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by Miracle Jones
“Alright, listen up, listen up. I knew I said there was gonna be a quiz today on the Securities Act of 1933, but that’s been postponed till tomorrow. Got some news from the district.”
Miss Pickett opens the cardboard box. It is full of bright yellow educational phones courtesy of the Apple Corporation and Wayne Enterprises.
“Well, looks like the rule on ‘no cell phones in school’ has been suspended,” she says. “You all get a phone. Orders from administration.”
She hold one up. Everybody cheers. Her heart sinks.
She walks down the rows of desks handing out the cell phones. She also receives a red “Teacher’s Phone” which allows her to see the messages that kids are sending to each other, to update the phones of the kids in her classes with information about assignments, to administer educational games and videos, and to grade homework. She can also use it to directly call the principal or the police, whereas the student phones do not make actual outbound calls, though they are able to text each other while on school property.
The entire period is spent running through these rules for use which have been handed down from the district. Phones are considered school property, like textbooks. They are subject to search at any time and all texts and transmissions may be monitored. No new programs are allowed to be installed on these phones. Phones must be turned in at the end of the year and any damage to the phones must be paid for by each student. Stealing the phone of another student is considered a level 3 conduct offense and will be met with expulsion.
Her favorite student is this kid Anais who is about foot taller than all the boys and she has these thick glasses that magnify her eyes, making her look perpetually surprised. She is real into anime and RPGs and tabletop miniatures and doesn’t give a fuck if anybody else cares. Miss Pickett is sort of in awe of Anais.
Anais receives her phone without even really acknowledging it, barely looking up from her copy of “The Power Broker” manga. She often reads in class instead of participating in discussion, and Miss Pickett doesn’t blame her. Anais is not really getting along with any of the other students this year ever since that television crew came and interviewed her about the website she is secretly running. The website uses Twitter to determine the most ephemeral and virulent meme of each day, stores it, and then reposts it six months later. People visit the website to hazily recall things they were mad about, things that they found funny for some reason, the hoaxes and outright lies they urged on their families and friends. The website is called “The Things They Shared,” and gets millions of hits each day. Anais has confessed to Miss Pickett that she is thinking of taking it down. It has become too popular, she says.
Later, in the teacher’s lounge, Miss Pickett crunches on the ice left over in her Styrofoam cup of Diet Coke, thumbing through the teacher’s edition of “America: Past Makes Present,” the 10th grade U.S. History textbook that has now been rendered irrelevant.
“Well, these textbooks were terrible anyway,” says Miss Pickett. “The cover on this history book should have just been a white hand holding a bunch of Reese’s pieces.”
“The stock market unit this year is going to be amazing thanks to these phones,” says Mr. Crump, the economics teacher. “The district is going to let the students buy and keep these things called Stocklets for the year. The company that makes the app just finished doing an exclusive trial with these New England prep schools, and now they are opening the app up to the public. It’s still in beta, though. Isn’t that cool? These apps aren’t even available to brokers yet.”
“What are Stocklets?” asked Miss Pickett.
“These little apps that you keep on your phone that grow and change and do all sorts of weird stuff depending on how much stock you buy and how well or poorly the stock that your app represents is doing,” said Mr. Crump. “They are like Pokemon, but for stocks. It’s gonna be wild. It’s never too early to teach kids about the glories and perils of strategic investment.”
“Are they going to be using real money?” Miss Picket asked.
“Yeah, they get a hundred dollar allotment from Stocklets,” said Mr. Crump. “Isn’t that wild? After six weeks, they can cash out. Teachers can play too. The app comes standard on each of the phones. Here, I’ll show you. It’s like a game. You can sell and trade them to your friends.”
Mr. Crump takes his red teacher’s phone and pulls up the app that lets you buy Stocklets from participating corporations, which includes most of the NYSE. It shows that his balance stands at 100.00 USD.
“So what stock should I buy?” asks Mr. Crump.
“Apple, I guess,” says Miss Pickett.
Mr. Crump types in Apple and the Stocklet comes up, a silver spaceship with green piping that has a silver Apple logo on the side. The spaceship hovers in the air, rotating while it is highlighted.
“Neat, huh?” says Mr. Crump.
“What happens if you buy more shares?” asks Miss Pickett.
“You upgrade the spaceship,” says Mr. Crump. “It gets bigger and more elaborate, slowly turning into a space station. But that takes millions.”
“How can you tell if your stock is going up or down in value?” asks Miss Pickett.
“Each Stocklet is different,” says Mr. Crump. “This one glows when it is going up, and gets all faded and dirty when it is going down. The spaceship is supposed to evolve into cooler new versions as the price hits new plateaus. But that’s up to Apple.”
