Ford Pines walked into the residential part of the Mystery Shack in the early evening of a day a couple of weeks into the summer, a smile forming at the sight he found there. His great nephew Dipper sat at the dining room table, his open laptop in front of him while he was surrounded by thin, colorful books. At the sound of the door closing the young man turned his head, a matching smile quickly coming to life.
“Hey, Grunkle Ford,” Dipper greeted him. “How did the herbal hunt go?”
“It was quite successful. I found enough ingredients to fully restock my emergency antidote kit on the Stan O’ War,” Ford answered as he walked over to the table. “While I hope to never have to treat another case of withering carrion rot, I know I need to be prepared just in case.” He gestured to the books. “Are these the college catalogues you wanted to go over with me?”
Dipper nodded, his smile turning into a full-fledged grin. “Yeah, they are,” he confirmed. “I just want to get things narrowed down to a more manageable contact and application list that I can take my time with over my junior year. And I figured if I got it done right away, I wouldn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the time I’m here.”
Ford nodded in approval. “A very good plan.” He pointed to the pile to the boy’s left. “Hand me some of that stack, and I’ll start to go through them, list pros and cons and anything else I think is noteworthy. We’ll compare notes when we’re finished.”
“That works for me.”
The two of them flipped through college catalogues for quite a while, taking their notes and sharing a little small talk as they went along. “So, I haven’t seen anything for West Coast Tech yet,” Ford commented as he replenished his pile from the ones Dipper had already gone through. “I don’t blame you if you already have it on your contact list; from the little bit of research I did after you asked me to do this with you, I see it’s still quite a prestigious institution. I know you’d do well there.” He started to flip through the next catalogue.
The complete quiet had Ford bringing his head up from his book sooner rather than later, and he was surprised to see the uncomfortable look on Dipper’s face. “Dipper? Is something wrong? Did you read something disturbing, or…”
“I really don’t have any plans to even consider West Coast Tech,” Dipper said softly but firmly.
“What?” Ford replied, stunned. “Why wouldn’t you want to go to such a good school?”
“It was one of the first schools that came up during my initial searches,” Dipper said, “but I have to admit something made me uncomfortable about it. So I did my own research. Grunkle Ford, did you know that they brag about turning away ninety to ninety-five percent of the applications they receive each year?”
Ford blinked. “No, I didn’t. But I suppose that’s to be expected.”
Dipper shrugged. “Maybe. It bothered me that they really didn’t explain what their criteria is, though, not even in vague terms. You know, like ‘academic excellence’ or ‘potential in the field of choice’. It was like they’re riding on their reputation.”
Ford’s brows furrowed. “Perhaps some of their advertising comes across that way, but their faculty is amongst the best.”
“I’m not denying that,” Dipper said quickly. “I looked into the faculty I’d be most likely to interact with and they definitely are amongst the top in their fields. Something about that bothered me, though, like the rest of it. I didn’t know what it was; it didn’t make any sense. I just knew it had something to do with when you told us about when their recruiters came to your high school to maybe offer you a scholarship. So I did some digging.”
“Digging? Into what?” Ford asked.
“Their past. I looked up who was on staff during that time, and who was involved in recruitment. Grunkle Ford, I was horrified when I found out. Absolutely horrified.”
Ford simply met his gaze for a long moment before finally asking, “Why?”
Dipper swallowed down a lump of nervousness. “They were all scientists, Grunkle Ford. Each picked from a different department. They do that every year; they say it’s to make sure their people get a real feel for the modern-day student, but I didn’t get the impression from the former professor I talked to that the instructors themselves thought of it that way. They looked at it more like jury duty.”
The boy sighed when his great uncle just stared at him. “The school is sent lists of students they might be interested in from around the country but who probably wouldn’t be able to make the trip to visit the campus for whatever reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if your principal sent your name in for consideration. Then they go through those lists and put together a travel itinerary for that year’s recruiters.”
