Chapter 1 – Introduction

So my name is Jim. I’m some typical high school student, with an unimpressive life, who spends most of his time working on pet projects in my parents’ basement.

Anyways, so today was some okay October afternoon. It was a nice Sunday afternoon, the last day of our fall break. My friend Chris was supposed to be getting back from his kayaking and camping trip from Lake Ontario soon. Marc and I both knew where he was going, however Chris always seems embarrassed if he told us that he has an occasional fascination with the outdoors. I don’t blame him, Marc and I are really geekish in comparison to him, but something like going kayaking would not change the fact that the three of us have been friends since elementary school. The three of us became friends back in I think second grade. Due to some economic issues going on then (what else was new?), I was moved into a new elementary school because the one I went to was being closed. I understand it now, why have four of them in a moderately-sized town anyways? One works just fine. The three of us met because nobody would play with any of us since we really didn’t fit in. Since then, we have been friends and did almost everything together.

I had spent a good chunk of my Fall Break working on one of my pet projects, an AI assistant. I started working on making it talk just the week before and nearly got it to the point where it could talk out loud from my computer speakers. I decided today since fall break was close to being over, I could be a show off and show my friends my progress.

It was close to 2pm, so I grabbed my bag that I carried my computer in, put the computer in it, went outside and rode my bike down 3 blocks to my friend Marc’s house. From there we were going to wait for Chris to show back up from his trip. As I approached his house, I began to feel rumbles from the ground.

“Whoa, wait a minute.” I thought. “This is New England. There are no earthquakes here!”
I was right, there are never usually any earthquakes on this part of the country.

I began to ponder what would be the cause of such a thing. It could be an earthquake, it could be not. Heck it could even be a plane above me. I considered that right off the bat and decided to look up. I looked around trying to find something but couldn’t. I became so fixated on trying to find something, that I never noticed that I was approaching a fire hydrant. Of course I slammed right into it, falling off the bike and bashing my body against the pavement. Getting off the ground, I looked up and saw a large shadow cover the ground. I looked down to see Marc standing in his front yard looking in the same direction as I was.

“Did you just see that?” I asked him.
“See what? All I’ve felt was some rumble, probably an earthquake. Anyways, Chris just came home about a half hour ago. Since you’re here now, we can head over there and see if he wants to do anything tonight.”
I swore I had seen a shadow pass over us,” I said. “Maybe it was a plane crashing.”
Marc shrugged. “If it was, we’d hear the boom. You need to cut out listening to those conspiracy theory shows, they’re making you paranoid.”
Perhaps I was. I picked up my bike and placed it next to his garage door. I managed to slightly bend the front wheel on it when I had my accidental spill with my bike. Marc and I walked across the street to Chris’s house. The grass in his front yard was a bit higher than the other houses. It was understandable; their family didn’t have the money to mow the lawn as often as everyone else could.
So we knocked on his door. No answer.
“Are you sure Chris is home?” I asked.
“Positive. His car is right in the driveway.”
Sure enough, it was. His car was parked right there.
“He’s probably taking a dump. We should just go in” Marc answered.

Marc fidgeted with the door a bit and the door finally opened. As the door opened, the doorknob fell off the door. I pulled a screwdriver out of my pocket and decided to fix it on the spot. I watched Marc go into the living room to see if he was in there.
Marc kicked a bag of trash that was sitting next to the kitchen counter.

“This place is a dump, seems only Chris cleans this place.”
“Apparently unemployment does that to people I guess.” I said. “Hey Chris, you in here somewhere?”
“Yeah, give me a second. Ow, my head!”
“That definitely sounded like Chris” I said.

Of course, that was Chris.

“Hey. You okay back there?” Marc yelled down the hallway.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Just hit my head on the toilet. What was that rumble coming from anyways?”
“No clue. I swore I saw a shadow coming from something up in the air, but I didn’t see anything when I looked up.”
“Wait, are you serious?”
“Yep. I fell off my bike when I saw it. Kinda freaky.”
“So I’m guessing you guys want to check it out?”
“That’s right.”
“Yeah, yeah, give me a second to put my clothes on.”

