Our school in Aoustin met in old bentos, sprinkled amongst lived-in bentos. I walked with a small group as we went from one building to the next.
“See over there? There be a new boy,” Crassus said. “He asked as of you, where you could be found.”
“Why?” I asked. “Oh Lord, for why?”
“I know not why. I converse not with outsiders. Such’s I’ve heard. Beau, he yonds himself.”
“He be cuteful,” Vinessa remarked.
I looked towards this new boy. He saw me and started in our direction. I casually parted from the group and walked around a corner, out of his sight. I trotted to the opposite side of another building and ducked between two houses.
By the next day, I had forgotten about this Beau. I panicked when I looked over while returning home from school and saw him standing along my route.
This boy had not learned that outsiders should quietly brood with one another and not talk to the townborn. As he ran up to me, I squared my shoulders to face him.
“Hayo Pierrot, I be Beau,” he said.
I corrected his familiarity. “Pierrot Wa Dignac.”
“Such be what I said, no? Pierrot? Truth?”
“Good enough. What be your name?”
He looked at me, confused. “I told you. Beau….”
“No, your whole name.”
“What be your maternal name?”
“That be part of your name, no?” I insisted.
“Beautoir, I guess.”
“So, your whole name be Beautoir Beautoir Roublarde?”
His eyes scrunched up in irritation. “No, simply Beau. Yagize in Aoustin odd-so about names. I want to query you. You have a computer?”
“Why you ask?”
“That be compelling-so, burrah. You, by truth, have one?”
“Why you care?” I did not trust him.
“No need to be defensive. I create things. Compelling-so.” His enthusiasm seemed sincere.
“You create things? Such as?” I asked.
“Can you help me create hydrogen?”
“Hydrogen? Hydrogen? Why so, hydrogen?” That sounded like an elaborate joke.
“It’s what… it be what Earth-folk used to use for balloons. Wouldn’t that flash your popper?”
“I be confused. Ruth Nowak Kur told me you liked such. She be the one who told me you have a computer. She said you liked old-old Earth sorts.”
I thought for a moment. I had read how zeppelins in the early Twentieth Century used hydrogen as a lifting gas. The Hindenburg flew using hydrogen to lift it. I had watched the video of it falling from the sky in flames. It’s not safe for people to ride in balloons full of hydrogen.
“How so will you use these balloons you make?” I asked.
“Let it float upward, then ignite it and watch it explode.”
“So now,” I said. “Such would be funful. Such be a worthy use of hydrogen.”
“Come so. Let me show to you all the sorts such I have collected. Good sorts.”
I followed him to a shed behind a house in one of the older neighborhoods in which the homes stood close side by side with one another and each house had a small yard in the back. Stone walls separated the back yards from one another.
Inside the shed he had rockets stacked on one another in a wooded box. On the workbench sat a cannon made of a pipe. “I shoot lemons from such.” He pulled out an unusual electrical device attached to wires and a power cell from another box.
“Look so,” he said. “I found this transformer. It elevates nine volts into twenty thousand volts.” He touched the wire to a pole on the cell. Tiny threads of lightning sparked and crackled between two electrodes. That startled me and I jumped back.
“It’s safe,” he told me. “It be safe. Enormous voltages, tiny amperage. See.” He put his hand between the two electrodes and touched the wire to the cell. He yanked his hand back and shook it after a thin arc jumped across the surface of his skin. “You want to see how it feels?” he asked.
I shook my head, “No.”
That little building felt like a small version of Colum’s workshop. I felt at home there.
“What you think?” he asked.
“Compelling-so,” I replied.
“Now, so, will you aid me to create hydrogen, then?”
We walked to Broadway, to the tube station at Ben Brother’s Street to take the tube through town to get to my house. We waited for only fifteen minutes before the tubecar arrived. The already damp and musty station became filled with clouds of steam as the tubecar coasted in and stopped at the platform.
Inside sat just a few people. One or two glanced up. I felt self-conscious, standing with Beau, an outsider. Fortunately, the driver was the only person I knew.
As the car traveled down Broadway, passengers got on, and passengers got off. At Second Street, Talia Sing Liu entered the tubecar.
“Peace, Pierrot,” she said. “Who be this with you?”
“Hayo,” Beau said, “I be yonded Beau. Who be you?”
She glanced at him sideways and gave a coquettish grin. For all the years I had known her, I had not seen her look at anyone like that before. “Talia,” she said. She had just met him. She should have used her full name.
“I’m new,” Beau said.
“‘I’m?’ You speak so like videos, Beau.”
“My wrong. I be new.”
