Chapter 19: Calling out the Dark Riders
...... Alex told Woodchuck his version of the workman's visit. Woodchuck spread the news, and it traveled through the school like a pandemic. By nightfall, it seemed everyone knew about the danger to the carousel--everyone but Wolfgang.
...... In subdorm-8, Kip and Paul were discussing the matter when Wolfgang came in all happy and enthusiastic. "I didn't know this before," he said without preamble, "but if no one's already using the planetarium, you can just go in and select a canned program. It's almost as much fun as a VritFlic. I chose Advanced Autumn Sky Star Names. I learned all the--"
...... "They're going to take out the carousel's horses," said Kip.
...... "Really?" said Wolfgang. "Interesting." But he didn't sound at all interested. Wolfgang walked to the window and looked up at the night sky. "I learned the names of all, and I mean all, of the stars in Pegasus." He started pointing them out. "There's Markab, and Scheat, Algenib, Enif, Matar, and there's--"
...... "Wolfy, stop," said Paul. "We've got to talk about the carousel."
...... Wolfgang looked puzzled and a little annoyed. "Why?"
...... Kip explained. "....and there's a meeting of the Riders tonight. "
...... "No horses?" said Wolfgang. "I sort of like that. It'll be sort of a human centrifuge."
...... Kip was taken aback. He'd expected Wolfgang to be as appalled as he was about the idea. "But the carousel's great," said Kip with intensity. "And if they change it, it'll be as ugly as dog poop."
...... "To you, maybe. But I think it'll look like a scientific machine. And I like big machines. And I think riding a centrifuge will be a lot more fun than going on some amusement park ride. It's more like science."
...... "But we're Dark Riders," said Kip. "We promised to defend the carousel."
...... "I am defending it--sort of. I want to make it better. And a centrifuge would be better."
...... "Centrifuge." Kip had a mental image of himself whirling around on it. "Yeah, it would be fun...but...but Alex really doesn't want it to change. He's sort of got a thing about his horse--Bucephalus, Alexander the Great's horse."
...... "That's sort of silly," said Wolfgang.
...... "Well, I like the carousel as it is, also," said Paul.
...... Wolfgang and Paul discussed the issue, giving Kip time to think. Kip felt a strong bond to his roommates. But, almost as a revelation, he had to admit that the bond with Alex was even stronger. He'd not thought of it this way before, but Alex was now his best friend. Alex had a great imagination and they could talk wild thoughts to each other. We're identical particles. We have a combined quantum existence.
...... ".... I don't know. Like maybe you're right," came Paul's voice. "What do you think we should do?" There came a pause. "Kip?"
...... "What?" Kip snapped out of his introspection. "I...I think all of us should support Alex."
...... Paul chuckled. "All for one and one for all. Is that it?"
...... "Well... I sort of think of us, all four of us, as something like a single quantum entity. It's more like, all is one and one is all."
...... Paul stared with a puzzled expression. "You're getting almost as weird as Alex."
...... That night, Kip, Paul, and Wolfgang had
gone to bed dressed. All they'd need do before the Riders meeting would be to
grab their shoes and flashlights.
...... Kip was far too worked up to do any serious sleeping. But, safe in the knowledge that he'd set his watch's alarm, he closed his eyes. Maybe he'd be able to get some sleep. He twisted and turned and counted sheep: identical, interchangeable sheep. Boson sheep. Idly, he pushed Paradox off his face and checked his watch--and gasped. Peering at the dial in semi-disbelief, he saw that he'd set the alarm for a.m. instead of p.m. He jumped to the floor and shook awake Paul and Wolfgang. "Come on. The alarm didn't go off. We're late."
...... Paradox darted through the five inches of open door. Mere seconds later, Kip, carrying his shoes and a flashlight, opened the door to boy-width and looked out. As Paul and Wolfgang came up behind, Kip whispered "Careful. There's a light on under Dr. Ralph's door."
...... The boys tiptoed out into the dorm, then downstairs to the front door. As Kip opened it, Paradox ran through his legs and out. Kip started in surprise, but made no attempt to catch the cat. It didn't matter anymore. Over the course of the month, Paradox had learned its surroundings. When Paradox got out, and finished with whatever cats did outside, he would return to the front door of the dorm and meow until someone let him in.