“This doesn’t exactly explain you being horrified,” Ford said quietly. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“I’m not hiding any facts from you, no,” Dipper said. “But with everything I knew, I went back over your story in my mind. The recruiters came to see your science fair project. When they saw it was broken, they crossed your name off the list and left without even talking to you. Am I right?”
“Yes, you are,” Ford said sadly, the memory still painful.
Dipper leaned forward. “Grunkle Ford, that’s what makes me so angry. Those were scientists who came to see your project. And they never talked to you.”
Ford shook his head. “And why should they talk to a child with a broken machine? A broken perpetual motion machine, at that!”
“Come on, Grunkle Ford, don’t do that. Think. You’re a scientist. You know how science really works. A science fair project is just a well-documented experiment presented as a colorful public display.” Dipper paused and blinked. “Especially if you let Mabel anywhere near it. I don’t recommend that, by the way.” He shook his head. “Anyway, you’re presenting a hypothesis. From there it’s about following the scientific method and coming to a conclusion, not about successfully building a machine.”
“The recruiters had no way of knowing about my conclusions with my machine broken,” Ford protested.
“They had no way of knowing one way or the other no matter what condition your machine was in,” Dipper refuted. “From what you said, they took one look at the machine and left. Which means they didn’t look at your presentation or documentation, and they didn’t ask you any questions.”
Ford sighed. “Dipper, I appreciate your attempt to exonerate…”
Dipper flopped back in his chair with a huff, cutting off the man’s sentence. “Grunkle Ford, if I told you that I was going to make a machine that could challenge a known law of physics, and then when you came to see the finished model you found out it didn’t work, what would you do?”
Ford stared at him for a moment, tight-lipped. “Dipper, I don’t think you’re going about this…”
“You’d ask me about my process,” Dipper continued, interrupting him. “You’d ask me about my theory, and the experimentation I did to test it, and the design I used, and the materials I was able to put together. You would never just look at my non-functioning model and dismiss me and my theory – and not just because I’m your nephew,” he said quickly, cutting off the immediate retort he could see coming. “You know, because you’re a scientist, that it’s the science behind a theory that needs to be examined. That it’s not whether you successfully build a model that determines whether an experiment was good or bad, it’s the process. Can it be repeated? Was there a variable that wasn’t accounted for? Was there another kind of experiment that could be done to prove or disprove the hypothesis? Was there a design flaw that went unobserved?
“Those are the kinds of questions a good scientist might ask if they saw a science fair project that didn’t appear to be working,” Dipper continued, flinching just a little at the upset look on his uncle’s face but knowing he couldn’t stop now. “If those recruiters were acting like the good scientists they were supposed to be, not to mention if they were actually looking for good candidates for West Coast Tech, they would have talked to you. They would have looked over your display and asked questions. They would have tested your knowledge of the science behind your machine, found out about your theories and where they came from. Your answers to all of that would be a better gauge of whether you’d do well at a school than whether or not a machine works.”
“Why do you think they didn’t?” Ford asked in a whisper. He gave a shaky little smile. “You seem to already have a theory about it.”
Dipper gestured at his laptop. “It’s all there on the web page. They’re an elite private university. They pride themselves on only taking a certain amount of candidates each year, flat out saying that amount is only five to ten percent of the applicants. Their reputation can’t be matched.” He took a deep breath and released it. “What I think happens is that they get their applicants that actually send in applications, and then they get the list from all the school administrators telling them about the top students. From that pool of candidates, they make their picks. But to keep up their public image, they send out the faculty members – who aren’t even trained in any way to do any actual recruiting – to meet with a limited number of the submitted names to make the administrators feel like they’re being listened to, so they keep sending names. They find a few diamonds in the rough that way, after all. Their job at that point is to find a reason to say no. Any reason will do. Not involved in the right extracurricular activities? Cross him off. Not involved in any activities? She’s gone, too. Only had the third highest grade point average? Nope. Science fair project not working like it’s supposed to? Draw a line though that name. Oh, good, nobody left. We can go home now.”