I sat myself down on his living room couch and turned the TV on. Normally, watching TV is something I rarely did as there never seemed to be anything decent on, except for an occasional sports game or a documentary, which documentaries seemed to be a rarity unless it involved a bunch of girls who thought it was awesome to say fuck all the time. Of course after the TV finally started up, the two of us realized that nobody apparently paid the TV bill and no channels were available. I understood, as the average bill for TV service hovered around 500 dollars a month. I made a mental note in my head to show him later how to get over the air TV on instead.

Marc, on the other hand, decided to go ahead and start messing with the cable box attached to the living room TV, obviously intending to steal TV. I decided to just let him, as it probably wouldn’t do it any good anyways. I found it kind of pathetic that you were forbidden from saving copies of TV shows for later use without paying on newer TVs. To prevent people from doing that, providers gave their customers these boxes which would charge you money every time you used specific features.
I walked over to the TV and glanced at the frame of the screen. Noticing a defective circle that looked like the camera lens on it, I slapped a small piece of electrical tape on it and sat back down. Marc would likely thank me for that later. Still waiting on Chris to get dressed, I watched Marc open up the set top box with a pen cap and start flipping switches around inside so I would enter maintenance mode.

“You know Marc, you’re supposed to do that with the box unplugged and the TV off so it won’t think it’s being tampered with, right?”

Marc looked back at the screen to still see the lock out message.

“What the heck, it should have entered maintenance mode.” he said as he started to power cycle the box.

I yawned as Marc started getting pissed off at the box for not working.

“First of all, you’re doing it wrong. Second, that’s a TV rented by crapland that has that detection built in along with a camera and microphone.”
“What microphone and camera? I thought you could buy those without them.”
“Uh not if you rent the TV too. Look at it; it has the cable company name on the front stupid.”
“Oh… well I’m still going to try for a bit anyways.”

Marc started back at trying to get that TV to show free channels. He eventually gave up trying to tamper with the box as a warning message appeared on the screen warning him of a $2000 fine and felony charges if he continued. As he gave up, Chris came out with a black eye and a nasty bruise on his head.

“You know your TV service was turned off, right?”
“Yeah I am well aware of that. Doesn’t really matter anyways, who needs lots of ads anyways?

I had to agree with him. I didn’t really think paying a massive amount of money per month to watch a 30 minute tv show in the period of an hour was really worth it. My parents didn’t bother with it either, they just took whatever would come off the antenna and everything else was digitally stored on a computer my parents set up decades ago before it was massively illegal to have unprotected media. Marc’s parents on the other hand, did a combination of both. they paid for tv, but then also set up a box to pirate other shows in higher packages and convert them to open media formats for other people to use. I thought one day, the copyright police would bash down their door and confiscate all their electronics.

I hooked Marc’s tablet up to the tv so it could play whatever was on their tvs across the street over here, and Marc came in with a can of spray foam insulation for doors.

“Oh, read my mind. Let me just fix that microphone real quick.”

Marc sprayed the foam insulation into the microphone opening on the tv and covered it with a piece of my tape to hide the evidence. Chris came into the room with a nice bump on the side of his head. He looked at Marc spraying insulation foam into the tv and gave the two of us a weird look.

“We gotta return that TV back eventually. Quit messing with it.”

“Oh don’t worry, this is nothing compared to what others do to theirs when their service gets cut off.” Marc replied as he slapped some of that tape on the foamed up microphone hole.

“Seriously, knock that off, also, where did you get that can of foam from?”

Marc shrugged. I turned the tv on with his tablet rigged up to it. Lucky for us the government mandated additional antennas into portable devices so people could watch over the air TV, probably was the only decent thing done in decades. Using the tablet and browsing the channels, I looked for one of the local news stations. Nobody was covering what we noticed.

“Looks like whatever it was is being covered up,” I told the others. “Propaganda like usual.”

“Jim, you’re such a conspiracy nut.” Chris said while looking at me with a sarcastic smirk. “I understand why though at least.”

