The Earth Is Flat, and I Am No One
by Steven Fischer
Yume sits down at the table and smiles. "I took a trip to London last night."
I keep picking away at the rice on my lunch tray, wondering what she finds funny in stupid jokes like these. She might as well have told me that the Earth was flat.
"Tokyo to London takes nine hours by vac tube." I fish a hunk of tofu from my miso soup and shovel it into my mouth. "Besides, the carbon cost of the one way alone is more than your parents make in a year."
I know because it's more than my parents make in a year, and vault technicians make more than teachers. And because I've tracked the transportation ledgers every morning since I was six.
Yume knows all this, too. She knows that I've always wanted to see London. To visit the place that my family came from--somewhere I'm not the only kid with white skin and blonde hair. Somewhere I fit in. Somewhere I can be no one.
She knows it's why I've been saving carbon credits since the day I started school. And why I'm eating rice and miso instead of something I can actually taste. She knows all this, but she's a weirdo, so she makes the joke anyway.
I keep waiting for her to laugh, but she doesn't. Instead, she pulls a package out of her jacket and sets it on the table between us. "I'm not joking, Jess."
"Mmhmm," I mumble through a mouthful of rice. "Course you aren't."
She sighs and pushes her glasses up her nose. "I'm not. Honest. Just open the package."
I lift the lid off the little box and swallow hard. Inside, there's a scale model of Big Ben.
"It's real," she says. "Check the imprint."
She could have bought it through a vendor on the net, but even then the shipping would have cost her a fortune, and she would have needed to order it weeks ago.
"Okay. Prove it."
Her garage is buried in a mountain of trash. Wires, scrap metal, circuit boards, and lights. She's never invited me over before, and now I think I finally know why.
"Jesus, Yume," I say. "This looks worse than the wastelands outside the vault."
She takes my hand and leads me through a path in the refuse, rusty old car parts stacked up to the walls. "Laugh all you want," she says. "Just wait till you see it."
"See what?" I ask. "Some teleportation machine?"
Yume grins and pulls me deeper into the mess, then flips the switch on the wall to turn on the lights. "Ta da!"
There's something sitting in the center of the room, although I can't properly tell if it's a machine or art. I can make out the outline of an old auto chassis, but she's welded and bolted so many things onto it that I'm not sure where the structure starts and ends. A tangle of cables stream out from one end and into the outlet at the base of the wall.
"Well?" she asks. "What do you think?"
I have to admit it's elaborate, even for her. It must have taken her the better part of the semester to mangle this thing together. All for the sake of the world's weirdest joke.
"I think you're insane," I chuckle. "But you get points for commitment."
She frowns and pushes her glasses up her nose. "You don't believe me, do you?"
I shake my head. "No, I don't."
She sighs and pulls me towards the contraption. "Come on. I'll show you."
She climbs inside and pats the leather chair next to her, then points to the chalkboard that she's nailed to the wall. Its surface is a mess of equations and sketches.
"It's not really that complicated," she says. "You've just got to think a bit outside the box."
Despite my better judgment, I climb inside and take a seat next to her.