James was bored stiff, waiting for Coach Echart to return to his office. He could’ve gone over to the gym and watched the basketball practice, but watching the others play without him was uncomfortable.
Not that Coach’s guest chair has ever heard of ergonomics. He stretched his back to get the kinks out.
The stack of schoolwork in his backpack was getting lighter. He flipped through the folders again. Everything was caught up with decent grades, other than French, and that was ... well, like a foreign language to him.
The teachers had been very helpful while he was in the hospital.
But Barlow probably did me no great favor by letting me take a ‘C’ in French without taking her final. I’m so far behind now it’s pathetic.
And now, Coach Barlow was spending more time with her girls’ volleyball team than her French class and it looked like his special catch-up sessions were over with.
Well, at least I can see now.
If the doctors would just let it go. I hate that eye pressure machine. Somehow, he’d lost fluid from inside his eyes. After the accident, everything was out of focus.
The door opened.
“Hi, Coach. Any news?”
He shook his head, “No. I asked, but until your doctors sign off on it, I can’t let you on the team.”
Hope that had been building over the past few days crashed back to the bottom.
“I feel fine. I really do. My eyesight is perfect. I’ve been shooting goals in my driveway and I’m good at it.”
“I know, James. You were good last year. But if I let you out there on the boards, and anything happened, it would be my job.”
“It’s just not fair. First football, and now this.”
“It’s insurance, James. This is a poor school district. We can’t afford a lawsuit, and no matter what you promise, we just can’t risk it.
“I understand how you feel. But next year will be better.”
James nodded and left.
One little accident and his whole high school career was shot.
He went to the pay phone and called home. No answer.
His pickup was rusting in the creek bed and his driver’s license was parentally suspended—they didn’t trust his health either.
One little dizzy spell, and that was last week. I’m fine now.
When he first came back from the hospital, people were anxious to be there for him. Suzie, and the other cheerleaders too, were happy to care for the injured and to hear his tale. Not that he remembered any of it.
That lasted about a week. Slick, Drake and Larry were still checking on him, but they had practice to take care of. He was just an ex-jock.
“No. We can’t get you a new car.” Diana Hill shook her head.
“The medical bills.” She sighed. “The only insurance we had was from work, and I hadn’t been there long enough for it to cover most of the hospitalization. We talked about selling the house.”
James said, “No.” This was the only house he knew.
She smiled, “It’s okay. Luckily your father got a better paying consulting job and money is coming in, but at this rate it will still be a long time before we pay it all off.
“And the pickup—all we had was liability coverage. We won’t see a penny on that.”
James said, “I’m sorry.”
She patted his hand. “I’m just glad you came through it in one piece.
“It’s tough now. Your father is working seven days a week. Even when I come in from the late shift, he’s always working, out in the shed on his computers. He’s even talking about more travel. It’s wearing him down.”
James realized the car was a lost cause. If I hadn’t been so stupid as to get jealous over Suzie, none of this would have happened.
He offered, “I could get a job. Coach told me basketball was out for now. I’ve got better grades than ever now, and I’ve still got free time on my schedule.”
“But are you healthy? The doctors said you had lost a lot of blood, and they were worried about your eyes, and your dizzy spells. You shouldn’t rush your recovery.”
“I am doing fine, now. Not a single symptom for a week.”
Just then the back door opened and Bob walked in. Diana was puzzled. He had a strange gleam in his eye and he was carrying something.
He walked up to them, set the bowl down on the table, and declared. “Water balloon fight!”
He grabbed one of the brightly colored balloons from the bowl and tossed it at James. It caught him full on, and the residuals splashed his mother.
James gasped and grabbed a couple of balloons and got off one at each parent.
Diana screamed, “Out! Get these things out of my kitchen!”
James and his father divided up the remainder of the balloons and dashed out onto the back lawn, pelting each other with the balloons.
Diana grabbed up her mop, and started cleaning. What has gotten into Bob? She saw James race past the window, glee on his face.
But it was good to see them having fun together.
James waved goodbye to Larry and the guys. He’d taken the precaution of asking Larry for a ride home from school early. Without his pickup to help take up the slack, Larry’s car was as crowded as it’d been before.
No one was home.
Larry had been raving about his new video game console.
James had bragged on the benefits of PC based games. Nothing like Larry’s box is on my budget any time soon.
He suspected that Larry had the better argument.
But, with games on his mind, he wandered over to the work shed.
There was no lock on the door, just a hasp for a padlock they never used. He looked inside.
Techno-clutter. As usual, there was his father’s workbench with its strange gear, a desk, and computers against the wall.
He frowned. Where is Sleepy?
Three identical computers sat against the far wall in a rat’s maze of wiring. Only the hand-lettered name stickers proclaimed which was which. There had been five—Grumpy, Doc, Bashful, Sleepy and Sneezy. His computer in his bedroom was named Dopey, even though it wasn’t on the same network as his dad’s work computers.
There were five, now there are only three.
Shortly after Dad started consulting, and began buying more computers, James smuggled his game software out here when Dad was out of town. These were so much more powerful machines than Dopey. The games screamed.
But it took time to re-install the games, and his father had made it clear that games on work-related machines would be deleted without warning. He didn’t even have an Internet connection on any of them but Grumpy, which he switched out of the local area network when he needed to use the web.
“I have no time for games, or viruses,” Dad had said.
So James had created a game disk image, a huge file that pretended to be a hard disk. To make sure his father didn’t stumble over it, he renamed it and hid it off in one of the system directories. His father’s machines had so much disk space that he’d never notice.
He had hidden it on Sleepy.
Where did it go?
Dad could be back any minute. But he quickly scooted the chair over to Doc’s keyboard and logged in. He had his father’s login memorized and feared the day when he decided to change his password.
He clicked over to the network list. He would check each of the machines. They could have been renamed, and the disk image might still be here.
Over two hundred computers appeared in the list.
Strange! Has Dad changed his Internet rules?
Most of them had obscure names, like hp150-4, but there in the list was Sleepy, and even a Happy.
With flying fingers, he burrowed down into Sleepy’s file system, and there it was, the game disk image.
He listened. No sound of any car.
Copying the image over from Sleepy to Doc’s hard disk was started, and over, in just under a minute.
That was fast! He double-checked it. Yes, the whole image had indeed been copied.
That’s not right. File copies over the Internet, even over cable-modem systems, were not that fast. Maybe Grumpy to Doc, right next to each other, with gigabit ethernet might be that fast, but not over a long distance network.
There were disk access lights on each of the three computers. He listed files from Grumpy, Doc and Bashful. The right lights blinked. Yes, indeed, the computers had not been renamed. He listed a file from Sleepy. It zipped across the screen just as fast, but none of the local computers blinked.
How did Dad get on a fast network?
Up out of the chair, he walked outside, peering carefully for wires. There was the power cable that connected the work shed to the house. And there was the telephone line, but that was all. He looked under the shed, in the crawlspace, but there was nothing. Nor was there a satellite dish. Are there hundreds of invisible computers here in this little shed?
Wireless? That was how his father connected to the Internet, using the house’s base station. But wireless isn’t fast enough either.
There was a rumble in the distance. On their property, you could hear cars from a mile away.
He raced back inside and logged off.
By the time his father’s car appeared in the driveway, he was standing out on the porch.
Strange how his dad’s hair had started to look gray. When did that happen?