“Do you think it is wise to be using class time to teach children how to gamble on the stock market?” asks Miss Pickett acidly.
“You can buy lottery tickets at every single convenience store in the state,” he replies. “Playing the stock market rewards knowledge of world events and economic indicators. Investment is finally opening up to the masses. Kids love games, right?”
The next day in class, predictably, her students are mesmerized by their phones. She hasn’t mastered her Teacher’s Phone yet, but she is able to see that most of them are not paying any attention to the history lesson plan she has written. It is fucking tough to teach kids in Texas about the New Deal. Eventually, she gets so annoyed that she presses the “Kill Switch,” turning all the phones off.
The class groans.
“What are you all so obsessed about on these phones?” she asks.
“It’s Anais,” says Milo Mattson from the back of the class. “We are all getting rekt at the stock market, but she is Our Overlord. She made ten grand yesterday.”
“In real money?” asks Miss Pickett.
“Yeah,” says Milo. “She gets to keep it, too. She still has six weeks left to play. She’s gonna be a billionaire. I love you, Anais. I want to have your babies.”
“Is this true, Anais?” asks Miss Pickett.
Anais hangs her head, looking sheepish. “I saw there was going to be a big bump in PetroChina as a result of new military operations in the South China Sea. But I divested quickly and bought Gazprom instead. Russia was likely to respond to the aggression, and obviously they did. You can’t mobilize troops without oil, though.”
“So you have ten grand now?” asks Miss Pickett.
“In Gazprom and Walmart,” she says, showing Miss Pickett the Stocklets on her phone. A bear riding a unicycle and a red white and blue shopping cart glow brightly. The bear is spinning the wheels of his unicycle furiously and chugging vodka.
“I am going to diversify now, though,” says Anais. “Time to spread out.”
After class, Miss Pickett tries to figure out how to buy Stocklets herself. She gives up quickly though. She finds everything about smartphones annoying. They are the opposite of the internet, like how cars were the opposite of mass transit and made the world a giant bag of shit.
During her free period, she is gathering her stuff together to eat lunch in the Teacher’s Lounge, when Anais comes in.
“Is that a new backpack?” asks Miss Pickett.
“I bought it from Aaron Spencer,” says Anais. “He was showing it off at lunch and I wanted him to shut up.”
The bag is made of real leather.
Anais sits down at her desk.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” says Anais.
“Sure,” says Miss Pickett.
“You are the only teacher here that I like,” says Anais. “I just wanted you to know that your job is safe and nothing bad is going to happen to you.”
“Okay Anais,” says Miss Pickett.
“I also wanted to bounce some ideas off you,” says Anais. “I can’t really talk to anyone else. They don’t care about history or anything.”
“What’s bothering you?” says Miss Pickett.
“Well, I was just wondering if you think this ‘civil war’ in Argentina will last a long time or not,” says Anais. “I am thinking about shorting silver. How many existential crises is a prosperous country likely to have? Only one or two, right?”
“That’s not really my area of expertise,” says Miss Pickett.
“That’s okay,” says Anais. “I just want to know what you think about civil wars.”
“Well, classically, rebellions in countries surrounded by stable allies are only successful if they are able to convince these supposed allies that it is in their best interests to support their right to trade,” says Miss Pickett. “Look at how the British supported the Confederacy, for instance. Or how France supported the Cavaliers.”
“That’s a good point,” says Anais. “I think I am going to short silver. Hot tip, Miss Pickett. Now’s the time to sell your silver.”
“I don’t have any silver,” says Miss Pickett.
“Of course you don’t,” says Anais, smiling sweetly. “Well, don’t buy any.”
Back in the Teacher’s Lounge, Miss Pickett sets her bag down and pulls out the peanut butter sandwich she has prepared for lunch along with a bag of “Flaming Hot Cheetos,” bought from the vending machine. The first time that the she grabs her peanut butter sandwich and the divots from her fingers stain the bread with bright red Cheetos powder, she sets her sandwich aside, no longer hungry.
Mr. Crump is in the corner, already addicted to the capacities of his bright red Teacher’s Phone, intensely tapping away.
“Get this,” says Miss Pickett, joining him. “Anais told me this morning that she has made ten thousand dollars playing the stock market in one night.”
“That was this morning,” says Mr. Crump, without looking up. “Her holdings are growing exponentially. She is on the board of directors at Wayne Enterprises now.”
“What does Wayne Enterprises even do?” asks Miss Pickett. “Does anybody know?”
Mr. Crump looks up from his phone for the first time. He stares off into space, squinting.
“Chemicals,” he says, finally. “They are a chemical company. There is also some military contracting, I think.”