Ford’s gaze fell to the table. “They were just looking for reasons to say no,” he murmured. “It makes too much sense.”
Dipper leaned forward again. “I’d never want to go to a school that thought they were so much better than everybody else, that they had the right to play with people like that because of their reputation. And even more than that, they didn’t think that a certain special somebody was good enough for them, even though he ended up good enough and smart enough to get twelve PhDs, a certain special someone who happens to be extremely important to me. They hurt you, Grunkle Ford, and by hurting you did a whole lot of damage to my family. All because of their precious ‘reputation’. I’ll never go to a place like that. I’ll never consider for even a second going to West Coast Tech.”
“It was my dream school,” Ford murmured, still not looking up from the table. “I knew about it, of course, but I never thought I’d have a chance to get in coming from such a small town high school, even with my grades as good as they were. And then the principal told me they were coming, that they wanted to see me and my project. I was going to get to prove to them how smart I was, how much I already knew. But it turns out I had been right all along; I never had a chance.”
“Aw, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you all over again about this,” Dipper said softly. “That’s why I hadn’t brought it up before now.”
Ford looked up and met Dipper’s sad gaze. “You have nothing to apologize for, Dipper. You simply answered my question, and explained your reasoning when I pressed you for it. The people from West Coast Tech are the ones who gave me the false hope I could never let go of…” The older man’s eyes widened for a moment before squeezing shut as he scowled. “I never had a chance. The condition of my project never mattered. Which means the way I treated Stanley for all this time…”
Both people seated at the table looked over Dipper’s shoulder to see Stan leaning in the doorway that led to the kitchen, his arms crossed over his chest. “Stanley, I am so, so…”
Stan rolled his eyes as he cut off his twin’s words with a dismissive gesture. “I swear, Sixer, if you finish that apology, I’m gonna have to noogie you into submission. You’ve already apologized for what happened between us, multiple times. We both have. I think you have some kind of schedule set up for it, though. And you’re not due for another couple of weeks.”
Ford shook his head. “This is different. This is worse. If I would have just thought things through…”
“Ford, I still broke your machine. I still didn’t tell you about it. I still didn’t show a lot of remorse about it when you confronted me. And most importantly, you had no reason to think about it any differently than you did. If Dipper’s right – and I think he probably is – even the principal didn’t know it was all a sham just to make themselves look good. Why would a seventeen-year-old getting an unexpected shot at going to a school he thought he could only dream of before look any deeper? Heck, even as good at spotting cons as I am, I hadn’t thought of it before Dipper said something. Give yourself a break.” Stan gave his brother a warm half-smile.
“That’s hard to do,” Ford admitted with a half-smile of his own. “I have a lot to be remorseful for. It doesn’t help when it’s discovered that there’s one more thing to add to the list.”
“Put the blame on the right people,” Stan said, stepping over to one of the other chairs and sitting down. “You weren’t the only person to ever get their hopes up by these West Coast Tech people just to have them dashed to pieces because their intentions were crap and they just didn’t care. They play with people’s lives every year. There’s no way we’re the only family to take some serious damage because of it. The way I see it, they’re the bad guys of the story.” He shrugged. “Or that part of it, at least.”
Ford nodded slowly. “I will admit that I’m beginning to feel quite angry at being manipulated,” he said.
Stan snorted. “You should. I do.”
Dipper looked back and forth between his great uncles. “So is everyone okay here? I really didn’t want to drag all this stuff up again, but you guys seem to be handling it all right.”
“We’re fine,” Ford assured him with a full-fledged smile. “Stan is correct that we’ve discussed this many times, and we’ve reached a level of peace with each other about it.”
“For the most part,” Stan added, grinning. “We still can’t help poking each other about it every now and again. We wouldn’t be us if we didn’t.”
