Tim looked up towards Jupiter through his telescope. He couldn’t quite make out the huge planet through the dim lens, but he knew it was there. He had found the telescope in a Salvation Army two years ago. It had been rusted and partially cracked down the side, the magnification was so weak it barely improved on the naked eye, but Tim loved it. He made a quick note in his book and then frowned. According to the textbook Jupiter had a bright red spot on its surface, a storm twice the size of Earth swirling at speeds faster than a hurricane. Tim thought the picture made it look like a fat, angry zit. Except nobody had ever tried to pop it.
“Honey! Are you milking?” his mother shouted from downstairs.
“No, Mom, I’m doing my homework,” he yelled back, not turning away from his telescope. Writing faster he began to count down from ten. He got to six before he heard footsteps on the stairs.
“Timothy Roger Phillips what did I tell you about doing homework before milking,” his mother said bursting into his room without knocking. She had his Zitto in her hand.
Tim sighed, reaching up to his forehead where a plethora of acne seemed to be in perpetual bloom. He had been fortunate to hit puberty young, his mother often told him, because it meant they could start harvesting and not interfere too much with his future. Tim never bought that. He always figured his parents were excited about him sprouting young because he was less likely to argue with how they treated his face.
“Come on, it’s not like it takes long. And look, those puppies are ripe for bursting!” his mother said, pressing the Zitto against the bumps on his brow.
The Zitto consisted of a small glass cylinder on one end with an opening rimmed in metal. Some of the kids at school had gold rimmed Zittos and claimed they were much more comfortable when you used them because the metal was so soft. Everyone else said those kids were pansies and should suck it up. At the other end of the glass tube was a small box made of a beige plastic. It had two digital readouts and acted as combination vacuum, scale and printer. At the bottom of the beige box was a place to screw in the sealable plastic vials sold everywhere, and at the top of the box was a nice big red button.
Tim’s mom squished the end of the Zitto hard against Tim’s forehead and mashed the button with a big, genuine smile on her face. He felt his skin get pulled into the little machine for a moment before it ruptured, spilling the putrid fruits of his pimples into the glass chamber and then up into the box. There was a pause as the numbers on the first digital readout ticked up and then stopped. The second screen flashed a dollar amount, and then the mush from his face was spit into the plastic vial at the bottom of the machine. His mom screwed it off, capped it and pocketed it.
“See honey, not bad at all,” she said, twirling on her heels as she did. She put the Zitto on his dresser and turned back to him. “Now I want all of those little whiteheads squeezed before bed, okay? And put on some of that new oil stuff, see if we can get another good crop in the morning.”
She gave another beaming smile at her little cash-cow and left his room, leaving the door wide open.
“Okay,” replied Tim to his mom’s back, one hand feeling his tender skin. With a sigh he turned back to the pimply gas giant in his telescope.
“Man, you have it good.”
It was the next morning and Tim was sitting next to his buddy Carl on the way to school. The green blurs of trees whizzed past.
“If I had the zittage you got, I would never bother coming to school. It would be milk city all day every day, just rolling in that sweet, sweet mush,” Carl said, running a finger down the bridge of his nose. Carl was tall for sixteen, his arms and chest already beginning to fill with muscle, and he had a frock of ginger hair sitting unruly on top of his head. His face was perfectly smooth.
“That’s a disgusting image,” Tim replied. He had his notebook out and was hurriedly trying to finish his homework before they arrived at Middleton High. “My face is going to pay for college but I’m not going to be accepted because my grades are so low.”
Carl waved a hand at Tim.
“Why bother with college? Just save the mush money and retire. That’s what Cass is doing, she says her parents found her some investor guy and he’s going to be able to grow her money so she never has to work. And you have way more acne than her.”
“Yeah but I want to go to college,” said Tim.
“Okay but again, why?” asked Carl.
“You know we have the to technology to fire drones to the edge of the galaxy but we just… haven’t?” Tim said with a huff.
Carl frowned, “so?”
Tim slapped his notebook shut and stuffed it into his bag just as the bus pulled into its loop. He didn’t reply. First period was physics.
“Alright guys did anyone get through their astronomy readings this time?” asked Mr. Johnson, his glasses hanging down around his neck on a wire.
Mr. Johnson was Carl and Tim’s physics teacher. A kindly old man with a great sense of humour he exclusively wore sweater vests and drank coffee from 9am ‘til 3pm every single day.
Carl and Tim raised their hands.
“And I’m assuming the rest of you were too busy squishing that gross goo from your faces and your parents have kindly provided explanations for me as to why that’s more important than homework?” Mr. Johnson said with a sigh to the rest of the class. The response was a flurry of brandished notes.
Mr. Johnson quietly collected all the notes without bothering to read them and then started the lesson. They were learning about gravity in the solar system, or trying to since the back of the class wasn’t bothering to stop their conversations. A bell went off half an hour into the lesson and all the kids reached into their bags for their Zittos. They spent ten minutes milking while Mr. Johnson muttered to himself about abuse of power at the front of the room and Carl doodled on the edge of his page. It was an average class.
It was noon before the monotony of the day was broken. The Principal came over the loudspeaker summoning everyone in the school to an assembly. It wasn’t exactly a rare occurrence, but it was rare to have every kid from every grade called down. Kids whispered there had been another suicide. The seniors started taking odds on if it was a student or teacher.
