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Authors: Pete Hautman

The Flinkwater Factor

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For my childhood friends

Tom Swift, Pippi Longstocking, Danny Dunn, and Encyclopedia Brown. We had some fun.

Episode One

The Brazen Bull

1

Bonked

Most days, Flinkwater, Iowa, is a pretty boring place.

So boring that one boring June afternoon the most non-boring thing I could think of was to stop by Theo Winkleman's to check out his new UltraTab, which was how I discovered the very first person to be bonked by a computer.

Theo's mother greeted me at the door.

“Go right on back, Ginger. Theo hasn't lifted his eyes from that tablet all day. Please tell him that his mother, a flesh-and-blood human being, will be expecting him for supper in half an hour.”

I am not a girl who normally makes a habit of visiting boys in their bedrooms. If only because of the boy smell. But as I mentioned, I was bored, and I really did want to see Theo's new ultra-high-rez sixty-centimeter D-Monix tablet.

Josh Stevens, the founder and CEO of D-Monix, Inc., claimed that the UltraTab image space was so big and so real you could dive right into it. At least that was what he said in the ads. Josh Stevens had been TechTitan's Official #1 Hottie for five years running, so nobody minded much when he exaggerated.

I was thinking of getting one for myself. An UltraTab, not a Josh Stevens.

Theo was propped up on his bed with the UltraTab resting on his belly. His hands were locked on its paper-thin edges, and he was staring deep into the screen, totally entranced. This was perfectly normal for Theo, who had recently turned fourteen—just a few months older than me. He had spent thirteen of those years gazing into one sort of display or another. Mostly playing war games.

I, of course, began to talk. I don't remember what I was saying. I do not always pay close attention to the sound units emerging from my mouth. I figure if I keep talking, eventually I will say something amazing. Possibly something sufficiently amazing to extract Theo from whatever virtual violence he was enjoying at the moment.

I don't know how long I went on, but I finally noticed that Theo had not moved a muscle since I entered the room. Also, there was a string of drool running from the corner of his mouth onto his
Godzilla T-shirt. And the pupils of his eyes had constricted to the size of pinpricks. And he had wet his pants.

That was not normal.

Not even for Theo.

You are probably wondering what Theo was staring at.

I was too, so while Theo's mom was calling 911, I took a peek at his tab. An animated bronze-colored bull was charging back and forth across the display, ramming its horns into the edges of the deep blue image space.

You probably think that's odd, if you don't live in Flinkwater. The Brazen Bulls are our football team. Everybody supports the Bulls, although they almost always lose. Even the pathetic Halibut Haulers kicked our Brazen butts last year.

The animation is the Official Brazen Bull Screenie. Go, Bulls! You can download it free at flinkwaterbrazenbulls.edu.

But I wouldn't, if I were you. As I watched the bull bouncing across the screen, I got a creepy feeling behind my eyeballs, like that feeling you get when you see something really disgusting but for some reason you want to keep looking.

I jerked my eyes away.

I never liked that Brazen Bull.

The first thing the paramedics asked after checking Theo's vitals was, “What happened?”

“I don't know,” I said. “When I got here he was bonked.”

“Bonked?”

“I don't know what else to call it.” I pointed at Theo. “What would
you
call it?”

The paramedic looked at the very bonked-looking Theo and shrugged her shoulders.

“Bonked works for me.”

Allow me to introduce myself properly. My full name is Guinevere Marie Crump and yes, thank you very much, I know it's a stupid name, which is why everybody except my grandmother Guinevere calls me Ginger, or Gin if you want, even though I do not drink. I am, according to my mother, thirteen going on thirty. Or going on three, if she's in a bad mood.

You might think that thirteen is young for a high school student, but at Flinkwater High the average graduation age is sixteen, so there is really nothing odd about it.

You should also know that I am five feet nine inches tall, I have incredibly lush and glossy reddish­-gold hair that hangs halfway down my back, my eyes are bright green, my lips are straight out of a lipstick ad, my complexion is utterly zit free, and I have a body like a swimsuit model.

Okay, I made all that up. You have to watch out for me.

The truth is, except for the excessive curliness of my almost-but-not-quite-red hair, I am mostly invisible. Maybe you think it would be cool to be invisible, and it would be, sometimes. But that's not the kind of invisible I'm talking about. Which is probably why I'm always doing things to get myself in trouble. Because I wou
ld rather not be. Invisible, that is.

I don't know why I'm going on about this. If you want to know what I really look like, go to the school website. You will find a truly hideous photo of a scrawny curly-headed mop-top receiving second place in the regional spelling bee. That's me: Ms. Second Place. I missed on the word “floccinaucinihilipilification,” if you can believe it. I mean, who doesn't know how to spell floccinaucinihilipilification? I got a red ribbon and a ten-dollar gift certificate for Burger Barn. Definitely
not
worth the trouble of reading the entire stupid dictionary from “aardvark” to “zyzzyra.”

Back to Theo Winkleman. I mentioned that he was the first person to be bonked, which of course implies that there was a second. But before I get into that, maybe I should say more about Flinkwater. We are somewhat notorious. Flinkwater, Iowa, is the home
of ACPOD, the largest manufacturer of Articulated Computerized Peripheral Devices in the world. If you own a robot, it probably came from Flinkwater.

What's that? You have no robots? Not even a DustBot? Do you do your own vacuuming? Do you mow your lawn yourself? Are you
insane
? What do you do if you have to defuse a bomb?

Okay, so maybe not everybody has a robot. Yet. But just you wait. And while you're sitting in your robot-free household waiting, you might want to consider getting indoor plumbing. And electricity.

Oops. I am being sarcastic again.

The reason I mention ACPOD is because living in Flinkwater means living around large numbers of Very Smart, Very Geeky people. In other words, ACPOD engineers. Flinkwater has engineers the way Addy Gumm's cats have fleas. In fact, ACPOD employs half of Flinkwater's adult population—including Royce and Amanda Crump, my parents.

Do I need to tell you that Very Smart, Very Geeky parents produce Very Smart, Very Geeky kids?

BOOK: The Flinkwater Factor
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