“I think I can understand that,” Dipper said, smiling as well.
Stan clapped him on the shoulder. “I’m just glad you’re not gonna go to that stuck-up place. They don’t deserve a smart kid like you.”
Dipper blushed a little. “Oh, I don’t know if I’d go that far.”
Ford nodded. “I certainly would. Don’t underestimate your own worth, Dipper. You are invaluable.”
“Which means you can help us come up with a way to get some petty revenge,” Stan said with a wicked gleam in his eyes.
“Really, Stanley.” Ford rolled his eyes.
The door to the Shack slammed open before the conversation could go any further, and the three occupants of the table turned to see Mabel skip inside and close the door much more gently behind her. She gave them all a grin. “Ah, all of my favorite guys in one place. How great is that?” She waved a large manila envelope around. “It seems no one got the mail today. This baby was keeping the mail box door stuck open.” She trotted over to the table and tossed the envelope at her brother. “Mom sent it.”
Dipper knocked over some of the catalogues in his efforts to catch the piece of mail, but he was successful. “You can pick those up while I find out what’s inside,” he grumbled to the giggling girl as he picked up a pen and worked it under the sealed flap.
Mabel’s giggles turned into all-out laughter. “Fine, I can do that. But your dexterity’s getting better; you actually caught it!” She leaned over and scooped up the stray magazines, dumping them in the middle of the table.
“What is it?” Ford asked in response to Dipper’s surprised expression a minute later as Mabel planted herself in the last remaining chair. “What does your mother have to say?”
“Yeah, why couldn’t she have called?” Mabel asked.
“She said I got these in the mail right after we left and thought I might want them.” Dipper pulled out a pair of letter-sized envelopes. “I got a letter from West Coast Tech.”
Mabel looked at the other envelope. “Oooo, and from Miskatonic University, too!”
Dipper pushed her away as Ford leaned forward. “Miskatonic University?” the scientist asked, intensely curious.
Stan rolled his eyes as he reached out to push his brother back into his seat. “Just open up the West Coast Tech letter, kiddo. I gotta know what they said so I can figure out the perfect way to tell ‘em off.”
“You told them what you figured out about that place, didn’t you?” Mabel asked her twin with a knowing smile. “I wondered how long you’d hold out.”
“Grunkle Ford asked me why there wasn’t a catalogue,” Dipper defended himself as he opened the right letter. “I wasn’t about to lie.”
“Of course you weren’t,” Mabel said fondly, then waited for her brother to read the typed script.
Stan looked around the table when Dipper slowly lowered the piece of paper and no one said anything. “So, uh, what is it? What did they say?”
Dipper turned his head to look at him. “They think I’m interested in going there because I asked so many questions about them. They looked into my academic history. They… They want me to set up an appointment with one of their student advisors so we can talk about my future enrollment, possibly even a scholarship.” He sounded totally stunned.
Mabel frowned. “What the heck? How did they get into your academic history? Don’t they need some kind of permission for that? Tell me you didn’t give them permission for that.”
Dipper shook his head. “No, of course not. Do you think I’d be this surprised if I had?”
“No, you wouldn’t do that,” Mabel said in a much gentler tone, giving him a little smile of apology. He returned it to let her know it was accepted. The girl pulled out her cell phone. “That can only mean one of two things. And I intend to find out which one it is.” She started scrolling through her contacts. “Mom, Mom, Mom… There you are! Prepare to be messaged!” Her fingers started flying across the screen, her attention totally absorbed.
“I should just tear this up and send them the scraps,” Dipper muttered darkly.
“There are more mature ways to deal with this, Dipper,” Ford lightly admonished him.
Stan snorted. “Maybe, but those aren’t any fun. There’s gotta be a way to use this to our advantage!”
Ford glared at his brother. “We’re not in some kind of battle with West Coast Tech, Stan. Yes, what they did was atrocious, selfish, and manipulative, but it’s in the past. That’s probably where we should leave it.”
