Chapter 1: Kip and Co.
...... At first, Kip tried to not enjoy himself, worrying that he might be too old to be riding a carousel. But then he observed that most of the other riders also wore green blazers and grey shorts--the uniform of the Feynman Elementary School for Advanced Physics. And that meant that they too were about twelve years old.
......He looked out at the ancient brick buildings of the other school as they swished by. With no one going in or out, the Amdexter School looked dead. Kip knew that in the morning their boys would arrive. But for now, in the afternoon sun, the buildings looked menacing and abandoned--and silent. The calliope music made the entire outside world go silent, like watching TV with the vacuum cleaner running--images without meaning.
......As his horse moved him in the direction of his own school, Kip leaned into the turn, pretending that it was he rather than the carousel directing his mount. The Feynman School: a small classroom building, a dormitory, and an observatory-planetarium complex, was brand new--imitation ancient brick.
......At the next revolution, Kip looked down at the people, parents mostly, many of whom carried grey ESAP information packets. They talked with each other and with school officials, and held plastic cups of wine and munched on cheese and little sandwiches. At the same time, Kip smelled kid-food: hot dogs and mustard, and fries and ketchup--dinner for the boys since the Amdexter refectory wouldn't open until breakfast.
......One hundred and eighty degrees later, Kip looked out at the Amdexter playing fields: a flat, boring nothingness, a treeless meadow without even cows. Kip slapped the wooden rump of his horse, urging him to gallop faster. But he didn't. Instead, his horse slowed, and then stopped.
......Kip helped himself at the boys' food table
then, overflowing paper plate in hand and fingers slippery from potato chip
grease, he sought out his parents. He found them talking to someone official-looking.
Alongside his parents were another man and woman with a kid in tow. The kid
wore the same school uniform as did Kip.
......As Kip drew close, he heard the official type say, "...obvious that these ESAP kids are so far ahead of their grade level in math and science that the idea of teaching to the syllabus is ridiculous." Kip moved in between his mom and dad, and the man looked at him with a friendly smile.
......"This is my son, Kip." Professor Campbell put an arm around his son. "And," he said, gently urging his son forward, "this is Dr. Hopcroft, the chief...teacher of your school."
......Dr. Hopcroft chuckled as he shook hands. "But my wife is also Dr. Hopcroft. Better to call me just Dr. Ralph, or for that matter, just Ralph."
......"Yes, sir." Kip felt awkward, as he usually did when adults, especially his parents, were conversing with other adults and doubly so when the adults wore jackets. Dr. Ralph was wearing a jacket but even though it fit, it looked as if it didn't. It was unbuttoned, showing a white shirt with a ballpoint and some file cards in its pocket. Dr. Ralph was thin and long and his shirt was even longer; the cuffs peeked out from the ends of the jacket sleeves.
......Dr. Ralph extended an arm toward the other kid, a blond boy who wore glasses. "This is Wolfgang Kohl. You two will be roommates in subdorm-8."
......"Hi," said Wolfgang, shyly.
......"Hi." Kip could see that Wolfgang felt awkward as well, and looked as if he'd like to escape. Kip gazed up at his dad. "Can we go exploring, please?"
......"What?" Professor Campbell looked to Dr. Ralph. "It's all right with me, but..."
......"I don't see why not," said Dr. Ralph, glancing at the Kohls, "if..."
......"I think it would be nice if you boys got to know each other," said Wolfgang's mother in a foreign accent. She glanced at her son. "Wolfy?"
......The boy nodded. His father nodded as well.
......"Fine," said Dr. Ralph, "But be back at five o'clock to say goodbye to your parents. And right after that, there's a student orientation."
......The word goodbye hit Kip like a blow. He'd pushed out of his mind the fact that his parents would be going home without him. He felt a sudden sadness but he wasn't about to show it--not in front of another kid.
......"Okay," said Kip in a small voice.
......"The orientation is at Snack Bar," Dr. Ralph added. He stressed the word bar.
......Kip looked at him quizzically.
