Portrait of the geek as a young man: Author Robert Gillis hard at work writing, 1985.
Portrait of the geek as a young man: Author Robert Gillis hard at work writing a story on his trusty TI-99 4/a computer, 1985.

by Robert Gillis, 1985

More excerpts from Abucs Scenario, as Tripp tries to unravel the mystery that is JB — and unravels in the process. Note that these are excerpts from a larger story taking place at our high school in the early 1980s. And to anyone who asks, “What’s JB really like? This is what JB is really like.


The next morning, a junior named Tripp sloshed through a typical Boston downpour and made his way to the computer room, which was deserted, save for one lone figure, typing away.

It was John Bourke.

Tripp wasn’t exactly afraid of JB, but he wasn’t too comfortable with him around, either. It wasn’t that he didn’t like him, for JB was one of Tripp’s best friends. But when you saw one of your best friends throw a baseball half a mile, or vanish in a column of purple smoke, or construct “Battlestar Galactica” hand lasers that actually worked, you tried to be just a bit careful. JB never waited for an elevator, always knew to the second what time his train would arrive, and often hummed songs he said, “Were big hits in 2015.”

This bothered Tripp.

“Hey! What’s up?”

Without looking up, JB replied, “Just a sec!”

“What are you doing?”

“Wait.”

The computer made beep beep sounds and the words “INSTRUCTIONS RECEIVED, TRANSMITTING” appeared on the screen. Instantly, a tremendous explosion rocked the air outside as an intense burst of green energy destroyed a proud oak tree. Without taking his eyes from the screen, JB said, “Good. It worked.”

Tripp screamed and burst from the computer room, down the stairs, out into the rain, and right into JB, who he last saw in the computer room. This, clearly, was impossible.

“How the hell do you do that? It drives me crazy!”

“Do what? I overheard the dean say that this tree would have to be removed because the roots were shaking the foundation of the building. Isn’t it nice that it got struck by lightning, thus saving the school all that money to have it removed?”

“Lightning?” Tripp asked, cleaning his fogged up glasses on his coat.

“Well, that’s what everyone will think. Actually, it was a controlled laser intensity explosive photon burst.”

Tripp decided not to cry as he and a few other curious students examined the small inferno that was quickly consuming the tree. The school dean rushed over to the scene.

“It’s a lucky thing that no one was near the tree when it got hit,” he said.

JB nodded. “I scanned the area first, of course.”

“What?”

“Yes. Very lucky.”

Their friend Bill Collins approached the scene and greeted JB and Tripp. “Hello there!”

JB smiled. “Bill! It worked!”

“Nice job,” Bill replied. “I see the controlled laser intensity explosive photon burst was quite effective.” He noted a small device on top of the science building, which resembled a cable TV dish and asked, “Is that it?”

“Uh huh. I’m already working on the cloaking device to hide it.”

“The Romulan version works best.”

“Thanks. I have to be careful until then. The signal feed overloads at 1.21 gigawatts. When I blew up the tree there was a one in five chance that the explosion would’ve started a chain reaction and destroyed us all.”

Tripp screamed hysterically and burst for the cafeteria.

“A one in five chance that the explosion would’ve started a chain reaction and destroyed us all?” Bill demanded.

JB grinned. “I added that for Tripp’s benefit.”

“Oh.”

“It’s more like one in twenty.”


Bill was mad. Good and mad.

“If two parallel lines, L1 and L2, are cut at a 23 degree angle by line M, and L1 is the base of triangle ABC, and angle C is equal to one third of three times B+(A/2), and angle B is bisected by line K which is tangent to circle E, what is the Sin of acute angle X if G is one third of half the Cos of B?”

Ducking an airborne Geometry book, Tripp approached the scene in the company of JB.

“Hi Bill!” Tripp said.

“Geometry sucks.”

JB began sifting through the contents of his enormous book bag. “And good morning to you too, Bill.”

“I hate it, oh, how I hate it. I have half a mind to go back into the past and zap Euclid, the clown who started it all.”