Stan raised his eyebrows. “You want this as much as I do, Sixer, admit it. They turned you away, and then you went out and proved you were a super nerd and got twelve PhDs. You can’t tell me you don’t want to rub that in their faces just a little bit.”
“I know I want to do it,” Dipper chimed in.
“See?” Stan said, grinning madly. “Dipper wants to do it. You can’t let the kid down.” He looked at Dipper and gave the boy’s shoulder a light punch. “You just keep getting smarter and smarter every time I see you.” They both laughed.
“I can’t believe you encourage him,” Ford said with a sigh. Neither Stan nor Dipper were quite sure which one of them he was talking about.
Mabel sighed and put her phone away. “It was Mom,” she said mournfully. “Someone called her while we were in school and said you’d shown a lot of interest, so would it be okay to get a look at your grades? She was all excited about it. I guess Dad told her about what a good school it was and all that jazz.”
Ford and Stan shared a quick look. “I bet he heard that from your grandpa when the whole college hunt was going on for him,” Stan said. “I think Shermie mentioned it a couple of times in some letters he sent around then. West Coast Tech was pretty legendary in our family until earlier today.”
Dipper shrugged. “It’s nice to have that cleared up, but it’s not like it makes any difference. They can want me all they want; I’m not going there.”
“Maybe you are,” Stan mused thoughtfully. “Well, at least one time. I think this is a message that should be delivered in person, don’t you?”
“Wait, what?” Dipper asked, bewildered. “I shouldn’t have to deal with them at all.”
“And it’s not like you could go alone,” Mabel added, a bright glint in her eye showing she got where her uncle was going with this. “You’d need an adult or two with you. And me, of course. You always need your twin for big moments like this.”
Ford shot a narrow-eyed glare at the two of them while Dipper still looked confused. “You aren’t actually considering what I think you’re considering, are you?”
Mabel grinned. “You bet we are!” she shouted, jumping to her feet.
Stan laughed. “That’s my girl.”
“Oh, I get it,” Dipper said slowly, comprehension finally dawning. “Just how much of their pitch should I let them get through do you think?”
“As much as possible,” Stan immediately replied. “All if it if you can keep your lunch down that long.”
“And then whammo!” Mabel punched her fist into her open palm. “Tell ‘em where to stick it and why!”
Dipper grinned. “I think I can manage that.”
Stan looked at Mabel. “And while you two take the tour and get the royal treatment, Mabel and I can figure out how else to let ‘em know we’ve been there.”
“Without getting caught,” Mabel added quickly. “And without leaving any hints or anything so we don’t get caught later.”
“Why are you doing this?” Ford asked, resigned to the fact that there was going to a revenge trip in his near future.
The other three grew serious and all turned to face him. Mabel stepped over and wrapped her arms around his shoulders before squeezing tightly. “Because we love you, Grunkle Ford,” she said softly. “Those people hurt you. We all know it won’t change anything, but getting a little bit of revenge will make us feel a little better.”
Dipper smiled. “And I want them to know their selfish methods made them miss out on someone super special, and that they’re the reason they’re going to lose a candidate they apparently want pretty badly considering I only just finished my sophomore year.” He shrugged. “I know it won’t really make a difference, but it’ll be satisfying.”
“I can’t go around punching the people that hurt you on this one,” Stan said, leaning back in his chair. “This is the next best thing. Sure it’s stupid and petty, but I specialize in that.” He grinned.
“For example, his yearly road trip to the other local tourist traps,” Dipper said.
“You love it just as much as I do,” Stan shot back.
“Probably not that much, but I have fun,” Dipper admitted.
Ford chuckled and shook his head. “You all are too much.” He leaned his forehead against the top of Mabel’s head. “So when are we doing this?”
Stan laughed. “That’s the spirit, Poindexter!” He leaned forward and rubbed his hands together evilly. “Let the planning begin…”