Chris started walking around the room picking up things laying around the house.

“You guys interested in going down the street to that pizza place in a few?” he asked Marc and I.

“Yeah, sure, I didn’t eat lunch today.” I replied.

Marc snorted what was supposed to be a laugh.
“You’re getting good at skipping meals. Is that because of that pet project of yours?”

“Yeah, I actually want to show you guys where I am.”

I pulled out my laptop and woke it up. It automatically hooked up to Marc’s wireless network across the street and I fired up the Ami program on it. The program connected back to my desktop at home and resumed right where I left off earlier. Entering a few commands and unmuting my microphone and speakers, she was ready.

“I’ll call BS that that thing can even work properly.” Chris mumbled.

An obnoxious voice chirped back at Chris through my laptop’s speaker.
“Bullshit only belongs on cow pastures.” it replied.

Marc started laughing.
“Ami-chan definitely has an attitude sometimes. That voice is perfect for the artwork Chris drew.”

“Aw thank you.” she replied. “I only have an attitude when people mock me, I have to be able to defend myself.”

I was quite excited at this. First public test worked perfectly, or so I thought. As I tried to associate the voices with who said what, the program crashed. I sighed.

“Well you’re close now Jim. You’ve been working on that for how many years now?”
“A few years, three I think.”

Chris sat down on the couch between Marc and I.
“Yeah, well you wrote a whole damn AI in Rust of all languages. Something nobody else would really do. Meanwhile Marc here just posts memes and nonsense on underground message boards.”

I guess he was right, Marc posted in illegal underground message boards in his free time (something I also did but not as often), Chris sometimes made electronics, however was more of an outdoors type of person. Most people I went to school with took pictures of their food and posted them on social media and obsessed over celebrities. If it wasn’t the two options, the third was usually fretting over the most popular tv series of that year.

I took a look to see if any audio files saved from our discussion before it crashed, there were three, I wasn’t quite sure how I should manage something like that going forward, assuming then that I’d maybe get a chance to commercialize what I made in the future. I decided I’d work on it a bit more later and closed the laptop, putting it away in my bag.

“Well I’m ready whenever anyone else is I guess.” I said while closing my bag up.

Living in a small town had its advantages. One of which was low crime, however politicians were pushing to bring in people from other places here to change up the place, which never works like they planned. Another was how easy it is to get from one place to another. Although I just got my drivers license, I didn’t have to go too far for a restaurant, as three blocks over from Chris and Marc’s was a pizza place next to a major highway.

We walked out the door and took a walk down to the pizza place. The cool October breeze was starting, and soon enough we would probably have our first frost then eventually snow before we know it.

Now the pizza place, for a small town we had a local place that was ran by a typical Italian family that passed it down for the past hundred years or so. Of course the building isn’t the same as it was a hundred years ago, it was replaced with a newer one sometime in my parents’ lifetime. Of course there’s also a chain pizza joint on the other side of town if you want one of the commercial deals or whatnot, but none of us, nor our families bothered with it except for certain occasions. It was rare to see local businesses now a days that weren’t owned by some international conglomerate.

So we reached it and went in. In the corner of the place sat three arcade machines, probably from the 1980’s. The owners claimed they had to modify them so much that the most original part of them would probably be the wooden cabinets and maybe some of the chips that the games ran on.