...... The boys stepped outside and in front of them, almost hidden in the blackness, lay the Dalambertian. The sky had clouded over and a mist had settled over the school. There was no moon. There were no stars and the air smelled wet. Kip didn't turn on his flashlight. None of the boys did. By now, they could find their way to the carousel with their eyes closed. And Kip enjoyed the feral feeling he got when roaming around in the dark like a cat. And he no longer feared the foxes.
...... They were late so, without going first to the golf course to fetch their lances, they loped directly to the carousel.
...... Before bed, they'd agreed to be united in their opposition to changes in the carousel. Kip hoped the Amdexter Riders would at last think of them as Riders first, and not ESAP kids.
...... Ahead, Kip could just make out the carousel in the damp haze, still and sinister, horses frozen in mid-gallop. Then he saw the other Riders. They had their lances and in the mist the spears looked credible. Kip felt underdressed without his--unauthentic, an imposter.
...... Kip and co, running almost as one, stopped in front of the other Riders: Alex, Todd, Martin, Woodchuck, Roger and Kevin, all Amdexter kids. The six, including Alex, looked at them with clear suspicion, and two of them with overt hostility.
...... "What are you doing here?" said Todd, speaking it more as a challenge than a question.
...... "We're Dark Riders," said Paul, answering hostility with hostility. "We have just as much right to be here as you do. More in fact. You bullied your way in."
...... Instead of answering, Todd turned to the other Amdexter kids. "We should officially kick these APES out." He returned his gaze to Paul. "We're supposed to defend the carousel, but all you're interested in is your dumb science."
...... "Dumb science?" Wolfgang's dignity was clearly wounded. "Only dumb people think science is dumb."
...... "All right," said Martin. "Evil science. Hydrogen bombs come from science."
...... "So does penicillin," said Wolfgang.
...... "That's medicine, not science," said Martin.
...... Todd, ignoring the side conversation, scowled. "You guys want them to rip out the horses."
...... "That's not fair," said Kip. "We don't want that any more than you do."
...... "Yeah. Right! As if I believe you." Todd glowered. "Scientists." He spat out the word as if it were an invective. "You can't play baseball. You think you're so smart. You can't hardly conjugate a Latin verb."
...... Despite himself, Kip rose to the bait. But at the same time, he thrilled to being called a scientist. "I can conjugate it a heck of a lot better than you can calculate the escape velocity from Earth."
...... Todd gave a mirthless laugh. "Why would I ever want to?"
...... Woodchuck stepped in. "Come on, guys," he said. "This isn't helping. We have to try to stop them from taking out the horses."
...... "We've got to stop them," said Alex, his voice frantic, his face distorted in anguish. "I can't let them kill Bucephalus. I can't!"
...... "It's all right, Alex," said Woodchuck, speaking as if to a small child. "The Dark Riders will defend the carousel. We'll see that Bucephalus is safe. It's Amdexter's carousel. They won't let anything happen to it."
...... "Well I think," said Wolfgang, "that it belongs to ESAP."
...... "ESAP gave it to Amdexter," said Martin.
...... "No, it didn't," said Wolfgang.
...... "Yes it did."
...... "It didn't."
...... "A and not A," said Paul under his breath. "Null in logic...but not in quantum mechanics."
...... Standing toe to toe, Martin and Wolfgang kept arguing the ownership of the carousel.
...... During this, Kip tried for some light casual talk with Alex, but it didn't work. Alex only wanted to talk about saving his horse. So Kip took another tack to lighten the mood. "Anybody want to ride the carousel?" he asked, brightly.
...... No one did--not even Alex.
...... "Okay," said Paul, sharply, pulling Wolfgang back and putting a stop to the confrontation. "The first thing we can do is petitions. We'll get everyone in both schools to sign them. And then we'll present them to the headmaster and our chief scientist."
...... "And," Woodchuck added, "we can write an article for the DEX."
...... "The DEX doesn't come out until next Monday," said Roger. "I don't think we have time."
...... "Sure, we do," said Woodchuck. "It takes adults a lot of time to do almost anything."
...... Paul plunged ahead. "We can write up the petitions right now." He glanced over at Alex, at the sketchbook the kid always carried. "Alex. Can you, like, copy it down as we think it up?"
