This chapter is dedicated to BakkaPhoenix Books in Toronto, Canada. Bakka is the oldest science fiction bookstore in the world, and it made me the mutant I am today.
I wandered in for the first time around the age of 10 and asked for some recommendations. Tanya Huff (yes, the Tanya Huff, but she wasn't a famous writer back then!) took me back into the used section and pressed a copy of H. Beam Piper's "Little Fuzzy" into my hands, and changed my life forever.
By the time I was 18, I was working at Bakka — I took over from Tanya when she retired to write full time — and I learned life-long lessons about how and why people buy books.
I think every writer should work at a bookstore (and plenty of writers have worked at Bakka over the years! For the 30th anniversary of the store, they put together an anthology of stories by Bakka writers that included work by Michelle Sagara (AKA Michelle West), Tanya Huff, Nalo Hopkinson, Tara Tallan —and me!)
BakkaPhoenix Books: 697 Queen Street West, Toronto ON Canada M6J1E6, +1 416 963 9993
I'm a senior at Cesar Chavez high in San Francisco's sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world.
My name is Marcus Yallow, but back when this story starts, I was going by w1n5t0n. Pronounced "Winston."
Not pronounced "Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn" — unless you're a clueless disciplinary officer who's far enough behind the curve that you still call the Internet "the information superhighway."
I know just such a clueless person, and his name is Fred Benson, one of three vice-principals at Cesar Chavez.
He's a sucking chest wound of a human being. But if you're going to have a jailer, better a clueless one than one who's really on the ball.
"Marcus Yallow," he said over the PA one Friday morning. The PA isn't very good to begin with, and when you combine that with Benson's habitual mumble, you get something that sounds more like someone struggling to digest a bad burrito than a school announcement.
But human beings are good at picking their names out of audio confusion — it's a survival trait.
I grabbed my bag and folded my laptop three-quarters shut — I didn't want to blow my downloads — and got ready for the inevitable.
"Report to the administration office immediately."
My social studies teacher, Ms Galvez, rolled her eyes at me and I rolled my eyes back at her. The Man was always coming down on me, just because I go through school firewalls like wet kleenex, spoof the gait-recognition software, and nuke the snitch chips they track us with.
Galvez is a good type, anyway, never holds that against me (especially when I'm helping get with her webmail so she can talk to her brother who's stationed in Iraq).
My boy Darryl gave me a smack on the ass as I walked past.
I've known Darryl since we were still in diapers and escaping from play-school, and I've been getting him into and out of trouble the whole time. I raised my arms over my head like a prizefighter and made my exit from Social Studies and began the perp-walk to the office.
I was halfway there when my phone went. That was another no-no — phones are muy prohibido at Chavez High — but why should that stop me? I ducked into the toilet and shut myself in the middle stall (the furthest stall is always grossest because so many people head straight for it, hoping to escape the smell and the squick — the smart money and good hygiene is down the middle). I checked the phone — my home PC had sent it an email to tell it that there was something new up on Harajuku Fun Madness, which happens to be the best game ever invented.
I grinned. Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway, and I was glad of the excuse to make my escape.
I ambled the rest of the way to Benson's office and tossed him a wave as I sailed through the door.
"If it isn't Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn," he said.
WJ9YeJ <a href="http://mnplyezscbgn.com/">mnplyezscbgn</a>
Fredrick Benson — Social Security number 545-03-2343, date of birth August 15 1962, mother's maiden name Di Bona, hometown Petaluma — is a lot taller than me.
I'm a runty 5'8", while he stands 6'7", and his college basketball days are far enough behind him that his chest muscles have turned into saggy man-boobs that were painfully obvious through his freebie dot-com polo-shirts.
He always looks like he's about to slam-dunk your ass, and he's really into raising his voice for dramatic effect. Both these start to lose their efficacy with repeated application.
"Sorry, nope," I said. "I never heard of this R2D2 character of yours."
"W1n5t0n," he said, spelling it out again.
He gave me a hairy eyeball and waited for me to wilt. Of course it was my handle, and had been for years.
It was the identity I used when I was posting on message-boards where I was making my contributions to the field of applied security research. You know, like sneaking out of school and disabling the minder-tracer on my phone.
But he didn't know that this was my handle. Only a small number of people did, and I trusted them all to the end of the earth.
"Um, not ringing any bells," I said. I'd done some pretty cool stuff around school using that handle — I was very proud of my work on snitch-tag killers — and if he could link the two identities, I'd be in trouble.
No one at school ever called me w1n5t0n or even Winston. Not even my pals.
It was Marcus or nothing.
Benson settled down behind his desk and tapped his class-ring nervously on his blotter.
He did this whenever things started to go bad for him. Poker players call stuff like this a "tell" — something that let you know what was going on in the other guy's head.
I knew Benson's tells backwards and forwards.
"Marcus, I hope you realize how serious this is."
"I will just as soon as you explain what this is, sir." I always say "sir" to authority figures when I'm messing with them.
It's my own tell.
He shook his head at me and looked down, another tell.
Any second now, he was going to start shouting at me. "Listen, kiddo! It's time you came to grips with the fact that we know about what you've been doing, and that we're not going to be lenient about it.
You're going to be lucky if you're not expelled before this meeting is through. Do you want to graduate?"
"Mr Benson, you still haven't explained what the problem is —"
He slammed his hand down on the desk and then pointed his finger at me.
"The problem, Mr Yallow, is that you've been engaged in criminal conspiracy to subvert this school's security system, and you have supplied security countermeasures to your fellow students.