CK :2 Cover
For Sarah
Cyber.kdz :2
A Picture's Worth
Available now from Avon Camelot Books
  All of the Cyber.kdz have upgraded their systems with video cameras and Josh is already sending great shots of Jupiter over the Wire. Everybody is putting photos online -- except Becky, who doesn't want the Kids to know what she looks like. She's the kid with all the good grades and one of the popularity. But now even Becky's reputation for brains is threatened when she gets an F in history, her best subject. "Impossible!" say the Cyber.kdz. Someone is tampering with the school's database and it's up to the Kids -- with the help of a video camera -- to solve the mystery. And it's up to Becky, to come clean with her best friends...  

Below, you can read the first chapter of A Picture's Worth.

[1]

The class burst into applause. Becky couldn’t believe it. Was she dreaming? She knew her presentation was good, but she didn’t think it was that good. Besides, no one at school had ever cheered for her before. It wasn’t like she was popular or anything.
"Innnn..credible! Fantastic, Becky!" Mr. Optol, her history teacher, was clapping louder than anyone else. "Just fantastic! One of the best presentations I’ve ever had. Does anyone have any questions?"
Shareesh Agah raised his hand.
"How fast did you say those Byzantine telegraph messages went?" he asked.
"Pretty fast, "Becky answered. "The system used light signals from torches and mirrors. There were guardposts on every hilltop between the capital and the frontier. A message sent from the Cilician border, 600 miles away, was received in Byzantium in an hour."
"Wow," Shareesh said. "That’s faster than most planes!"
"Yeah," Becky continued, "and that wasn’t even the longest light telegraph. Around 900 AD there was a string of beacons along the coast of North Africa that was over two thousand miles long."
Becky’s presentation had been on communication in the ancient world. Her classmates were impressed with the technology invented thousands of years ago. Mr. Optol was impressed with the quality of Becky’s research. Becky took her seat smiling.
Mr. Optol leaned against his desk. "I hope those of you who haven’t had your chance up here yet will use what you saw as an example of excellent research and a well thought-out presentation." He smiled again at Becky. "Great job."
Mr. Optol turned towards his desk and grabbed a stack of papers. "Okay. Let’s move on. I’ve graded your essay tests."
A collective groan went up from the class.
Mr. Optol continued. "And I can’t believe some of the scores!"
The students brightened as they heard the enthusiasm in his voice.
"They are absolutely... positively... incredibly... AWFUL!"
The groan was even louder this time.
"C’mon! I can’t take this anymore! I’m not standing up here for my health, you know. You’re gonna kill me if you don’t start listening! I’ve decided to retire at the end of the year if your test scores don’t improve. The grades better grow, or Mr. O’s gonna go!"
Darren Taylor raised his hand.
"Yes, Darren?"
"My sister was in your class last year and she said you made the same threat. Same poem too."
The students snickered.
"She did, did she?" Mr. O said sarcastically. "Did her test scores improve?"
"Yeah, I think so..."
"Well, it worked then, didn’t it?"
Everyone laughed.
"All right, if my threatened retirement isn’t enough, I’ll have to think of something better." Mr. O stroked his clean-shaven chin. He was the youngest teacher at school and all the students loved him. They knew there was no way he was even close to retiring. "Okay, if everyone’s scores don’t improve by twenty percent I’ll fail the entire class. No exceptions!"
"NO!" the class shouted.
"No?"
"Please don’t, Mr. Optol!" Jenny Sloat was close to tears. "I can’t fail! Like, my parents will just kill me. They said I can’t try out for cheerleading next year if I, like, fail even one class! They’re totally uncool... they just don’t get it!"
"Ohhhh noooo! That would be just, like, awwwful," Darren teased.
The class burst out laughing.
"Calm down, everyone. I’ll stick with my original threat. I think that will be enough. Because if I retire, at least half of you will be stuck with Mr. Greemes for Sociology next year." Mr. Optol pronounced Greemes like Greeeeeeemes and said it through his nose. He rolled his eyes and dropped his lower lip. He continued in the silly voice. "Hend I’m sshure hew whouldn’t whant that, nohw whould hew? Thihnk hof hall the whonderful fihlm strihps whe’d whatch. Whe’d hhhave so muhch fuhn..."
The class laughed.
"Good. We’ve agreed then. You study and I stay. Show me what you know, you’re gonna keep Mr. O."
While he talked, Mr. Optol walked down the aisles and handed out the papers. Becky’s high spirits had dulled somewhat. Mr. Optol said all the scores were terrible. That had to include hers — and she had been sure she’d aced this test.
