Chapter 18: Signs of things to come
...... Next morning, Kip was so dispirited when he woke that he didn't even want to read the DEX. All he'd see would be news of the baseball game and the chess match. Neither Paul nor Wolfgang wanted to see it either. And Paul was still mad at him over his big-time error in the ball game.
...... Kip wasn't looking forward to breakfast. The Amdexter kids would laugh at him, and call him loser, and stupid, and say that he throws like a girl.
...... As he dressed, Kip exchanged a look of commiseration with Wolfgang who had his own problems. Kip knew he felt awful about losing his chess game through overconfidence, and about leading his team down to defeat. Kip felt a little responsible as well; if he'd only had the killer instinct, he might have gotten a win instead of a draw against Alex.
...... Kip went to breakfast wearing earbuds. He intended to wear them all day--whenever he wasn't in class. He turned on his music player at a high volume but even Beethoven didn't brighten his mood.
...... Between classes, Alex came up and pulled one bud out of his ear. "What are you doing in there?" Alex asked, innocently.
...... "Hiding out."
...... "Why do you think?"
...... "Oh." Alex reinserted Kip's earbud, and walked away.
...... Kip's last Amdexter class of the day was
Orchestra. He went to the music room clutching his bassoon case like a security
...... Before the music master arrived, Kip assembled his instrument then took the reed to a bathroom where he could soak it.
...... He returned, inserted the reed into the crook and gently blew it. But the bassoon made no music. Then he noticed a cloyingly sweet smell coming from the bell. Pancake syrup? He looked in the top of the bassoon and saw a crumpled ball of paper sealed with syrup. Kip tried not to show his anger. What kind of a monster would vandalize a bassoon? The syrup probably came from one of those little plastic containers from the refectory. It'll take forever to get this stuff out. From the corners of his eyes, he looked around, trying to figure out who did it. Probably Martin. A mere trumpet player. Kip fantasized about soaking Martin's Trumpet in lemon juice. When the music master arrived, Kip said he had a major problem with his instrument and would like to be excused.
...... He took his bassoon, case and all to the bathroom to clean it. Disassembling the instrument, he found it could have been worse. The sticky stuff had gone down only one joint and had missed the pads. Still it would take all period to restore his bassoon. It was sad, but in the future, he'd have to make sure it was never out of his sight--except when it was safe in his subdorm.
...... Carrying his case, Kip walked slowly from Founders to ESAP. He wasn't looking forward to assembly but at least he could trust the ESAP kids not to trash his bassoon. And the vandalism troubled him. The syrup had to have come from breakfast. And that meant it was a premeditated act; someone had planned this vandalism. Kip grimaced with the thought that someone hated him enough to plan ahead how to hurt him. And the syrup was probably just a taste of things to come.
...... At the end of classes, Kip took his bassoon back to his dorm and then decided that rather than socializing, which he usually did at this time, he'd do homework. But, anxious and fidgety, he didn't feel like doing it at his desk. His dorm room was just too familiar looking. Cabin fever. And he didn't want to do it in the dorm's common room. Then he got the idea of doing his homework in the storage shed he and Wolfgang had discovered when they'd first arrived at ESAP. He thought hard and remembered the shed's lock combination. Working in that dark, dirty place, with the shaky table and rickety chairs would fit his mood. And he could hang out there until dinner without having to face other kids--kids who knew he was a loser.
...... Kip grabbed his book bag and headed for the shed, taking a circuitous route so no one would see where he was going. At the shed, he keyed five, six, eight, seven and was gratified to hear a click. He opened the door and stepped in.
...... The shed was as decrepit as he'd remembered. A layer of grime covered everything, the cobweb covered little window admitted little light, and a heavy gasoline smell filled the air. With the door open, though, there was enough light to work and the fumes were tolerable--and the opening provided some connection with the outside world; it was not an isolated quantum system. Kip bit his lip. But it's isolated enough. No kids come by here. He dropped his book bag on the table raising a cloud of dust.
...... By the following day, Kip had put the
baseball game and chess match out of his mind. But he still liked the idea of
doing his homework in the shed. It was a private place known only to himself
and Wolfgang--and it had the feeling of a secret clubhouse. Wolfgang though,
wanted no part of it. Kip then, so he wouldn't feel entirely cut off, told Alex
about the place and gave him the combination.
