but the coach was big on 'toughing it out' and left me in. I got up to bat in the top of the fifth inning and figured I would strike out like I always did, but nope, not on my birthday. The pitcher for the other team threw wild on the third pitch and beamed me in the face, my right eye, to be precise. Just like the fly ball, I tried to get out of the game, but the coach said it was my first time on base in a game and I couldn't pass it up. So I went to first.
"By this time, both the team I was on and other team were laughing at me for being a crybaby and a screw-up. The coaches of both teams squashed it some, but I still heard it plenty. The next kid up to bat hit a long single, so I took off. As I was rounding second, the kid tripped me. I know it was on purpose, since he torments me every chance he gets, but everyone treated it like an accident. This only made me look more clumsy and stupid. I was given third by the umpire, but my lip was split open and my knee was skinned, not bad, but enough to finally take me out of the game, because there can't be anyone bleeding. I spent the next inning and a half with a small bag of ice on both eyes and a snow pop in my mouth cause my coach only had two things he could find to put ice into. He bought me the snow-pop to cut down on me having a fat lip but told me to suck on it like a pacifier, since I was such a wuss. I also had a bloody knee, so my pants were torn and I had a big band-aid on it.
"At this point, I was looking forward to going home, but when I was getting back into the van with Davy, I found out about the bowling party for my birthday. I don't know how much money mom spent, but she arranged for a big surprise party at the bowling alley and most of the kids from both teams had agreed to go. The guy who picked me up had me call my mom, getting lots of snickers about having to call my mommy, and I could tell most of the kids wanted to go bowling, so I told her I was fine. I sure didn't want them to make fun of me and ruin a party they were all looking forward to. With school just getting out, I knew if I called it off, my whole summer would be screwed. Besides, I knew it had to have cost mom lots. By the time I got to the bowling alley, I had two black eyes, a fat lip, and a ripped knee with blood stains on my pants.
"One of the dads took me to the bathroom and helped me clean up and was really nice, but that was where all niceness ended. I bowled my three games, which I sucked at worse than normal since both my eyes were kind of swollen and I was limping some, too. The kids on the lane with me teased me the whole time and most of the others did whenever they got the chance. Several times kids would poke at the hole in my pants and snicker as I winced at the pain. By the time the cake and ice-cream was done, I really wanted to go home and cry, but it only got worse."
Ricky paused and looked at the two boys with dread in his eyes, "You promise this won't go any further?"
If he hadn't seen the way Ricky was acting, Justin would have figured it was all a lie, but the kid's eyes and voice said otherwise. "Nothing's coming out of my lips." Justin stated with total conviction while wondering what else could have possibly gone wrong in one day.
"Come on, Ricky," Keith patted his new friend on the shoulder, "We are all geeks here. You are the first kid I can call a friend, and I've only know you for like six hours. I'm not about to screw it up!"
Ricky finally nodded, then looked around to make sure no one else was around. "The dad who picked me up from school and took me to the game… as we were getting back in the van… he told me I was supposed to spend the night with them. I tried to say I would be fine at home and didn't feel well, but he said he didn't want me to be home alone after getting all banged up. He also pointed out my pants had some fresh blood so my knee was leaking some and he wanted to patch it up better.
"Figuring arguing was pointless, I stopped. We went to his place. When we got there, his wife eyed me and asked the dad if he had beaten me up. He laughed and said no, while ruffling my hair. As soon as I saw her scowl and leave, I should have guessed something was up, but I blew it off. He then sent Davy up to his room to fetch some clothing I could wear, since my uniform was a mess and said he didn't want me to mess up my school clothing. He then escorted me to the bathroom, turned on the water for the bathtub and closed the door. First he had me drop my pants so he could clean my knee…" Ricky gulped, "But then he pointed to the tub and told me I needed to get real clean and pulled my shirt off… With the water running and the door closed no one could hear what he said even if anyone cared, but I'm sure no one did, anyway."
Ricky shuffled his feet and kicked at the small stack of tickets coming out of the game machine he was standing in front of. "He said he would hurt me bad if I didn't do what he wanted. He made me call my mom and ask if it was OK to spend a couple of nights with them since I was hurt and not feeling well. Three days later, he made me call again and ask if I could go camping with them for a week. It was then I found out nothing had been talked about with me spending the night before he took me to his house. Mom said he had been nice enough to take me in for a few days as it was… But the look I got… I begged her to let me stay." Ricky brushed at a few tears threatening to come out of his very moist eyes.
Justin looked over horrified, "He hurt you?"