Tripp shook his head. “I’m confused. How can someone like you not understand geometry? You’re the one always talking about time equations and — ”

“Understand? Tripp,” Bill said, exasperated, “Who said understand? Look. This is Geometry. You can’t imagine what it’s like — ”

“I’ve had geometry.”

Bill ignored that with a wave of his hand. “You can’t imagine what it’s like knowing that what you are studying is wrong, but that you can’t — ”

“Backup. “That you know is wrong?” What the hell is that supposed to mean?!”

“Okay, wrong might be the improper term. How can I put it? It’s like studying an Astronomy book that says Earth is the center of the universe. Or using a computer that requires vacuum tubes. Or trying to trisect a quark with a neutrino wand.”

“I think you’ve killed the analogy, Bill,” JB said.

Tripp wished he’s stayed in bed. “I still don’t…”

Bill smiled that annoying smile he always smiled when he knew he had Tripp right where he wanted him. Tripp hated that smile. “Geometry is based on the fact that there are three dimensions, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“But there are an opto of dimensions, Tripp.”

“Opto? What’s an opto?” Tripp really did not want to know what an opto was.

Bill explained, “It’s a constant proposed by Cassandra of Xenon Prime. It is defined as infinity over N theta delta X plus or minus I, all to the nth power. A point is the first dimension, a line is the second, and the third is volume, height, breadth, and so on. That’s all this geometry stuff can handle. Now, you next have a motion through space, which is time. According to the K’t’lk equation, time has three functions: creation, preservation, and destruction. Therefore — ”

“Bill, shut up. Please. Just shut up.”

Bill directed his attention at JB. “Do you have your book?”

“I think so. My robot Floyd was using it this morning to pound nails into his go cart.”

As JB located the useless text, a small, oddly shaped black pen fell out of his book bag. Stooping over, Tripp picked it up.

“Tripp, DON’T!” Bill screamed as JB snatched the pen and pitched it into the parking lot. Instantly, an orange fireball ripped two small trees right out of the ground, sending a shower of debris high into the air.

“I thought you put a safety on that stupid thing???!!!”

“Come on, Bill, I did. It must have deactivated when he fiddled with it.”


JB was busy. His latest program was taking all of his time.

“Hey, you,” a freshman said, “I think it’s time you let someone else use that terminal.”

As JB continued to type, the freshman babbled, “Look, I’ll report you. I will! You harassed me yesterday.”

JB did not look up. “You stole programs that did not belong to you. All I did was log you out and deny you access for twenty four hours.” He paused for effect, then added, “You were lucky that I was in a good mood.”

The freshman reached over to JB’s book bag and sent it crashing to the floor. A variety of unusual objects fell out, one of which fell “up” out of the bag, flying out the open window, pausing just long enough to explode as it cracked the sound barrier. Besides the fresh
men, no one took any notice of this. They knew JB well.

Grabbing one of the infamous black pens, JB scooped up his scattered belongings. He considered how to handle this. The freshman was either very brave or incredibly stupid.

“I know Karate,” the freshman said simply.

“I know computers,” JB replied, casually glancing over to the freshman’s book bag. The name RAY TERRELL was neatly stenciled in black magic marker. JB pressed a few buttons on the numeric keypad and typed in “Ray Terrell.”

“Those are my grades,” Terrell said softly.

“THEY ARE? Golly, how did that happen? I’d better put them back!” JB said, typing away. The computer made little beeping noises and occasionally displayed all sorts of nonsense.

“Oh, no! I goofed! Instead of putting them back, I accidentally altered them!”

“You can’t do that!” Terrell cried.

“Nonsense. I just did!”

“Will you change them back?”

JB deadpanned. “Change them back? How?”

“Just like you just did!”

“Oh, That’s impossible. You can only do it once.” JB opened Terrell’s book bag, inspected the lunch, and took out an apple. “Mmmm. Macintosh.”

“Can’t you at least try?”

“Well, I guess I could, but…”

“When?”

“Say you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry.”

JB finished the apple. “Say you’re sorry with sugar on it.”

“What?”

“Sugar. It’s a sweet white substance, chemical formula C — ”

“I’m sorry with sugar on it,” Terrell blubbered.

