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Chapter 9 - Aaron

God, the end of the week couldn’t come fast enough. Those five days were one long root canal as far as I’m concerned. All the sound and fury over trivia mania definitely added to that, but every week is way too long. High school is such a waste of my time. Why do I even bother? I’m smarter than most of the teachers here, there’s nothing more for me to learn about American history or calculus, and the social element? In Northwest High School? Please. Northwest is a toilet no matter how you look at it. I’ve known it since the first time I stepped into the building. There’s no sign of intelligent life in this building, just a lot of casual binge drinkers, overprivileged gadget freaks, junkie pothead burnouts and low–forehead lost causes. All of them looking up to assholes like that neanderthal Leonard Vaughn, as though there was anything impressive about being able to throw a ball in a straight line.

Everyone thinks I’m a recluse because I don’t go out on the weekend. Well, why the hell would I want to? With these idiots running around, wasted out of their minds, breaking shit for fun. I’ll pass. Oh, I might go out for Isabel Morelli – she’s probably the finest example of femininity for a hundred miles around, not that there’s much competition out here in the sticks. But other than that, I’m happy right at home where everything makes sense to me.

And it’s a nice home, believe me. Science and achievement have been very good to my family. Joshua Jameson may be a fundie nutjob, but he does have an eye for talent. Father’s been working for Jameson Research since before I was born, and there’s even talk about putting him in charge of this new laboratory complex they’re building south of here. Meanwhile, Mother has probably saved Jameson ten million dollars over the last eight years. If this country were a real meritocracy, then it would be the Bellamys running the Midwest instead of that Bible–thumper and his runaway deadbeat son. But I can live with the nice house. It’s not like we geniuses do what we do for money.

I knew my parents were home when I arrived. “Dad! Mom! I’m home.” There was no response. “Hello?”

“...It’s not a sure thing yet. I haven’t spoken with him in a while.” There were voices from the kitchen. I poked my head in and saw my parents at the table, hard at work on another deal.

“Then we’d better make a good impression,” said Mother. “I can probably get reservations for L’Argent Fou. Do you know if Joshua is bringing all of his children?”

“I don’t know if Ben’s on speaking terms,” said Father. “The girls will probably come along.”

“What about Mr. Zhang?”

“He’s headed to Shanghai to check up on his business.”

“Right, that thing with the teacher. God, what a mess.”

“No way he’ll be back so soon.”

“So that’s seven without Ben?”

I cleared my throat. “...I’m home.”

“Great.” Mother didn’t even look up. “Better make it eight, anyway. If we have to turn someone out because we didn’t plan ahead, it won’t look good for either of us.”

“I put the team together,” I said.

“Aaron, please,” said Father. “We’re busy. Come back when we have time.”

“Okay, I’ll be in my room, then.”

That was okay, it’s not like I expected them to get really excited this early. The game isn’t won until it’s won. I’m sure that once I make the finals and everyone gets really excited, then they’ll turn up. Everyone else does.

My disposition always improves when I step into my room. Why wouldn’t it? I designed the whole thing around a testimony to my achievement. Some people have an accent wall – I have a victory wall. First is a cork board covered in ribbons and photographs from academic meets and scores from various tests. Flanking that are plaques, framed certificates, a shadowbox to show off my medals. And below that – oh yes. It was once a bookshelf until I found a more splendid use for it. There are my trophies, a forest of them, all shiny and lined up with the utmost care. There is but one gap, one unoccupied spot in that beautiful line, and this is the year I finally fill it.

But there’s still more to do, more preparations to make before next week. Everything I needed was carefully arranged on the bed – the laptop, the special notebook with all of my interpersonal research, the camera I borrowed from my father. I flipped on the television – a local station broadcasting some talking head and his theories that Trivia Master was the wave of the future and should be in more schools.

“Game shows based around trivia go back to the pioneering days of television. They’re an enduring tradition. Now, we used to attribute the popularity to a vicarious thrill, people watching folks just like them win big money. But now we’ve got amateurs participating, we’ve got bar trivia nights, computer games, board games, people playing along at home. People don’t do it for money and prizes, they do it because there’s a genuine thrill there, weird as that is to say...”

I swear, people will say any dumb bullshit if it will get them attention. I guarantee that this prick has some profit angle in this.

“...Maybe what we really need to do is take some of that competitive edge and inject it into a higher pursuit. I see Trivia Master as the start of a whole new perspective on how kids learn and study, not just in terms of the trivia itself but also the metagame which has elements of strategy and analysis...”

I heard the phone buzzing in my bag. I muted the television and pulled it out – one of my contacts, someone I’d been dealing with.

“Yeah?”

“24 right, 8 left, 30 right.”

“You’re sure?”

“I tried it out myself, it works. Now are we even?”

“Yeah, we’re even. Lose this number.”

I really hate having to deal with so many dodgy people, but I really don’t have a choice. There’s going to be plenty more of this cloak and dagger foolishness before I’m done. It’s a filthy world, and something you have to get filthy yourself. It’s for the greater good.

I turned the volume back up on the talking head.

“...some critics think that with this approach that we risk trivializing education, if you’ll excuse the turn of phrase, and that there is a risk of the kids becoming overcompetitive. I personally believe that this has been exaggerated by a sensationalist media. Ultimately, this is just a game.”

Yeah, just a game. Just the only game that matters.

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