“But this is all just for fun, right?” asks Miss Pickett.
“It’s real money,” says Mr. Crump. “In one day, she has made more money than most people will ever make in their entire life. Do we stop her? What do we do? I am trying to follow her trades; to latch on to her quicksilver little mind and anticipate her maneuvers, but she is too fast for me. She hired some Rice University student to write an encryption algorithm for her phone and now I am locked out.”
“There’s nothing illegal going on, right?” asks Miss Pickett. “She is quite smart.”
“Huh?” says Mr. Crump. “No, there’s nothing illegal about being a financial genius.”
The next day at school, the halls are much noisier than usual. It seems like many of the teachers have chosen to stay home.
There are guards posted in front of Miss Pickett’s classroom. She frowns at them and realizes she doesn’t recognize them. They aren’t the normal campus security. They are both wearing purple velour tracksuits with dollar signs on the back.
“Uh, hello,” says Miss Pickett. “This is my classroom.”
One of the security guards whispers something into his lapel. The other doesn’t even look up from his phone.
“You can go in,” he says.
“I know I can go in,” says Miss Pickett, opening the door to her classroom.
Her classroom is full of people, but not her usual first-period. Students and teachers occupy every seat. She recognizes the entire math department and most of the seniors from the “Gifted and Talented” program. They are all furiously typing away into their yellow phones. Her whiteboard is full of graphs and charts. Anais is sitting cross legged on Miss Pickett’s desk, holding a red Teacher’s Phone which she is checking periodically. She is reading a thick book by William Gaddis and drinking a cup of tea. She is dressed in a skin-tight purple Betsy Johnson dress and she has new glasses. She is wearing a giant green dollar sign around her neck on a gold chain that is glowing with some kind of fiber optics. Her hair is dyed red.
“What is going on here?” asks Miss Pickett. “Why do you have a Teacher’s Phone?”
“I bought it from Mr. Crump for a million dollars,” says Anais. “I like Mr. Crump. He asked if I wanted to marry him. Can you believe that? Said we could move to Denmark, where no one would ask any questions. I told him to die in a fire. It’s just an expression, though.”
“How much money did you make last night?” asks Miss Pickett.
“Not as much as I made this morning. I needed it, though. You wouldn’t believe how much it cost me to buy this school for instance. It felt like the right thing to do. It has sentimental value.”
“Anais,” says Miss Pickett. “Are all these people working for you?”
“Well,” says Anais. “Kinda. I don’t like the idea of having employees. They are working for a percentage, managing some of my holdings. It’s a lot of money to them, though. The math department practically begged me to do it.”
“I am very pleased that you have found something that you enjoy,” says Miss Pickett. “But you are being quite disruptive, you know? Do you really think it is fair that you have essentially shut the school down?”
“Dunno,” says Anais. “I mean, I bought a lot of things today. I bought a Nascar racetrack in Tennessee which I am gonna turn into a massive LARP theme park. Uh, I bought a good chunk of the Sudan from China, just to fuck with them. I am probably gonna give it back to the Sudan, you know? Why should China own the Sudan? I bought a company called “WIZARDHAT” and I don’t even know what it does. I am going to turn it into a novelty condom company. I bought a few mansions, including the furniture. I made ginormous campaign contributions to both of our Senators. I bought a decommissioned nuclear silo in the base of a Sumatran volcano where I am planning to live from now on. I bought controlling shares in a company that does private “space fulfillment” operations for NASA, and so I guess I am going to be an astronaut, which is kind of a dream come true. Oh, also I bought the band “Lifehouse.” Did you know they were still around? Anyway, I got them cheap. Gonna put them in my volcano. They did that song “Hanging by a Moment.” I was always planning on losing my virginity to that song. But why lose your virginity to a song when you can lose it to a band?”
The lights go out and there is the noise of a scuffle outside. The door bangs open, but it is still too dark to see. Miss Pickett grabs the side of her desk to steady herself.
One person turns on the light on their smartphone, and then everybody else does, shooting beams across the room.
In the inky darkness, a tall man in a black Kevlar body suit with a bat mask and a bat cape stands majestically on one of the student’s desks, towering over everyone. His suit makes him look like he is full of muscles and power, but he is not inherently a tall man.
“WHERE IS HE?” roars the man in the sex suit.
“Um, who are you talking about?” asks Anais.
“I am looking for Lex Luthor…it has to be him,” he says. He grabs Miss Pickett and lifts her into the air. He is surprisingly strong.
“Is it Egghead?” asks the man in the sex suit. “Did Egghead do this?”
“Do what?” says Anais.
“Bankrupt Wayne Industries, buy up the plummeting shares, and turn them into a women’s health nonprofit,” says the man in the sex suit. “WHERE IS LEX LUTHOR?”
