Chapter 17: Games
...... On Saturday after school, Kip felt inept, conspicuous and stupid as he padded out to his position in right field. He had taken it as a point of pride that he'd never watched a baseball game, much less played one--except once in forth grade when he was forced to play it. He'd been terrible and was teased unmercifully about it. In fifth grade, he'd pretended that he was from New Zealand and only played cricket. Yet here he was playing baseball for ESAP against Amdexter.
...... By around the fifth inning, he began to feel better. He'd caught a fly ball giving his team a crucial out, and he'd even managed to hit a ball. He was so surprised he'd hit it that Paul had to shout at him to run. It was even a double. And now it was the ninth inning. He was far down in the batting order and could relax.
...... Sitting beside Nick on a bench that Paul insisted in calling the dugout, Kip watched as Paul ran around and shouted at people. Paul takes the game of baseball very seriously.
...... "It certainly looked like Malcolm was safe," said Nick.
...... "The umpire didn't think so," said Kip, "which I guess is why Paul is screaming at him."
...... "Dwayne Liddell," said Nick. "It doesn't seem fair for Todd's brother to be an umpire."
...... Kip watched as Paul stomped back toward the bench.
...... "Boy, Paul looks mad," said Nick.
...... "Maybe Malcolm was safe and out," said Kip. "Maybe Paul and the umpire have different realities."
...... "The Schrodinger Baseball Paradox," said Nick with a giggle. Then he turned serious. "I was thinking. In the two slit experiment, Dr. Ralph says that if you measure which hole the electron goes through, you don't get interference. Is that right?"
...... "I think so," said Kip. "That's one of the big reasons the experiment is so spooky."
...... "But an electron has an electric field," said Nick. "So don't the atoms in the wall of the slits feel the electron go by? I mean because of the electron's charge. Isn't that sort of like measuring--"
...... "Will you guys, like, pay attention to the game," said Paul, hotly, throwing himself down on the bench. "Geez!"
...... "Sorry," said Kip.
...... "Well, get out onto the field. That was our third out."
...... Kip trotted back to his position in right field. He didn't know why Paul was so upset. Things had gone very well. ESAP was one run ahead and it was the ninth inning. If they could keep Amdexter from scoring for three more outs, ESAP would win. And if the Amdexter batters didn't send any balls his way, that would be good too.
...... The first out came easily and Kit, despite his dislike of baseball, was caught up in the thrill of the game. He cheered along with Paul as the ESAP pitcher struck the Amdork out. And now there were only two outs until ESAP victory.
...... Then things got rough. The next batter hit a single. Kip grimaced; that batter was Todd. And then the next batter also hit a single. Paul ran out for a talk with his pitcher.
...... As the next batter waited for the first pitch, Todd, on second base, snuck out about a quarter of the way between second and third. The batter swung on the very first pitch. The bat made good contact, sending the ball deep into right field. As soon as the ball was pitched, Kip saw that Todd had started running for third.
...... Kip ran for the ball--and caught it. An out! I got the out! He saw Todd making for third and, eager to get the game-ending third out, Kip shot the ball hard and fast to third base. As he got the ball away, he heard an anguished cry of 'No'. It sounded like Paul.
...... The third baseman looked surprised to the point of being stunned. He started late for the ball--and missed it. The ball, thrown as hard as Kip could throw it, rolled far into the outfield. Todd ran to third, and then sped on to home. The tying run. Kip heard a scream. Paul again. Kip saw Paul drop to his knees. Then Kip noticed the runner who'd been on first. Boy, that kid is fast. Then, he saw the kid get to second, then third. Then, the kid slid into home.
...... "Safe!" Kip heard the umpire shout.
...... Then Kip heard another cry--sustained, this time. He turned and saw that Paul was now prone, beating the ground with his fists--as if he were a baby having a temper tantrum.
...... Kip, feeling awful, padded over to him. "I'm sorry, Paul. I tried."
...... Meanwhile, the Amdexter kids, both the team and the spectators, were jumping up and down and shrieking--as if a herd of pigs had been breathing laughing gas before being slaughtered. Kip, out of the corner of his eye, could see Todd making marginally obscene gestures at him.
...... "Why?" shouted Paul, scrambling to his feet. Why didn't you throw to second?
...... "Second?" Kip wrinkled his nose. "Why second? I wanted to get the runner out."
...... "But he started running before you'd touched the ball. If you'd thrown to second, he'd have been out and we'd have won the game."
...... "It's a rule. If a runner leaves a base when the ball's in the air, then if the ball's caught, he has to go back to the base he's left. And if the ball gets there before he does, then he's out."
...... "Really?" said Kip. "What a strange rule."
...... Paul looked as if he were about to cry.
