The above image was made with stable diffusion using the prompt 'Chemistry set on the floor.'
The day started out alright. Harlen ate a few eggs he'd received from a neighbor, then borrowed an electric bike with a trailer from Silver to ride across town for a surprise visit to his parents' house. He expected a warm greeting, but found only impatient ambivalence waiting for him. His mom and siblings were out shopping and his dad was watching sports.
"I don't have any extra money for you, if that's why you're here," said Harlen's dad during a pause in the game.
"I figured, since you're apparently parking cars over where my garden used to be," observed Harlen. "The financially comfortable don't do stuff like that."
"Oh, here we go with the judgment," said Harlen's dad. "That took you all of two minutes. Not that it matters. No one cares what the unfit think."
Taking a deep breath, Harlen tried to center himself instead of blowing up. "Look, I have my own place now," he said. "I was hoping to pick up my old chemistry set and a couple of other things."
"We got rid of most of your stuff, but there are a few of boxes in the basement that your mother insisted we keep," said Harlen's dad. "Might be in there."
Investigating, Harlen found no sign of the chemistry set, but there were some tools and other items that seemed like they might be useful. Before leaving without saying goodbye, he vigorously shook all of his dad's beer bottles and wrote a nice note for his mom, which he left sitting on her sewing machine. Then Harlen got on his borrowed bike, spending the whole ride home angrily thinking about better things he could've said to his dad.
By the time Harlen had unloaded his stuff and put it away, he'd calmed down somewhat. Returning the bike to Silver, he was planning on spending what remained of the day scavenging, but she asked him to stay for dinner and he accepted. They sat in her makeshift kitchen, quietly eating smoked fish off of hemp crackers, washing it down with sumac lemonade.
"So," said Silver suddenly. "I've noticed how you look at me. I'm still deciding if I'm into you or not."
Harlen turned red, but didn't respond to the statement directly, electing instead to blurt out the whole story of his disappointing visit to his parents' house.
Silver nodded. "You had a chemistry set?" she asked. "So you're unfit for work but you know chemistry?"
"Yeah, and lots of other stuff, too," said Harlen. "I can program in base code, tell you all about history, and illustrate anything."
"Huh," said Silver. "I can fix almost anything. I'm the one who got water and power going again on this block. I make all of the plastics used in my bikes right here. Well, here and in another building I occupy for processing the raw hemp."
"That's cool," said Harlen. "Have you met other unfit like that? With real skills and stuff? Real gifts?"
"Hard to say," said Silver. "Everyone on the block is unfit, and they all have their specialties, but none of them are what I'd call gifted."
"I just keep thinking that the system somehow made a mistake with me," said Harlen. "I know that's impossible, but that's what I think."
"I thought that about me for a long time," said Silver. "These days I'm not sure what to think. You want to hear my theory?"
"Sure," said Harlen. "Let's hear it."
"I think that unfit for work doesn't mean what we're told it does," said Silver. "Most unfit might be incapable of standard work due to physical or psychological infirmity, but people like us aren't incapable. We're just shut out of society. Why do you think that might be?"
"I don't know," said Harlen. "But now I'm wondering. I've been thinking about it mostly in terms of statistics. Like maybe my unfit Qualification was just an error within the system's acceptable margins. But if we're both gifted and there might be others, what does that mean? You're saying they're keeping us out of respectable society on purpose?"
"I'm asking the question," said Silver. "And I'm not quite satisfied with the answers I keep coming up with."
"I wasn't the smartest kid in school," said Harlen. "My test scores were the second highest in a class of 300. Both the student who scored higher and several who scored lower all received exceptional Qualifications."
"I scored in the 90th percentile in a class of 500," said Silver. "But when I was 16 and 17, I built a small airplane from scratch and flew it to Wisconsin and back without getting any kind of permission. Obviously I got caught and they took my plane away. You ever get in big trouble like that?"
"That's crazy," said Harlen. "I remember hearing about that. The biggest trouble I ever got in was for writing a computer virus that made dirty words randomly appear on teachers' devices when I was 14."
"Maybe that's it, then," said Silver. "Maybe the system simply views us as troublemakers."
"Could be," said Harlen. "But now you've got me thinking about other stuff. Like the arguments in my essays, my facial expressions when teachers were being boring, which was usually. The system sees all of it. Maybe I just rolled my eyes one too many times."
"You know?" said Silver. "I wonder about that. We might be unfit because of something more subtle in our makeups. Subtle enough that we ourselves aren't necessarily aware of it."
"How many others like us do you think there are?" asked Harlen. "There could be a lot, right? Like dozens or even hundreds in this city alone."
"You want to meet them?" asked Silver. "I guess I'm happy tinkering in my workshop and being left alone."
"You invited me over for dinner," observed Harlen.
"Yeah, but you're cute," said Silver. "And you're conveniently located next door."
"So you do think I'm cute," said Harlen, smiling broadly.
"Cute enough, anyway," said Silver, a twinkle in her eye.
Read my novels:
- Small Gods of Time Travel is available as a web book on IPFS and as a 41 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt.
- The Paradise Anomaly is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Psychic Avalanche is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- One Man Embassy is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Flying Saucer Shenanigans is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Rainbow Lullaby is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- The Ostermann Method is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Blue Dragon Mississippi is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
See my NFTs:
- Small Gods of Time Travel is a 41 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt that goes with my book by the same name.
- History and the Machine is a 20 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt based on my series of oil paintings of interesting people from history.
- Artifacts of Mind Control is a 15 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt based on declassified CIA documents from the MKULTRA program.