“Mom, it’s bad to call somebody a pinhead, right?”
Derek’s mother put down her book and rubbed her eyes. “Of course. It’s not a word we use in polite conversation, and it’s terribly insulting. Where did you hear such a thing?”
“Somebody called me that at school today.”
“Horrible.” She dug through her purse and pulled out her cell phone. “I’m calling your principal. Who said it?”
The anger drained from her face. “Oh… I see. I… doubt he understands what the word means.” She resumed reading.
Derek shook her arm. “He knows. He’s always calling me names and doing mean things. He’s a bully — a bully with a big, fat head!”
“If you ignore him, he’ll stop.”
“Ignoring him doesn’t work. He gets meaner.”
“Maybe somebody was cruel to him when he was younger. Sometimes that makes a person become a bully.”
“They’re all bullies. All the Newbies in our school are like Minix. The grownups are afraid of them, too. Jenny Lin told me even the President can’t do anything unless the Newbies say it’s okay.”
“The aliens stopped war all over the world. They showed us how to cure many terrible diseases. We should be grateful.” It sounded to Derek like she was reading the words from her book.
“They think they’re smarter than us just because their heads are bigger than ours.”
“No matter what they think, Derek, you still have to get along with your classmate.”
“I want to punch his lights out.”
The book went down again. Derek could see his mother’s hands shaking, even though she pressed the book into her lap to hide it. “Don’t say such a thing. It will only bring trouble.”
“I know.” Derek sighed. “They sent Jimmy Baker to a special school after he beat up one of the Newbies. Now he wets his pants whenever a Newbie walks by. I just want Minix to stop.”
“Hold your temper and ignore him. That’s the best thing to do.”
The next day at school was worse. Derek dropped his eraser during reading time, while Ms. Hamilton was in the bathroom. It bounced into the aisle beside Minix’s desk.
The Newbie stared at Derek with piggy yellow eyes, and a shark-toothed grin spread across his slick gray face. He looked like a jack-o’-lantern with ears, carved from a burned-out light bulb. As Derek bent down to pick up the eraser, Minix slapped his sandaled foot on top of it. The knobby appendage smelled like spoiled cabbage.
“Dropped your banana, Pinhead?” It was creepy the way his lips moved out-of-sync with the reedy voice that emerged from his translator box.
Derek remembered his mother’s words and held his temper. “Give it back, Minix.”
Minix pushed his foot closer to Derek, grinding the eraser underneath. “Kiss it, Microbrain.”
That did it. Derek clocked him right in his snaggle-toothed mouth.
Minix tumbled backwards out of his chair, but bounced up like a rubber ball, wiping purple blood from his lips, still grinning. “Nice job, Pinhead. You just won a scholarship to the Re-Ed school.”
Derek tore into Minix, arms flailing, screaming rage and defiance from some unknown recess of his innermost being. The alien boy’s grin vanished, and he squawked in fear as he tried to ward off Derek’s pummeling. The other kids began to cheer.
Rough hands pulled the two combatants apart. Derek looked up, and his heart froze. It was another Newbie — a grownup. They were going to take him away and turn him into a whimpering little pants-wetter, like Jimmy Baker.
The big Newbie tossed Derek aside like a rag doll and pulled Minix to his feet. “There’s no time for this, son,” he warbled. “We have to go.”
“Father? Aren’t you going to do something about that Pinhead? He hit me, and he…”
“They’ve found us.”
The piggy eyes widened, and Minix stumbled after his father, squealing in terror, fluid reeking of rotten cabbage dribbling down his legs. Before they reached the door, there was a blinding flash of light, and they vanished.
The classroom TV screen lit up, filled with an alien face. It wasn’t a Newbie.
The children hushed as it spoke. “Creatures of Earth, rejoice! We have removed the fugitive criminals plaguing your world, and the All-Beneficent Pan-Galactic Emperor has graciously declared this sector a protected nature reserve. Once population adjustment and socialization measures are complete, you will enjoy an agrarian culture suitable to your limited capabilities…”
The voice droned on, and Derek stared at the image in fascination. “Wow, I thought Minix had a big head. This guy’s is ginormous!”
Fred Warren writes science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, and his first novel, The Muse, debuted in November 2009. Fred works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, where he lives with his wife and three children. You can find links to his other stories in print and online at http://frederation.wordpress.com/publications.