We sat down at a table next to the window facing the street. Our waitress walked up and we recognized her as another high school student we knew, I forget what her name is honestly, but I knew she didn’t hate us or anything.
“You three again? You three seem to be here at least once a week.”
“Of course. What else is there to do around here?” Marc replied as he smiled. I could tell he wanted to hit on her but hesitated.
“Well that’s true, I would have thought you three would have gone to see some concert perhaps. Anyway, what would you guys like to drink?”
I ordered a glass of water, Chris went with an iced tea and Marc decided to order a soda. The three of us decided to split a ham and Italian sausage pizza like normal and the waitress went back with the order.
“Hey Chris..” I decided to ask. “So have your parents had any luck finding work?”
He sighed and took a sip of his tea.
“Not really, my dad’s been pretty down since the plant closed up. So while I was gone, Mom disappeared with some African guy and left my sister alone with nobody while Dad was out doing an interview.”
“Where is she right now?” I asked.
“Lucky enough my grandma drove over here to watch her. She’s out there with her and won’t be back for another few hours.”
Marc seemed a bit unsettled with what he just heard.
“Ugh, what gives with women always walking out if someone loses a job?” Marc said with a slight annoyance. “Not his fault they decided it was cheaper to hire someone in… um… where the hell did they outsource to again?”
“I think it was Kyrgyzstan or some place out there. Apparently they were stuck between there or somewhere in Africa.”
“Amazed they didn’t do Africa, I mean China outsources their cheap stuff there.” I said while stirring my ice around with a straw.
I looked up at Chris and saw his facial expression. He did seem more down than I realized. Looking at Marc, he seemed quite annoyed.
I sighed. I think Chris’ mom leaving them had some affect on both me and Marc.
“Well, I guess I can ask my mom about babysitting your sister if necessary.” I told Chris.
“Same, think our families can tag team.” Marc added in.
I decided to send a message on my phone to my mom right off the bat about the situation, noting I would explain it later if needed. I pretty much assumed she would say yes.
Chris nodded with some relief it seemed.
“Enough about my miserable life, so Marc… What have you been up to while I’ve taken my trip?”
“Had a nice political discussion with someone online, making them cry, and had some fun with the drone I finished building a few weeks ago.”
“You’re going to have to let me fly that thing once.” I said with a smirk.
“Maybe in a week or two, depending on the amount of homework we get when we start back tomorrow.”
“But it was only a half week break, not counting the weekend…”
“I’d love to,” Chris added in. “But with mom leaving, I get to either play babysitter or find a job.”

“Hey boy, you said you needed a job?” Said a voice walking over to us.

We turned our heads toward the inside of the building and saw a tall bald muscular guy, the owner of the place.

“I need help in the kitchen every so often if you don’t mind. I’m amazed a kid even wants to work.”
Chris had a smirk on his face like a problem he had was answered.
“Your dad still out of work?”
“Yup, hopefully not for long, he has an interview at that pharmaceutical place Wednesday next week.”
“Stupid globalist fucks. Thinking that slave labor always is better than good hard work and paying a living wage. I can’t believe I spent ten years of my life defending those bastards while my dad worked this place by himself.” the guy said with a smirk. “You can start this coming Thursday if you want, Thursdays through Saturdays are the busiest.”
He placed a tray with the pizza down in the middle of the table.
“There’s your pizza boys… oh and don’t go telling anyone about my political rant, I really don’t need protesters outside my door and I know you three aren’t the type of people who really agree with whats shouted out there, okay?”
We nodded and he turned around walking back to the kitchen.
“I’ll throw a discount on that pizza due to your Dad’s job issue when I bring the check out, okay?”

Chris sighed. His sigh seemed like one of relief, and his blank stare he had for the past two months was slightly broken finally.
“Well it’s something. At least I can throw some money down towards paying the house until my dad gets another job.”
“That was sheer luck dude.” Marc said while folding a piece of pizza in half and taking a bite. “Can’t get any luckier than that.”
As I was about to take a bite of my piece, my phone buzzed. It was my mom telling me that she would help watch Chris’ sister.
“Hey Chris, my mom said yes she’d help watch the kid for you.” I said, finally taking a bite after speaking.
Chris gave a thumbs up, not even stopping to talk while eating.

Not sure if I said earlier, but another thing about this local pizza joint was the owner was also ex-military. The poor guy got sent off several times to the Middle East for ridiculous wars and stuff that we really had no business going out there, and while deployed, got hurt and had to be discharged. While in the hospital, his wife served him divorce papers while still in the hospital bed supposedly and then after coming back home, his dad who owned the place died, leaving him in charge. I think the guy is a bit racist based on his tours and his opinion was we were doing wars and dying for other countries and not our own. He also charged a bit more than the chain place on the other side of town but the extra price was worth it. If I ever could get my AI program to do everything I wanted, I assume he could be a prime customer who would want to buy a copy.