...... Wolfgang trotted in from where the bleachers would be if there'd been bleachers. "Don't feel bad, Paul. We'll even the score tomorrow--with chess." He said 'chess' with menace, as if the game were a dangerous weapon.
...... A call of 'losers' came from many Amdexter kids.
...... "I hate that," said Paul.
...... "Well," said Wolfgang. "It's better than being called APES."
...... "No it isn't." Paul had balled fists. "We are losers."
...... "It's only a baseball game," said Kip.
...... "Only a baseball game." Paul turned and stalked away.
...... That night there was a meeting of the
Dark Riders. Kip, Wolfgang and Paul, tightly clustered, attended the meeting
with an air of being one big porcupine: bristling, prickly, and defensive--three
ESAP losers among six Amdexter winners. Alex was no problem; he hadn't even
been at the game. But Martin and Todd swaggered and smirked and whispered 'losers'
whenever they got the chance.
...... But the Dark Riders needed subdorm-8, or more precisely Wolfgang's lock picking skills. Kip prayed that Wolfgang wouldn't let them down. If he couldn't unlock the carousel, they'd be doomed--branded as losers until the end of time. And it certainly wouldn't help morale for tomorrow's chess match.
...... Kip watched anxiously as Wolfgang keyed the combination, opened the cabinet, and then went to work on the control panel with his lock pick and a little spring he'd made from a paper clip. Wolfgang, biting his lip, worked hunched over the panel. After a minute or two, Kip could see the other Riders grow restive. And a few whispered among themselves. Kip could see the tension in Wolfgang's shoulder blades.
...... Finally, Wolfgang let out a breath and visibly relaxed. He nonchalantly hooked his thumb on his pants pocket and turned. "Took a little longer than I expected," he said. "Probably some dirt in the tumblers."
...... "So we can ride now?" said Alex.
...... "Of course." Wolfgang laughed. It seemed a release from the pressure of having to pick a lock with an audience. "The timer has a detent at three and a half minutes," he went on almost at a babble. "I guess that's the normal ride length. But I can set it for up to fifteen minutes."
...... "Do it," said Alex.
...... "Fifteen minutes?" said Kip. "That seems an awfully long time to go riding around in circles."
...... "Why don't we make the long ride the last ride of the night?" said Woodchuck.
...... The others agreed--except for Alex who looked disappointed and then moped.
...... With the memory of the game casting a dark shadow over him, Kip said he'd like only a short meeting of the Riders. Paul agreed and Wolfgang said he'd like to get to bed so he could be rested for the chess match.
...... "Yeah," said Todd with a snide laugh. "Run away back to your dorm--losers."
...... "Shut up!" said Paul.
...... Losers!" said Martin.
...... After a few more rounds of insults, Woodchuck said, "You know, we really don't have anything to do at this meeting. Why don't we just cancel it?"
...... "Great idea," said Paul. He turned to Kip and Wolfgang. "Come on. Let's get out of here." He swiveled around and started away. Kip hesitated a moment and then followed.
...... "Stop!" Todd called out--Kip and Paul stopped and turned around--"I'm the High Lord," Todd went on, "and I.... I say this meeting's over." With nose in the air, he turned his back on Kip and co. "Let's leave these losers," he said to the other knights. He gestured for them to follow and started away toward the Dalambertian.
...... "But...." Alex seemed reluctant to go.
...... Wolfgang went to the control cabinet. "Paul, Kip. Wait a second. I've got to turn things off and pick the lock closed." He inserted his lock pick into to the panel lock.
...... Alex took a few steps after the departing knights, then stopped and went back to the control cabinet. "Don't turn it off yet," he said. "I want my ride."
...... "What?" Wolfgang paused in his lock-picking.
...... Wolfgang glanced at the others.
...... "Yeah, why not?" said Kip.
...... Wolfgang returned his gaze to Alex. "All right. fine," he said, impatiently. "Get on your horse."
...... "Anyone else coming?" said Alex.
...... Kip and Paul declined so Alex with a shrug turned and went to Bucephalus.
...... Wolfgang turned the knob to fifteen minutes and directed his flashlight beam onto the carousel. ...... "I like watching it come up to speed."
...... "It's a big, powerful machine coming to life," said Kip.
...... "It looks like, spooky," said Paul. "A carousel running in the dark without lights with just one kid riding." He approached the carousel. "Look at him. He doesn't even seem to know we're here."
...... Kip came up beside Paul.
...... "It looks like he's hypnotized," said Paul, following Alex with the beam of his flashlight.
...... "He's moving his lips," said Wolfgang. "I wonder who he's talking to."
...... "Bucephalus, probably," said Kip. "I'm getting a little worried about him."
...... "Someone should be," said Paul.
...... For the rest of the ride, the three watched in silence. When the carousel stopped, Alex stayed on Bucephalus.
