Three years later
Andrew Morton was lounging in the soft spot in the tattered couch where he always watched television. He tried to feel cozy and warm, as he usually did in his hollow, but he couldn't. His dad was screaming at him.
His father, a big man, wore an undershirt and pants. "If you fail teleschool again, your mom and I will have to watch sixty hours of parenting classes. Sixty hours of idiots telling me how to get my son to do better on his television tests. Do you know how boring those parenting classes are?" His voice dropped. "You read me?"
"The law says you have to pass eighth grade. You're the unluckiest kid I've ever known. You're sure to lose your Toss. You only need to make a sixty-five or above. After you pass, you're finished studying for your whole life. Are you ready?"
"Yes, sir." Andrew had watched reruns of Historical Survivor, Dialing for Dollars, and Tele-Novelas for the past week.
"I'm going to turn on the test." His father clicked the remote. retakes for eighth grade final exams, July 15, 2083 appeared on the screen.
A voice broke in. "But first a special message from the Secretary."
The redheaded Secretary of Entertainment was young to be so important. She leaned toward Andrew and seemed to be speaking only to him. "I'm sponsoring something very special for eighth graders this year. Apply to be a contestant on my new upcoming Historical Survivor series for kids. If you finish the game, you'll be paid ten thousand dollars, and if you're voted Most Valuable Player, you'll win an extra ninety thousand dollars, for a grand total of one hundred thousand dollars. The series is set in Antarctica, one of the coolest places in the world. Press enter now if you're interested."
"Press enter!" Andrew's dad barked.
Andrew pressed enter on the keyboard.
"After the test, an application will appear on the screen," the Secretary concluded. "Complete it and submit it, along with your test. Good luck." "Do it!" Andrew's dad ordered. "Maybe your mother and I'll get lucky and you'll go to Antarctica. You know you had an ancestor who was an explorer there?" Andrew had heard his aunt speak of a distant uncle, a man named Bowers. eighth grade history final retake appeared on the screen. "When did Bowers explore Antarctica?" Andrew asked. His father pointed sternly at the question on the screen. "You can't put your test off any longer." Andrew read: question 1: which pharaoh built the most pyramids in ancient egypt? He should know this answer. He had watched every episode of Egyptian Pyramid Historical Survivor. "Remember!" his dad thundered before leaving. "A sixty-five or above!" It was a cool day, but Andrew wiped the sweat off his face before he began to work.
From her stall at the flea market in Times Square, Polly Pritchard watched the bustle of the vendors behind aging stands, the brightly colored signs of all shapes and sizes, and the crowds of worried-looking people carrying shopping bags. She reminded herself that she didn't know what else to do. Although she had been a nationally recognized student on EduTV, she had lost her Toss. Her mother was disabled. A few years ago, her father had died of tuberculosis. Without the help of a Toss scholarship, she had no money to continue in school. When the flea market offered her father's old stall, she had to take it. So here she was today, working as a memorist for the first time. Mr. Pebst, her father's former partner, had willingly given her the money for the stall in exchange for an agreement that she would give him twenty percent of her take.
"Are you as good as your father?" Mr. Pebst had asked her. Before she could speak, he shook his head. "Nobody was as good as him. In the twenty years that I knew him, he never once got anything wrong. He was the best."
Her customers might ask her anythingthe date of George Washington's death, the distance to the moon, the calories in a peanut. She had learned many of her facts from reading the World Book encyclopedia. But most of her business would be from shoppers. Polly's head was full of jumbled phrases from the morning's paper and from the bulletin boards she had read on her way to work: "Instant Travel, the world's first human fax." "Fastgrow: Watch your hair grow one foot each night or your money back." "Dream Hat: Finally you can photograph your dreams." "Help the victims of the Urban Trash Wars by donating to . . ." And she found herself wondering, not for the first time, if the kids on her street were right, if the Memory was a curse. Casey Duncan claimed that Polly's brain would explode before she was twenty.
A customer, her first, hobbled toward her.
The old woman scrutinized Polly's face for a second before bursting out, "I need to know if there are any used televisions for sale. They'll take my grandkids from me if I don't have a television."
Polly nodded. Everybody knew that the law required all kids under the age of fourteen to watch thirty hours of teleschool a week.
"I'll pay you a dime. That's all you're worth." The old woman's teeth were the brown, unhealthy color of the endless smog that blanketed the city.
"Okay." Polly tried to ignore the woman's rudeness. Once her mother had been unable to afford a television repairman, and her fear had made her grouchy too. The old woman flung the dime into Polly's empty jar.
"There's a basement sale on the corner of Broadway and Fifty-first that lists a used television along with an EduTV attachment," Polly said.
"You're sure?" The old woman shook a bony finger at Polly.
"I saw it on a bulletin board."
"I want my dime back if you're wrong," the old woman warned her.
Polly shrugged and wondered how her father had worked at this job for thirty years.