......"The snack bar and lounge in Feynman Hall." Dr. Ralph pointed away at one of the new buildings. "Five o'clock, sharp."
......Kip held up his arm, exposing his wristwatch. "Yes, sir." He and Wolfgang jogged away.
......They started their explorations with the Feynman School buildings. It was their school and besides, the three buildings were open. Before going into the observatory/planetarium complex, Kip looked back at the carousel. "Doesn't it seem sort of weird for a school to have a merry-go-round?"
......"It does, sort of." Wolfgang spoke without any trace of an accent. "But my dad, he's a physicist. He does quantum mechanics. He thinks it's a great idea. He says that you can study centrifugal forces, centripetal forces, and curved space times until you're blue in the face, but to truly understand them, just play catch for a couple of hours on a moving carousel."
......"Fun!" Kip turned away from the carousel. "My dad's a professor of neurobiology. He says quantum mechanics is fascinating. He thinks neurolinguistics might have something to do with it."
......They prowled around under the dome of the planetarium. Wolfgang opened a cabinet behind the control console. "Wow. This place is VRIT enabled!"
......"Really?" Kip was impressed. "A full Virtual Reality Immersion Theater?"
......"And not just paper polarized glasses. Headsets with flicker-lenses and stereo sound."
......Kip started toward the cabinet. "Does it have any good VritFlics?"
......"Lots," said Wolfgang, scanning the titles. "Star formation, galaxy formation, and evolution of the solar system. And genuine Mars exploration--not a simulation. This is great!"
......"But no werewolf movies."
......Wolfgang chuckled. "'Fraid not. At least I didn't see any." He closed the cabinet. "Let's check out the observatory."
......They left the planetarium and moved to the matching dome of the observatory.
......"Seems a very little telescope for a dome this big," said Kip after Wolfgang had found and switched on a light.
......"Small?" said Wolfgang in a voice of awe. "That's a seven hundred millimeter Schmidt-Cassagrainian," He caressed the telescope: pawing over it, turning the focus knob, peering at the expanse of purple coated glass. "I'd kill to own this."
......Kip saw the lust in Wolfgang's eyes and didn't doubt him. "You like astronomy."
......"My main hobby. I know the names of most of the stars in the sky. What's your hobby?"
......"I play the bassoon." Kip paused. "And I'm a werewolf," he added, casually.
......"What's with this werewolf stuff?" said Wolfgang, still stroking the telescope.
......"Werewolves are great." Kip gave a wolfish growl. "You run around after bed time, howl at the moon, eat interesting food, and you're your own pet."
......Kip urged his new friend away from the telescope. "Come on; let's check out the other buildings."
......They left the planetarium complex by the back way and cut diagonally across to Feynman Hall. They wandered through the labs, a few classrooms and then went into a large room labeled Snack/2p. "Think this is Snack Bar?" said Kip.
......"Probably," said Wolfgang. "But I don't know what it means. I bet it's some science joke. I'll ask my dad."
......The lecture-hall sized room, filled with big round tables and chairs, had a row of vending machines along one wall while the opposite wall had a long strip of what looked like old-fashioned blackboards. Except there were controls on it.
......"We had this in my old school," said Wolfgang. "Automatic blackboards. Computers can write things on them." He ambled up to a control box set into the bottom of the blackboard, read the labeling, and then said. "Hey, watch this!" Wolfgang moved a slide switch and the windows gradually turned from transparent to opaque--plunging Snack Bar into darkness. Then he said, "Let there be light!" and the windows went clear again. "Active windows. Veeeery spiffy."
......"Yeah. It really is." Kip continued exploring. "Hey, wow!" he said, standing in front of a vending machine. "The food is free." He looked some more. "Phooey! Only the healthy food is free."
......Wolfgang came over. "My old school had these, too. They're green machines--people powered. You turn a crank and the fruit comes out." He turned the handle and watched through the transparent window as a banana fell to the bottom.
......"I wonder," said Kip. "What's to prevent people from cranking out all the fruit and selling it on street corners?"
