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Author: Steven Gould
Publisher: Tor Teen, 2003
Tor, 1997
Science Fiction Book Club, 1996
Tor, 1996

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Forget the lottery.

Teenager Charlie Newell has just discovered something that will make him and his friends billionaires. What if a world existed in which no humans ever evolved? No cities. No pollution. No laws. A fantastic world filled with unimaginable riches in which everything - everything - was yours just for the taking?

Charlie has found that world. And he plans to use it to make him and his friends rich.

There is a problem: How do you keep something this big a secret?



"They're Extinct."

Clara drove a motorcycle. Rick's junker was down for the count and his mom wouldn't let him use her car. Marie, despite her pilot's license, didn't drive, and Joey, the idiot, had his license suspended for DWI. So I drove. I didn't even want to go, but there you have it, Charlie to the rescue, one more time.

That week Dad was flying the DFW-DC-Boston route, so Mom said I could take the big Lincoln Town Car. I dressed like a chauffeur, in a black suit and billed hat.

Rick was sitting on the porch steps when I pulled up. He was wearing a tux, a plastic florist's box in his big hands. I jumped out of the car and held the rear door open. He laughed, but stopped almost immediately with a nervous look over his shoulder.

"Come off it," he said. "I'll ride in front."


He shrugged. "Okay. Let's get out of here, before my mom starts up again." He folded himself into the backseat. The Town Car was huge, but Rick, though thin, was over six feet four. With him in it, the seat looked only adequate instead of luxurious.

when we were moving I asked, "You want to talk about it?"

He met my eyes for a moment in the rearview mirror, then looked away. "No," he said. "I don't."

I dropped him at Clara's, so he could do the P.P.P.O., the preprom-parental-ordeal, and drove on.

I had to go up to the house to get Joey. His father let me in.

"Nice outfit, Charlie."

"Thank you, Mr. Maloney. Where's Joey?"

Someone said, "Ow!" from the back of the house. Mr. Maloney pointed over his shoulder with his shoulder with his thumb. "They're in the kitchen, but be warned, it's not a pretty sight."

Tiny Mrs. Maloney, standing on a step stool, was pinning a white rose boutonniere on Joey's tux jacket while Joey's older sister, Lisa, was putting on the silver-and-ebony cuff links. "Why didn't you do this before you put on the jacket, you idiot?"

Joey wiggled. "Well, exuuuuuuuuse me. I don't wear a tux every day, you know." He saw me. "Ah, thank God. Help me charlie Ben Kenobi, you're my only hope."

"Hold still!" said his mother.

Mr. Maloney went to the refrigerator. "You want a beer, Charlie?" Mrs. Maloney started to say something, but clamped her mouth shut.

"No thanks, Mr. Maloney. I'm driving."

Mr. Maloney blinked. "Ah, good point." He looked at Joey.

"Very good point."

Joey blushed.

Mr. Maloney took a beer for himself, then, with the refrigerator still open, said, "Coke? Sugared, I'm afraid. Er, we don't have any diet Coke."

It was my turn to blush. "No thanks, Mr. Maloney. Gives me zits." Not to mention adding to my already hefty waistline.

Joey's torturers released him and we fled. Good-natured injunctions about "having a good time" floated after us. In the car, Joey said, "Sorry about Dad. He means well."

"It's okay."

Marie lived only two blocks from Joey. "I'll wait," I said. He nodded, swallowing nervously. Marie's father know about Joey's DWI incident. I got out and leaned against the car, visible from the house, proof to Marie's father that Joey wasn't driving.

They didn't stay inside long, but Marie's father escorted them to the car and shook my hand. "Hello, Charles." He always called me Charles. He and Marie left Vietnam in '75 and his English, though quite good, never lost the accent.

"Hello, Mr. Nguyen. How are you?"

"I am fine, charles. I've let Joseph know that if you weren't driving, he would not be taking Marie to the prom. I depend on you

to bring her home safely." He paused. "To bring all of them home safely."

"Daddy!" Marie exhaled sharply. She looked gorgeous. She was wearing something low-cut and tight in white, with a black silk shawl. In flat shoes she was my height, exactly, but tonight she was taller. "Show some tact."

Joey stared at the ground.

I held the back door open and winked at Marie. "Certainly, Mr. Nguyen. You can count on me."

On the way to Clara's, Joey ragged me, his voice pitched in a nasal whine, "Certainly, Mr. Nguyen. You can count on me."

"Shut up, Joey," Marie said. "It's not Charlie's fault, now is it?"

I looked into Marie's eyes in the rearview mirror. She looked back, worried.

"'s okay," I said.

Joey shrugged and looked out the window for a moment, then said, "Sorry, Charlie. And thanks for driving us."

Marie kissed him and I felt knives in my gut. "You're welcome."

At Clara's house we had to go in for pictures. I held my hat to my chest and wore sunglasses and my black leather flying gloves.

Clara, tall and blonde, was wearing a strapless black gown with ruffles, and her mother kept tugging it up even though it really didn't seem to be slipping. "Mom, enough all ready!" She usually wore unisex clothes--men's shirts, jeans.