Mr. Optol handed a paper to Jenny Sloat who sat right in front of Becky. Becky could see the red F scribbled across the top in Mr. O’s distinctive writing. Jenny whimpered a little and reached into her pack for a tissue. Mr. Optol took a few more steps and dropped Becky’s test in front of her.
He leaned over slightly and said quietly "As usual, my perfect historian turns in a notable performance."
Becky looked down. The bright red A nearly jumped off the page.
Becky was glowing as she walked out of class. This was definitely the best day she’d had since she started at Bennington-Carver six and a half months ago. It had been a hard transition from middle school. Her best friend, Kim, who she’d gone to school with since they were eight, went to Chichester High. But Becky had received an academic scholarship to Bennington-Carver, a very expensive private school. Her parents could never have afforded it and they were delighted. It seemed like a great opportunity, but Becky hated the fact that she’d had to face high school alone.
Most of the kids at Bennington-Carver lived in expensive apartments in Gramercy Park or Chelsea. Some were stuck-up, others just weren’t that friendly. There had been plenty of jerks in middle school but it didn’t seem to matter as much when she was with Kim. It was worse now because she was by herself. It had been a tough year so far. But things were definitely looking up.
"Hey, Fatso! Think you can move any slower..."
An arm shoved Becky aside. Her books thumped to the floor. Three sophomores pushed past her and ran off down the hall.
Becky bit her tongue. "Just ignore them, Beck," she said to herself. "They’re mindless barbarians. You know that. They make Attila look perfectly civilized." Becky collected her things and continued to her next class. She thought about Mr. O’s praise. Remembering his warm smile as he applauded her presentation made her feel better.
It wasn’t until she entered the locker room that it struck her where she was. She was feeling so good about history she had walked to seventh period without even thinking. How could she? It was the class she dreaded the most each day. P.E. was the worst.
Becky was overweight. That’s what her Mom said. But Becky (and plenty of the kids at school) called it fat. For years her parents told her that her baby fat was just hanging on a little longer than her friends’. Her mom and dad didn’t seem to mind so neither did Becky. But the baby fat didn’t go away as she got older. And over the last few years, as Kim started getting curves, Becky resigned herself to the fact that she would always look like this. So much so that she stopped noticing it. In the bathroom in the morning, she didn’t really see who was standing behind the comb or toothbrush. She focused on the motion of the brush going back and forth and never looked at who was doing the brushing.
It wasn’t like she didn’t care. It’s just that it wasn’t important to her what people looked like. She liked people for who they were, not how they appeared. That’s why she could start up conversations so easily with people on the subway or at the library. She cared about what people thought. What they did. What they wrote. It didn’t matter how much you weighed if you were a great archeologist. Who cared if you were heavy if you wrote The History of the Roman Empire? Fat didn’t matter.
Except in P.E.
At first she was surprised and amazed that all these girls could be so cruel. The looks, the whispers, the jokes; she didn’t understand why they tried so hard to make her feel bad. Why did they even care?
But, for some reason that Becky didn’t understand, they did. Fat mattered in high school.
"Roman emperor’s were often overweight," her father told her, trying to cheer her up months ago after her first miserable day in high school P.E. "And, you know, the bigger an Hawaiian queen was, the better."
"But that doesn’t make anybody like me," Becky replied.
"It’s who you are that counts," her mom said, "not what you look like."
Sure, Becky thought, of course she can say that. She’s as thin as a pencil. Her dad was pretty heavy, but he was an historian. He sat in his study all day doing research and writing books. You couldn’t expect him to look fit. She was surprised he appeared as healthy as he did.
"Well I’m not an Hawaiian queen so I’ve gotta lose weight," Becky said. Then, like always, she’d go to her room and call Kim who’d tell her about the latest and greatest diet where you only ate seaweed and guava salad.
"And besides getting thinner, it’s really good for your skin!" Kim said enthusiastically.
"My skin is fine, Kim! I want to be thin."
"Then diet, Becky. But you know, it doesn’t matter what you look like. It’s who you are inside that counts."
Becky thought of all this as she walked into the locker room. She stopped and stared at the rows of girls. All of them thinner then she was. All of them, in her opinion, prettier than she was. And certainly more popular.
"Yeah I know. It doesn’t matter..." she said under her breath, "...unless you’re in P.E."

Look for Cyber.kdz :2 - A PICTURE'S WORTH in your local bookstore!

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