...... That afternoon after school, while Kip was in the shed doing homework, Alex barged in.
...... "I hate this school!" Alex declared.
...... "Why?" Kip looked up from his books. "I mean, why today, especially?"
...... "Todd!" said Alex. "He got a whole lot of customers for punishment lines, but he can't get any ESAP kids to do them. And he blames me."
...... "What? You're only an honorary ESAP kid. How can he blame you--I mean only you?"
...... Alex threw down his book bag beside Kip's.
...... "You've got to stand up to him," said Kip.
...... "Easy for you to say. You don't live in dorm-row 3E."
...... "As long as you let him get away with bullying you," said Kip, "he'll...he'll get away with it."
...... "You know," said Kip, "whenever I had a hard time in my old school, my dad would say that someday you'll look back on this and laugh."
...... Alex got a dreamy look. "When I grow up, I'm going to be a great animal artist."
...... "You're going to turn into an animal?" said Kip, lightly. "Are you a werewolf?" Geez! I'm starting to make the same corny jokes that Paul does.
...... Alex didn't seem to have heard the questions. "I'll work at a big zoo," he said in a far off voice, "or maybe a natural history museum." Alex bit his lip. "But," he said, softly, as if to himself. "But I'm not really sure I actually want to grow up."
...... Kip also turned his thoughts to the future. "I want to be the very first person to truly understand quantum mechanics."
...... Kip winced. Alex's voice held the same disdainful tone as he usually got when he talked about what he wanted to do when he grew up.
...... "Everybody thinks science is different," said Kip. "And because I like it, they think I'm different too. Well, maybe science and art and music and philosophy and dog-poop. Maybe it's just one big thing."
...... "What are you talking about?" Alex let his glance wander around the shed. "Hey, this place is neat. It's like a cave." His features became animated. "We could make this a temple of Zeus." He rubbed his hand over the table. "And we could make this an altar. And...and, like the picture in the book, we could pour wine on the ground as a sacrifice to Zeus."
...... "Wine?" Kip laughed. "Where could you get wine at school?"
...... "Well.... Well, Woodchuck's Catholic. Maybe I could get him to filch some from the chapel."
...... "Not likely."
...... "Why? I bet I could get him to do it. It's a sacrifice to god."
...... Kip shrugged. "Fine. While you're at it, why not have animal sacrifices--Todd, for instance."
...... Alex glanced out the door and suddenly snapped alert. "What's going on out there?"
...... Kip looked out and saw a man walking around the carousel. He carried a clipboard and was making notes. "I wonder what he's doing."
...... "I think we should go and see."
...... Kip threw a look down to his books. "You go. I'd better stay here and finish my Latin. If I don't do it now, I'll never do it." Kip felt sheepish about saying that, since it wasn't exactly true; actually, he just didn't want to risk being taunted by any wandering Amdexter kids. But Alex didn't seem to have even heard him. Alex, his face illuminated by the shaft of light coming through the barely opened door, stared intently out--and he looked worried.
...... "I'll be right back." Alex darted out the door.
...... Kip, with a sigh, returned his attention
to first conjugation verbs. This is stupid. It's memorization--nothing but
dumb memorization. And it's not as if anyone actually speaks this language.
He struggled with Latin for some indeterminate amount of time and then saw a
shadow fall over the shaft of light from the doorway. He looked up, expecting
to see Alex--but it was Todd. Kip jumped to his feet, but he was trapped. The
shed had only a tiny window, and only one door--and Todd was standing in it.
"What...what do you want?" Kip stammered.
...... "I wondered where Alex was going," said Todd, squinting in the relative darkness. "So I followed him." He glanced around the shed. "This is a really nice hideout. How'd you get in? Wasn't it locked?"
...... "I know the combination." Kip bit his lip. How could he have been so dumb to tell Todd that.
...... "Oh, yeah?" said Todd with a sneer. "Tell it to me."
...... "Kip stood mute."
...... "Tell it to me!"
...... "No. It's my hideout."
...... Todd balled his fists and Kip couldn't help being scared. After a few seconds, Todd said, "Tell me the combination and I won't beat you up."
...... Kip stayed silent.
...... Todd trod forward. "You'd better tell me." Roughly, Todd pushed the table over, scattering both Kip's and Alex's books and papers over the floor.
