22 January 2010

"The Kid Who Noticed Things"

By Curtis C. Chen

Everyone knew Jason Hawn had uncanny powers of observation, but nobody cared much until the day he rescued a cat from the President of the United States.

The President was one of the life-sized robots made for Lemarr Smith's re-election campaign. After Smith won, most of the robots were shut down by remote—they all had built-in radios to receive updated speeches every week during the campaign. Many of the robots disappeared, presumably stripped for parts; the few left standing were reprogrammed to deliver new talking points.

Every day after school, Jason walked past the President outside the western entrance to Linchpin Shoppingtown. This was one of the first Presidents installed anywhere in the country, and its weatherproof exterior was printed with a texture map of a three-piece suit. It had long since stopped talking, but one arm still waved whenever it sensed motion nearby.

The cat in question was a feral female who lived in the woods behind the mall. A variety of wild animals came and went through the battered chain-link fence, foraging in the dumpsters by night.

On this particular afternoon, Jason noticed something fuzzy wriggling in the shadow of the Linchpin President. Normally, he would have ignored it, not wanting to delay his daily pilgrimage to Zeta Blasters, but then he heard a noise.


Jason stopped and turned. He could just make out the shape of the cat's head, her ears flattened suspiciously.

"What are you doing down there?" he said.

"Meow," the cat replied.

Jason knelt down. The cat was wedged in the seam between the President's trouser legs. As Jason moved closer, the cat groaned and tried to move away. He saw one of her front paws touching the back of the President's left leg. One of the cat's claws had sunk into the President's plastic exterior and was now stuck.

"Hunting something, were you?" Jason muttered. "Okay, now, don't hurt me."

"Meow!" the cat complained as Jason tugged at her front leg.

"Relax," Jason said. "I just need to lift this—"

The claw came loose with a ripping noise, and the cat kicked her legs against the President and Jason's arm. Then she was a brownish blur streaking toward the treeline.

"You're welcome!" Jason called after her.

He turned back to the robot and inspected its torn casing. Inside, he could see electronic components wired into the robot's metal skeleton. He had expected the only circuitry to be up near the President's head, where the speakers were located. Jason himself had built a digital audio player in science class last year, and that hadn't been much bigger than a deck of cards, even with the battery pack. What in the world could all this extra tech be needed for?

Jason touched the side of his eyeglass frames, storing an image of the President's innards, then stood up and walked into the mall. He could research this stuff on Wikipedia later. The afternoon rush was almost upon Zeta Blasters, and he wanted to be first in line to play the new gravity booth.


Photo: Thomas Starr King statue inside U.S. Capitol, July, 2008.