YouTube launched in late 2005. By August 2006, the second week of his sophomore year at Harvard, Malcolm understood the implications of an internet platform that enabled the thousands of residents of his home town to share their grainy school fete videos, their security camera feeds, old news footage, and photograph montages set to Bob Seger songs. Specifically, he understood that:
a) his freshman year had not, in fact, been a year of anonymous drudgery and unrecognised intellectual labour; it had rather been the one and only year of his entire life when he would ever exist in glorious isolation from his family's many and varied acts of violence, wanton desecration of public property, crimes against fashion, cruelty to animals, impromptu drugstore karaoke, and other assorted social outrages;
b) from this moment on, he was never going to be elected to do a beer run, let alone to be class president, let alone higher office;
c) unless he made himself a shitload of money and fast, then among the broadband-enabled percentage of the female Harvard population (which was most of them) he would not even be a look-in for a pity fuck.
The course of his life was pretty set after that.
He quit college. He worked long and miserable hours until his head pounded and his vision blurred. He kissed up to his bosses and their wealthy business friends until his lips burned and his tongue ached. As soon as he was able, he quit being a wage-slave and went to join their ranks for real, starting ventures of his own.
He backstabbed his business partners. He ripped off his employees and busted their unions. He violated local by-laws and moved localities when they came after him over it. He polluted rivers, bribed congressmen and, one particularly trying year, got his books cooked by a dodgy accountant.
He made a lot of money, and, eventually, he got better than pity-fucks, and from sexier chicks than the broadband-enabled percentage of female Harvard population. They didn't stay long, though. And they never came home with him to meet his family.
He wasn't happy. He wasn't respected. He didn't feel appreciated. He didn't feel loved.
Malcolm didn't become President of the United States of America, but aside from that, he turned out how everyone expected.
Reese enjoyed petty crime quite a bit. He enjoyed major crime even more, and put a lot of thought and effort into it. Bank robberies were his favourite, but he still kept his hand in convenience store holdups, car jackings, shoplifting and credit card fraud. In the end, though, he was brought down while stealing a ferris wheel (he was trying to keep it fresh).
Prison, when he got there, was awesome - huge kitchen, hours of cooking, clean living quarters, and lots of really fun people to hang out with. It did get a bit boring after a while, though - he missed girls, and his skateboard, and firecrackers, and he didn't get to watch Ace of Cakes very often. Eight months into his sentence, he ducked out amid a violent tomato and tofu curry explosion in the dining room, and then hitchhiked west until he hit Chicago.
Liquor, jazz and arms dealing kept him occupied for a few months, but he found himself missing the camaraderie of the clink more than he expected. He moved to Texas and joined the prison guard's union, but being a prison guard just wasn't as good as being a prisoner. Sure, there was plenty of opportunity for senseless violence and brutality, but it didn't give him any scope for creativity and self-expression. Plus he hated filling in timesheets, and being a prison guard didn't leave him with enough spare time to plan all the robberies and heists he still wanted to do.
He was complaining about this to Dewey one day, and Dewey said:
"I have an idea! Why don't you go work for Marlin Academy?"
Reese had never been there, but he'd seen photos of Francis there. It had looked military. And like a school. Like a military school. "OK," he said.
Dewey said, "Good plan," and hung up.
A while later, Reese called him back. "Wait, why am I going to work for a military school?" he said. "I didn't like school. And I didn't like the military."
Dewey said, "I don't know. Sometimes the voices in my head tell me to say things, and they get mad at me if I don't say them."
"Oh. OK then," Reese said, and hitchhiked to Alabama and made his way to the Marlin Academy.
He took the job of head chef, and a week later he also made himself the Commandant, after the incumbent had a strange accident in the kitchen cold room with a whisk and a large bowl of pomegranate jelly.
"Right," Reese announced to the academy's students at assembly the next morning. He hadn't put on the Commandant's uniform, but he had put on the sword and an eyepatch he'd found in the Commandant's quarters. "Here's how it is. I'm running this place now. I'm bigger, stronger and meaner than you. I control where you live, what you eat, when you sleep and whether you watch television. It's going be my mission in life to stop you from doing anything interesting or having any fun, and if you do anything, anything, to go against me, there will be consequences."
Reese stopped suddenly. He had a funny hazy feeling, like he was a robot on autopilot, repeating a speech that had been long ago programmed into him. He shook himself, and the haze lifted.