...... Kip looked desperately for an escape. But there was no way he'd be able to get by Todd--and now the table no longer protected him.
...... Suddenly, Todd leaped forward and grabbed Kip by his shirt collar. "Tell me!" he said, pulling back his free arm and emphasizing his fist.
...... "Okay, okay," said Kip.
...... Kip revealed the combination and Todd turned, darted through the door and slammed it behind him.
...... From the inside, Kip heard Todd trying the handle, then keying the combination. He opened the door. "Cool!" he said. "Now this is my hideout." He turned and stalked away.
...... Feeling he was the ultimate coward, Kip set right the table and put his and Alex's stuff back on it. He wondered how he'd tell Alex what he'd done--especially after telling him how he should stand up to Todd. Then he saw Alex coming back. But Alex was running full out.
Something was obviously wrong.
...... Alex ran through the door. "He's a contractor," said Alex, breathing heavily. "He said he's preparing an estimate." He took a few quick breaths and continued. "To see how much it would cost and how long it would take to rip out the outer ring of horses. And...and they're going to put a chain-link fence on the carousel, around the edge--to keep people from falling off." He looked accusingly at Kip. "So you ESAP kids can do your physics experiments." He took another breath. "And that stinks!"
...... "Rip out the horses?" said Kip, trying to keep up.
...... "Including Bucephalus," said Alex. "They can't do that. I won't let them." His eyes began to tear over. "ESAP stinks! How could you do this? It's horrible! How could you be my friend and--"
...... "Alex wait! I didn't know anything about this." Kip made calming motions with both hands. "I don't want the carousel changed. I like the carousel."
...... Alex looked across at Kip as if an invisible barrier had sprung up between them, "You and your physics experiments," said Alex in a voice filled with scorn. "Is that all that matters to you?"
...... "Look Alex. Don't blame me." Kip was beginning to get mad--but he knew how important Bucephalus was to Alex, so he tried to redirect his anger against the other side--whoever that might be. "I told you. I like the carousel. I don't want it changed. I'm on your side."
...... Alex stretched his lips, baring his teeth. "I'm going to call a special meeting of the Dark Riders for tonight. We'll defend the carousel. That's what the Dark Riders are for."
...... "How?" said Kip.
...... "How will you defend the carousel?"
...... Alex made a fist. "With spears!" he said in a voice filled with defiance.
...... "Come on," said Kip. "Kids with sticks?"
...... Alex crumbled. "They can't take Bucephalus. They can't."
...... "Call out the Dark Riders," said Kip, feeling a gush of sympathy. "I'm sure we'll all be able to think of something."
...... "Like what?"
...... "Well...." Kip thought hard. "I don't know. A petition from all the kids of both schools. Or...or we could all go out on strike or something."
...... "Yeah," said Alex. "Or we could ask our parents to stop paying our school tuition."
...... "Yeah," said Kip, trying to show support. "Good idea." Except ESAP parents don't pay tuition. Kip started packing his book bag. "We should have a meeting tonight." He wrinkled his nose. "But maybe we have to give Todd the idea to call it."
...... Alex's eyes blazed. "But we're going to have a meeting of the Dark Riders tonight whether he calls it or not." In renewed anger, Alex tromped from the shed.
...... Kip left the shed as well and started back to his dorm, but changed his mind and headed for the carousel. In studied nonchalance, he ambled up to the workman. "Hi," he said.
...... "Hi, yourself," said the workman, cheerfully.
...... "What'cha doing?"
...... The workman told Kip essentially what he'd already heard from Alex--but without the sense of urgency.
...... "When are you going to take out the horses?" asked Kip, as if the thought had just occurred to him.
...... "I don't know. Maybe never. This is just an estimate." He laughed. "And not even a complete one at that. As soon as I can find an expert in carousels I'll have to send him here to take a look." He gazed at the carousel. "Beautiful!" he said. "I imagine it's because your school needs the money, but I wish they didn't have to do it."
...... "The money?"
...... "And a lot of it," said the workman. "I imagine there'll be people lined up four deep to bid on these antique horses."
...... Kip gave a tight smile. He had no doubt that if money was involved, the horses would be removed. Adults spent a lot of time thinking about money. It probably didn't even really have anything to do with curved space-time.