Chapter 1: Summer Time
"Time. It's fleeting. It's fickle. Time is here and then it's gone. Time seems to fill the spaces in our lives we don't want them to fill. Like waiting in lines or in waiting rooms. You find yourself watching the clock. You can actually see it slow down as it counts every second with impossible precision. Why does time fly when we're having fun? Why can't time fly when we want it to? Why can't you slow down and cherish what matters? Do you find yourself wanting more? Do you find yourself feeling bored more often then engaged? Do you feel cheated with the amount of time given to you? Do you feel powerless? Do you want time to be on your side? Do you want to know how you can? Then listen up! Prices for your own personal Chronos by RelPer are at an all-time low! The same technology you saw in the Chronos 8 and 9 and the groundbreaking Chronos X! Now in the all-new, revolutionary RelPer's Chronos X-2! It has all the great features of its predecessors with EVEN MORE! More stable than ever before. With features like: Calendar syncing with your mobile phone and computer! The fully updated newest product by PitchStandard! The leading brand in voice modulation regulators. And best of all, the perfectly mastered DORI, the first AND last name in voice-recognition and interaction software. No bugs! No mistakes! No problems! …"
The infomercial continues on in loop every twenty minutes or so. I've watched it so many times today I might have it memorized. I tried to talk along with the actor on screen the last time through, but I eventually just fell to listening again. Watching the infomercial on loop helps calm me for some reason. Helps me think. I know there's no reason to be stressed. Summer just started and I don't have to stress for another three months. But I tend to not do very well under pressure. I still have two weeks until my exam, but I'm already feeling the pressure pretty hard. It would be easy to just stop thinking about it. It'd be nice to just relax after a long year at school. It's been a week since my last class but, so far, I haven't had a single day of relaxation. I wish I wouldn't stress. I just do. It's probably even worse this year. This will be the third time I take the exam. I could get away with failing the first time. Almost everyone fails the first time. How can you plan for something like that without going through it once? Sure, they tell you to work on your hand-eye coordination, and make sure you stay healthy and eat well and all that typical parental crap. But they don't warn you about the puzzles, or the games, where everything is fast and too difficult for you to keep up with. It's a wonder anyone passes the exam their first year. After all, we're pretty young for stuff like that. Sure, we had some tough stuff in 8th grade, but none of it really applied to the exam. As soon as you graduate middle school, you have about a month to prepare. Any 8th grader I know would just enjoy the summer, like any normal kid should do. But a lot of them actually work hard to study and practice. When we're told about the Chronos for the first time I'm pretty sure we all have similar reactions. It's just so cool! At least I thought so. When my mom told me that there was this special watch you could have that could let you control time itself, I flipped my shit. Granted, I thought she was talking about time-travel or something. But still, even if I got the full picture, it's such a cool idea! I can't see how anyone would not want one. Almost everything that RelPer puts out is awesome. That's generally how everyone feels when they graduate 8th grade now. They might stress about high school a lot, but I know my biggest hope going in was that I'd have the Chronos. Not only would I earn some major cool points for getting one so quick, but I could use it when I need some more time on a subject without looking like a nerd and an idiot at the same time. I could blaze through lunch without worrying whether or not someone's gonna sit with me, even though I knew Bruce and Elian would. I saved up chore allowances for almost 2 years to help my parents pay for it. But, as expected, I didn't pass the exam my first year. Neither did Bruce or Elian though. Nobody I knew did. We all went into high school as new, stupid, vulnerable, loser freshmen. It sucked. High school sucked, and we still had 4 more years of it. Sophomore year was no better for me. Summer after freshman year, we all got to take the exam again. Bruce and Elian passed no problem, along with pretty much everyone else. Even Charlotte Graham passed, even though she probably just read about the exam and never practiced anything. But me? No, I had to get my nerves all worked up and freak out during the exam. I just shut down. I messed up everything. Everyone was worried I might have had brain-damage or something cause I didn't pass the stupid exam. It sucked. High school continued to suck. I felt left behind by everyone. I was stuck in real time, while everyone else could come and go in whatever speed they wanted. It made me sick. And it drew a lot of attention to me from jack-asses like Reggie Simpson and company. But I didn't like to think about it. I realized I've been spacing for couple hours now. It's nice to just think about stuff. It annoys me how much time I waste doing it. I sort of live in my mind. But that's one thing that the RelPer can help me with I guess. I just gotta get one.
"… and if you don't have your Chronos already, then you better study up! RelPer Exams are just around the corner at a RelPer Store near you! So come on down and check us out. We guarantee you'll be satisfied. And remember to get your RelPer Chronos X-2 update now! And have time be on YOUR side."
I woke up late the next morning. Dad was already watching the TV when I came downstairs. He usually has his morning routine of early breakfast, the paper, and the news before he goes off to work. Today was Saturday though, so he likes to relax in front of the TV.
"I noticed you stayed up watching the RelPer channel again." Said Dad. "Seems like every time I turn on the TV it's on that channel. You feeling nervous already?" he asked.
"No. I just like having the TV on while I think and it's just a pretty low key station." I don't lie very well. Mostly, I don't try to. I was very nervous. Maybe I wanted him to know that by being a crappy liar. But he never acknowledges it.
"Well, ok." He replied. He's very abrupt when he doesn't have anything to say, or he wants a talk to be over. Maybe he thinks he's doing me a favor by not being invasive. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I sometimes just think he's a jerk. He's probably not though.