...... "Sure!" Alex seemed suddenly involved. He opened his notebook and Woodchuck illuminated a blank page with his flashlight.
...... "We the boys of...," Paul started out in a strong voice. "Leave a line for the school."
...... "will not tolerate--" Martin added.
...... "No," said Paul. "That sounds like a demand. And Adults don't like to be told what to do by kids."How 'bout." He turned back to Alex, "do strongly oppose any changes to our carousel." He turned to the other Riders. "What else? This is too short."
...... "Particularly," Kip said, "we oppose removing any horses and putting up a fence to keep people from falling off."
...... "Everyone knows that already," said Martin.
...... "Yeah," said Woodchuck. "But it sounds better--like a real document."
...... Todd spat at the ground. "So we oppose it. Big deal! They'll just do what they want, regardless."
...... "Well, we at least have to let them know how we feel before doing anything else," said Paul.
...... "I think it's a big waste of time," said Todd.
...... "I'll take care of getting Amdexter kids to sign it," said Woodchuck.
...... "And I'll take care of ESAP," said Kip. He turned to Alex. "Give me the sheet. I'll word process it."--Alex tore out the sheet and handed it to Kip.--"and I'll see Woodchuck gets it at breakfast."
...... "And what if the petition doesn't do anything?" said Alex. "What if they just ignore it?"
...... Kip bit his lip. "Then we'll just have to do something more serious."
...... "Like what?" said Alex.
...... "Maybe we kids should just go on strike," said Woodchuck.
...... "Yeah, I like that," said Todd. "That'll show them." He flourished his lance. "And maybe," he said, his voice filled with threats, "we can do something much, much more serious."
...... Kip couldn't help smiling in the darkness. "Like what," he said. "A terrorist attack or something?"
...... "I don't know yet," said Todd, his voice as heavy as Kip's was light. "I'll think about it."
...... "Yeah, do that."
...... Todd apparently didn't catch the sarcasm. "Okay," he said. "Next meeting is tomorrow. Same time." He looked menacingly over at Paul, Wolfgang and Kip. "If you're really on our side, if this is really important to you, then don't be late."
...... "Yeah, fine," said Paul.
...... "Meeting ended," said Todd, thumping the metal bottom of his spear against the ground.
...... Kip, Paul and Wolfgang turned to go back to their dorm. The others first had to return their spears. Except for Todd. Without asking he handed his lance to Alex. Alex took it without protest.
...... Subdorm-8 loped silently away.
...... At the door of the dorm, Paradox sat, meowing.
...... "Shut up," Paul whispered.
...... Kip opened the door and Paradox dashed through.
...... "He's got better eyes than I do," said Wolfgang as he and the others stepped into the dark interior.
...... As they sneaked back up to their subdorm, Paul said, "I'm getting more worried about Alex. I think he's losing it."
...... "He hates Amdexter," whispered Kip as they tiptoed upstairs, "so he pretends a lot."
...... "Shh," whispered Wolfgang, pointing to Dr. Ralph's door, under which light still oozed out.
...... Suddenly, the door swung open and Kip froze like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming bus. Paul and Wolfgang were transfixed as well.
...... Framed in the light, was Dr. Ralph in a bathrobe and bedroom slippers. He strode toward them. "All right," he said in a quiet but firm voice. "Once or twice I can overlook, but this is getting to be a habit. What were you doing outside when you should be sleeping."
...... Kip explained that the boys of both schools didn't want the horses removed.
...... "What are you talking about, please?"
...... "Don't you know, sir?"
...... "Know what?" Dr. Ralph still spoke softly, but he sounded annoyed.
...... Kip told about the workman at the carousel.
...... Now, Dr. Ralph looked angry. "Nobody cleared that with me. I didn't know anything about it." He all but imperceptibly shook his head. "Tomorrow, I'll see what the Amdexter headmaster knows about this."
...... "What do you think about it, sir?" said Wolfgang. "Ripping out the horses, I mean."
...... "We'll talk about this tomorrow, Wolfgang. Now all of you, go to bed. And try to be quiet." He glanced around the hall at the doors to the other subdorms. "There are boys sleeping--I hope."