“No. My wrong. I enjoy it. I’m enjoy hearing you.”
One of the men sitting near us looked up at Talia with a smirk.
Beau asked Talia where she lived, how many siblings she had, and what her favorite gunny was. I watched as he kept asking questions, and she smiled. I saw a part of her I had never seen before. I felt jealous of Beau even though I never thought her attractive.
“So, you like Cathy Glad,” Beau said about her favorite gunny. “Compelling.”
“Beau be an outsider,” I told her.
“I know so. Indeed,” Talia said. “Compelling.”
The flirting continued. Talia missed her stop. We finally got to Swamp Ditch Station, the station closest to my house.
“Peace, Talia,” Beau said as we exited the car. “I desire to know you better. Later?”
Talia’s skin was light enough that I could see she blushed. “Peace, Beau.”
At home, I asked Beau to stay in the other room as I pulled the computer out of its hiding place. I sat at the dining table and opened the device. Beau sat next to me.
“You be so fortunate,” Beau said. “You be the first person our age who owns a computer.”
“I own it not. A friend of my father lent it to me.”
“How do I make hydrogen?” I asked the computer.
“On what scale?” the computer replied.
“Yowze. You speak English,” Beau said.
“Everyone speaks English.”
“No. Intelligences English. So good. My mother doesn’t like it when I speak such as folks do here.”
“How much hydrogen?” I asked him.
“Yes. Yes. I…. Let’s see. How about a cubic meter? Yes. That’s enough.”
“Do you have water and an electrical source? Do you have sodium bicarbonate or sodium chloride?” the computer asked.
“What’s sodium bicarbonate?” I asked. “What’s sodium chloride?”
“Sodium chloride is salt,” Beau said. “I have that. I have a power cell.”
“Mix the sodium chloride as an electrolyte with the water,” the computer said. “Place two electrodes connected to your power source into the water mixture. Use graphite rods for the electrodes. Hydrogen gas collects at the negatively charged electrode, chlorine gas at the positive one.”
“Compelling!” Beau exclaimed. “I’ve heard about these things. How compelling. That’s what we’ll do.”
“That’s what… we… will do?”
“Come on. You know you want to make it. It’ll be funful. Come to my laboratory tomorrow. I will amass what we need.”
“No,” I said. “Not tomorrow. I promised Jessica Traore Dasilva I’d help her.”
The next day I arranged shelves in Jessica Traore Dasilva’s warehouse.”
Aunt Sharon asked me to help load maize the day after that. So that is what I did after school on that day. On the third day, Kev returned, and I unloaded the Miss Genius. So, for three days, I worked at the docks after school and forgot about Beau and his hydrogen.
Marvin and I walked towards the docks when I heard someone shout, “Pierrot!”
I turned. It was Beau.
“How so your creating hydrogen settle?” I asked.
“Hydrogen?” Marvin asked.
“It worked. Not well,” Beau said. He turned to Marvin. “Hayo. I be Beau.”
“Marvin be my name,” Marvin said.
“You asked not my maternal and paternal names.” Beau laughed. “How nice.”
“No. And I won’t ask you, either. Now so, Pierrot. It barely worked,” Beau said.
“What didn’t work?”
“Barely worked. It barely worked. Making hydrogen. All I got were a few tiny bubbles. Nothing close to what I need to fill a balloon. Do you have carbon rods? How about a stronger electric source?”
I thought. “We have some graphite sticks. For writing. And a cassie no one uses.”
“Well! There we go. Our problem solved.”
Making hydrogen had not been my problem. I almost told Beau that. The more I considered the challenge, the more interesting it sounded.
“Okay, then. We’re going to the docks. That’s where the graphite sticks and cassie are.”
The three of us came to the space between the warehouses and the docks.
“Hey Fur Butt, Bait,” Thomas Ivanov Karlsdottir shouted.
I stopped and waved. “I work on some else, now so. I not be at hand today.”
Marvin stopped. He looked at us, then back at Thomas Ivanov Karlsdottir. “Yes. How be I helpful?”
“Get Samster and meet at the boat. I have totes and toils for you.”
“Revel in your revels,” Marvin said to Beau and me. He trotted off in search of his brother.
“Fur butt? Bait?” Beau started laughing.
“The riverlings have names,” I said flatly. “Come on.”
“I guess you are Bait?”
“Our warehouse is at the end of this row.”
“Why Fur Butt?”
“I never asked.”
“Never asked. Migone. You don’t know why he just got called Fur Butt?”
“It’s one of his river-yondings. Most riverlings call him Cat Boy.”
He stopped and started laughing hard. “No. No. Please, no.”
“You want the graphite and cassie?”