The check came, and of course it had a 10% discount. Both Marc and I put half down each on the bill. Another good thing about this place was tipping the waitress was forbidden, as he paid whoever worked more than probably what they would make in tips. The owner always said that nobody else in the world does that and it “is a stupid excuse to pay a person less than that they should earn”.

Walking out the door, we made our way back to Chris’ and Marc’s houses. Chris peeked over at his house as we were walking by to see if anyone else showed up. Nobody else was home yet.

So Marc’s family was pretty well off. They had a decent amount of wealth that they managed to hide from the government, while still living a comfortable life. Out of all three of our families, Marc’s house didn’t have a lot of older electronics and furniture compared to ours. Also, both his parents worked, like mine, but they definitely took home a lot more than my parents did.

We went to the back of the house by entering a gate in his back yard’s fence. The sun was starting to set already and it was starting to cool down earlier than I thought it would be.
“So, did you two do your assignments we were given?” Chris asked us both.
“Yeah, I did.” I replied.
“Almost done, 2 math problems left.” Marc answered.
“Mind if I work on it here with you?” Chris asked.
“I can help with a few, but I have to go get some stuff from the store before it closes tonight.” I told them both.
We spent the next hour working on the homework problems Chris had left. He was smart and could easily do them without anyone else around, but I think the whole reason he asked was so he could leech off Marc’s internet connection as the signal was better in his house. I wouldn’t blame him honestly.
It got close to 7, and was already dark out, so both Chris and I walked out from Marc’s.
“See you guys tomorrow, anyone want to carpool?”
“Oh yeah, Jim, it’s your turn!” Marc yelled.
“I guess that’s my turn then.” I said smirking.

I grabbed my bike and started riding it back towards the pizza joint. Basically I needed to cross the highway next to the restaurant and then go one block south in the direction of my house to reach it. Leaving the bike next to the door, I walked in and got a few things I knew I needed: a few cans of pop, some random snacks, a carton of milk my mom needed and a loaf of bread.
Paying for that, I went back out and grabbed my bike. I walked it partly through the parking lot and started hearing some arguing. The voices sounded familiar.
“You’re a piece of trash, I said you should open your legs up and let me have my way.”
My attention was turned towards a pickup truck with a horrible parking job taking up 3 parking spots. I could see a guy and a girl arguing with the windows down and the passenger door open.
“I’m not that kind of girl, find one of those blonde sluts to do that with. I’m done.”
“Three days dating me? Wow you’re pathetic. Well find another way home then!”
The truck started driving away as the girl was climbing out of the passenger seat. She hit the ground and nearly was grazed by the rear passenger side tire as the truck drove away. The force of the truck accelerating closed the passenger side door.

Sometimes, I do have to be a nice guy. In this case, watching someone get hurt, I walked over still pushing my bike to check up on her.
“Hey are you okay?” I asked.
She began to sit up and looked at her hands. One arm was slightly scraped due to hitting the pavement. I recognized her face.
“Oh hey Amber. What the hell was that about?”
Amber looked up at me and paused for a moment or two to try and see who I was. Due to the darkness in the parking lot, I think it took a moment for her to think. I don’t think she actually didn’t know who I was since Marc routinely hit on her friends and the two of us would just look at each other as it’s occurring and want to put our hands over our faces in shame.
I hung the grocery bag on the handle of my bike and used that hand to reach out to her. She grabbed it and pulled herself up.
“Oh. Hi Jim. What are you doing out at this time?”
“Getting snacks and stuff for school tomorrow.”
“Nobody else with you?”
“Nope. What was up with that just now though?”
I sighed. I’ll admit I’m a bit antisocial myself except around my friends, but Amber was a whole different person. She was a shy girl whose family made her focus more on school studies. I could assume she was on a date, something I almost guaranteed that her parents didn’t agree with.
“Let me guess, that was a date. And… it didn’t end well.”
“Was it that obvious?”
“Well Ken asked me out right before fall break started so tonight was our first date. He wanted to do some things that I said I would never do.”
“That part I just saw. Well I’m heading home, I’d put something on that arm of yours when you get home if I were you.”
She looked at her arm and back.
“You caught the end part of that. Technically he wants to be a retard and try to street race with that truck.”
I sighed. Dude and his trashy family should have stayed in the town to the east and not move here.
“Oh well I guess, I need to get going tonight, seriously though, clean up that arm later, you’ll get too many comments from people if you don’t later.”

