So Yesterday Chapter 1

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Genres: Young Adult

To the Innovators.

You know who you are.


You don't think about us much because we are invisible. Well, not exactly invisible. A lot of us have hair dyed in four colors, or wear five-inch platform sneakers, or carry enough metal in our skin that it's a hassle getting on an airplane. Quite visible, actually, come to think of it.

But we don't wear signs saying what we are. After all, if you knew what we were up to, we couldn't work our magic. We have to observe carefully and push and prompt you in ways you don't notice. Like good teachers, we let you think you've discovered the truth on your own.

And you need us. Someone has to guide you, to mold you, to make sure that today turns into yesterday on schedule. Because frankly, without us to monitor the situation, who knows what would get crammed down your throats?

It's not like you can just start making your own decisions, after all.

So, if we're supposed to be secret, why am I writing this?

Well, that's a long story. That's this story, the one you're holding in your hands.

It's about how I met Jen. She isn't one of us or one of you, either. She's on top of the whole pyramid, quietly making her contribution. Trust me, you need her. We all do.

It's also about the Jammers, who I'm pretty sure really do exist. Probably. If they're real, then they're crazy smart, and they've got big plans. They're the bad guys, the ones trying to bring the system down. They want to make people like me redundant, unnecessary, ridiculous.

They want to set you free.

And the funny thing is, I think I'm on their side.

Okay. Is that enough previews for you? Can you pay attention long enough for me to do this in order? Is it time for the feature presentation?

Let's get started, then.

Chapter 1



"Shoelaces, actually. The way you tied them."

"Oh. Yeah, sure, I guess. Pretty skate, huh?"

I nodded. That week skate meant "cool," like dope or rod once did. And this girl's laces were cool. Fuzzy and red, they looped through the middle eyelet repeatedly on one side, spreading out in a fan on the other. Kind of like the old rising-sun Japanese flag, but sideways.

She was about seventeen, the same as me. Gray sweatshirt over camo pants, hair dyed so black that it turned blue when the sun hit it through the trees. The shoes were off-brand black runners, the logo markings erased with a black laundry pen.

Definitely an Innovator, I thought. They tend to specialize, looking like Logo Exiles until you get close, until you see that one flourish. All their energies focused on a single element.

Like shoelaces.

I pulled out my phone and pointed it at her foot.

Her eyes widened and she gave the Nod. My phone for that month, made by a certain company in Finland, was getting a lot of the Nod, the slight incline of the head that means, I saw that in a magazine and I already want it. Of course, at another level the Nod also means, Now that I've seen an actual person with that phone, I really, really have to get one.

At least, that's what the certain Finnish company was hoping when they mailed it to me. So there I was, doing two jobs at once.

The phone took its picture, signaling success by playing a sample of a certain dysfunctional father saying, "Sweet, sweet chocolate." The sample did not get the Nod, and 1 made a mental note to change it. Homer was out; Lisa was in.

I looked at the image on the phone's little screen, which looked clear enough to copy the lacework back at home.


"No problem." An edge of suspicion in her voice now. Exactly why was I taking a picture of her laces?

There was a moment of awkward silence, the kind that sometimes follows after taking a picture of a stranger's shoe. You think by now I'd be used to it.

I turned away to look at the river. I'd run into my shoelace Innovator in the East River Park, a strip of grass and promenade between the FDR Drive and the water. It's one of the few places where you can tell that Manhattan is an island.

She was carrying a basketball, probably had been shooting hoops on the weedy courts under Manhattan Bridge.

I was here working, like I said.

A big container ship eased by on the water, as slow as a minute hand. Across the river was Brooklyn, looking industrial, the Domino Sugar factory waiting patiently to be turned into an art gallery or housing for millionaires.

I was about to smile once more and keep on walking, but she spoke up.

"What else does it do?"

"My phone?" The list of features was on my tongue, but this was the part of the job I didn't like (which is why you will read no product placement in these pages, if I can possibly help it). I shrugged, trying not to sound like a salesman. "MP3 player, date book, texting. And the camera can shoot like ten seconds of video."

She bit her lip, gave another Nod.

"Very crappy video," I admitted. It was not my job to lie.

"Can you call people on it?"

"Sure, it - " Then I realized she had to be kidding. "Yes, you can actually call people on it."

Her smile was even better than her shoelaces.

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he imagined everybody in the country having one big party line. We'd all listen to concerts on the phone, or maybe everyone would pick up and sing the national anthem together. Of course, a somewhat more popular use of the telephone turned out to be one person talking to one other person.