As casually as possible, JB tapped the space bar. Terrell’s grades were once again the way they were supposed to be.

“Mr. Terrell,” JB continued, “You are not only a freshman, you are a wimp. Kindly go. And if you ever knock my book bag over again, I’ll let YOU try to deactivate a Cosmian quark bisector.”


A torrential rain was again falling on Boston as Bill sloshed across the high school courtyard and entered the main hall. He plodded up the stairs and entered the computer room, which was surprisingly crowded.

Bill removed his jacket and sat down next to Tripp. “What’s happening?”

“Nothing yet, thankfully,” Tripp replied.

“Have you seen JB?”

“As I said, nothing is happening. No lasers, no attacking garbage cans. No, I haven’t seen JB this morning.” He closed his eyes and rested his head on his book bag. “Bill, I think I need help. I’m having visions.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Ask me what I had for breakfast yesterday morning. Go ahead! ask me!

Bill very gently rested his chin in his hand and leaned forward. “Say, Tripp, what did you have for breakfast yesterday morning?”

“Floyd the robot served me breakfast in bed. Eggs, bacon, juice, coffee and the morning paper. All combined in a food processor and served on a pancake. I don’t need this, Bill. It would take me a week to list the unusual things JB is capable of! And you always hide those weird blinking machines when I’m around, and then you discuss time equations with McEntire, who, I might add, is running around with a working lightsabre. Finally, Matthews says he’s sending his Valinorian spaceship to destroy us all… I think I’m going crazy.”

The computer room door banged open, and JB said in a loud voice, “THAT’S RIGHT, BOB! IT’S HEADED FOR THE EARTH RIGHT NOW!”

Tripp gagged and knocked his chair over as he got up. “What’s headed for Earth? What?”

“Haley’s comet. Due back in 1986.”

His composure returning, Tripp sat back down. “Oh, thank God.”

JB began talking in whispered tones to Bill and Bob. Tripp decided to ignore what he was thinking and finish some homework.

“That’s him!”

Ray Terrell walked into the computer room with one of the tallest humans JB had ever seen. This large person addressed JB.

“I understand you’ve been giving my little brother trouble.”

JB cast a quick look around. There wasn’t a free terminal in the room. Clearing his throat he said, “Tripp, can I use your terminal for a minute? I’d like to try something new!”

Instantly, twenty students fled. They didn’t even take their books. They knew that when JB said, “Can I try something new on the computer?” that it was time to leave.

Sitting down, JB accessed his account.

The older Terrell pushed JB. “I said, I understand that you’ve been giving my brother trouble.”

“He was stealing programs. I only denied him access for one day.”

“You changed his grades.”

“He threatened me, and unleashed a fully charged Cosmian quark bisector. Besides, his grades are correct now.”

“Never mind the wise answers. Why don’t we just step outside?”

“I’d love to, but I might catch cold in the rain. You, however, might want to get your biology book out there as soon as possible. It’s about to catch fire.”

Terrell’s book burst into flames. He screamed as JB’s tractor field ripped it out of his hands and shot it out the window, where it began to hover in mid air. JB typed in another command or two, and the book began to spin.

Terrell was speechless. His little brother had already run out of the room.

JB typed in PURPLE, pressed a few more keys, and the hovering flaming book exploded into a zillion pieces in a pretty purple blast.

JB did some more typing and Terrell’s book bag was suddenly engulfed in a dazzling force field. The bag, as well as part of the chair next to it, vanished without a trace.

“Your book bag is at the moment on Flight 329 out of Boston to Washington. Get lost.”

Terrell fled.

JB turned around. “Bill, let’s go to the cafeteria with Bob. He has things tell us. Tripp, you stay here and guard the computer room against the storm troopers. Do not, repeat do not, give them directions to Lechmere in Dedham.”

As they left the computer room, Bob said, “You really shouldn’t do that to him.”

“I know,” JB replied. “Now I have to go through all the trouble of generating a storm trooper hologram that keeps following Tripp around, asking him how to get to Dedham Lechmere.”