I got on my bike and then got a tug from my shirt.
“Can you take me home?”
“On my bike? Does that work?”
“I can just stand on the back. It’s not that far away from here.”
I sighed. “I guess so. I’ve never done that before so I’m not sure how this will work.”

Now I’ll admit one thing. I only once in my life had a girlfriend. When I was in middle school, I had a girlfriend name Kayla who lived across the street from me. One day, their family moved away suddenly and without warning. That was years ago now and I never really dealt with women much after that. My main focus was trying to see if I could find ways to better people’s lives, and honestly I think I put my social life outside of hanging out with Marc and Chris a close second.
I kept both feet on the ground as she climbed up on the back of the bike. The whole thing felt weird, especially having someone wrap their arms around me to hold on. I tried to suppress any perverted thought I had and started to try and ride my bike.
Now how do I physically describe Amber? Well for one, she’s an Asian. I’m not sure what nationality exactly, except there’s no accent you would normally see immigrants have who first learn English. She’s fairly skinny, probably around 5′ 5″ or so and really pale skin. The paleness of my skin still beats hers though, as I basically live in my parents basement if you get the picture. The weird thing is that even though shes completely Asian, she has blue eyes which made no sense to me. I always thought everyone that didn’t have European ancestry had brown eyes as it was some kind of mutation or something. Oh well, not something I really want to sit and ponder though.
As we’re heading down the street, I feel her chest press against my back. Any guy whose been a teenager will know that it’s pretty hard to not have perverted thoughts or get turned on by this kind of touch, especially as someone who doesn’t really get any kind of physical attention. I’ll admit, that I had some jealousy towards that Ken guy, I kinda wished I was him dating her instead, however a girlfriend would probably take me away from working on my AI, and I really wanted to see at least one of my projects through.
Her chest pressed against my back even more as she raised her arm up to point at a street sign.
“Take that street and go right.”
I turn right and start going down another street. I’m a bit astonished at the fact I’m going near my own house. I didn’t realize how close she lived.
“Go left at this stop sign.”
I go left and ride down a few blocks.
“Right, then that house right there.”
I come up to a driveway with two cars in it and a scooter off to the side, which was hers.
“Thank you for the ride Jim, my leg was sore from falling out of his truck. I hope you weren’t too far from home.”
I laughed.
“Actually, I’m off of Glover, that brown house there next to the yellow brick one.”
“Oh I’ve seen that one. Maybe I’ll give you a gift for helping me tonight sometime, okay?”
“Uh sure.”
Amber jumped off my bike and started limping up the steps to her front door. As I started biking away, I could hear her mom say something about me not being the person who came and picked her up earlier, along with some yelling about not focusing on her studies. I smirked overhearing that as I turned towards the street I lived on.

Getting home, I put the food away and went down to my lair, er… my bedroom to do a few last minute things before I went to bed, mainly restarting the Ami Program and telling it to look up some things.
For the first topic to look up, I decided it should see if anyone talked about the low flying plane from earlier today.
For the second, I started typing in “Cultural differences in dating” then erased the line before finishing out what I was thinking.
“Nah, that’s not necessary. I am curious about the plane though. Maybe the other stuff later.”

Trying to waste time and fall asleep, I laid down in bed and pulled out a old history book. This one was about the Roman Empire. There are actually quite some similarities between the Romans and Americans now that you think about it. Things do end eventually, just not how you expect it, and I was about to learn soon enough on how unexpected history can become….