"Leave her be, Margaret," said Mr. Prentice. "How can I take the picture if you're in the way?"

We stood still and faced the lightning in groups and pairs. Then I took a shot of the two couples with Mr. and Mrs. Prentice.

In the car Clara said, "What took you so long, Charlie? I thought I'd die!"

I was surprised and pleased when Joey said, "My fault. Trouble with the tux." He didn't mention Mr. Nguyen.

Next stop was the Texan, perhaps the best restaurant in town. I dropped them and went home to wait for their call. They'd offered to treat me, collectively, as payment, but I'd said I'd take payment another way.

I also didn't want to see Joey and Marie together any more than I could help it.

I'd eaten earlier though I wouldn't have minded something more. Mom and I were on a diet together and it seemed my stomach never stopped rumbling.

I spent the time reviewing the FAA Instrument Flight Rules. Mom was watching another nature documentary on TV, so I read in my room, as far from the refrigerator as possible. The phone call came after an hour and forty minutes.

"We just asked for the check," Marie said.

"What did you have?"

"Lobster. Heart-of-palm salad. Raspberry mousse for dessert."

"Aaaaaggghh. Okay, okay. I'll be there in ten minutes."

"You should've been here, Charlie. It wasn't as fun without you."

"Um. See you in a few."

In the living room, Mom was looking at the screen with the perpetually surprised and intent expression with which she watched all things. "I'm going now--I'll be back late, so don't wait up."

She put down her notepad on a stack of wildlife journals and walked across to me. "Drive carefully. Mrs. Paige tells me that prom night is a time of increased consumption of alcoholic beverages by underage drivers." She reached out and adjusted my tie. "Don't let one of them crash into you."

"Okay, Mom." I kissed her on the cheek. "Don't fry your brains on too much TV."

She laughed, then sobered. "After this, it's a Nova on extinctions."

"Oh, goody."

I picked the guys up two at a time, so I could walk around, open the door, and hand them out in front of the Hilton, where the prom was. Marie protested, but I said, "Let's do it right." Most of the kids had driven themselves and were walking in from the parking lot, so both couples had a decent audience when I did the act.

Joey made a big show of tipping me with a twenty, but I'd promised ahead of time to give it back later. Marie squeezed my hand as I helped her out. Nobody seemed to recognize me, which was good, I guess.

This time I parked the car and waited in the lobby. The tuxedos and gowns drifted by, like some musical. There was a chair in the corner, screened by a potted palm. I settled there, my FAA regs for company, but I didn't read. Instead I watched them flow by, like I watched them in the hallways at school. In-groups and out-groups, nervous singles, girls in stag groups, and popular jocks with beautiful girls. Most of them tried to act older, to fit the clothes. Some of them tried being pompous. A few of them were even natural, acting no differently than they did in jeans.

But, as usual, I watched from outside.

The music drifted from the ballroom, a slow number. I thought of Joey's arms around Marie and I got up, went into the hotel restaurant, and had a second supper.

* * *

Someone shared their flask of whiskey with Joey during the prom and he was a little loud, a little clumsy. He wasn't obnoxious, though--he just smiled a lot. Marie, Rick, and I consulted and decided coffee was in order. Besides, none of them wanted to go home yet. What was the point in being home before midnight?

I had my own agenda.

"Come on," I said. "We'll get coffee from Jack-In-the-Box and go out to my place."

"Your place?" said Clara. "What about your mom?"

I shook my head. "Not my parents'. My place."

Only Marie knew what I was talking about. We'd done touch-and-go practice landings on the grass strip there, but we'd never stopped. "He means the ranch--the ranch his uncle left him."

"Where is it?" asked Rick.

"West," I said. "Over by the Brazos. Twenty minutes."

Joey spoke. "We could go dancing instead. Over to Parrot's."

All four of them were in the back. Clara, plastered to Rick's side said, "My feet hurt enough. I'm not used to heels. What's out there?"

I tried to control my breathing, to keep my voice calm, to make it seem as if I didn't care. "A house. A barn. A hangar. An airstrip. A lot of trees."

"Anybody live there?"

"Me," I said. "After graduation."

"Whoa. Really? Your parents are okay about that?"

"Pretty much. My dad would like to hangar his plane there, that's why we put in the hangar. Better than Easterwood, cause it would save the hangar fees, but he's not willing unless somebody lives out there. Too much chance of vandalism."

"So, like he'll pay you instead? Since it's your land?"

"Ha. He'll continue to let me fly the plane. That's payment enough."

We reached Crack-In-the Jack and I ordered four coffees and one hot tea to go. "Try not to spill it, guys. Or I'll hear about it."

I paused at the end of the driveway. "So, my place?"

"Sounds boring," said Joey.

Rich shrugged. Clara whispered something in Rick's ear, and he crossed his legs, then said, "Let's do it."

Marie looked from me to Joey. "Sure. I've wanted to see wha...

Copyright © 1996 by Steven Gould


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