"No…" the word went on way to long to be totally truthful, and Ricky knew it, so he decided to give a bit more detail. "I mean, not really like hurt me, but he made Davy and me do stuff in front of a web cam with each other and I had to wear girl's clothing sometimes. Davy did, too, but he was used to it. I could tell. The worst part was there were people on the other side of the web camera. They typed what they wanted us to do and paid his dad through a pay pal account if we did it. We then went camping over the weekend, where I caught my first fish and a couple of guys met us out there. I think I would like fishing, but that was not the way to learn."
Both Justin and Keith knew lots was being left out, but neither wanted to push. In fact, neither of them really wanted to know more. Both boys quickly handed Ricky all their tickets and they resumed playing and making small talk. Finally, Ricky seemed to lighten up a bit more, "You know, as scared as I till am, your right, Justin. Somehting feels better in my chest."
"I hear ya" Justin nodded in total understainding while wondering who else in the group of freaks and geeks had similar stories.
At the same time it was pretty celar Ricky had similar thoughts as he turned to look at the other boy with them. "OK, Keith, it's your turn to tell us your worst story."
"I thought I had bad ones," Keith shuddered, "but you both have me beat by wide margins."
"Well, start talking." Justin demanded. "What's fair is fair."
"Yeah." Ricky quickly agreed.
While Keith started talking about some of the worst hazing he had gone through, Fredric glanced around the pizza place. He quickly noted as the establishment became more crowded the closer the kids he was responsible for tended to gravitate toward each other. The one exception was Scott. The boy was making no attempt to make friends with the other kids. Instead, he was moving from shooter game to shooter game. Fredric studied this behavior for almost twenty minutes before he finally realized what he was seeing. The boy truly liked the idea of shooting at just about everything, but was flatly bad at it. This translated into him subconsciously, or on purpose, moving to a different game as soon as some stage kid came up and either offered to join in or simply wanted to watch. The more crowded the place got, the more this forced Scott to move games.
Fredric nodded to the smaller chaperone. As soon as the man came within earshot, he sent a nod in Scott's direction. "See if you can build a little confidence in our wayward loner, would you?"
The man shot a glance over at Scott and then back at his boss, "You want me to play games with him?"
"In a way, yes, but what I really want you to do is teach him what he is doing wrong, if anything." Fredric admitted. "He seems to share your interest in shooting."
The man let out an audible sigh, but managed a nod. "I'd prefer to take him out to a range and really teach him. He is holding that plastic gun like some sort of gangster want-a-be. Even a plastic toy gun should be handled like a real one when using it."
"Then teach him what you can, build a rapport, and see if he has an interest in doing the real thing. If he does, we'll schedule some range time for him and whoever else wants to go. Maybe you could even take him on the friend-foe course once or twice."
The man had to fight hard to keep a straight face. The extra pay he had been offered for taking on a chaperone duty to the eight boys would certainly help him buy his daughter a very nice Christmas, but he wasn't even tweleve hours in and he already hated it. These kids were flatly not normal. They were beyond odd, they were weird. At least the one kid, Craig, had an interest in weights and body building to some degree, but the others were flatly strange. Even as he moved up to Scott and tapped the boy on the back he knew this was going to be a hell of a long week.
Fredric watched the body language of his employee and Scott. They were totally opposite. His man stood tall and motioned toward the video screen than pointed at the plastic pistol and wagged his finger. While nothing in the man's demeanor was hostile, it was far from being soft.
At the same time, Scott seemed to wilt. The boy's shoulders dropped, his head started hanging lower, and he shuffled his feet. He looked down at the toy gun in his hand and started to put it back in the holster on the side of the game.
This caused the chaperone to shake his head and point to the pistol. When the boy tentatively grabbed it, the man grabbed the other pistol and held it up, showing how to do a proper hold. He then grabbed the pay card out of Scott's hand, swiped it to bring up a second player and started shooting at the targets as they appeared. It took a couple of minutes, but Scott finally nodded understating at what the man was trying to tell him, swiped the card again and joined in.
Fredric fought hard to contain a grin as one of his best security men swiped the card again and moved a little closer to Scott. It only took ten minutes before the man and boy were talking and shooting at some sort of evil monsters or something. Another full hour passed before Scott came back over to the table with a smile on his face. "Um, can I have another soda, sir."
"Scott, you are here as a guest of EEL," Fredric stated with a friendly voice, "Food and drink are on us. Get whatever you'd like." Fredric pointed at the pitchers and pizza on the table. If you want something different, order it. I set up a tab and will settle it after you all head back to the hotel." He paused and glanced over to the game, "So, how is your first day in Austin?"