“Please, Bait. I do. Let’s go and get them, Bait.”
“You’re not a riverling. You can’t use river-yondings.”
In our warehouse, I found the box of cloth wrapped graphite sticks. I grabbed six. Next, I looked for the cassie I had seen in the back. After some searching, I found it.
“Arrah. It’s spent,” I said. The little glass window on the side of the cassie had turned gray. It had no charge. “No use.”
“We’ll go to the Intelligences and trade it.”
“I don’t want to go to the Power Plant.”
“Come on. I’ve never been there. It’ll be fun.”
“I don’t like the Intelligences.” I didn’t like them because they scared me.
“Truth? So? We’ll just trade a cassie. We won’t socialize with them.”
When we were almost to the door to the Power Plant, I stopped. Beau continued and realized I had not followed after he had already gone inside. He turned to me.
“Burrah! So compelling. Come on. See this.”
I walked through the door into the Power Plant.
Inside, artificial light showed bright and enhanced the color of our clothes. We stood at one end of a hollow space with rows and rows of columns along the walls. I saw some people from town carrying cassies. Roman Muller Smith had a cart stacked with several cassies and pushed it towards one of the entrances.
Suddenly, a young woman stood beside us. She looked real, but she also looked ethereal and slightly transparent.
“Hello, Pierrot Wa Dignac and Beautoir Roublarde. My name is Sarah. Welcome to the Power Planet. How may I help you?”
I looked at her, amazed. “How do you know my name?”
“We greet each person by their name,” she said. That did not answer my question.
“We need to trade a cassie,” Beau said.
“That power cassette is registered to Sharon Roux Dignac. Do you have permission to use it?”
We both stood there. I did not know permission was required.
“Yes,” I said.
“Mister Dignac, you are lying.”
“The corp’s my family’s corp. I’ll return it to the warehouse when I’m through,” I explained.
“Please do,” the woman said. A blue line appeared at my feet. I follow it with my eyes. It led across the floor to one of the many windows along the wall. “Follow the blue line to the service desk. Take the power cassette you find there and leave the one you have now in its place. Anything else I can do for you?”
I wanted to ask her what, exactly, could the Intelligences do for me. I did not. “No,” I said.
The Accident, the quick disassembly of that shed we made our hydrogen in, was our fault. I admit that. The shed’s immediate dismantling happened because we made hydrogen. More precisely, it happened because we made both hydrogen and chlorine and didn’t segregate the two.
Our using the graphite sticks as electrodes and the cassie as the power source made a difference in how well the electrolysis worked. It worked much better than expected.
I looked at the side of the cassie and wondered how much power to use. Beau looked over my shoulder and then turned the dial.
“That’s too much,” I said. “That’s enough electricity to run a car.”
“Good. That’s what we need.”
I unwrapped the cloth around the graphite sticks, then rewrapped two bundles of graphite with three sticks each. Beau twisted the bare ends of the thick wire around each packet of graphite. He submerged each packet on opposite sides of the tub of saltwater.
Beau flipped the switch on the cassie, and the effect was impressive. The water started roiling. I couldn’t tell if it was boiling or just bubbling from electrolysis.
We started laughing.
“It worked!” Beau exclaimed.
I smelled the chlorine.
“Out, out,” I said. We scrambled out of the small shed, and Beau slammed the door behind us. We did know enough to leave the little building when we smelled the chlorine. Chlorine has an unhealthy side effect of causing death if breathed.
“It worked!” Beau scream.
We both started laughing again.
We walked over to the window and looked in. I could see the shed starting to fill with the greenish chlorine gas. The gas kept rising from the tub.
“How do we turn it off?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I guess…. I guess we let the water run out.”
I looked back into the shed. “Why did you use so much water?”
“That’s how much the computer told us to get one cubic meter of hydrogen.”
“Migone, we made hydrogen. We did it.”
“Oh shit,” Beau said. He pointed to the door. A faint white vapor came out from under it. Again, I smelled the distinct odor of chlorine.
Beau started trotted across the yard. “Get upwind. It’s coming out.” I followed.
Beau stopped once he got to the wall of the yard and could go no further. “We need something to hold the gas, now. It doesn’t do us any good to have the chlorine and hydrogen mixed. We need something to make gas-tight bags. Upriver they use goldbeater skins.”
“Gold beater skins?” I said. “Is that what those damn things are for? I always wondered what in the hell those things were. I can get all you want. They’re expensive, though.”
Beau shook his head. “No, we can’t spend money. I think we can make some big paper bags and coat them with wax.”
I looked back toward the shed just in time to see it explode with a bright blue flash.