“Oh, I did that,” says Anais. “Yeah, it seemed like a good idea. I was on a roll. Do you work for Wayne Enterprises? You guys are gonna make great birth control, now. Chemicals! Also, thanks for the phones!”
She holds up her smartphone. She squints at him.
“Aren’t you like…the CEO or something? Bruce Wayne?”
“I…no I am not!” says the man in the sex suit. “I am a man of darkness who fights crime.”
“Well, anyway, I’m the one you are looking for,” says Anais. “Wayne Enterprises was way overvalued, by the way. You should thank me.”
“Thank you? I…I’m dead broke. I’ve got recurring monthly payments set up for VERY IMPORTANT THINGS LITTLE GIRL.”
“I assure you that everything I did was entirely legal,” says Anais. “I mean, maybe I did it more quickly than people usually get things done, but hey, it’s all still new to me. I once beat all of XCOM: Enemy Unknown in one night.”
“You are some kind of capitalist supervillain,” says the man in the sex suit.
“That’s a bit dramatic,” says Anais. “I mean, I think I am pretty good at this, but my plan is just to, you know, disrupt things. I figure at the pace I am going, world players are gonna take notice soon, and then things will really get interesting. I think I am going to tax myself at a rate of 90% and open up a whole bunch of free hospitals in American cities. Fuck diseases. I am going to keep my volcano, but education is going to change for sure. Fuck not knowing things good.”
“How are you doing this?” asks the man in the sex suit.
“It’s really not particularly complicated,” says Anais. “Everything is so connected now. You just have to know which indicators are for real and which ones are garbage. I mean, I have played a lot of RPGs, so I know what I am doing. There isn’t a lot of strategy to it. You just grind away at your characters and keep leveling up and know which ones to deploy for any given fight. You know, like, uh, what stocks are immune to fire magic and so on.”
The man in the sex suit kicks over a desk.
“You are a bad person,” he says to Anais. “I need money to fight crime.”
“The root cause of crime is obviously perceived and actual social and financial inequality,” says Anais. “I mean, I guess there are a few serial killers out there, but like, just the math of it is that there are gonna be more poor sociopaths than rich sociopaths because there are more poor people. A lot more! And people who are not sociopaths can obviously be happy if they are lifted out from the crippling circumstances of dire poverty. This just seems obvious. Isn’t it obvious to you?”
“Sure,” says the man in the sex suit. “I have gala fundraisers like once a week. But power corrupts…wealth must stay in the hands of the uh…
The man in the sex suit kicks over another desk.
“Goddammit, how am I going to do my science,” he says.
Anais looks sad for him.
“You can come live with me in my volcano if you want,” says Anais. “Miss Pickett, do you want me to buy the man in this cape for you? He’s not my type, but I think he is a scientist. I do not know what he actually looks like, but he has a nice jaw. If this is actually Bruce Wayne, he is not bad looking.”
“No, that’s okay,” says Miss Pickett.
The man in the sex suit frowns at both of them.
“You are here to defend capitalism,” says Anais. “And that is cool, that is very cool. But everything I am doing is perfectly legal. In fact, I am the MOST capitalist. Hey, you should defend me! You can be me and Lifehouse’s bodyguard! You can even keep your weird muscle spandex. In fact, what’s your email? I’ll PayPal you some walking around money, now that Wayne Enterprises is broke and all.”
The man in the sex suit begins screaming. He jumps out the window, crashing through it, sending shards of glass flying everywhere. A few students are cut, but not severely. Miss Pickett and Anais run to the window, but there is no sign of him.
“This is a fun game,” says Anais. “The better you do at it, the more able you are to influence outcomes. My only worry is that I am gonna get lazy.”
“There are all kinds of games in the world,” says Miss Pickett. “You don’t just have to pick one, you know.”
“Yeah,” says Anais. “This one kind of feels picked for me, though. That’s the bad part. Maybe I can do something about that, once I win. Seems like you should get to choose your economic system, and the default setting should be some kind of bland and congenial socialism.”
“Maybe,” says Miss Pickett.
Miss Pickett feels sort of sick. She has been working her entire life to feed herself and have a place to stay. It has never felt like a game to her. More like a sad sitcom.
“It IS a game, though, isn’t it?” says Miss Pickett.
“Yeah,” says Anais. “Not a very good one. But it will get better once more people are playing. These sorts of sandbox games aren’t any fun unless there are just tons and tons of people playing. Basic game design, really. Jesus, it’s like this thing has never even been playtested. Capitalism: two stars, can’t wait for the sequel.”
(c) Miracle Jones 2015