"Actually, way better than I thought it would be, sir." Scott admitted while pouring a glass of soda out of one of the pitchers sitting on the table. Scott paused and glanced down with a great deal of awkwardness, "Um, is there really a chance I could learn to shoot a real gun while I am here?"
"If you want." Fredric nodded. "Your parents, well, your dad, in your case, signed wavers basically entrusting your care to EEL. It's just like if you were attending a summer camp. There were sections of stuff to initial yes and no to and your dad initialed yes to everything on the document. He was one of two to approve scuba diving in a shark cage, which I actually put in as a joke."
"I'm sure dad never read it beyond the 'scribble in the boxes' instructions. All he really cares about is Grant…" The boy looked away and wiped at his eyes then turned back to Mr. Triumph. "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that. It really isn't true, it just feels like it sometimes."
Fredric Saw the pain all but written on the boy's face, but had no clue what to say. Instead he nodded in the most understanding way he could. When this did nothing and no tears came, he realized there was something else bothering the lad. Fredric cocked his head to the left and studied the boy in front of him for a second before speaking. Finally he pointed to a chair. "Take a seat, son. Part of the reason I am here is to get to know some of my contest winners better."
Scott took a seat and refilled the soda glass. "I'm not worth getting to know."
Fredric felt a sudden desire to stand up, move over and give the boy a hug, but remembered from his own past as a super-nerd, what he craved more than compassion was strength, and no one else around him really understood this. Keeping this in mind, he forced his voice to harden more than he wanted it to. "Bullshit. If you were not worth knowing, then one of my best security men would not have just spent the last hour with you. Hell, you wouldn't even be here if you were not worth getting to know."
Scott's eyes went wide and his jaw dropped some. He could not remember ever having someone talk to him with such force or conviction before. While it initially pissed him off, within seconds he realized it actually felt good to have someone say words he had never heard before. The other side of him, the part that was used to being the social loser, rebelled, "I'm a weakling who lost his twin brother!"
"You didn't lose anyone and while you may not be the strongest kid, you are not weak." Fredric fired back determined to show the boy strength. "You're in scouts and a couple of the things you put on your application about interests were backpacking and canoeing. Anyone who can lug a backpack through the woods and thinks it's fun is not weak. Nor is a boy who can paddle a canoe."
Fredric eased his tone some to show a little more compassion, but still kept an edge to his voice. "Look, Scott, I know your brother disappeared two months ago. To be honest, it almost caused my team to reject you and pick one of the alternates because they were worried about you coming here and us not being able to deal with what you are going through. I was the one who overruled them. What happened is not your fault and to treat you as if it was would be beyond unfair.
"Besides, your sonic fish attractor is the smallest and probably the most unique item submitted. You're here because you contacted us and told us you still wanted to come when we sent a sympathy card and because you earned it.
"Now I am sure your mom and dad are spending a great deal of effort on finding your brother so you have seen less attention, but you're father must have supported you in getting it built…"
Before Fredric could finish, Scott shook his head, "My Uncle Jim helped and my dad paid for all the stuff so I could finally make it, but dad had nothing even remotely to do with making it. He never even knew what I was submitting. When I ran into a big snag, it was my uncle or Grant who helped me figure it out."
Hearing the pain in the boy's voice as he mentioned Grant, Fredric softened even more. "So, you and your brother were real close, huh?"
"My only real friend," Scott sighed and some anger entered his voice, "and no matter what the Secret Service, cops, FBI, NSA, CIA, ATF, or some other three letter government agency wants to say, I know he didn't run away."
"The news reported it as a case of a kid who was picked on at school and just couldn't take it anymore." Fredric gently reminded Scott.
"I know." Scott hung his head and shook it, "They even said it was partially my fault for winning this contest, but I know better." Scott looked up and gazed into Mr. Triumph's eyes, "Sir, I was the one picked on… Yeah, he got some, but Grant wasn't the wimp, I am. Some of the times, people said something to him, thinking it was me. As soon as they found out it was Grant, they tended to back off, cause he would have kicked their butts! He had some friends; he even played lacrosse and had a few goals last season. He really thought he would make it as a starter next time."
This information caused Fredric's eyebrows to rise. "I have to wonder why none of this came out in the news. Once all the uproar about your brother being the nephew of the President's press writer died down, everything focused on his life. They made it sound like he was a total outcast."
"No, not Grant; he had a real life. The total loser would be me."
Fredric was a bit torn by the situation. He felt really bad for the kid, but showing nothing but understanding was not what he felt the boy needed. Because of this, he hardened his stare and put a bit more of an edge back into his voice. "You are one of the eight winners of the hardest science contest my company and I could come up with, Scott. You are a very gifted young man."