When the crowd arrived at the gym there was a tall, thin man standing on the floor in front of the bleachers. He wore a dark grey suit with a white shirt and a red tie, and his hair was carefully slicked back over his head. Behind him were what looked like rows and rows of gun racks that had been covered with cloths the same color as the man’s suit. The man was holding a microphone.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I’m here on behalf of the Zitto corporation in regards to your Extraction Devices. First off the corporation would like to thank you for all your hard work in collecting the sebum from your pores,” the man began. There was a moment of confused silence. “Ah I believe it’s commonly referred to as Mush. The stuff that comes out of your acne, thank you for collecting it. Anyways today I’m here to collect your Zitto devices.”
The gym descended into pandemonium.
Students started yelling at teachers, teachers at students, the principal seemed to have gone into shock, her eyes wider than her mouth which was hanging loosely, and above all everyone seemed to be yelling at the man in the dark grey suit. This was the end of their culture as they knew it, the end of the economy too probably; would they have to go back to popping zits with their fingers, would people with acne even be attractive anymore? The man quietly raised a hand, then frowned when no one paid attention to his raised hand and coughed loudly into the mic.
“Apologies, perhaps I should rephrase that. I am here to collect your Zitto devices and replace them with the new and improved model, the Zitto 9000,” he said and threw his arms wide. Like some gaudy magic trick all the cloths where whipped off the racks behind him to reveal rows and rows of sparkling plastic. The glass tube was recognizable from the current Zitto machines, but rather than feeding into a beige box it ended in a bright red gun-shaped handle, the button had been replaced by a trigger and the plastic vial slid neatly in where a magazine would normally go. The man’s eyes were bright now.
“My friends, these new Zitto 9000s have the power to suck sebum not just from your pimples, but from all of your pores. The sucking power is so great that you won’t have to wait for acne, you can milk all day long. Now come on down and claim your prize.”
There was a clamouring as the students began to pour onto the gym floor, bottlenecking at the bottom of the stairs. The old Zittos were practically thrown on the ground at the grey suited man’s feet. The kids were frothing with excitement. This would mean being able to milk zits in a single go, it would mean double, perhaps triple the Mush output that they had been achieving before. The cash would be immense.
Tim waited until most of the kids had gone by. Carl had rushed off with the beginning of the group leaving Tim to wander down to the gym floor on his own. Just before he got there the thin man spoke again.
“Teacher’s and administration, you may take a device as well. As I said, you don’t need acne to benefit from the Zitto 9000.”
A murmur passed through the gathered students like a wave. Ever so slowly, the principal walked over to a rack and picked up one of the bright red machines as if it were a feral kitten, and then slowly backed away. The teachers began following her lead. Soon everyone in the gym was clutching the gun shaped device. The tall, thin, grey suited man gave one satisfied nod and as if from thin air a team of burly men began rolling the empty racks out of the gym. With a clang the gym doors swung shut and silence reigned.
“In light of all of this,” the principle said loudly, without looking up from the Zitto 9000 in her hands, “I think the school board would understand if we took the rest of the day off. Please pack up and enjoy your weekends.”
And then she left. The students and teachers all followed.
Tim and Carl walked most of the way home together. Carl already had the glass tube pressed firmly to his smooth forehead, the new machine slowly but surely working little strands of milky mush out of the pores.
“It kind of hurts,” said Carl, just before Tim turned up his driveway.
“Yeah, it kind of does,” replied Tim, and left his friend standing in the street frowning.
Tim opened to the door to find his mother sitting at the kitchen table. She had a Zitto 9000 in front of her.
“Hey, Mom shouldn’t you be at work?” Tim asked quietly.
“No,” she replied, “not anymore.” Then she picked up the little machine and, placing it lovingly on the skin under her eye, she pulled the trigger. There was a high-pitched whining sound and Tim saw the skin stretch and ooze into the glass tube. She released the trigger and her skin snapped back into place with a perfect red circle where the glass just was.
“Tim, I think we’re going to pull you out of school for a little bit,” she said, eyes on the little display counting her mush. “It’s important you fulfill your duties at home.”
As she spoke the skin under her eye began to puff up and swell.
“You can milk now,” Tim replied. “Can’t I start focusing on homework? Get into a college I want?”
Tim dropped his backpack as he spoke and for the first time since getting home his mom looked up at him. The swelling gave her smile a lopsided look.
“Tim, why aren’t you milking?”
He rushed past her up to his room. He sat on his bed and looked at his beaten-up telescope. On clear nights he had been trying to map the craters on the moon, but hadn’t had much luck because everything was so hard to make out through the old milky lens. He looked down at the new sportscar red Zitto he had been holding since the gym. Tentatively he pressed it against his forehead and pulled the trigger. It worked faster than his old one had. He could feel the skin tighten and break, could basically hear the splashing of his creamy pimple juice into the canister as the familiar vacuum whine filled the room. He passed the device quickly across his whole forehead. As usual his skin felt tender afterwards, and he pulled away to check the dollar value on the little digital readout. The number made him frown. He gave the machine a little shake and checked again. The number remained the same. It was huge. Enough for a real, professional, see Jupiter’s Red Spot from his backyard telescope. Enough for a sportscar in the red of the Zitto 9000. The mush from his face nearly filled the little plastic canister when he pulled it out, and as the sun strove toward the horizon Tim sat and considered the heavy little vial of beige liquid gold that he held. Finally, he made his way back down to the kitchen. His mother had her Zitto 9000 pressed under her other eye, and the whole left side of her face was swollen and red.
“Mom, I think maybe some time off would be good for me,” said Tim, and placed the little plastic canister on the kitchen table in front of her. Her reddened face broke into a wide, genuine smile.