......"They're usually padlocked when no one's around." Wolfgang reached in for the banana. "And anyway, there probably isn't a street corner for fifty kilometers."
......"Yeah. Right." Kip turned away from the machines. "Come on. Let's explore the dormitory--we can hunt for Subdorm-8"
......"We'll see that tonight, anyway," said Wolfgang as he peeled the banana. "Let's explore somewhere else."
......"Yeah, okay." They left the building by the front entrance onto the Heisenberg Commons, then cut across the grass to the main Amdexter building."
......"Founders Hall," said Kip, reading words engraved on the brickwork. His gaze moved up to rest at the tower-like top floor. "Sort of like a castle. Spooky, isn't it?"
......Kip looked at his watch--both to check the time and to show off. He'd had it for two weeks, and ever since, he'd been obsessed with time.
......Wolfgang peered at the watch. "Wow," he said. "That watch looks like it does everything."
......"My dad bought it for me because the school doesn't allow us to have cell phones."
......"They don't?" said Wolfgang. "Why?"
......Kip scanned the building from bottom to top. Being uninhabited at the moment, it looked sinister. He let his eyes come to rest at the tower. "Probably so when they take us up there to beat us for not doing our homework, we won't be able to phone our parents and beg them to rescue us."
......Wide-eyed through his glasses, Wolfgang stared at Kip. "They beat kids at this school?" he asked in a small voice.
......"Of course not. Just joking." Again, Kip glanced at the archaic tower. "But I wouldn't be surprised." Kip trotted up the front steps and rubbed his hand over the prehistoric brickwork. "Rougher than a tiger's tongue." Then he then went to try the front door.
......"You have a very good imagination," said Wolfgang, following after.
......"Yeah. That's probably why I'm at ESAP." Kip wiggled the doorknob. "Locked."
......"What do you mean, that's why you're at ESAP?" said Wolfgang. "I got admitted because I scored very high on the test and my orals examiner said I had the brains to be a physicist."
......"Well I didn't score very high." Kip yanked on the doorknob again. "But my orals examiner said that I had the instincts of a physicist--an exceptionally good physical intuition, what ever that means." He trotted back down the steps. "Let's see what's round back."
......Wolfgang stayed at the door. "Cheap cylinder," he said, peering down at the door lock. "Anyone competent could open this in a minute."
......Kip jogged back up the steps. "Could you?" he said with a mocking smile.
......"I could if I had tools."
......"Tools?" Kip laughed. "What? A stick of dynamite?"
......"I mean a little spring that you can make from a paper clip and a lock pick that you can make from a girl's flat hair pin."
......"Yeah, right." Once again, Kip padded down the steps. "Come on!"
......As they jogged around the corner of Founders Hall a gust of wind took Kip's school cap. He chased and caught it in the gap between Founders and the chapel.
......"Creepy," said Wolfgang as he caught up. "The chapel being all closed up."
......"And on a Sunday." Kip let his gaze rise to the chapel's steeple. "Looks like there might be a real bell up there."
......"As opposed to an artificial bell?"
......"I mean I hope it's a real bell and not just bells played through a crappy PA system." Kip dropped his eyes from the steeple to the hat in his hand. "I wonder why there's a cat on it."
......"The steeple?" Then Wolfgang followed Kip's gaze. "Oh." He peered at the cat-badge emblazoned with the word 'Scientia'. "Dad says it's probably because of the Schrödinger Cat Paradox."
......Wolfgang shrugged. "My dad says it’s hard to explain. And he said he expects I'll be able to explain it to him during winter break."
......Kip felt a pang of homesickness. "I have a cat at home," he said in a soft voice. "His name is Sniffles. I'll miss him."
......"Funny name for a cat."
......"Yeah." Kip laughed himself out of his homesickness. "When we got him, we didn't know my sister was a little allergic to cats. She named him." He glanced at his cap again. "I wonder what's on the Amdexter kids' hats."
......"It's an A," said Wolfgang. "I saw it in the Amdexter brochure."
......"Maybe it means they're androids."