Twenty years later …

Tripp stretched and let out a satisfied, “Ahhhhhh.” The flight to his corporate headquarters had been uneventful so far, and the nap had done him some good. As president of Tripp Consolidated, it wasn’t often he allowed himself the luxury of relaxation.

Opening his briefcase, he took out his copy of the Wall Street Journal. As he scanned the articles, he noticed the name of a company:

JAY BURKE VIDEO.

No, the spelling wasn’t right anyway. It wasn’t…

Tripp shuddered. Whenever he said JB’s name, JB would appear.

He shook his head and looked around. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he thought to himself. “You haven’t seen JB in nearly five years. There are only two people on this flight: The pilot, and you.”

“John Bourke,” he said aloud, “I’ll never escape you, will I?”

As if in response, there was suddenly a loud knocking noise on the door of the plane. The door whooshed open as snow and wind poured in and John Bourke stepped from twenty thousand feet of nothing into the cabin. Closing the door, he took his scarf off and brushed some snow from his collar.

“Wow!” he exclaimed, “It’s really coming down out there! What a day, huh Tripp?”

“Yes, quite bad isn’t it, JB?” Tripp replied casually. It had been over twenty-five years since the high school days, and as a survival mechanism, Tripp had p
erfected a trick: If it can’t happen, then it doesn’t. Tripp decided to politely engage the hallucination in pleasant conversation and not wake up until it had left.

“So,” Tripp began, “what brings you all the way up here on a nasty day like this?”

JB dug into one of the pockets in his parka and retrieved a one dollar bill. “I need change for a dollar. I went to a Coke machine to get a soda but it doesn’t take dollar bills. ”

“JB, Coke hasn’t been less than a dollar for six years. I should know, I own eight per cent of its stock.”

JB smirked. “I didn’t say what year the machine was in, Tripp. ”

Unruffled, Tripp shrugged and fished in his pocket for a moment. “Three quarters, two dimes and a nickel okay?”

JB gave Tripp a very strange look as if he were puzzled. Finally, he drew a long breath and said, “Look, Tripp, I know what your thinking. It’s sort of an eighth sense of mine. You think that if it can’t happen, it doesn’t. How do you explain this conversation that we’re having night now?”

“I’m having,” Tripp corrected. “How do you explain the fact that the cabin didn’t explosively decompress when you opened the door?”

JB opened his mouth to explain the principal behind his atmospheric inversion compensator that he’d pieced together from an old blender and some string, but Tripp interrupted, “Don’t bother. You are not real and you are not here, JB. I am talking to myself.”

JB smiled a very annoying smile. “Are you through?”

“Yes,” Tripp said flatly.

“Anyway,” JB began, totally invalidating everything Tripp had just said, “I have to go. I’m heading for Ottawa to study the effects of bi synchronous lunar eclipses in solar systems with class O stars.”

Tripp just smiled. “Enjoy JB. Hey, bring me back a Pepsi, huh?”

JB nodded wrapped his scarf around his neck, opened the doors and looked out. He placed his index finger on the tip of his tongue and checked the wind speed. Finally, he turned to Tripp, smiled, and stepped out into oblivion. The door swooshed shut.

Tripp closed his eyes and opened them.

No JB.

It had all been a dream.

Reaching for his paper, his hand snapped back as he grazed something extremely cold. Looking down, he watched as a can of Pepsi and a small envelope formed in a dazzling field of smoky-blue light. Once the Pepsi had completed materialization, it opened itself, poured out half a glass, and gently placed itself back down.

Warily, Tripp picked up the envelope. Opening it, a dime and a letter fell out. He read the letter:

Hi Tripp!–

Here’s your Pepsi and change. I would’ve delivered them personally but I know you can only take so much in one day. You’ll be seeing me soon but in the meantime I’ll play along with the game. It couldn’t happen night? Therefore it didn’t. Maybe.

Anyway, As soon as you finish your Pepsi, place this note and the dime in the can and place it all on the floor. All the evidence will be obliterated in a controlled Cobalt bomb explosion, and you can go on thinking it was a dream.

Toodles,

JB.

Tripp smiled. Despite his best efforts, some things would never change. And in retrospect, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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