The first computers were designed for naval gunnery and code breaking. And when the Internet was created, it was supposed to be for controlling the country after a nuclear war. But guess what? Most people use them for e-mailing and IM-ing. One person communicating with one other person.

See the pattern?

"My name's Hunter," I said, returning her smile.


I nodded. "Jennifer was the most popular girl's name in the 1970s and number two in the 1980s."


"Oh, sorry." Sometimes the facts in my head get bored and decide to take a walk in my mouth. Frequently this is a bad thing.

She shook her head. "No, I know what you mean. There's Jens all over the place these days. I was thinking of changing it."

"Jennifer did drop to fourteenth place in the 1990s. Possibly from overexposure." I winced when I realized I'd said this out loud. "But I think it's a nice name."

Great save, huh?

"Me too, but I get bored, you know? Same name all the time."

"Rebranding," I said, nodding. "Everyone's doing it."

She laughed, and I found that we'd started walking together. On a Thursday the park was pretty empty, mostly joggers, dog walkers, and a couple of old guys trying to catch something in the river. We ducked under their fishing lines, which flickered from invisible to brilliant in the summer sun. Behind the metal guardrail the river sloshed against concrete, agitated by a small boat motoring past.

"So, how's Hunter doing?" she asked. "The name, I mean."

"You really want to know?" I checked her smile for signs of derision. Not everyone appreciates the pleasures of's name-ranking database.


"Well, it's no Jennifer, but it's moving up. Hunter was barely in the top four hundred when I was born, but it's a solid number thirty-two these days."

"Wow. So you were way ahead of the crowd."

"Yeah, I guess." I took a sidelong glance at her, wondering if she'd figured me out already.

Jen bounced the basketball once and let it rise into the air in front of her, ringing like a bell, before catching it with long fingers. She studied its longitude lines for a moment, spinning it before her green eyes like a globe.

"Of course, you wouldn't want your name to get too popular, would you?"

"That would suck," I agreed. "Witness the Britney epidemic of the mid-1990s."

She shuddered, and my phone rang. The theme from The Twilight Zone, right on cue.

"See?" I said, holding it up for Jen. "It's doing its phone thing."


The display veadshugrrl, which meant work.

"Hi, Mandy."

"Hunter? Are you doing anything?"

"Uh, not really."

"Can you do a tasting? It's kind of an emergency."

"Right now?"

"Yes. The client wants to put an advertisement on the air over the weekend, but they're not sure about it."

Mandy Wilkins always called her employers "the client," even though she'd worked for them for two years. They were a certain athletic shoe company named after a certain Greek god. Maybe she didn't like using four-letter words.

"I'm trying to get together whoever I can," Mandy said. "The client needs to make a decision in a couple of hours."

"How much does it pay?"

"Officially, just a pair."

"I've got way too many pairs," I said. A trunk full of shoes, not counting the ones I'd given away.

"How about fifty bucks? Out of my own pocket. I need you, Hunter."

"Okay, Mandy, whatever." I looked at Jen, who was scrolling absently through numbers, politely not listening, maybe a little saddened by how old and decrepit her own phone was (at least six months). I made a decision.

"Can I bring someone?"

"Uh, sure. We need more bodies. But are they... you know?"

Jen glanced at me, her eyes narrowing, beginning to realize that I was talking about her. The sun was catching more blue in her hair. I could see that she'd dyed a few slender strands bright purple, hidden underneath the black outer layers, letting glimpses of color through when the wind stirred her hair.

"Yeah. Definitely."

"A what tasting?"

"A cool tasting," I repeated. "But that's just what Mandy and I call them. Officially it's a 'focus group. "

"Focusing on what?"

I told her the name of the client, which did not get the Nod.

"I know," I said. "But you get a free pair and fifty bucks." Once the words had left my mouth, I wondered if Mandy would cough up money for Jen as well as me. Well, if she didn't, Jen could always have my fifty. It was random money anyway.

But I wondered why I had invited her. Usually people in my profession don't like competition. It's one of those jobs, like politician, where there's already too many and everyone who's never tried it thinks they could do it better.

"Sounds kind of weird," Jen said.

I shrugged. "It's just a job. You get paid for your opinion."

"We look at shoes?"

"We watch an ad. Thirty seconds of TV, fifty bucks."

She looked into the currents of the river, having a two-second debate inside her head. I knew what she was thinking. Am I being exploited? Am I selling out? Am I pulling a scam? Is this a trick? Who do I think I'm fooling? Who cares what I think, anyway?

I've thought all those things myself.

She shrugged. "Hey. Fifty bucks."

I let my breath out, just then realizing I'd been holding it. "My thoughts exactly."

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