......As they went around to the rear of Founders, Kip slapped his cap on to his head. "Silly, these school caps."
......"It makes it easier for them to spot us."
......"They don't need to." Kip casually checked the back door of Founders. "They could just monitor the RFID tags in our clothes." The door was locked.
......"The name-tags our parents sewed to our clothes," said Kip. "They have tags in them, like the tags that keep you from stealing CDs from stores. It's so they can automatically take care of our laundry and to take attendance." He stood on tip-toes to look in a window on the first floor in the rear of Founders. "Hey!" he whispered, "this is the headmaster's office."
......"How do you know?"
......"Before my dad enrolled me in ESAP, he said he wanted to investigate Amdexter. We visited the headmaster here in this office." He dropped back down to below the window.
......Beginning to run out of places to explore, they headed roughly back in the direction they'd come. "But if they had a really good RFID scanner," said Kip, "they could track us wherever we went."
......Kip giggled. "And they could even scan us to see if we're wearing somebody else's underwear."
......Emerging from the lane between Founders and the faculty-housing block, they came upon a compact, garden-like quadrangle. Surrounded as it was by Founders Hall, faculty housing, the athletics building and the Amdexter dorm, it was nearly hidden from outside view. It had paths, statues, and even a little pond.
......"This must have been the original quad," said Kip. "Before they built the Dalambertian."
......"I wonder what Dalambertian means," said Wolfgang.
......"Probably Big Quadrangle in Latin or something." Kip led the way out of the quad, through the gap in the far side between the dorm and the athletic building. There wasn't much ahead--only a parking lot and a shed.
......By unspoken agreement, they went to the shed: a spare metal structure with a high window and a wooden door with a keypad lock.
......"Darn!" said Kip, "another lock."
......"Ah," said Wolfgang, leaning down to examine it. "But this one, I can open--without tools."
......"Really." Wolfgang glanced over his shoulder at Kip. "Simple four-pin mechanical keypad. And four digits have wear-marks." He straightened. "They only used those digits in the combination."
......"Where did you learn all this?" said Kip, all of a sudden willing to believe in Wolfgang's lock-picking abilities.
......"From my dad." Wolfgang gave a quizzical look. "I told you. He's a physicist," he said as if that explained everything.
......"Only four times three times two times one possible combinations," said Wolfgang, his eyes on the keypad. "Didn't even repeat a digit. Just twenty-four possibilities."
......Wolfgang moved a finger to the lock, paused, and then drew back. "Dad said if I used the sacred art for a bad reason, he'd abschwarte me."
......"What?" said Kip in frustration. "What does that mean?"
......"Don't know." Wolfgang bit his lip. "I'm not in a hurry to find out."
......"But.... But it's not a bad reason. It's...curiosity."
......"Well...." Wolfgang looked at the lock again. "Well, Dad says curiosity is a good thing."
......"Open it," said Kip in a cajoling voice. "Please."
......"Okay." Wolfgang started pushing buttons. In under a minute, a click came from the lock. "Five, six, eight, seven," said Wolfgang. "Dumb!" He pushed the door open. "Ta da!"
......The shed was dark and inviting. Shadowy light from a dirty window showed rakes, shovels, a riding mower, gas cans, old rags and newspapers, and a few empty beer cans. Attached to a beam supporting the roof was a bare light bulb with a pull chain. And on the metal wall, a hook held an out of date calendar. A shaft of light from the window shone on a rickety table and two chairs.
......"What a great hideout!" said Kip.
......"It'll be good to have a place to run off to when we need to get away from the school."
......"I don't think we're allowed to be here," said Wolfgang.
......"That's the point."
......"Well, I don't like it." Wolfgang wrinkled his nose. "Smells bad in here. Gasoline."
......"So?" said Kip, narrowing his eyes. "If it ever gets to a point where we can't take it anymore, we can burn down the school."
......Wolfgang looked frightened for an instant. Then he flashed a thin smile. "You're kidding again, aren't you?"
Darkzoo Home .......... Part 1 End