...... "Alex!" Kip called out.
...... With jerky motions, Alex looked around, as if he'd suddenly awakened. Then he hopped from his horse and to the ground.
...... "Okay," said Wolfgang. "I've got to swivel the lock cylinder back to the off position." He glanced at Alex. "You don't have to wait for us."
...... "You know," said Kip. "I think I'll walk Alex back to his dorm." He waved at Wolfgang and Paul, and then headed into the brush with Alex.
...... "Who were you talking to?" said Kip when they'd gotten out of earshot of the others.
...... After a few seconds, Kip said, "Aren't you taking this too seriously?"
...... "No more seriously than Brother Wakabyashi takes his religion," said Alex in a voice both defensive and angry. After a few seconds, he said "Kip, it's unreal." His voice was trusting. "When I was riding Bucephalus, it was like I was in another world."
...... "An alternate reality," said Kip, not to Alex but to himself.
...... "Yeah. An alternate reality. You probably think I'm nuts."
...... "I would have," said Kip, "before I started studying quantum mechanics.
...... In his ethics course Sunday morning, Brother Wakabyashi talked about sportsmanship. He went on to say that life is a moral gymnasium--an opportunity for testing and exercising one's ethics and morality. Then he suggested that the boys come and watch the Amdexter, ESAP chess match later in the day.
...... That afternoon, Kip walked into the athletics
building's basketball court, the venue for the chess tournament. In the center
of the court, stood four tables with pairs of opposing chairs. The tables, topped
with chessboards and pieces, were set far apart. Probably so it doesn't look
so ridiculous in this big basketball court. Kip glanced around the court.
Or maybe it's so spectators can watch the game--except there aren't any spectators.
He chuckled, softly. Or maybe it's to avoid contagion. Kip had been coaxed
to join the chess team when one of the players came down with strep throat and
had been consigned to the infirmary.
...... Kip was the first member of his team to arrive--the first member of either team. Brother Wakabyashi, the tournament organizer, came to greet him. "Ah, Kip." He glanced in a folder he carried. "I see you're standing in for poor Miles at forth board."
...... "Yes, sir."
...... Wakabyashi sat him down at one of the end tables. "I'd hoped for some spectators," he said, his voice echoing in the all but deserted gym. "Perhaps they'll come when the games start. But I'm afraid this time on a Sunday is more appropriate for doing one's homework."
...... Then Wolfgang walked in. He and Kip chatted a bit about nothing important and then Wakabyashi directed Wolfgang, who would play first board, to the other endmost table. A minute or two later, the other two members of the ESAP team came in and, under Wakabyashi's direction, took their proper seats.
...... Already, Kip began to be bored. He remembered again what he'd always hated about chess games: the waiting while the opponent thought about his next move.
...... A few minutes later, after Kip had jogged a few times around the perimeter of the court to fight the boredom, he saw the Amdexter team march in--in step, one behind the other. With astonishment, Kip saw Todd marching in the front of the line of five kids. I didn't think he even played chess. Wait, five? It's only a four-person team. Kip was further surprised to see Alex at the end of the line.
...... Todd talked to Wakabyashi, and then directed the other four boys to the correct seats. Then he moved from table to table, offering his team members encouragement.
...... Alex, as it turned out, was sent to Kip's table.
...... "I didn't know you were a chess player," Kip whispered. The tables were far enough apart, so that he and Alex could whisper to each other without disturbing the others.
...... "I didn't know you were one either. And anyway, I wasn't going to be on the team, but Todd saw me playing Bobby." Alex nodded at the first board player. "And I got volunteered for the team--on pain of pain."
...... "But what does Todd have to do with it?"
...... "He's the team captain--non-playing. He barely understands the game, but he says he's an expert at game-winning strategies."
...... Kip had to admit that the Amdexter team looked pretty smart--marching in and dressed in their school uniforms.
...... Wakabyashi gave a shorter version of his earlier sermon on good sportsmanship, then had the players shake hands and then said they could start their games.
...... Kip, having the white pieces, played pawn to king four. Alex moved his hand to his king's pawn, but then drew it away. After almost a minute, Alex also played pawn to king four.
...... Quickly, Kip played his queen's knight to bishop three--the Vienna Game opening: quiet, non-confrontational, positional.
...... Again, Alex moved his hand to a piece, then pulled it away, only to play that very same piece after a wait of a minute. Kip knew he was in for a very long game.
...... Kip saw that Alex played a sound, if uninspired game. But he played it agonizingly slowly. Kip knew that, out of frustration and boredom, he was moving much too fast. And, even though the game looked very even, he knew he had to be careful.
...... Abruptly, Alex, instead of playing his move, looked up and said, "I offer a draw."