"Yeah, well the others here don't have connections to the President. Unfortunately, thanks to my aunt, I do, and there are plenty of photos on the net to prove it." Scott countered as if on auto-pilot.
Fredric's jaw dropped some as he eyed the boy in front of him. This time he didn't have to force anything, he was genuinely annoyed and couldn't hide it. "You actually think your aunt had anything to do with you winning? Not in this lifetime or the next, Scott!"
The boy's lips twisted in some confusion, "So are you really telling me my mom's family was not behind me winning?"
"Not a chance!" Fredric burst out laughing as he saw the rather stunned look on the youngster's face, "Do you really think any company in Texas would bend any rules for anyone even kind of associated with the current administration?"
"Um, well I mean, I figured my mom and my aunt had to have…"
"No!" Fredric managed to bark out with even more laughter, "If anything, your aunt being the President's main speech writer was a huge strike against you. Your aunt is the main reason you had to fly to Leopard Labs in West Virginia to show the techs there you knew exactly how your device worked. This forced you to go into a secure location where my people had complete control with no interference. All the other kids here had a parent or other adult with them and I flew them to places much closer to their homes. Your trip actually cost about what all of the others did combined."
Scott studied the man for quite a while before speaking, "So I actually had it harder than the others?"
"Oh, hell yeah," Fredric smiled and snickered at the same time. "We wanted to make absolutely sure your project was legitimate and wanted to squash any hint of favoritism. I was the final judge. I watched your entire interview and even texted a couple of questions I wanted you to have to answer. There is no doubt in my mind you know your project and your experimentation was actually very intensive. You deserve to be here."
Scott's hand went across his left cheek and around his chin as he digested the information with a great deal of amazement. "I just thought…"
"You thought wrong, dead wrong."
"Wow…" A hint of a smile crept up across Scott's lips, "so I'm really not a total loser?"
"No, you are a winner and you got here because of brain power and imagination, two things this country is badly lacking, which is exactly why I put this contest together. As part of being one of the elite winners, you get to have a huge say in what you do here over the next few days. The only things you absolutely have to do is meet with the Governor for a photo session and spend a few hours with my marketing people. One of the main goals we have is find a way to get your fish attractor on the market. The rest is up to you and what I hope will be your new friends."
Scott spent almost a minute chewing on a piece of cold pizza and sipping on his soda before he finally spoke again. "So it wasn't a joke… I mean I can really learn to shoot?"
"You sure can. As a matter of fact, there are almost 300 things you can do and if there is something we didn't think of, we can try to get permission from your parents. As of right now, there are only two kids here who cannot learn to use a fire arm. Those two are Ricky and Alexander. Actually, Alexander can fire a rifle, not a pistol or a shotgun. It was actually hand written in and initialed by his dad. The rest was all done by his mom."
A bit of a smirk crossed Fredric's lips, "Something tells me his dad pulled the form back out and did that on the sly, but who am I to argue."
This got a real giggle out of Scott. "Then I'd really like to learn, sir."
"No problem." Fredric nodded, "But one thing I would like you to do is see if anyone else in your group is interested. Part of me flying you all down here is to show you all there are other kids like you. You're not alone and I don't want you to be alone. This is especially true when there are probably at least a few others who want to learn the same things as you. Besides, one on one events cost me extra money because I guaranteed there would always be two chaperones around at all times."
Scott glanced around and spotted Craig and Glenn. The two were now lying on the ground so Glenn could show Craig how the directional nozzles helped to control the direction the hover chair went. "If nothing else, I bet Craig would come with me."
"I'm sure he would, and you never know, just because Glenn is pretty much confined to a chair, I bet my guys could still teach him how to shoot. If not I'll find and pay for someone who can. When you get back to the hotel, you will find a sheet with all the things your parents approved and a list of what all the others are approved for. This will help you all work out what kinds of things you want to do over the next week."
Fredric glanced down at his Android tablet and pulled out his phone, "Excuse me, but the flight from Denver with the last two arrivals is thirty minutes out from Austin, so I need to arrange pickup."
Scott finished his soda in one large gulp, "Um, is it OK if… can I go?"
"You want to be part of the pick-up?"
Scott nodded, "Yes sir," he blushed, "um, I know I felt better once I found some of the others at the airport and not just your two men…"
"As long as you don't mind riding with me alone, which is technically a breach of one of the things I promised your parents."
"Trust me," Scott stated with total conviction. "They won't care."