Since it's Saturday, I usually go over to Bruce's house. Bruce has a pretty sweet set-up in his basement with an awesome TV and all the consoles ever. Elian and I just leave our games and such over there. We don't really ever play any of them on our own anyway. Bruce also has a pretty awesome property. He's got a decent backyard and a small forest connected to it. We started working on a tree house a couple years ago, but never got around to finishing it. We just assume that when we wake up on Saturdays, we just meet up at Bruce's. So I just head over there after I grab some cereal. It's nice having a car and not having to work around Dad's shows or Mom's social life. My Mom teaches elementary school at the one I used to go to and she's friends with basically everyone. So on weekends, she's either swamped with work or out having fun. She takes Dad with her occasionally, but he's a lot more chill than Mom is. Since it's summer, he sees a lot more of her, so he's typically parked on the couch for weekends now.
I drive over to Bruce's and see Elian's car is already there. I walk over to the side door and walk in.
"Hey guys. What's on the menu today?"
Elian is sitting on the floor, way too close to the TV, playing the new shooter game set in the future we just got. He looks up and says, "Oh hey there Skully boy. I just beat the 9th planet. About to meet some Dino rage on the 10th. Might take me all day. Wanna join?"
"I'm good for now. I'll just watch for a bit. I'm kinda tired." I reply. Elian calls me Skully cause my last name is Skuld and he thinks he's clever when he calls people nicknames. He calls everyone nicknames that he thinks are clever and original when they usually are pretty much the opposite. "Where's Bruce?"
"Eh, he just woke up about 20 minutes ago. He went up for some breakfast. Should be down soon."
I sat and watched Elian kill some pretty awesome and ferocious dinosaurs with an impressive array of weaponry, including: shotguns, rifles, oozies, rocket launchers with guided missiles, lasers, and swords and more futuristic weapons. I don't think he needed my help much. So I didn't feel bad just watching. After about 10 minutes, Bruce came down.
"Oh hey Patrick! How long you been here?" he asked
"Just like ten minutes. I slept in a bit."
"Yea me too. Summer's nice like that. You stay up late practicing for the RelPer?" He sat down and started watching the game.
"Something like that." Bruce was a pretty straightforward kind of guy. He tended to understand what you meant more than what you said. It was a pretty impressive talent. I had always tried to imitate it, but people are difficult. I don't have as much patience as he does. Elian has less patience than most people in general though, so I don't feel too bad about it.
"You waiting to join in?" Bruce asked, talking about the game. "If not, I think I might."
"Go for it. You and Elian make a pretty fun team to watch." This was true, due to the fact that when Bruce plays too, Elian looses all trace of fear and caution and barrels into enemies wildly because if he dies he just comes back wherever Bruce is in the game and goes in for more. Bruce tends to stay extra cautious because of this and finds good sniper points to keep Elian alive longer in each area.
This is basically how we hang out when I'm around. I know Bruce and Elian would prefer to goof around with the Chronos and play pranks and games with them. They're both big tech nerds and really enjoy figuring out cool things to do with technology that most wouldn't imagine. But since I still don't have one, they've decided to be cool and just do other things that are fun that I can do too. Elian gives me a lot of crap about it. But they're both really good friends. Bruce is sort of a genius I think. He's always in the top 5% of our class and wins all these science and tech awards for stuff. His parents are super proud and people tend to like him in general. Everyone sort of expected him to pass his RelPer exam first try. But he didn't and he was okay with it I guess. He's a pretty chill guy, whereas, Elian is sort of the opposite in almost every way. Bruce is pretty tall and has short blonde hair, blue eyes, and glasses. Elian is short, skinny, with dark brown and reddish hair that sort of spikes out awkwardly. He has dark eyes that are kind of a mix between brown and green and has a few freckles. Elian is the same age as us, but looks about 2 or 3 years younger. He sort of acts the opposite of Bruce as well. Bruce is kind of proper and polite and considerate, whereas Elian is very crass and aloof. They bicker back and forth a lot.
"Oy! Get back on the cliff til I say it's clear!" Elian yelled at Bruce.
"I can see perfectly fine that it's clear, Ely. Dinosaurs don't tend to be super stealthy. Let's move on." Said Bruce.
"Have you seen a Raptor ambush before? No! Because you're always falling behind and being safe like a little pussy. It's clear when I say it's clear, Arian! … Also, I think it's clear."
Elian is kind of racist, but in a really weird way. His family is Welsh, but I mean like REALLY Welsh. Like celebrates Welsh traditions and names all their kids Welsh names and stuff like that. So, Elian kind of acts like he's got minority privilege and he can just say and do whatever he wants. It's weird, but whatever. He calls Bruce "Arian" because he's a typical tall, white, blonde, blue-eyed American. He often says stuff like, "Hitler would have loved you" or "let's go save America, Cap'n Arian." They hang out a lot though. We stick together pretty well.
"Okay, well since you're here, I figure we might as well do some practice. Right?" said Bruce. "Here, grab a controller"
"Ugh! Lame! Why do we have to do this now? I'm in the middle of murdering innocent dinosaurs!" said Elian.
"Patrick needs all the help he can get and I want to make sure he gets his Chronos so we don't have to listen to you whine for another year." Said Bruce.
There's this puzzle game that RelPer puts out for practice. It's kind of lame. It doesn't really prepare you much. But Elian and Bruce hacked into it and altered it to make it more fun and more challenging. Now the puzzles are really clever and occasionally when you get one wrong a zombie or dragon will jump out and you have to fight it to move on, which helps with nerves and reflexes, or so Elian argued when he begged to add them in. I have no problem playing, so I jump in and we practice for a few hours.