"Now," he continued, swinging his sword for emphasis, "I already know it's going to be your mission in life to get around me. And that's fine; I understand that. But I want to give you fair warning that I'm going to be watching you. I'm going to know what you're doing. I'm going to be lying in wait for you. And when I catch you, I'm going to get you so fucking hard, you're going to be like, 'Dude, what the fuck was that?' And I'm going to be like, 'Better luck next time, retards.' And then I'm going to send you back to your room with a wedgie so high that your grandchildren will feel it."
He paced the length of the room, looking each and every student in the eye. "Does anybody have any questions?"
The students looked back at him. Nobody looked scared, or intimidated. All of them looked curious, and thoughtful, and motivated.
Reese smiled. He had another funny feeling now. He felt like he'd finally, for the first time in his life, come home.
When he was fifteen, after a summer of carefully disguised research and experimentation, Dewey successfully crossed a jet pack with a hot air balloon and fulfilled his lifelong dream of being able to fly to school.
Malcolm offered to patent and commercialise the design (in fact he insisted, then demanded), but Dewey had already put the entire thing up on Wikipedia.
In retaliation, Malcolm told Lois about the jet pack. Lois screamed at Dewey for using her good bed sheets in the balloon part, then confiscated Dewey's only working model. Hal cried, and so did Jamie. Dewey made another three, and emailed the California DA with a tip-off about Malcolm and his dodgy accountant.
He let Jamie get to work on Jet Pack 2.0 under his careful supervision (he wanted the next version to be carbon neutral), and started researching how he could walk through walls.
When Dewey was sixteen, Malcolm bought Hal and Lois a fancy new house up in the hills. Dewey offered to stay behind in the old house with Jamie. He and Jamie listened at the bedroom door while Lois and Hal discussed it.
"Hal, do you think we can?" Lois asked. "We're not supposed to leave them to fend for themselves. We're their parents."
"It's not like they could turn out worse than Reese or Francis," Hal said.
"Oh all right, you've convinced me," Lois said, and the two of them moved out five minutes later, taking only the clothes on their backs and the baby.
"Bye!" they shouted, waving out the window of their new SUV. "Call us if you need anything!"
"Bye," Dewey and Jamie shouted, waving from the front door.
They made $17,343.76 on eBay from the contents of the house, which paid for repainting the interior, new beds and desks in their newly painted bedrooms, and a decent roof on the garage, since every time it rained, their research was getting wet. They also had five hundred thousand dollars that Dewey had forgotten to tell Lois about, which Boeing had given him for answering some questions about the jet pack. That paid for the trampoline, the bean bags, the widescreen TV, the turtle tank, new school shoes for Jamie and his second grade schoolbooks, a new computer for Dewey, and a nice lady called Marjorie who came around twice a week to put food in the fridge and clean up.
By Christmas, Dewey had figured out walking through walls, but he'd decided against putting it on Wikipedia. It was a power that invited abuse, which he wished he'd considered before spending so much time on it. "We have to pick better next time," he said to Jamie. After much debate, they decided that after they finished the miniature solar panels that would power the jetpack, their next project should be to save the whales.
On Christmas Day, in the fancy new house in the hills, Malcolm asked him if he had been working on anything new.
"I've been learning the ocarina," Dewey said sweetly, and pulled out the one Jamie had given him for Christmas. He played "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on it, and then, at Piama's request, "Tik Tok". Malcolm glared at him, and Dewey hummed a little song that helped the voices in his head hear the secrets that Malcolm didn't want him to know.
Christmas dinner was a magnificent roast deer with all the trimmings, cooked by Reese and five of his Marlin Academy students (Reese had brought twenty-seven of them home for Christmas). The Christmas crackers from Francis were awesome, although Piama didn't like it when her hair caught on fire.
The baby cried a lot, which made Lois yell and Hal look tired.
"Don't worry," Dewey whispered to the baby, holding it until it settled down. "As soon as Jamie and I have finished saving the whales, we'll work on how to save you."
At home that evening, Dewey and Jamie played a DVD of a crackling fireplace on the TV, and sat on their beanbags in front of it. They each had a huge mug of hot chocolate. Dewey had made the hot chocolate in the microwave; Jamie had made the mugs in pottery class, which he went to on Wednesday nights (at school they still only let him use Play-Doh).
"After we save the whales, and save the baby, I think we should work on faster than light space travel," Dewey said. Then he thought for a minute. "Or maybe we should build a moat around the house and put alligators in it. We can grow baby alligators in the garage first."
"I vote for alligators," Jamie said, and took a careful sip of his hot chocolate.
"Alligators it is," Dewey said, and scrunched down in his beanbag to watch the fire.