Chapter 21: The Trojan centrifuge
...... About an hour before lights out, Kip darted to the common room to check on the petition--and also to sign it himself, something he'd totally forgotten to do. He pulled out a pencil and added his name to the rows of scrawls. He was pleased that his entry was almost at the bottom; it looked like everyone had signed. Then he read the entries. Near the top, someone had written, 'Not me. I like the idea of the centrifuge' and then his name. And there were lots of dittos with signatures.
...... Counting the petition pro signatures, Kip was aghast to find that fewer than half of ESAP supported keeping the carousel unchanged.
...... Kip felt guilty--somehow responsible for all the kids who were against. He felt he should have given better arguments at the assembly. And the petition was his idea. He took down the sheet and put it, folded, into his shirt pocket--as if by taking it down, he could deny its existence. But he knew he'd have to deliver it up later at the Dark Riders meeting. It is going to be a very bad meeting.
...... This time, before going to the meeting, Kip, Wolfgang, and Paul went first to the golf course to collect their lances. Kip felt that tonight, he'd need the support of his lance--emotional and maybe even otherwise. Kip liked the feeling of power and security he'd felt when holding one.
...... At the carousel, after Todd had formally opened the meeting, Woodchuck held up a sheath of papers. "Almost everyone' signed it," he said, proudly, spreading the sheets like a hand of playing cards and shining his flashlight on them.
...... "Yeah, fine," said Martin. He glared at Kip. "But Wolfgang told me that the headmaster said if the APES signed, they'd leave the carousel alone."
...... Kip shot Wolfgang an annoyed glance.
...... "So, how 'bout it?" said Martin. "Let's see your petition."
...... Without saying anything, Kip took the folded paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and held it up. Maybe they won't look too closely.
...... Martin grabbed the sheet. "Okay," he said, looking at the sheet filled with pencil scrawls. Then, under the dim illumination of his flashlight, he examined the document. "Hey, wait a minute."
...... "What's the matter?" said Todd.
...... "Most of these kids," said Martin, his eyes on the sheet. "Most of 'em want them to rip out the horses."
...... "Ha!" said Todd. "I told you so!" He seemed happy at the news.
...... Kip stood mute, eyes cast down.
...... Todd looked contemptuously at Kip, then delivered the same look to Wolfgang and Paul. "We should kick these guys out of the Dark Riders--right now!" He glanced at the Amdexter contingent, then back to Kip and co. "You're kicked out."
...... "You can't do that!" said Paul, angrily. "The Dark Riders vote on things like this."
...... "Yeah. Fine." Todd, with a shrug, motioned for Martin to come to his side, and Martin called for the other Amdexter kids to come as well. The six Amdexter knights stood in a line facing the three ESAP kids.
...... "All right." Todd took a step forward. "We'll vote." He looked over his shoulder at Martin and the others. "But since it's about them," he said, with a quick glance forward, "the APES can't vote."
...... "Don't be ridiculous," said Paul. "Of course we can vote. And that's ESAP!"
...... "Listen, Toddle," said Kip, reckless from the security afforded by his lance and his companions. "You don't make the rules."
...... "You better not call me that." Todd moved his spear from vertical to horizontal. He looked as if he were about to use it on Kip. "Knights on my side," Todd called out, loudly, breaking the convention of speaking softly out of fear of detection. "Spears ready!"
...... The Amdexter boys, except for Alex, pointed their spears at the ESAP kids. But then, under Todd's angry glance, Alex wavered and then pointed his spear at Paul.
...... Almost by instinct, Kip pointed his spear at Todd. Wolfgang and Paul also readied their spears.
...... Todd made a half thrust with his spear. "We say you can't vote."
...... "That's not fair," said Paul. "That's, like, breaking the rules."
...... "The hell with the rules!" Todd announced in a loud voice. "I'm the High Lord of the Dark Riders. I make the rules."
...... "No you don't," Alex blurted out. "I think--"
...... "Who cares what you think?" said Todd, angrily.
...... "You shouldn't talk to me like that." Alex's spear trembled. "The Dark Riders was my idea. And I'm the real...." The other Riders turned to look at Alex.
...... Alex lowered his head. "I mean...," he stammered. "I mean that--"
...... "Shut up, Alex," said Martin, pounding the weighted bottom of his spear on the ground. The eyes moved from Alex to Martin.
...... "I'm invisible," Alex continued at a barely audible whisper.
...... Paul glanced at Alex. "And I guess the Invisible Commander is staying invisible," he said under his voice.
...... In the light of the flashlights, Kip saw Alex lower his spear.
...... "Okay, let's vote now," said Todd.
...... "Wait a minute," said Martin. "If we vote them out, who'll turn on the carousel?"
...... The point of Todd's spear wavered, its flag undulating as if in a breeze. "Then...then we'll keep Wolfgang."
...... "Wolfgang might have something to say about that," said Wolfgang.
...... "We are one," said Kip.
...... "All of us stay, or all of us go," said Wolfgang.
...... "A single quantum state," said Kip.
...... "What?" said Martin. "What are you talking about?"
...... "Keep it down," said Woodchuck. "They probably can hear us on Mars."
...... Kip glared at Martin but didn't answer. No one spoke then. It was an impasse: Two rows of boys with spears pointed at each other.
...... Suddenly Woodchuck broke the silence. "I think the Riders should stay the Riders. But there can be Amdexter Knights and also ESAP Knights."
...... But the silence continued. After another fifteen seconds or so, Roger said. "I think that's a good idea--at least for now."
...... Todd glowered for a few more seconds. "All right." He raised his spear to vertical and leaned on it. "For now!"
...... "Amdexter Knights," said Martin. "and APES Knights." He too raised his spear. And so did all the others.
...... Wolfgang leaned casually against the carousel control cabinet, his hand resting over the keypad. "You mean ESAP Knights, of course."
...... "Martin glowered but kept silent."
...... "Maybe we should...," said Alex in a soft, even plaintive, voice. "Maybe we should turn on the carousel for rides now."
...... "I think," said Paul, "that we should end the meeting now--like before anyone gets hurt." He glanced at Kip and Wolfgang who nodded in answer.
...... Alex grimaced but didn't argue.
...... "We'll be back for the normal Saturday meeting," said Wolfgang. "Maybe it'll be...civilized. But as for now, the ESAP Knights are going to bed." He, Paul, and Kip started toward the golf course to return their lances.
...... "Wait," Woodchuck called out. "What do I do with the petitions?"
...... Wolfgang didn't answer. Nobody did.