...... "What?" said Kip, in surprise. "Sure! I accept." He was grateful to end the boredom. He glanced at the board with fresh eyes. Alex might even have had a slightly superior position. "But why?"
...... "Well...." Alex cast his eyes down at the board. "Todd told all of us to play our moves very, very slowly--so the opponent would get bored and play his moves too quickly. And he said if we got into an inferior position, to play even more slowly--and then offer a draw. Maybe the opponent would be so bored, he'd accept it."
...... Kip wrinkled his nose. "But your position isn't inferior."
...... "You know," said Alex, "when I was holding back on moving, I could hear different pieces saying move me, move me. I had to concentrate to move the piece I wanted to."
...... Kip narrowed his eyes. Alex seemed to be absolutely serious.
...... "What's the matter?" said Alex.
...... "Um...nothing. It's just that I thought your position wasn't bad."
...... "Yeah maybe, but Brother Wakabyashi talked about good sportsmanship, and I don't think Todd's scheme is it." Alex smiled. "So that's why I offered a draw." He extended his hand across the board for the traditional handshake. Kip responded in kind, then said, "Come on. Let's go and watch the other games."
...... They stood and Todd rushed over. He ignored Kip and asked Alex, "What happened?"
...... "Draw," said Alex.
...... "Not too bad." Todd went back his chair, which was adjacent to Brother Wakabyashi's. Todd sat, his posture stiff and imperious. If not for his height and shorts, he could have been taken as one of the faculty.
...... Kip and Alex flitted from table to table, watching a game for a bit and then going on. When they'd come to the first board, Wolfgang asked the same question as did Todd.
...... "Draw," said Kip.
...... "Okay, fine," said Wolfgang, without enthusiasm.
...... Kip looked at Wolfgang's position. It didn't look all that good. But I'm sure Wolfy knows what he's doing.
...... Kip and Alex continued table hopping. Kip found watching three games marginally less boring than playing one game. But the boredom increased after the third board's game also ended in a draw. Kip thought the ESAP player had a superior position and could have won, but it would have taken a long time--a long, long time considering the Todd strategy.
...... Then the ESAP second board also accepted a draw, leaving only Wolfgang and his opponent still fighting it out.
...... Kip and Alex watched. Now though, Kip had no doubts. Wolfgang's position was terrible.
...... A few moves later, Wolfgang turned his king on its side. "I resign," he said in a soft voice. Then he shook hands with his opponent.
...... "I'm really surprised," said the opponent, "that you played such an unsound opening. The King's Gambit. Nobody plays that anymore. Not since Fisher busted it." He looked almost embarrassed. "No offense, but I'm sure you know that the gambit's unsound. Your USCF rating is sixty points higher than mine."
...... "How.... I mean, you're rated?" Wolfgang grasped his fallen king and made a fist around it. "How did you know my Chess Federation rating?"
...... "I checked the USCF on-line. To see if anyone on your team was rated."
...... Todd came over, got the result, then raised both fists in victory. He leered at Wolfgang. "Losers," he said at a whisper. If Wakabyashi hadn't been there, Kip was sure Todd would have shouted it.
...... Wolfgang collected his team, and the boys hurried out of the gymnasium and headed back to their dorm. The reception they received there was not good.
...... The news spread throughout the schools and at dinner in the refectory, Kip and the other boys in grey shorts were subjected to taunts and calls of losers and double-losers.
...... Outside, after dinner, Kip ran into Dr. Linda--not quite by accident. He'd always felt he could really talk to her.
...... "Why do the Amdexter kids hate us?" said Kip, his voice filled with anguish. "We didn't do anything to them. We're just kids. It shouldn't be this way."
...... "They don't hate you, Kip."
...... "Yes, they do!"
...... "Well...." Dr. Linda sighed. "You might actually find that your losing the chess match and ballgame will turn out to be a good thing."
...... Kip wrinkled his nose and looked at her as if she were nuts.
...... "The Amdexter boys might just start being nicer to you."
...... "Why?" Kip considered that she might indeed be nuts.
...... "After the losses," said Dr. Linda, "the Amdexter boys won't think of you as universal geniuses and supermen anymore. And that's a good thing." She paused. "And maybe you ESAP boys won't think so either--and that's also a good thing. One generally doesn't make friends by flaunting one's intelligence."
...... Kip cast his eyes down.
...... "But I have to admit," said Dr. Linda with a soft smile, "that you ESAP boys are certainly exceptionally bright."
...... "They hate us," said Kip.
...... "Maybe they just don't understand you. And I'm not sure you're helping them to."
...... "How do we do that?"
...... "I really don't know," said Dr. Linda, softly, after a few seconds. "I'm new at working with kids." She glanced off at a group of Amdexter boys leaving the refectory. "Especially civilian kids."
...... "They hate us!"