It felt as if we were inside a huge drum, and a giant banged it hard. The roof of the shed lifted. The boards that covered the walls fluttered and tumbled in every direction. The frame walls flattened on all sides like a violently blooming flower. The roof hung in the air and then fell to earth. One corner hit first. It bounced. The opposite corner hit the ground, and it bounced as well. The roof jumped back and forth on the ground a couple of times before it came to rest.
Dogs throughout the neighborhood barked with fury in reply to the blast.
We were fortunate. We no longer stood with our faces pressed against the window of the shed.
What we did not know before we made hydrogen was an odd little fact. When sunlight shines on a mixture of chlorine gas and hydrogen gas, the gases will blow up. Who knew? I didn’t.
The shed no longer existed in its former state. A pile of odd items, the roof, and a square dirt spot filled the place where it had been. The concussion strewn boards from the shed along with Beau’s treasures across the year. I watched pieces of shed drop from the sky.
I drew a breath and, after I did, coughed from the chlorine.
“Oh shit,” I heard Beau say. A large splinter of wood, about the size of a pair of scissors, stood out from his arm. At first, I could not understand how he got a piece of wood to do that. Then I realized the splinter stuck in his arm. He grabbed the end and pulled. It came out quickly. Then came the blood.
Beau and I, we became close friends.
“You ever kiss any of them?” Beau and I sat on rough benches eating at school with Pollux Hague Fan. He looked over at some of the girls. My peers matured at different rates. It was very apparent looking at the girls. Puberty had begun to work its magic on some, but not all of them. And puberty had not worked its magic on me. I remained small and wiry while some of the folks my age became either curved young women or tall, deep-voiced, young men.
My most significant interaction with the girls was to taunt them about their superstitions and magic-like beliefs. My young, larval, self, considered it a moral imperative to correct the misguided. None of the religious shared much affection for me because of my efforts.
“No,” I said. “Not a one.”
Beau was pleased with my answer.
“The girls, they don’t like me,” I added.
He laughed when I told him the lack of affection towards me. “It’s the same everywhere I move. The boys and girls don’t have anything to do with one another. Let me tell you when I come in from the outside… You know. Girls love me. It’s like throwing meat into a pit of dogs. It’s compelling, burrah.” He paused. “If you could, who would you do it with?”
“It’s the kibbutz effect,” I told him.
“What the hell are you talking? Kill boots effect?” Beau looked at me, irritated and perplexed.
“Kibbutz. A type of small settlement on Earth. They would build them in a desert. I’ve read about them. When youngs grow up in these small communities with one another, they don’t pair off.”
“You’re making this up?” He still looked irritated.
He smiled. “Well, the better for me then!”
Pollux Hague Fan spouted forth a name. “Liesl Frei Labba!” That was his answer to Beau’s question about copulating and with whom. Pollux had put in a great deal of time and thought into the subjects of sex and Liesl Frei Labba and those two things in conjunction with one another.
“Who’s that?” Beau looked over at the girls, eating in their little gatherings.
Pollux continued, “No, she’s not here. She’s two years older.” She belonged to the unreachable Older Ones. Liesl had made the transition past puberty and aged in an impressive way that Pollux noticed and appreciated.
Beau made a fake scowl. “That doesn’t count. She’s older. What do you think, Pierrot?”
I thought he was asking me his original question again, about my peers and the act of coitus. I chose to misunderstand him. “Liesl’s my cousin. Third or fourth. Not sure. My mom is a Labba.”
Beau looked at me askance, then looked around at the choices of femininity around us. He asked, “What about her? She’s pretty.” He pointed towards Reanne Ajam Li. She recently metamorphized from her previous, childlike, linear form prelude to her new, mature, curviform essence. As Xavi put it, she had pupated and emerged a chrysalis.
I looked back at him. “She thinks I’m an ass.” I knew she did. She said so. I once confronted her about what she believed and her god. I had made a great argument that her beliefs were merely empty superstitions. “You worship a mythical, superhuman, zombie, and the more anyone challenges you, the more you become blindly faithful in the imaginings of an ancient, misogynistic, zealot who completely redefined an ethnic superstition and applied it to everyone,” I told her. I was very proud of my argument.
She countered with, “Pierrot, you be such an ass.”
“Wow…. Shit…. No, Pierrot. That’s a heaping pile of meanness. You’re not just an ass. You’re an idiot. You haven’t seen a girl naked, have you? You never will. Don’t end up like Colum Fountain Curio,” he said, looking at me. I did not realize he knew Colum was. That hurt. I did want to be like Colum. “Kill boots or not,” Beau grumbled.