Helen is a teenaged girl living in Brooklyn.
On the evening of April 3rd, 1997, Helen comes home from a shopping trip. She’s hiding her face behind a box and carrying a mouse cage in her free hand. She lugs it into her room. It’s a typical teen girl’s room, except that its walls are padded and it has no mirrors. It has two windows. One window is open. It has no screen, but there’s a piece of paper taped over the opening. It’s a big note, written on construction paper. It says, “No Launching! – Tyndareus”
Helen puts down the cage.
She looks at the note.
The note flies through the air. It flutters, flutters, flutters down to the Earth below.
Helen does not look at the cage. She opens it.
A mouse runs out. It runs around. It squeaks. Suddenly, it sees Helen’s face.
Another mouse runs around. It squeaks. Suddenly, it sees Helen’s face.
The last mouse walks out. It is quiet and dignified. It is a solid gentleman of a mouse. It looks up. It opens its mouth to squeak.
Flutter, flutter, flutter, down to the Earth below.
It’s her adoptive father’s voice! Helen quickly hides her face behind the box so she doesn’t launch him. Then she turns. “Yes, father?”
Tyndareus’ voice is wry and gentle. “The neighbors say it’s raining mice again.”
“I’m trying to get to a thousand,” Helen says.
She’s hiding her face behind a box labelled “e-Life.” It’s a promotional box for a revolutionary Internet-aware life management application! Treading the thin line between an Outlook clone and a massively multiplayer online RPG, e-Life proved impossible for its original designers to launch. Helen hasn’t launched it yet, but she doesn’t quite trust it—the box always seems as light and trembly as feathers in her hands.
“If I launch a thousand mice,” Helen says, “then I won’t launch mice any more, and I can keep one as a pet. But if I don’t launch them on purpose, then I’ll launch them every time I happen across one, and I’ll be old and gray before I can buy one to keep!”
“I suppose that’s true,” Tyndareus says. “But couldn’t you aim them away from the street?”
“Father!” Helen says. “If they don’t fly out the window, they’ll hit the wall!”
She’s so shocked by his suggestion that she lowers the box.
Tyndareus flies through the air. He hits the wall. It’s padded, of course. He lands with a long-suffering slump.
“Five hundred and seventy-nine,” he says.
“Oops,” Helen blushes.
“You know,” he says, “if I can survive it, the mice probably can. And it’s less of a fall.”
Helen blushes deeper.
“I didn’t think of that,” she admits.
She hangs her head.
“It’s okay,” he says. Then he laughs. “Hey,” he says, “you’ll be through launching me before you’re old and gray.”
“That’s true,” she agrees.
“Before I’m old and gray, even,” he says.
“You’re pretty old already, Daddy,” she says.
He grins. “Maybe,” he says.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey,” she says, and she’s suddenly looking pretty sad, “Hey, I was wondering, is it because I’m ugly?”